Monday, May 30, 2011


I hurled myself toward my personal god: Simplicity. 
- Charles Bukowski.

I sold my last automobile six years ago and I hope to never own another one. After I'd taken the car away from him, I drove my father's car intermittently over these last couple of years, but I sold it too. Studebaker, Mercury Comet, Dodge Coronet, Toyota Camry: middle-class cars of the American dream. Thousands of pounds of steel and vinyl. Untold gallons of gas. Countless oil changes. Dead batteries. A couple of speeding tickets. Exhaust.

A car is an easy thing to get.  Six years ago, my dad had a hard time accepting I was going to sell my car, go car-less at age fifty-one. He said I could never borrow his car (even though he lived two blocks away and used it every other day). Even said he'd pay me to keep owning a car. I told him, "Dad, there's 400 million cars on the planet, I can always get another one if I need to." Once I sold my car he insisted I could borrow his whenever I wanted to (I only borrowed it twice).

My son has never owned a car, has hardly ever even driven one (though he drives reasonable well). My dad recognized the problems with cars, he certainly accepted the issues of global warming, but driving his automobile was as essential to him as reading, both occupations he could do in quiet solitude. I was always at war with the car. In my formative years, Joni Mitchell songs about paving paradise overshadowed the notion of the car as anything other than doomsday machine. I understood cars were toxic just as I understood cigarettes were. I smoked for a number of years, but I knew cigarettes were deadly long before the Surgeon General's statement came printed on the box.

My son is post-automobile in the way Jackson Pollock was post-modern. It's a kind of instinct, a need to throw paint. A different use of the body. In terms of the body, driving a car was one of the ways I damaged mine, forced it into unnatural positions and long periods of confinement (sitting at a desk was another). My dad held up well under the car's influence. He never had an accident, never neglected routine maintenance, never stopped driving until forced to. He drove semi-demented and nearly deaf until age eighty-seven, kind of like the Japanese who never heard WWII ended and kept themselves hidden and fully armed in the Philippine jungles. You had to pry the keys from my father's hand whereas I'd have given them to you in a second. My son hardly knows what a set of car keys feels like.

They say life begins at forty, but mine began at fifty - when I sold my car. I know now I could have sold it a decade earlier, given myself an additional ten good years. I'm not here to criticize others or claim going carless is for everyone, even if everyone could. Most of us still have little choice in the matter of driving. We haven't put in place the options, any more than we've erected windmills or cut-back on air-conditioning (also an easy thing to live without). I'm here to share the possibility of giving up the car for those who can, who want to, who need to; for those who dream of it, for those who are being destroyed by it.

There are reasons besides "global warming" to give up the car (we know the production of beef generates as much CO2 per carnivore; I know flying in aircraft makes me still every bit the commuter). We have to examine the automobile as environment, what it does to our space. We have to examine the automobile as violence, what it does to others space. And we have to imagine the alternative paradigm: what could we become without one?

Step back to a farthest perspective: time. The most commonplace knowledge tells us the automobile saves time: If I drive I'm at work in twenty minutes, if I walk it'll take me two hours. What we don't realize is the automobile uses up time. Even if cars go electric, as long as we generate electricity with fossil fuels (or power cars directly with them) we are using up non-renewable resources. The millions of years (of dying, decomposing plant life) that it took to create our coal reserves, tar sand pits, and petroleum deposits is being used up almost instantly (the start of the industrial revolution to now). We are using up time, using up the possibilities of certain types of life on this planet (time is running out). If murder means to use up all of another person's time instantly, cars are tools of homicide - as are power lawn movers and leaf blowers (snub-nosed 38s compared to the assault rifle).
Once he entered his 80s, I was always afraid my dad would kill someone with his car. He drove so slowly there was little danger he would kill himself, but he could take out a bicyclist in a second (I saw him nearly do it more than a few times) or splatter a pedestrian in a heartbeat. His supreme confidence in his own abilities must have brought down a form of luck, as if certain kinds of hubris actually please the gods. His only havoc was to sometimes scrape the side of another car when he pulled from a parking space (since he couldn't hear the scrape he had no idea he'd made one). The state of Colorado flattered him by issuing a ten-year valid drivers license with no physical exam when he was eighty-six. Yet he complained, "What will I do when this expires!"
Before the days of MADD and the laws they gradually helped enact I would occasionally drive so drunk I saw double. Once I drove from Oakland to San Francisco this way. Yet the times I've momentarily fallen asleep driving (always in the afternoon, never while drinking) are far more chilling remembrances. What gods were smiling then? A couple of weeks after I sold my car I made a list of the benefits of doing so. While I admitted to myself I could easily be killed riding my bicycle (I was now doing much more of it) at least I wouldn't kill anyone else. Not with a car anyway.
It took me a long time to understand how devastating it was to take my father's car away from him (I'm only now beginning to understand). Curiously, my father drove into his own trap. He forgot where his doctor's office was and drove to the emergency room instead. Once there, the triage nurse recognized both his dementia and the near-crime of his driving. The nurse called me and said my father had no business ever driving again and I must come down and pick up him. He was angry at me, I could tell. I hung up the phone and nearly fell to my knees, the moment I'd been praying for had come - for I knew if I had tried to take my father's keys away he'd never have forgiven me.

My father's doctor was called in to explain it: "Bill, you'll never drive again" he told my dad. I nodded in agreement. The doctor said it again, I nodded again. He said it a third time - each of the three times my father's expression of refusal grew darker. We left the office. The classic stages of loss-grief had begun within my father but I had no way of knowing that then. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance: these gods cannot be denied. My father's depression had already begun. Denial lasted four months (ended with him following me out onto street, screaming at me). Bargaining, like death, came without warning, "Just let me drive to the bank once in a while" he'd plead. Acceptance seemingly came only when he longer could seldom remember he'd ever owned a car: Alzheimer's. 

I see how we all face the unforeseen series of events that deny or take away our seeming autonomy (the events always occurring, the autonomy always seeming). My father's narrative was his own and he was as entitled to it as anyone. A car was like a cigarette (he smoked until forty-five) or a book - something to be alone with, in control of, in communion thereby. To quietly examine his freshly-waxed, well-maintained Toyota Camry parked there (in a spotless garage). To Drive a two-lane highway through the desert with sage brush growing and a thunderstorm sky. A simple ride to Safeway for toilet paper and a head of cauliflower. All of it beautiful, an expression of peace. All of it gone with the car keys gone.

My several year-long joy of liberating myself from the automobile overlapped my father's reluctant journey of giving it up. It wasn't the first time my enthusiasm confronted his gloom and it was natural though impatient of me to more of less say, "Get over it, Dad." Fortunately a guardian angel came into his life, just weeks after his Camry left it. Annette was a fifty-two year old nurse from Tennessee, working temporarily for an elder-care agency and born on the same day as my mother. Born also with the sense of humor necessary to survive her life story (another story) and my father's humor. Annette found every ounce of my fathers sardonic gloom and semi self-effacing sarcasm amusing. Everything he said made her laugh. And even though he couldn't hear some of what Annette said, he could recognize that she loved him and loved his company. I hired Annette to take my dad on long drives twice a week, which he of course could hardly wait to do (an example of my optimism trumping his pessimism).

In May, 2005 my father was still driving and I was preparing to sell my own car. I'd placed the ad in the newspaper. Someone called, took the test drive, brought it to her mechanic, gave me a cashiers check for seven grand, drove away in my former 1999, Toyota Corolla. The next day I woke up, walked out of my house and stared at the empty driveway. The automobile was gone, in its place a vacancy, a complete absence of vehicle. The driveway was black, buckled, the sun was already heating it, the ants were out. I felt depressed, worthless, vacated - like I had a hole in me. I went inside, got dressed, ate breakfast, put my shoes on. I walked back out and across the driveway and all the way into town. I got coffee in town and did whatever else I did. Then I walked home. I never missed my car again.

A few years before I turned fifty I began to realize that life was asking me for greater simplicity, that I was heading toward an inevitable and steeper downward slope (downward because I could not escape it). In answer to the question, How do you know you are making progress on the spiritual path, I heard a Buddhist teacher once reply, That you have more devotion and you've simplified your life.

Selling my car was a sacrifice the dralas requested, a significant offering to simplicities' god. In return I bought less, shopped less (or more carefully). My legs strengthened, I took fresh air, had periodic epiphanies as I passed by cattail marshes or walked in heavy rain. Strange privileges and tremendous good fortune came my way. I walked across the cities I visited, New Orleans, Paris, Kuala Lumpur. Ones cosmic insignificance became vivified walking alone in a city of fourteen million (in which I knew no one at all). Cultural history poured into me though I seldom entered a museum or read a book. In Cambodia, because I spent a good deal of time there, I (temporarily) leaned how to walk: more slowly, without haste, tutored by the Cambodians. I encountered the archetype of pedestrian: present-tense, insignificant, alert, gauging and traversing the thin planetary membrane of life we walk upright upon. In this time, a pleasure on the edge of species collapse and other realities of a changing planet.

Now I have arrived in Mendota Heights, a town on the edge of St. Paul. My friend Lisa picked me up at the Minneapolis Airport in a 1939 GM LaSalle. A friend of Lisa's who restores cars loaned it to her and now she wants to buy it. The car is almost like an Elvis sighting. One encounters an iconic image from the vast collection of inner images our automobile culture has supplied us with. It is a sculpture of bulging fenders and an upholstered interior so large its a more comfortable and elegant living room than the one in Lisa's home. It is a superbly crafted impunity tool with three sets of ashtray, eight spark plugs and a 126 inch wheelbase. It is a beautiful dream, American. A white-walled room big enough for sex and raising a family in. It's a dream-totem animal, the seed-syllable of the interstate system Eisenhower installed that became the foundation of the military indy complex he later warned us about. Thousands of miles of grassland and forest were cleared then asphalted to create a pasture big enough for the GM LaSalle.

Years ago, I realized it was time to sell my own car when a black dumptruck loaded with sand nearly hit me from behind. I saw the near-miss in my rearview mirror. Strangely, I'd seen two black dumptrucks earlier that day. It was a cluster of omens that underscored a gradual discovery: that driving shredded my nervous system. Even driving the two miles to Office Depot for a cartridge of printer ink left me feeling awful, as if some part of me rode underneath the car scraping asphalt. So I wasn't entirely at ease getting into Elvis - the '39 LaSalle - much less riding without a seatbelt. But Lisa had arrived in a car that drove straight into my story and the decline of the automobile could not have been made clearer that the experience of riding in this one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, Vézelay, France.
I'm writing about my father. I'm writing for the first anniversary of his death. August second is over two months from now but I want to be prepared. Though death comes without warning the anniversary of death comes with plenty of lead-time. Why should I wait until the last minute to write? I might not be able to find the words then, whereas now I feel I have some. I want to explore my father as father (horizontal time?) and as ancestor (vertical?). 

I'm recalling a time last November in Vézelay, France. It was a moment in the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene, when I offered a votive candle to the memory of my father (I also offered one for my mother). I recognized I could never show my father this church, never show him a photograph of it, never have him know I was here. For a moment the sadness was acute. But the atmosphere in the room was thinking in vertical time. Suddenly, I felt my father approaching me from the "future," like a aircraft that had circled the earth and was now appearing on the horizon.

Just as the border, say, between the United States and Mexico divides the countries, it is also where they touch. Vertical time divides the past from the future. Father in the past, ancestor from the future - I inhabit their division and they meet within me. My skin touches them both. They write to me with the invisible ink of their thought. 

My father last lived in an Alzheimer's facility and died in his room. I didn't have the ringer to my cell phone on. The staff finally reached me through e-mail. I got in my car and reached The Balfour in twenty minutes, probably two hours after my father died. I arrived in his room a blank, unable to find myself, much less be of help to him (as my Buddhist training said I might). The room was empty and I was unable to stay for even an hour.  

The next day we brought my father to my house in a pine box. We set him in the living room, next to the white orchid. I laid a Cambodian silk across the lower half of the casket - the top half was open, revealing my father's head and chest. He wore a blue shirt. When the mortuary men left I played Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto. The room was full and I felt we could remain like this indefinitely.

The three days passed slowly and quickly. My son arrived from Portland and there were now three generations in the room. At night he slept near the corpse. Friends of mine who knew my father visited, spent a long time looking at him. My father rested on dry ice. He shrunk some, but his skin became more transparent, there was a beauty. His jaw was firm, an offering of Scotch sat on the pine plank above his heart. The three days could not go on forever, but there were some of the best my father and I ever had.

Column detail, Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene.

On the third day after my father's death, my son and a handful of my friends joined me and we performed the Sukavati (Buddhist funeral ceremony) together, enacted yet another event my father never could have dreamed would happen. The next day a few of us took my father to the mortuary. My son kept my father's eyeglasses and I kept the diamond ring he wore on his right hand. We performed another small ceremony (speaking, laughing, crying) before my father and his pine box were inserted into the furnace. We saw the fire begin. I picked up his ashes a few days later.

Six-weeks after the cremation I left Boulder and traveled in a strange zigzag, dictated by hunches and people who came into my life. Perhaps it was not until this February, seven months after my father died, that I began to come apart at the seams. It happened in Paris. One day I felt awful, like I'd been emotionally poisoned. Like something was attacking me (or I was attacking myself). It didn't seem like grief. And what is "grief"? It's clear what grief is when you're missing someone horribly or simply crying. But grief must happen at a cellular level, the molecules of ourselves adjusting to the severe transformation of going from having a parent to being homeless (for example). An inner savage initiation before the ancestor arrives from the future. 

Exterior detail, Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene.


Soon after my father died I experienced an unexpected phenomena that has never left me: that he was now in complete agreement with me. It was as if his life was a tennis match in which we were opponents. The match was video-taped and now he could watch it (as memory) while simultaneously seeing me for who I was now, as if the match had never been played. Since now there was nothing to argue about - and knowing that our intentions toward each had always been good - he was in complete agreement with me.

To say my father (as ancestor) is "in agreement with me" is to say he encourages me toward the tasks I have chosen to fulfill. These tasks, in part, are endeavors or potentials he could not complete (or even failed at) and, in another part, have nothing to do with him. He is completely detached and one-hundred percent encouraging. My job, as "the living" is to release rage (and other emotions) and avoid succumbing to guilt. To wipe the sweat from my face and leave it on the towel. To put aside botched shots. To walk alone with my ancestor behind me. To face his arrival.

 Grave. Vézelay, France.


Hospice bereavement literature has lists of the emotions, physical sensations and behaviors one might encounter after the death of a loved one. Two diagrams show differing shotgun blasts: one from close range (the sudden, accidental death of a child, say, or a wife) the other from considerable distance (news a friend one hadn't seen in a decade had died). In the first, the pellets are so clumped together one might say, "I feel like I've been shot in the gut." In the second, only a couple of pellets have even hit the target, and none of them centrally. The effect may hardly be noticed (or felt).

"Grief" is not an emotion (or verb), it cannot be defined (as a noun), nor easily recognized (as a known object). Grief is a journey, a cluster of intangible relationships moving through an expanding space.  Split in half by horizontal time, the initiation of grief narrows the seeming place we occupy between the past and the future. Our non-existence becomes thinner, less able to be hidden (from ourselves). As I became thinner I tried to spread out, as if I could ooze backward in time and attach myself to something. I wasn't just missing my father - or even missing him at all - but exploring the lost forms: house, dishes, clothes, books (I got rid of almost everything). I encountered split-second decisions of hope that these things still did exist (like a pigeon thinking gravel is a poppy seed). 

Taken as a whole, and unavoidably taken alone, the journey is quite beautiful - if one has the resources to make sense of it, to embrace it: community, meditation-prayer, art, dralas (not necessary in that order)? If there does arrive that grace or creative blessing. 


This morning it occurred to me the shotgun metaphor also works for the last two-plus years of my father's life, the stages of losing control. As if prior to my mother's death - twenty-seven months before his own - my father was still "in control" of his life (in the ways we typically feel we are). When she died, it was as if the shell was detonated and - in extremely slow motion - the pellets emerged (the elements of his control) and the empty casing (his body) spun end over end, finally coming to rest on the ground (then cremated).

Final events, Bill Scheffel (I have the same name as my father): moved from his apartment to "independent living" (Villas Atrium), then to "assisted living" (Shawnee Gardens), finally a "memory care facility" (The Balfour). He began to cancel his own rent checks. He stopped taking all his medications (claimed he hadn't taken them for years). I disconnected the battery cables in his automobile. His knees weakened but his handshake became stronger. His name was taped to his eyeglasses. He remembered no ones name. Was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Sometimes thought I was his brother. Had no idea when he last saw me. Was considered "a gentlemen" wherever he lived (Villas, Shawnee, Balfour). Had friends in a way he never had before. Had no idea he had these friends. Didn't necessarily know  where he was at any given time or that Obama was president. Flirted. Ate everything on his plate. Fell often. Always excited to see me. Always sad when I left. Misplaced his wristwatch. Lost his wallet. Could barely stand up. Shook hands hard. Knees gave out, back mangled, poked at his food, moments of panic. Died alone in his room after dinner.

Dogen said we each have all the provisions we need for this lifetime. My father was afraid of being alone yet endured tremendous aloneness - and was nearly deaf - for the last years of his life. Until he could no longer make his bed - or even know it was his bed - he made it well, with the same military precision he brought to writing a check, to everything. He loved his car and bathed it in Armor All. In those final two-plus years he came into the lives of countless people - including my own - as an agent of dignity with a devastating handshake. Many brain cells left him yet the accuracy of his sarcasm remained as intact as Nolan Ryan's fastball. His affection for the world may have finally resided in his sardonic, self-effacing complaints, his uncannily durable insistence that the glass was half-empty. That his pessimism and my optimism are in complete agreement is a small miracle.

 Column detail, Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene.

The Balfour. July, 2010.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Penn Station and Vertical Time

 Main concourse, Grand Central Terminal, NYC.

(This was written in early April.) My inquiry into vertical time continues. Today’s assignment has put me on a train from Plandome, Long Island to Penn Station, NYC. It was last Saturday I discovered New York’s Pennsylvania Station was once a grand terminal, like Gare (now Musée) d’Orsay in Paris or Grand Central Terminal - typically called Station (three avenues west and ten streets uptown of Penn). Last Saturday I learned the original Penn Station was demolished in 1964, and that knowledge has left me feeling a lingering pain ever since.

Now I’m on the Long Island Railroad, sitting in a set of three-by-three seats with what I have discovered to be two Iranian men. I’ve gradually came to recognize the Farsi these men are speaking from soundtracks of the many Iranian films I have seen and by remembering that Don, my host in Plandome, told me of the many Iranians who board the train at the Great Neck stop.

Daily life occurs in cycles that repeat themselves wherever we go. I wash my face in the morning the same way in Plandome as I did in Istanbul, only the experience of vertical time differentiates repetition into moments of the eternal now. If I say my “prayer to water” before washing it makes a great difference, pulling me into vertical-time awareness and out the desultory state of mind I often wake up into in the morning.

As for the eternal now, it would not take a GPS system to describe where I am at this moment: I am sitting at a marble counter drinking an Americano on the lower level of Grand Central Station, almost directly below the famous clock stationed above me on the main concourse. The echoing mixture of human voices, rolling suitcase wheels and clattering porcelain create the muted, ambient racket that is part of being in such immense places of human coming and going. Just like in Istanbul, I could sit here all day and perhaps never see the same face twice.

The destruction of Penn Station echoes the feeling Istanbul aroused in me as I walked through it: the destruction the human population explosion and exodus from the countryside and the short-term profit making of modern architecture has taken upon culture and nature. In Istanbul, six-story concrete apartment buildings without beauty and without any public space between or around them extend almost infinitely and have leveled any sense of the history or landscape that preceded them. Yet stripped of judgment and comparison, even the apartments reveal an impossible, tenacious beauty – the unconditional beauty of vertical time. Beauty, yes – but not the same beauty that preceded them.

The beauty of Aya Sophia, the
Süleymaniye Mosque (both in Istanbul) and Grand Central Station are similar expressions of vertical time, places designed to stop habitual mind and shift consciousness into a stunningly beautiful visionary nowness. They are successful works of art and treasures of humanity. Accidents of history, as well as human intervention, have saved them to this day. I hope the following photo essay will exemplify the ideas I’ve raised and perhaps inspire you to build or preserve in the spirit of vertical time in your own life, which can be done anywhere, with anything, beginning with our body itself.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Converted in 1980-1986 by the French government from a train station into a museum. Thanks to the successful efforts to preserve a grand building that was no longer able to be effective as a railroad terminal, this building is often referred to as the "most beautiful museum in Europe." 

Pennsylvania Station, upon completion in 1910. Once the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, the Pennsylvania Railroad built the station as an expression of corporate largess and power, yes, but also of beauty, modeling it on the Caracalla Baths of ancient Rome and sparing nothing to create a masterpiece of art and craft designed to last hundreds of years, a true public space.

Inside the original Penn Station. Due to the rise of the automobile, by the 1950s the Pennsylvania Railroad was losing money and nearly bankrupt. Management made a deal with New York City to surrender its property above ground and gain a 25% stake in the planned Madison Square Garden. Penn Station would soon become a subterranean passage with low ceilings and no natural light. Demolition was finally scheduled to begin in 1963, but as the New York Times wrote, "Until the first blow fell, no one was convinced that Penn Station really would be demolished, or that New York would permit this monumental act of vandalism against one of the largest and finest landmarks of its age of Roman elegance."

The Demonstrations to preserve Penn Station were unable to save it, but did establish the social conscience and political will that went on to save Grand Central Terminal and many other great buildings from a similar fate.

Penn Station now. Ironically, the station is dreadfully cramped and congested and serious efforts have long been underway to built a new Penn Station, a vision to restore the grandeur of the original Penn, whose vastness was designed to give the passengers an experience of transition - and an encounter with space - so that to commute would also be to commune

Among the heating ducts of Long Island Railroad's 
Track 17; Penn Station as one encounters it today.

Entering the main concourse, 
Grand Central Terminal.

Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul. 

 Süleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul. 

Grand Central Terminal, main concourse.

Grand Central Terminal, main concourse.

Elevators into the main concourse, Grand Central Terminal.

Aya Sophia, Istanbul.

Ceiling, main concourse, Grand Central Terminal. For decades blackened by the tar and nicotine of cigarette smoke, a thorough restoration revealed the mural of the original ceiling, a view of the constellations based on a medieval manuscript that depicted the stars backwards - reversed, as in a mirror - the way that God above would view them.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tribute to Eamon Killoran

(Eamon Killoran became a member of the Buddhist community founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in the 1970s. Eamon and I met in this community and maintained a thirty-five year friendship until his death, April 18, 2011. He was a devoted practitioner of Buddhism and all things related to the drala principle. - Bill Scheffel)

The photograph above shows Eamon Killoran eleven months ago. A few weeks after this picture was taken, Eamon learned he had cancer. In less than a year he was dead. I took the photograph of him in Portland, Oregon, soon after I had arrived for lunch at the home of mutual friends. My first impression of Eamon was his beauty. That a transparency had come to his complexion - as it often does to people well into their seventies.  That his beard and his eyebrows were now the same luminous grey. That he smiled with his familiar stature and sense of reserve, but none-the-less, extremely warmly. I had the feeling of falling in love with him, as if in this moment our thirty-six year friendship was being restored, renewed, amplified. 
Eamon looked you in the eye and spoke – it seemed -  with his jaw slightly clenched. His words were typically few, often emerged reluctantly and were astonishingly compelling. On the one hand you felt you had to converse honestly, that his long silences might set you up to make a fool out of yourself or at least display a fumbling frivolousness. On the other hand, what he had to say seemed to come like something out of Melville, a story or confession that becomes enthralling in a hurry.

Over lunch we were reminded that Eamon’s first wife was a member of the Black Panther Party (they had two children together). Eamon loved literature and it was stories like these that made me want him to write his own memoir. Eamon’s father was an Irish cop operating in the more corrupt strata of the New York City police department. One day, his younger brother, barely old enough to walk, discovered their father’s loaded revolver and accidentally killed himself. Alcohol, firearms, gambling. By adolescence, Eamon was faced with the conscious decision to become a criminal or not. As a young man he wandered widely, one day getting a job on a ship. He went on to serve as a merchant seaman throughout his adult life. He understood exactly what had happened on the Exxon Valdez since he had served for decades on similar tankers. 
Eamon and I entered the dharma in California, shared countless programs at the Berkeley Dharmadhatu, went to seminary one year apart and became Kusung (Tibetan; personal servant) together in 1980. We waited together, alternately nervous or giddy and with a sense of impending joyous doom each time The Varja Regent or The Vidyadhara was about to emerge from a gate at San Francisco International Airport. We performed the same Kusung tasks: bringing our left arm under The Vidhadhara’s right so we could assist and steady him as he walked. We helped choose suits from his wardrobe and put on his socks. We filled our minds with every detail we could – the day’s schedule, its meals, who wanted an interview - before beginning a shift and then spent the next twelve hours in a concentrated free-fall, a near lifetime spent in very awake and orderly chaos of a day (or night) with Chögyam Trungpa. 
It was this history, at once long ago and primordially imprinted in my heart that brought me to write what I did after learning by phone, two weeks ago, that Eamon had died: 

With his passing I feel my own life evaporate: its traces, the countless sacred impressions and tracks of our gurus, that they literally walked along side us, took water from our hands, even kissed us. These traces are as beautiful, profound and mysterious as the nebula we see through our telescopes. Flaring. Awesome. Where do they go?
The living presence of The Vidyadhara’s love carried Eamon on a very steady devotional course. Perhaps spending nearly six-months a year at sea helped keep his remarkable marriage to Michele very alive. It certainly gave him a lot of time to practice – and to be very alone with The Vidyadara’s mind and teaching. One might know the way The Vidyadhara loved Eamon by understanding how Eamon loved The Vidyadhara - but who can describe unconditional love? If I had to venture a guess I would say it was because of Eamon’s reliability, a particular form of Chögyam Trungpa’s own elemental ethos, the bond he had with all of us: never give up. 
It must have been Eamon’s reliability that created a trajectory from his tough, early life, through to the end, his cremation at Shambhala Mountain Center. I was in Boston when I leaned Eamon died and I was not able to attend the event, but our dear mutual friend told me a flock of seagulls appeared out of nowhere when Eamon’s body was removed from The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in the morning. I told her a flock of seagulls is as astonishing as the circular rainbow that appeared at the Vidyadhara’s parinirvana! 
Eamon remained a devoted father to Meadow and Zackary, the children from his first marriage. When he married Michele in the mid 1970s they formed a union and a household that was home to Eamon’s children and to Lucas, Michele’s son from her first marriage. The household became a court when The Vidyadhara stayed there, as he did numerous times. When Eamon and Michele moved to Shambhala Mountain Center in 1991, Eamon began a four-year tenure as SMC co-director, along with Catherina Pressman. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche selected Eamon for the job and Eamon remained actively involved in The Sakyong’s service and Shambhala Mountain Center for the rest of his life. 
Within this outward life of reliable service, Eamon did not seem a man doing things merely because he felt obliged to, even less the follower of a party-line. In late 2003, I spent an evening with Eamon a few months after Michele died. I could feel the world he inhabited; that his home was genuinely at the Buddhist community’s service, that he practiced Chakrasamvara sadhana intently, that he was alone and semi-shattered with a diverse stack of books and that there was a bottle of Scotch on the table between us. I felt the challenge, as I always did, of disclosing something genuine as we talked. I felt back-up against the wall by his even more penetrating silences and matter of fact description of what life was like without Michele. I don’t really remember what we talked about, but unlike so many other conversations I’ve had over the subsequent eight years, I remember just what it felt like to be with him, simply spacious and true. 
Last fall I began corresponding with Eamon from Istanbul, a city he had spent time in as a young merchant seaman. I wrote about my “psychic crush” – not an infatuation, but the way I often felt having my mother and father die in the last three years, as well as having just about every other damn part of my life fall apart in this time. Eamon wrote back, telling me of his own psychic crush:

 I think I've been living with it to various degrees since Michele's sudden going. I never really finished packing away her things, just did some more of that recently.  Part of that is laziness, inertia, some of it just waiting, living, until it's obviously time.
He also wrote to me about writing (I was still after him to begin his memoir):
I make small movements towards writing, then get overwhelmed and lastly stopped at the point where I didn't really know whether I wanted to tell the truth or not.  Or try anyway.  That movement also keeps getting placed on hold as different dharmic activities demand most of my time, and then and then . . .

From Istanbul I also wrote to Eamon about seagulls (a man who’d  seen his share). After living in Istanbul, one can hardly think of the city without seeing seagulls or hearing their cry. I wrote to Eamon, pointing out that as we humans  overrun the planet “the animals that remain survivors in our midst seem like analogs, as if a dialog is going on if we could listen or observe more closely.”

When I wrote that sentence, I didn’t really know what I meant by analogs - but a few months later that flock of seagulls appeared above Eamon’s body. 

Eminönü Ferry, Istanbul