At the end of the afternoon yesterday, I learned that the poet and scholar Jake Adam York had suffered a severe stroke and was in critical condition. He was 40, and so obviously (since I'm 36) I believed that he would recuperate. Maybe, because he was in critical condition, it would take awhile. But the worst I feared was that his brain's language centers would be damaged and he wouldn't be able to return to his poetry very soon, or ever.
We went to dinner to celebrate one of my friends' birthdays, and we talked about where we'd spent various past birthdays. I didn't think to talk about my thirty-third birthday, which I spent with Jake, picking him up at the airport for his visit to campus and then having a barbecue dinner with him on the way home.
We finished our dinner and came home. I fed the monastery cat, who's my responsibility while his regular caretaker is out of town for the week. I sat by the wood stove and read a book for a few minutes, helped string the Christmas tree up to the ceiling (since we'd suddenly realized that it was listing seriously to the east--a problem given that the tree is 9' tall), contributed to a general clamor that we get the wireless connection in the dining hall working again. Then I logged back on to my e-mail and learned that Jake had died.
He was a great poet and a good man. I was looking forward to seeing him in Colorado this spring, and now I won't. I am hoping that his family's suffering is bearable in some way today, though that's hard for me to imagine.
Someone else in the dining hall was just talking about how her grandfather, who's in his 80s, had a stroke and is recuperating. For me, one measure of how this place is is that I can feel frustration and even the first lick of anger at life's randomness--why this life and not that life?--and then I can let it keep going, without feeling guilty at having felt it in the first place.
In the monastery garden, we have this statue of Jizo, the bodhisattva who is present at and for the suffering of all sentient beings, and is particularly a guardian of women, children, and travellers. On a hard morning last week, when I had planned to do something altogether different, the statue's frosted head caught my eye from outside the garden, and I grabbed my camera and spent time with the statue instead of what I had originally planned. In Japan, I now learn, some monasteries offer Jizo ceremonies for the benefit of women whose children have died.
One of the hard things about Jake's death, for me, is realizing how little I knew his life. I only know that his wife's first name is my first name; I don't know her last name, or where they lived, or what his brother's name is, or what else he was hoping to do with his life other than to continue his good, good, ethically necessary and aesthetically beautiful poetry project. (And now, as I write here, my e-mail yields up his wife's full name, and their address.) I want to reread all his poetry, and my books are packed in boxes three states away. So it is good that he is here, and here, and here, and here, and here.
I am so grateful he lived, and worked, and lived, all the way to the hilt. And I am so grateful that I knew him while he did, and I hope that he was not afraid when he died.
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And now, later, the tributes are piling up, and I remember--how did it take this long?--when Amanda Davis died and McSweeney's did that huge tribute to her. I hope that Jake knew how much everybody loved him while he was still here.