Nothing Is Lost, Only Transformed

God pours life into death and death into life without a drop being spilled.

-Author Unknown

Until I attended graduate school at St. Edward’s University, I didn’t know much about Dia de los Muertos. In 1997, after I’d left the fundamentalist non-denominational church I’d been with for years — and with it my entire social network — I struggled greatly with loneliness and depression. Thus I found myself sitting frequently in the Our Lady Queen of Peace chapel, trying to root myself.

On November 1, I discovered an altar covered with painted skulls, candles, photos, and flowers. A number of people gathered, including Dr. Edward Shirley, Professor of Religion and Theological Studies. He led a meditation and gave a little talk about the meaning of this day. I remember at one point asking, “Is it possible to miss someone you never knew?” I was thinking about my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather; both died long before I was born. Ed answered that yes, he thought so.

After that introduction, I got to know him and spent time talking with him. He was one of the most loving people I’d encountered. His laugh was infectious. His presence was healing. His friendship and guidance were a balm and ballast for me at this time of transition. He accepted people wherever they were at; at that point I was an atheist, certain that traditional Christianity was not my path. I searched for a way to connect with the universe and to find a vocabulary to voice this connection. It was Ed who called my attention to Buddhism.

Ed died suddenly in mid-August, leaving behind a devastated family and community of friends. His impact in the world was deep, and he was much loved. I miss his presence in this world, but his departure brought me to a threshold of understanding what Zen Buddhists call Big Mind.

So, in honor and remembrance of Ed, I offer this tribute on the day that brought us together.

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Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.

-John Muir

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