I received this email (below) on Sunday from Michael Melancon, a friend who is in his second year of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. He is on his way to take part in the Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz with Roshi Bernie Glassman and others from the Zen Peacemaker Community. Thank you, Michael, for your deep intention to practice with suffering.
It is Saturday morning June 5 as I write this. I’m on a train from Warsaw to Krakow, Poland… Starting this Monday we will sit a Retreat of Remembrance at Auschwitz… In total we will be about 150 people from all over the world on retreat together.
I’m not Jewish myself, but I was “adopted” by a dear Jewish family about 20 years ago. My adopted Jewish mom Hedy stood in for my own mother when Glenn and I were married. She offered a Hebrew prayer of blessing over our rings; everyone was dry-eyed until that moment in the ceremony. Hedy’s daughter Eve stood up for me as my Best Person. These people are my family.
Hedy’s family of origin — her mother, father, sister and grandparents — were all killed at Auscwhitz.
In my Rakusu case here at my side are photos of Hedy’s family members the way they were when she last saw them. Her parents hid Hedy away in a convent in Belgium, just before the Gestapo took most of the rest of the family to the death camps. Later this week in a ceremony of remembrance we will honor those family members I’ve met only through Hedy’s cherished memories.
My choice to travel by train in Poland is intentional. It is part of my pilgrimage here. I am mindfully aware that this rail track from Warsaw to Krakow, on which i now ride in comfort and in a bright and sun-filled rail car, is like the very route so many traveled to their deaths a mere generation ago. I hold them all in my heart: the victims as well as those who risked their lives to defy and stop the madness. I also hold the perpetrators, and the innocent and not-so-innocent bystanders. I know I am not so separate from either the willing or the unwilling participants. A single cloud hovers in this clear blue sky, as I consciously untangle their entwined karma, while weaving it more deliberately together with my own . . . and with yours.
Here, you are not far from me.
The many beings are numberless, I vow to free them.
Greed, hatred and ignorance rise endlessly, I vow to abandon them.
Dharma gates are countless, I vow to perceive them.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it . . . fully.
Love in cubits . . .