The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Jokei Molly Delight Whitehead on the steps of editing

by Lydia Anderson
November 12, 2014
Wed, 11/12/2014 - 11:30 -- landerson

We are thrilled to have a guest post from Jokei Molly Delight Whitehead, editor of The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo. Jokei Molly writes on the sometimes slow process of editing and learning how to take it one step at a time:

To create the new translation of and commentary on The Zen Teaching of Homeless Kodo, Shohaku Okumura and I met nearly every Friday for two years. We worked for a couple of hours before lunch (simple and delicious, prepared by Shohaku’s wife, Yuko). Then I’d make espresso and Hojo-san green tea, and we’d head back upstairs to his office.

Our pace, a couple of chapters a week, felt to me like water dripping on stone; it seemed impossible that we’d ever finish. I’m not patient by nature; I’m always trying to get to the finale, as if life were a book—I want to know what will happen, if everything will work out in the end.

I once walked alone through a sacred cemetery in Japan on the last night of the year. It was so quiet that the sound of my boots on the stones frightened me. I began thinking about ghosts, which I barely believe in. I was considering giving up and heading back to town when I heard a click behind me. Turning around, I saw that all the lanterns along the path I’d traveled had gone dark. In front of me, I could see only a few lit before the path disappeared. Impossible to know what lay ahead, whether the lanterns would hold, how far away the dawn was. Only two choices: to stand still or take a step.

After reaching the temple at the cemetery’s end, with what seemed a thousand golden lanterns suspended from the ceiling and monks chanting into the radiance, I walked back through the slowly brightening air. At the gate, a family was entering. The little boy broke away from his parents and ran toward me, calling “Omedeto gozaimasu!” Congratulations, Happy New Year.

I’ve had to learn the same lesson again and again: that you can’t see farther than the available light, no matter how you strain. And still you have to take a step, with loving and careful attention to what’s before you—the words there, and all the ones not there. Somehow it seems this is enough. Moments add up. Sentences become chapters become books. Your steps become your life.

Jokei Molly Delight Whitehead
Saco, Maine

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