As the summer comes to an end and we prepare to welcome the change of seasons with our Autumn Ohigan Equinox Service, we turn our minds to the working of great compassion as we consider the causes and conditions that have sustained our lives up to this point and look to the light of wisdom to clarify our path forward to a life of peace and bliss.
Over this past summer, my family and I had a chance to visit my grandmother at the assisted living in Iowa where she is now living. She was alert and energetic during our visit and kindly shared stories that I had never heard before of her life growing up as a city girl in Kansas City, Missouri, and then adjusting to life on a farm in rural Iowa after she married my grandfather.
My grandmother never imagined that she would wind up being a farmer’s wife. My grandfather had moved to Kansas City to attend aircraft maintenance school and was working as a mechanic for Trans World Airlines when they met. My grandfather was the only son in the family, and his sisters weren’t married yet, so it was up to him to take over the farm that had been in his mother’s side of the family since they settled in Iowa from Norway at the turn of the twentieth century.
My grandmother shared that life on the farm was not easy compared to life in the city. When they first arrived on the farm, my grandmother was so busy helping with chores that she was working outside more than in the house. As they settled in, it was up to my grandmother to feed all the helpers who worked on the farm. She had to keep expanding the gardens to grow enough vegetables to feed all the workers. At one point, she was even planting vegetables on the edge of the farm field. Everyone who came in from the fields and the barns was hungry, so just a few dishes at the end of the table would not be sufficient. She had to have additional items prepared out on the porch.
My mother is the oldest of seven, with three younger brothers followed by three younger sisters, so parenting was also an important responsibility for my grandmother. She shared how the children were given livestock to raise on their own, which they could then sell for their spending money. The family bedrooms were upstairs in the old farmhouse. A single walkway passed from the bathroom on one end of the house, through the children’s bedrooms, to my grandparent’s bedroom at the other end. As children, my uncles would occasionally keep the family up making noise when they were supposed to be asleep. The following morning my grandparents would not feel bad about the noise they made before dawn as they were getting ready to go out for the morning chores.
Listening to my grandmother’s stories, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the dedication and perseverance that she offered with an open heart, so that I am able to live this life today.
My grandmother cared for many people over the years. In recent years, my mother and her siblings are taking an increasingly active role in providing for my grandmother’s needs. In the midst of constant change and unexpected turns, the care we give to others and the care that we receive is where the deep and abiding meaning of our lives is to be found.
Were it not for the efforts and dedication of my grandmother to raise my mother and care for the family, my life today would not be possible. Likewise, were it not for the compassionate vow of Amida Buddha, how would it be possible for me to awaken to the life of peace and bliss? As Shinran writes:
Were it not for the ship of Amida’s Vow,
How could I cross the ocean of painful existence?
(Collected Works of Shinran, 422)
Namo Amida Butsu