Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Hugh Draney, Rinchen Dorje

My friend Hugh, aka Rinchen Dorje, or as we liked to call him when he started using the name Rinchen, RD, died on June 22. I wrote a few words to some friends, but after his funeral on June 26, I couldn't bring myself to write anything down. RD was a quiet one, but his influence could run deep. A sangha member, Rich Mackin, shared his thoughts on June 24 and 27.

Hugh died of lung cancer, so it was no surprise. I regretted not seeing him recently, but since my orbit hadn't spiraled near the Zen Center for a couple of weeks, I wasn't aware that he had begun to decline so quickly. I learned later folks thought he would live through the summer.

California was the place he considered home. He came up here to take care of his dad (still living). He was the quiet one, absorbing all we talked about at our Sunday lunches. Once in a while his eyes would bug out at us. He wouldn't eat much: would often get coffee and eat a couple of fries with his mustard (more mustard than fry...more salsa than chip, too). He pretty much made money through odd jobs, home maintenance, and lived simply by cooking up a big pot of beans and living on burritos. Steve and I hired him a few times. He helped paint our walls. Picture in your head the quintessential hobo, a skinny one...that was him. Grey scraggly hair, craggy face, big eyes.

He told us a story of his hobo days once, how he camped in a field and he was happy there. (Not all that long ago.) It was a ways away from the tracks, too dangerous to live as a homeless man near the tracks, but he would go there to hang out.

He had just gone through the application process of living at the Zen Center when he was diagnosed, and a team of caregivers was put together. The Zen Center isn't a hospice, but sorta became one because he happened to be a resident. He stopped coming to Sunday lunch with us then because the team wanted to have lunch with him at the center. I wish I'd had more time to spend with him during his illness, I missed him. He continued to do his volunteer jobs all through his illness...taping dharma talks, making the coffee, countless other things.

He left this note in his room, which his sisters found:

Hugh Draney, AKA Rinchen Dorje, born before the beginning; has slipped out of his skin again. Cake, ice cream and remembering will be this [Saturday, 10am to noon]. Friends, ZCO, and all others invited. - Being around people who still include me in the living...

So at the funeral and memorial service, we all had cake (more like brownies) and ice cream, and shared our stories of Hugh. We did still include him in the living with our stories. I think I learned to love him more deeply as I heard about his other past selves in relation to these people. Several sangha members find him still living in their homes, through the remodeling work he did for them. Come to think of it, no one mentioned the kitchen remodel he did a lot of at the center's Sangha House. RD started out getting paid, but when the money ran out, he just kept going.

One woman read a letter from her husband currently in England. He'd worked with Hugh 20 years ago, and had considered him a great mentor when they worked together in a little cafe. Hugh's quiet focused presence had taught him a lot. Stories from his sisters, photos from his past, I found pieces of him that simply hadn't existed for me before. I could regret not knowing more of his life. I could think maybe he wasn't as good a friend as I'd thought, with so many pieces unknown. I don't think that matters, I know we loved each other as good friends. I could feel it in our hugs.

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