By Bill Kimbro.
Paul had good stories, some about himself and some about other people. Some of my favorites are about his times in the presence of his beloved teacher. The other favorites are my own memories of our times together. As Paul was fond of joking, “Whoever has the best story has the truth.”
I had the good fortune, in so many ways, to marry Paul’s sister-in-law, Lucy, which began my relationship with Paul and Jenny. They and their three girls moved to Canada in the early 70’s and took Lucy with them. We had just met that spring. Lucy and I rendezvoused in Aspen soon after and I stole her away. Over the next few years our families would get together either in Eastern Oregon or Canada. They left Canada in 1977 for Berkeley to follow the dharma. We stayed in eastern Oregon farming and starting our family of six children. We saw less of each other until 1982 when their oldest daughter, Julia, and her soon-to-be husband, Peter, decided to get married in the town where we lived and have the wedding party on our farm. It was a wonderful family gathering and Paul and I spent time together getting things ready. He picked a large open area near our pond and shaded by willows to set up the tents for many of the guests. We mowed spaces for the tents and pathways to and from the house and barn areas. It was at least a week of preparations and a week of festivities with many friends and family. We all walked the mile or so to the small Catholic church where the wedding was held. Toward the end of the ceremony, maybe just before the “you may kiss the bride” or so, Paul broke into a loud wailing and crying and then he stopped and all went ahead as scheduled. I think I almost laughed. But it was one of the first of many times I would know him with such a heart of love and compassion, tenderness and confidence.
Sometime in the late 70’s, Paul, Jenny and their family came to visit us on our farm in eastern Oregon. I had four beehives and an old 55-gallon drum converted into a honey extractor. It was cooling down in the fall and Paul and I spent the day together in a small back room addition of the house heating and spinning the frames of honey and collecting about 12 gallons as I remember. This back room also served as a wine cellar and we drank wine while extracting and talking. We talked of many things but the most memorable was Paul telling me of his father Mike’s last days. I was moved by the deep love and respect Paul had for his dad and of the bravery and courage his father showed in how he prepared for and included his loved ones in that time. Mike had a heart condition and knew that he would die soon and so he made the rounds of all his family members, spending time with each of them to say goodbye, fully accepting his imminent death.
In the fall of 1984 I found myself alone with our five children, having been ‘awakened’ by Lucy to the fact that she wasn’t happy. Tony, our youngest, was 1½ and Jacob, the oldest, was 11. Paul showed up, moved in upstairs and held down the fort while I went to work teaching in a nearby town. His open-hearted generosity in being there for me and my family and his wisdom helped us get through a difficult time. Paul helped me to see that I hadn’t been listening.
He could make you laugh in some of the most emotionally difficult times and at the same time provide perspective. His humor would make the situation more manageable. Paul and I spent hours on end talking through all the possibilities, the anger, the fear. He instilled a confidence in me that I could take care of the family and make the changes needed to get through the situation. I was frantic and wanting to act. He on the other hand talked and soothed and calmed the over-active in me. I slowly learned to listen and wait.
In 1993, Jenny and Lucy’s parents moved to Bellingham, as did Jenny, Paul and Katie. For the next years we would often go there for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings. Paul and I would spend time together often talking at great length. He was a good talker. Paul seldom talked about his love for Buddhism, though as I look back, this love was reflected in most all of his topics from history to politics. We listened to jazz together and I loved listen to him read his favorite poets.
In June of 2000, Paul went to Shambhala Mountain Center for a week to be there while the stupa was being built. Somehow he offered or agreed to take our 17-year-old, Tony, with him. They took the Greyhound from Portland. One fun memory Tony had was how Paul could sit straight up in the bus seat and sleep with no snoring. It could be he was in meditation/sleep; he said sleep was okay as long as when you woke up you continued with meditation.
Jenny and Lucy’s parents experienced illnesses and passed away in 1999 and 2003. During those years I attended some events at the Shambhala Center in Bellingham with Jenny and Paul, which began my interest in reading and talking to Paul and Jenny more about what they had given much of their life to for so many years. Paul had shown great patience by not talking to me about the dharma through the years, knowing I wasn’t ready. But now, more of the talks Paul and I had focused on Buddhism. I had many questions and he was more than willing to respond. He became my meditation instructor and gently encouraged me to sit on a regular basis; to get the discipline of it no matter how long I sat. He had the ability to wake me up to the dharma at unexpected moments. Paul was very curious and conveyed his curiosity by never sounding like he knew the answer. That was part of his teaching. He was very comfortable with not knowing.
One story I remember was from when he was with his teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I don’t remember the full context of the story, but Paul was expressing the devotion he felt for his teacher and the enormous impact Trungpa’s pervasive energy had on him. Paul said something like, “Rinpoche, falling in love with you is like falling in love with an avalanche.”
He and Jenny began a year retreat in Fall 2006. One of the many stories and memories shared about Paul at his sukhavati was by a friend who was on retreat with them. He told of how Paul would get him to go into a closet away from the others so they could talk. This was during months of the retreat that were silent. Paul did like to talk.
In June of 2008 we all went to Canada together to Wells Grey Provincial Park. We had two wonderful campsites and when we arrived and started getting all the gear together and putting up tents, Paul realized there were no tent poles for his big tent. Not to worry. We had tarps, rope and he was a master of tarpolgy. We had plenty of laughs and finally got a decently dry living arrangement for he and Jenny.
In about 2010 Jenny, Paul, Lucy and I went to the east side of the Cascades in Washington to camp on the Twisp River. It was a beautiful area and a beautiful ride over on the North Cascade Highway. We went in the old blue suburban. We had a nice campsite and had many walks and good talks. One memory is when Paul and I were walking together and Jenny and Lucy were ahead of us. Paul tripped and fell, almost rolling down a very steep grade but he caught himself. The whole time we were talking dharma and the fall barely interrupted his train of thought. At one point he said “whatever arises is fresh, the essence of realization’. Of course it was in the context of his talking about awareness and to this day when I am chanting the ‘Supplication to the Tagpo Kagyu’ I think of Paul and his patience and persistence with me.
Then there was Jenny and Paul’s fiftieth anniversary campout at Davis Creek campground in British Columbia. I had brought a game we call Wash-hole, though I’m sure now it has a more sophisticated name. It consists of two short PVC pipe pieces placed in the ground about 15-20 feet apart and six washers, about 3 inches in diameter. It is played similar to horse shoes. Paul was terrible at the game but he enjoyed playing. After a couple of days he was improving and by the end of the several days there, no one could beat him at the game.
There were other great camping trips, visits to the Sonora Desert in Arizona, family gatherings, and times alone with Paul, all of which are treasured memories. To have had the chance to become a part of this family and share time with all of them still, and with Paul then, is truly special. He was a wonderful and beloved friend and teacher. He embodied the dharma and each moment in his presence was a teaching moment. At the moment of his death he said, “This is it. I’m going.”
Note: here are two recollections of Paul in the Shambhala Times: one and two.