In Memoriam Del Smith

Del Smith

A Final Gassho to Del Smith

Last week a friend and fellow member of the Silent Thunder Order—Del Smith—passed from this life. At last Sunday’s service, I paid tribute to Del by repeating her favorite phrases in her “school teacher’s voice.” The light in the Zendo didn’t just blink on and off—the power went out completely to the whole building! I apologized to Del, just in case she was listening and didn’t like my impersonation. I don’t know that Del had a hand in the power failure but it sure was her style—no half-way measures with Del! She threw her whole self into everything she did, something she may have learned from our teacher’s teacher—Matsuoka Roshi.

Taiun Michael Elliston, our guiding teacher, has told us stories about Matsuoka’s years in the Chicago Zendo. Del painted wonderful word pictures of Matsuoka’s later years in Long Beach, California. Del told us a story about two friends—Steve and Alice who timidly approached the Zendo door on a dangerous street in Long Beach. The two were “shopping” in California’s “spiritual supermarket” of the time, looking for something that might interest them. They tapped on the door and came face to face with a small Japanese man. “What exactly goes on here?” Steve asked.

“We sit!” Matsuoka responded. Steve and Anita became disciples of Matsuoka and Del soon joined them. Del, who had moved to Long Beach after a career as a teacher and a teachers’ union organizer and representative, was born on a farm in Kansas. In 1999, she moved back to Wichita and soon became a mainstay of the Southwind Sangha—as well as a feminist and community activist and member of the Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

Del served our Sangha well and faithfully for many years. It finally became too painful for her to sit upright during meditation. She was so determined to participate with us that she would try to meditate lying down on cushions. But she would often go to sleep and she worried that her snoring would upset newcomers. Del regretfully “threw in the towel.”

She continued to give us moral support and, although she was of very modest means, contributed dana to the Sangha. Her last offering was in May in 2019, when she wrote a check to help pay for Sensei Elliston’s visit with us.

Thank you Del, for giving us such a shining example of a Zen life well-lived!

—Gekko Kathryn Riley

Del Smith, seated, in center

Del took me under her wing when I began practicing with Southwind ten years ago. When I “took the precepts” (as we say in Zen) and took refuge in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, Del was my first mentor.

I wrote this poem a few years ago for a friend who was grieving a death in his family. I dedicate it to Del, someone whom I loved dearly, and for whom I cannot grieve, but only celebrate a life well lived:

Do not grieve for me
We are all one.
We never meet, we never part.
The light that shines in your heart,
is the same that shines in mine.
Wherever you go, I shall be with you.
Wherever I go, you shall be with me.
When at last we realize that final truth,
that which divides us will melt away.
We shall be one with that light,
which has been with us all along

—Reiun Sanki Harold Schlechtweg
Wichita, June 25, 2017
Dedicated to the memory of Del