In Memory of Leon Erlin

Leon Erlin

My father-in-law, Leon Erlin, died last Thursday, April 19, 2012. He was 91 years old, a World War II veteran, and had survived a number of life threatening illnesses rather robustly over the last fifteen years or so.

My wife, Rebecca, and I went over to his and my mother-in-law, Louetta’s, house this afternoon for a small family memorial service. Leon was cremated and I gather that Louetta just wanted something quiet with immediate family.

She spoke a bit about her 42 year long marriage to Leon and what he was like as a man. Others spoke at length about their experiences of Leon as a parent, an uncle, a cousin, and so forth in their lives over the last few decades. It was eye opening to hear about the kind of man he’d been in the eyes of these people. I’ve really only known my wife’s perspective of her dad from my eleven years together with her and my own from knowing him during these last five and a half years. I never knew him well. He was quite old when we met and he was a taciturn man by nature, though I gather he grew less so over the years. He was a figure that I saw at family gatherings or the occasional visits to each other’s homes.

Leon grew up as a Jewish kid during the Great Depression, often on his own. He enlisted in the Air Force as a patriotic American to fight Hitler (his own words). He managed to go to college with no support or resources, always managing to build on his own tenacity and willingness to work. He studied horticulture and had a great love of nature, spending much of his time over decades camping and hkining. He taught public school for many years and went back to school following his retirement to earn a second degree, this one in the Russian language. It would be hard for me to do true justice to the long life of this man.

At the memorial, we did some short readings to remember Leon as he was. Leon was a Jew, if a non-observant one, so we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish together as a group. The Jewish members of the family doing the Hebrew and then all of us reciting in English.

In phonetic Hebrew, it is as follows:

Yit-ga-dal v’yit-ka-dash sh’mei ra-ba, b’al-ma di-v’ra chi-ru-tei, v’yam-lich mal-chu-tei b’chai-yei-chon uv’yo-mei-chon uv’chai-yei d’chol-beit Yis-ra-eil, ba-a-ga-la u-viz-man ka-riv, v’im’ru: A-mein.

Y’hei sh’mei ra-ba m’va-rach l’a-lam ul’al-mei al-ma-ya.

Yit-ba-rach v’yish-ta-bach, v’yit-pa-ar v’yit-ro-mam v’yit-na-sei, v’yit-ha-dar v’yit-a-leh v’yit-ha-lal, sh’mei d’ku-d’sha, b’rich hu, l’ei-la min kol bir-cha-ta v’shi-ra-ta, tush-b’cha-ta v’ne-che-ma-ta, da-a-mi-ran b’al-ma, v’im’ru: A-mein.

Y’hei sh’la-ma ra-ba min sh’ma-ya, v’cha-yim, a-lei-nu v’al kol-Yis-ra-eil, v’im’ru: A-mein.

O-seh sha-lom bim-ro-mav, hu ya-a-seh sha-lom a-lei-nu v’al kol-Yis-ra-eil, v’im’ru: A-mein.

This is English translation we used:

May God’s name be exalted and hallowed throughout the world that He created, as is God’s wish. May God’s sovereignty soon be accepted, during our life and the life of all Israel. And let us say: Amen

May God’s great name be praised through all time.

Glorified and celebrated, lauded and worshipped, exalted and honored, extolled and acclaimed may the Holy One be, praised beyond all song and psalm, beyond all tributes that mortals can utter. And let us say: Amen.

Let there be abundant peace from heaven, with life’s goodness for us and for all Israel. And let us say: Amen.

May the One who brings peace to His universe bring peace to us and all Israel. And let us say: Amen.

Leon had studied Zen when he was younger and sat with Suzuki Roshi around 1962 for a while at Soko-ji, a Zen temple in a converted synagogue in San Francisco. He lost track of Suzuki later but was influenced by Zen in his life. Because of this, I was asked to read something to touch on this. Following the kaddish, I read part of Hsin Hsin Ming (信心銘) or “Faith in Mind,” a poem attributed to the Third Patriarch of Zen and written around the year 600 C. E.

The section that I read was as follows:

In this world of Suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony
with this reality just simply say
when doubt arises, “not two.”
In this “not two” nothing is separate,
nothing is excluded
No matter when or where,
enlightenment means entering this truth.
And this truth is beyond extension
or diminuation in time or space;
in it a single thought is ten thousand years.
Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe
stands before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference,
for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
So too with being and non-being.
Don’t waste time in doubts and arguments
that have nothing to do with this.
One thing, all things,
move among and intermingle without distinction.
To live in this realization is to be without anxiety about non-perfection.
To live in this faith is the road to non-duality
because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.
The Way is beyond language,
for in it there is
no yesterday
no tomorrow
no today.

Leon will be missed by his family and all of the people with whom he came into contact.