A gentle force in a small package - Salish Current
March 29, 2024
A gentle force in a small package
Linda Quinby Lambert

The late Edwina Norton described her path toward becoming a Buddhist monk in “Autumn Light: My Fifty Years in Zen” [Rowman and Littlefield, 2020]. (Courtesy photo)

March 29, 2024
A gentle force in a small package
Linda Quinby Lambert

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“I found Zen in my late thirties and followed it into my eighties, slowly exploring and deepening
my understanding … taking the Priest’s vow to support and encourage all beings.”

Edwina Norton, “Autumn Light: My Fifty Years in Zen,” p.140

Edwina Norton (1935–2024) “moved in many circles of involvement,” Edie’s friend Jane Rosenfeld recalled. “Her signature characteristic was full engagement in the topic at hand, whether the activity was gardening, painting, traveling, reading, writing, sewing her priestly robes, examining political and social issues, or enjoying the wide-ranging conversations that friends have. She touched and enriched so many people.”

Jane and Edie were members of a poetry group. “Each member selected a poem they liked or were just baffled by. Edie brought thought-provoking poems for us to ponder and talk through, sharing her insight, curiosity and warm good humor,” Jane said.

Edie’s and my paths intersected at Whatcom Undaunted, an activist group formed, as member Sue Ming said, “after the orange-haired man took office.” Up to two dozen women continue to strategize and hear speakers at the homes of Betsy Gross or Marian Exall. Since I did not know Edie well, I turned to her Undaunted and other friends — all possessing rich stories of Edie’s personality and accomplishments. 

Betsy said, “Edie was both intellectually interesting and emotionally soothing. Her calmness made being in her company peaceful and comforting. She was who she was, an authentic woman who shared herself with others. She studied the issues, came up with defining language, and discussed possible solutions with decision makers.”

Jill Bernstein commented, “As we parsed through what to do about the political divide and the deep fissures in our nation and community, Edie was always urging us to continue conversation with those with different points of view and to build bridges, never giving up. I still hear Edie’s voice in my head, reminding me to not only talk, but to listen.”

In 2018, Edie called out the Democratic National Committee in a sharply worded letter about the DNC’s slogan. “ ‘A better deal’ [was] flaccid … a pathetic reference to Trump’s odious ‘Art of the Deal,’ reminding us of Trump and thereby contaminating the slogan” because it held “no Democratic vision or values,” she wrote. She urged action: “We citizens are overwhelmed by the chaos and outrageous behavior of the current administration. Point the way for us, offer substance and vision to get us talking with people in our communities about Democratic Values.”

A civic-minded citizen, she served on the Bellingham Greenways Advisory Committee with Eric Hirst who identified her as “quiet and understated” and “a forceful advocate for the committee’s independence. When Edie spoke, we all listened, and listened carefully. I reconnected with her a month ago. Although Edie was near death, she was wonderfully sanguine about her departure from this life. I was really impressed with how thoughtful, calm and comfortable Edie sounded.”

When Edie missed several Undaunted meetings, Betsy called to find out why. “She could not get up my front steps. I knew she had a severely deformed spine, causing her to walk slowly with a pronounced limp. Throughout her life, she swam, a sport she could manage while carrying this lifelong burden.” 

Sue Ming’s friendship with Edie began at Undaunted. “Edie never had a bad word to say about anyone. I wanted to know her better. We met for coffee several times. I learned about her book and her beliefs. Meanwhile, my wife, Linda, was diagnosed with stage three gastroesophageal cancer. Linda believed in some type of spirit but couldn’t put her words to her spirit. Edie taught Linda some meditation skills, but she didn’t stop there. She continued to talk and make suggestions to both of us.”

Realizing Edie’s deteriorating health, Sue and Linda offered help, but “Edie was resistant and independent, so we kept our visits social. Edie and I both loved the ocean, so we sent her emails with pictures of the ocean from Maui. Upon our return on Feb. 21, Edie asked if I could take her to Arne Hanna to use the hot tub on March 2. With reluctance, she cancelled our date; she and her family were focusing on pain medication. She died on March 5.”

Linda said, “for me, Edie was a mentor. She introduced me to mindfulness and helped me understand staying in the present. She was generous with her time, patient and accepting of my attempts to bring a rudimentary mindfulness practice into my life. Being around her gave me a sense of deep peace. I continue to use what she taught me daily. Edie was a gentle force in a small package.”

If you want to discover more about the singular challenges of Edie’s life and of her vibrant spirituality, I recommend her book “Autumn Light,” available at the usual booksellers and through the library. I checked the library whereabouts of “Autumn Light” at the time of this writing; it is currently riding and residing on the Whatcom Community Library System bookmobile, ready to be delivered into waiting hands. Somehow, that seems so right.

A memorial ceremony for Shuko Edie Norton will be hosted by the Red Cedar Zen Community on March 30, 3–5 p.m. at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth Street, Bellingham; and via Zoom. For more information, to register for this event and to view Edie’s obituary, click here.

— Contributed by Linda Quinby Lambert

The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

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