Rev. Ryusho Jeffus and I were thrown together for a few months in a furious march through the Nichiren Shu priest education system, from the written exam, to Sodo Rin and finally Shingyo Dojo. The powers that be decided I would be the on-call simultaneous interpreter for Ryusho who had no Japanese though it was not an easy job as I had my own studies and practice to do.
Ryusho was kind and cut me free when a lecture or instruction didn’t seem important. “Give me a recap later,” he would say. He was a former Marine and it showed: he was used to receiving orders and dashing around and joked that Shingyo Dojo was “like being in the military again,” even though his health was not robust and it was difficult for him. Twice we had to go to Minobu Hospital to get special asthma medication to get him through the 35 day training.
We had a special Shingyo Dojo shared memory. Near the end as we were to climb Shichimensan, it was touch and go if he could make it but he was absolutely determined to try. I was put in charge as his climbing partner. It was a hard long climb in cool drizzling rain. Just as we walked past the Wakomon Gate, the sun peeked out from a rift in the clouds and we walked in a tunnel of light the last few steps up Shichimensan as though we were entering a mystical world.
That will always be my memory of Ryusho. His memory of me was the next day as hiked down the North Sando trail in beautiful clear spring weather: I walked immediately behind tightly holding onto his obi the whole way down to keep him from tripping and falling, which he nearly did many times from fatigue. But we made it.
It is said that the followers of Nichiren make one last climb up Shichimensan as they leave this world. Gassho Ryusho, I hope you made it okay on your own.
Rev. Ryusho Jeffus passed away on August 11, 2020.