Rick Fields (1942-1999)

By Pw | Whole Earth, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Rick Fields (1942-1999)


Pw, Whole Earth


In 1969, Rick Fields wrote the story of the Liferaft Earth Hunger the first time Americans to experience and draw attention to world hunger. Twenty-five years later he took Zen retreats on the streets of the poorest section of New York, sleeping in doorways in order to experience the pain of homelessness without sentimentality (Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master's Lessons in Living a Life that Matters, with Bernard Glassman; Random House, 1997). He remained a contributor to Whole Earth until his death in June. He was my roommate at college, booted by the administration in 1964 for having an affair with a woman off campus. He stayed a dear friend for thirty-five years.

Doctors gave Rick a death sentence four years before he died. He lived longer than anyone predicted, and worked, during this time, to help others die consciously. In true Whole Earth spirit, he created a practical and already classic "tool," his poetry book Fuck You, Cancer, whose straight-arrow honesty relieves heavy anxieties of people with cancer as well as those of their friends. "Death is not the enemy. Cancer is the enemy." He honed his attention to healing ("You're not dead until you die," he told the doctors), aiming and practicing as warrior for life, and for death as part of life. He absorbed cocktail after cocktail of chemotherapy, took pill after pill of Chinese medicines for his immune system, underwent gamma-knife surgery for brain tumors, meditated until he felt giddily addicted and angerless, received injections of fetal stem cells to boost his platelet count so he could absorb more chemo, accompanied a friend who pierced his own back muscles for Rick as part of the Sioux sundance, arranged his altar and home with photos of teachers, Buddhist icons, eagle feathers, dream catchers, and amulets, and played Thelonius Monk CDs.

I sat for three or four hours each day, for three days, with Rick's body. …

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