Nine months after her husband died, San Diego author Kyomi O’Connor began to open the pages of her past, “little by little,” and write her story.
“A Sky of Infinite Blue: A Japanese Immigrant’s Search for Home and Self ” begins with a prologue that details her husband, Patrick, dying in 2016 of stage IV cancer.
O’Connor recounts her difficult childhood in Japan, and the emotional abuse that resulted in developing her “armor,” a steely reserve for coping that she described as “a cage I couldn’t free myself from.”
At one point, O’Connor considered suicide. When she received an invitation to become a researcher at the National Institute of Dental Research, part of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, she left Japan for the United States.
There, she met her husband, a cancer researcher, and they fell in love, married and made a home.
When O’Connor’s father died in Japan, she learned that he wanted her to become a member of a Buddhist discipline called Shinnyo-en.
After researching the organization, O’Connor and her husband became members and spiritual leaders. Their faith guided the challenges of their marriage and every step of the battle to fight a disease that eventually overcame Patrick.
“A Sky of Infinite Blue” is a map for finding peace despite suffering and for rediscovering a sense of self after assuming the role of a full-time caregiver.
Q: After your father died, you became a member of Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist discipline that focuses on helping all people find and utilize their innate goodness. You and eventually your husband, Patrick, devoted yourselves to the practice. Ultimately, those teachings supported your efforts to help your husband, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in 2016. An event you attended inspired the title of the book. Can you tell me more about what you experienced?
A: Every year, Her Holiness Shinso Ito, the Head of the Order, Shinnyo-en and the Head priest of Shinchoji temple, conducts an outdoor fire ritual called, Saito Homa (homa refers to a fire ritual, but the outdoor one is called Saito Homa) that purifies our heart and soul, bringing out our wisdom. The founding is based on esoteric tradition. I had a very strong initial impression at the Saito Homa in October 2000, at the site near the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan. Her Holiness was purifying the ground, our heart, and the world through the ritual. Our spirit was entering the sky and the sky was so blue and beautiful and inspirational. It moved me from the bottom of my heart, and I was totally knocked out. “A Sky of Infinite Blue” references our infinite potential and the possibility for humanity and peace.
Q: Buddhism names the four sufferings that humans experience as birth and living (life), aging, illness and death. Your personal encounter with suffering resulted in many transformative changes. How does your perspective impact your thoughts today about dying?
A: Dying is a very personal and painful experience, and it is particularly hard to face death of a loved one. However, there are lots of things in life we can’t avoid or control. But we have the ability to overcome whatever unknown we face, including the four sufferings. I would still be able to face whatever comes next. We all need to take our own time.
Q: You have been a trained spiritual guide for nearly 18 years and you both give and receive guidance. What was the guidance you last received?
A: As guides, we are able to assist other practitioners on a spiritual path but we also must continuously train ourselves. We usually meet twice or three times a month for mutual training. Sometimes guiding people who are still in the darkness could be discouraging. It is very painstaking. The guidance I received was, “Don’t be daunted and always seek the light. Find the light within, even in the difficulties. Walk along the light.”
Q: In the editing process of your book, which can be difficult when telling your own story, what did you learn about publishing and what did you learn about yourself as an author?
A: It has been such a wonderful, eye-opening journey. When my story was accepted for publication, I had 125,000 words. But we reduced it to 85,000. In addition to editing, publishing involves marketing and so much more. To me, it’s not just my book, it’s become our book. It’s the culmination of all of the input from She Writes Press, Spark Point Studio, writers from my local, nationwide communities, and global platforms like Medium and many others who worked with me. I am so grateful for that.
Q: If you could choose one overall message from reading your memoir, what would it be?
A: I have gone through numerous challenges and tragedies in my life. I would like anyone who has gone through abuse, illness or the loss of a loved one to be able to heal from the past and ultimately find oneself. I did. And I want to share the deeper feeling and love that we are all interconnected under the sky of infinite blue.
“A Sky of Infinite Blue: A Japanese Immigrant’s Search for Home and Self ” by Kyomi O’Connor (She Writes Press, 2022; 300 pages)
Diesel presents Kyomi O’Connor
When: 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Diesel, Del Mar Highlands Town Center, 12843 El Camino Real, Suite No.104, Del Mar
Phone: (858) 925-7078
Luttrell is a freelance writer.