Dr. Jerry Bass died August 29 in Newton, Massachusetts. He was 67 years old. In the days leading up to his death, there was no woe or anger. But he was worried — about whether his wife, two children, and his patients were prepared for what he called “the melody not lingering on.”
Jerry was very humble, fitting for a Buddhist psychopharmacologist. His wife of 39 years knew, of course, that he worked in an urban mental-health clinic, and volunteered with immigrants. But it wasn’t until the funeral that she learned he'd been captain of three junior high-school sports teams, or that sometimes he paid tuition for those who couldn’t afford to take classes at the Buddhist institute.
"Quirky" was a loving and frequent descriptor. Jerry required precise ambient temperatures, and was always fiddling with the thermostat. He sat for days in silent retreats, but couldn’t sit through movies — talking so much during critical emotional moments that his wife occasionally needed to move her seat.
Those who loved him understood these were the kinds of contradictions that had brought him to Buddhism. They knew that, though not a critical man, he was a keenly critical thinker, always up for a heated discussion about dharma and the state of Israel. Nor could he keep himself from interrogating restaurant menus. “How brown...” Jerry would famously begin, while the waiter took notes and his table-mates sighed, “...how brown is the brown sauce?”
Practicing Buddhism brought patience and peacefulness to his restless, intelligent mind. It enriched him personally, as traditional therapies had not, and became — as much as any philosophy of non-attachment can — his passion. He meditated daily, and with another therapist, created a course using mindfulness to treat anxiety and depression. He loved that course. When he grew sick, he worried about how the patients would be taken care of.
All the quirks of personality fell away in his illness. Pure tenderness and untempered truthfulness emerged instead. Visitors from different galaxies met each other in his home — fraternity brothers, mental-health colleagues, Buddhists. “How are you?” someone would ask, in a well-meaning but fact-blind way. “I’m dying,” Jerry would say, but never with self-pity.
As the melody grew fainter, he spent his time thanking caretakers and family. The problem with attachment, he might have said, was not being attached, but the greed of wanting more. His body was dying. Yet at the same time, he had never been more fully himself.
Did you know Dr. Jerry Bass? Share your memories in the comments section.