Two hard things happened after Bernie’s major stroke. The first was coming to grips with the fact that our life won’t be what it was. The second was bearing witness to the things my husband wanted or needed, and that I could not provide. In face of suffering and disappointment, my big challenge is not to react. There are unfulfilled wants and needs, curves no one expected. Cultivating curiosity about what’s around that bend has never been easy for me.” | “I have walked dogs while leaves are falling over many years. Stanley will be 13 shortly and I find myself wondering if this is his last fall, just as I wondered a few months ago if that was his last summer and I will probably ask the same question about winter when we walk on the snow. And I wonder what it would be like one day for both of us to lie down in the woods because we’re tired or our legs hurt, and never get up again.” | “Years ago I took a course on how to raise money. I was told that, when meeting a potential donor, the hardest thing isn’t to ask for a specific donation, the hardest thing is to ask and THEN SHUT UP. I can apply that lesson to the most mundane of circumstances: “How are you?” I ask someone. And now, Eve, shut up and listen.” | “Bernie’s physical therapist doesn’t want Bernie to favor the left leg, which he feels, over the right, which he can’t feel after the stroke: “Don’t stand on the leg you know can hold you,” he tells him. “Stand on the leg you don’t know can hold you.” Let go of what you know, the working limb that gives you confidence, and lean on the other side, the side you don’t trust, that you can barely make out is there.” | “I didn’t grow up on Mother Goose rhymes, I grew up on my mother’s stories of the Shoah and what she had had to do to survive. These were tales of death but also grit and courage, and they’ve influenced me from the time I was a girl.” | “Bernie was about to go out on an errand yesterday when I saw him standing at the door, his funny hat framing a sweet and happy face. I tried to capture the image right there, not a great photo by any means, just a casual, intimate moment that I may go back to years hence to remember how happy we were.” | “Nothing deters Stanley and me from our daily expeditions to the woods, not even shooting and the occasional glimpses of men in hunting gear with guns.” | “I am an immigrant, having come to the US at the age of 7. I remember tiptoeing silently down the hallway back then and listening to my parents talk in their bedroom about money, about how to pay bills and afford schoolbooks and clothes. Often the words they repeated were: What will happen?”

MOVING PRACTICE

After Bernie had his stroke he was taken to Franklin County Medical Center, and from there down to Bay State Hospital in Springfield, 45 minutes south of us. I still remember driving down US 91, telling his daughter and my brother the news and seeing the ambulance transporting him in my rearview mirror, veering to the right lane to let them pass. Once in Springfield, he was taken to Emergency, then to Intensive Care, then to Neuro-ICU, then down to a regular bed, and then to Weldon Rehabilitation Hospital—all in 6 days.

Some 7 weeks after his stroke he came home. He moved downstairs to an office turned into a bedroom, then two months later upstairs to our bedroom, with a layout and furniture that we have reconfigured time and time again. And at some point during this time I began to think of my life as moving practice.

I had a few modest, nice homes in my first marriage, but in the interim years between that and my marriage to Bernie I traveled light. At times I owned furniture, at times I didn’t. At times I had a car, at times I didn’t. Never a lot of clothes, always a basic amount of cookware; books were a problem, and I parted from them in major waves over the years, and now use the Massachusetts system of libraries.

After I married Bernie I came not just into larger quarters but also into Buddhist art: Japanese sculptures and calligraphy, Chinese paintings, Tibetan thankas, portraits of ancestors, Indian sandstone Gandharas, not to mention plentiful urns of ashes, including the ashes of various dogs, which only this year I finally emptied by the roots of a welcoming maple in the back yard. They’ll be happier there, I told Bernie. Once we mislaid Maezumi Roshi’s ashes for about a year, only to find them in storage.

I don’t want to live in a mausoleum, I also told Bernie; in fact, I don’t want to live in a museum. I would fantasize about several rooms, fully carpeted for weak legs, with no stairs, white walls with only one thing hanging on each, the picture straight rather than askew, clean rather than dusty, and just the right lighting. For years I felt that anything I owned had to be maintained, otherwise I didn’t want to have it. For this reason I do rigorous monthly cleaning of our fancy coffee machine, regular car check-ups and sewer inspections—and never, ever own silver I have to polish (my mother’s lifelong remonstrances notwithstanding).

All this is part of moving practice—where do I live? Under what circumstances? And can I, laden with stone and wooden Buddhas, five or six altars in the house, photos and urns and even gorgeous Japanese kesas, still be light on my feet?

And what about the living Buddhas in the house? When someone walks on two legs and a cane, moving very slowly from room to room, the house feels bigger, the stairs taller, the furniture obstructive. Bernie walked in the back yard yesterday for the first time since winter and sat at the picnic table that just emerged from the shed. Do we really need this much space, I wonder as I look around me, if it’s just Bernie and Stanley, me, squirrels, chipmunks, and hundreds of goldfinches, with occasional visitations by wild turkeys?

In September we will have lived here for 13 years, and still I feel like we’re always moving. Things have a temporary feel. On weekend evenings we settle down to watch a movie on a 50” screen (I know, I know, not portable at all), go to sleep, and the next morning I’m surprised to see the familiar apple tree outside the windows. Even asleep, I expect to be in flux.

Always feel at home, my friend M from Florida told me long ago, when I lived in a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. And off she took me to Roche Bobois to buy a gorgeous sofa I could not afford, but somehow I knew what she was talking about. It wasn’t about sofas, bookcases, or a massive manzanita dining room table. How do you feel at home while floating in the air? How am I solid in times of uncertainty, of illness, old age, and Donald Trump?

M, who always had beautiful things, has herself done lots of moving lately. From her Vineyards condominium to independent living to assisted living to a psychiatric hospital to a memory care unit to a hospital to rehabilitation—all in six months. At the age of 91 she can’t figure it out. At the age of 67 I can’t figure it out either.

I should call her more often.

 

THE DOGS OF THE KISKADEE HILLS

The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx begins a trilogy about a society of dogs after humans have destroyed themselves and much of the world. Living with their families and clans in the Kiskadee Hills, they’ve developed over generations a rich tradition and way of life, and have prospered. But now, an unknown killer is butchering the Kisdees of the Hills.

Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges says: “You will never look at dogs the same again. Eve Marko gives us a story that explores the path that life on our planet has taken, and asks what your role in that course might be.”

BEARING WITNESS

Eve Marko - Bearing Witness

To bear witness to anything is to be as close to it as possible.

It’s not to read books or see movies about it, it’s not to have an opinion or tell a story. It’s to let go of all ideas about it—be in the space of not-knowing—and simply be there, up close and deeply personal.

Eve has been involved with the Zen Peacemaker Order’s Bearing Witness Retreats—in places of suffering and conflict since her first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

There have been 20 retreats at the site of those concentration camps since, along with retreats in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Black Hills of South Dakota, near the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Upcoming Bearing Witness Retreats:

Bosnia, May 2016 (Please email for details)

ABOUT EVE MARKO

Eve Marko

Eve Marko is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, head teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts, and a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

She has trained spiritually-based social activists and peacemakers in the US, Europe and the Middle East alongside her husband, Bernie Glassman, and has been a Spiritholder at retreats bearing witness to genocide at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda, the Black Hills in South Dakota, and Bosnia. Before that she worked at the Greyston Mandala for a decade, which provides housing, child care, jobs, and AIDS-related medical services in Yonkers, New York.

Eve’s articles on social activists have appeared in the magazines Tikkun and Shambhala Sun, and her collection for lay Zen practitoners, The Book of Householder Koans, will come out in late 2016. Her great love, Hunt for the Lynx, the first in her fantasy trilogy, The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills, will come out in early 2016.

“When I was a young girl my dream was to be a hermit, live alone, and write serious literature. That’s not how things turned out. I got involved with people. I got involved in the world.

Two things matter to me right now: the creative spark and the aliveness of personal connection. In some way, they both come down to the same thing.”