In the retreat with the Lakota people in the Black Hills I realized that we’re all mixtures of different things, no one’s pure this or pure that, and that often there’s some quality of brokenness built into these combinations.” | “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?” | “Live your life of the fox, your less-than-ideal life, fully and completely. Instead we perpetrate violence against the things and people we did not choose. We’re afraid that this is all there is, we blame ourselves and strike out against others. Our craving, grasping minds want things to be different. Any life other than this one!”

DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU IT DOESN’T MATTER!

Gen. Wesley Clark Jr., middle, and other veterans kneel in front of Leonard Crow Dog during a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo by Josh Morgan, Huffington Post
Gen. Wesley Clark Jr., middle, and other veterans kneel in front of Leonard Crow Dog during a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Photo by Josh Morgan, Huffington Post

I met a friend of my brother’s the other day at a Jerusalem café. He told me that he had taken part in a convocation honoring Elie Wiesel at the Hebrew University, and that the Chief Rabbi of Rumania was there and told the following story:

In my position I’ve visited many small Rumanian towns and villages which once had a large population of Jews but which are now empty of Jews after the Holocaust. In one such town I hear something strange. There is an old synagogue there, abandoned and unused since World War II. But every Friday night, when the Sabbath begins, the lights go on in the synagogue and they go off on Saturday night, at the end of the Sabbath. I decided to look into it, and discovered that a goy, a non-Jew, enters the abandoned synagogue every Friday evening and puts the Sabbath prayer books by every single empty seat. On the Sabbath morning he comes in again and puts prayer shawls by each seat. He comes back on Saturday night, returns the prayer shawls and prayer books, and turns off the lights. He has done that for many years. I told Elie Weisel about this long ago, and he told me to support this man as much as possible so that he could continue to do this work.

When I heard this story I immediately remembered Bernie’s and my 1996 visit with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, to ask him for his blessing for the Zen Peacemakers’ retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Reb Zalman said that he was all for it, only the retreat had to be done for the sake of the souls there. I vividly remember driving back and pondering his answer: What souls? Weren’t the dead dead? Beside, as a Buddhist I didn’t believe in souls.

We’d asked him for his blessing for a single retreat, not knowing that this retreat would continue for 21 years. During all that time I and many others have sensed a powerful presence in those death camps. I hear visitors to Auschwitz-Birkenau number almost 2 million a year, most of whom come to look around quickly, turn away and leave. But a small group of 100 comes every year to sit in a circle on those tracks, chant names of the dead and do ceremony.

Time is a human construct; past, present, and future are only human parameters for organizing experience and information in a way that can be processed by our brains, nothing more. In that case, how can anyone gauge the impact of a diverse group of people bearing witness to millions killed in the name of sameness, uniformity, and racial purity? Or the work of one non-Jew who, week after week, year after year, puts out service books and prayer shawls at the beginning of the Sabbath in a half-destroyed synagogue and puts them away at the end?

Why does he do that? What does he see?

I thought of this again when I read about the Forgiveness Ceremony conducted by Leonard Crow Dog at Standing Rock for army veterans. The same army that had massacred Natives for hundreds of years now came to protect their encampment, and then begged for forgiveness for what the US army had done over centuries. Wesley Clark, Jr., minced no words:

Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. We took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.

I devoured those photos when they appeared. Later that night, when I talked about this to a good friend, a wonderful and skilled leadership consultant, his response was that he appreciated this gesture, only it should have been better organized with more people and more publicity.

But this was no gesture. It’s precisely the small individual acts that make the difference. It’s precisely those acts making no sense (The dead are dead!), that seemingly have little visible impact, in which a person full-heartedly lights a candle, says a name, argues persuasively and peacefully against the use of Indian mascots by a local high school football team, who comes to the site of a massacre or the sale of slaves to re-member, reconnect the dead and the living, those acts participate in a moment that isn’t momentary but timeless; they heal the fabric of the one life that transcends life and death.

What does the man in Rumania, serving the invisible ones in the synagogue, say to his family and friends who tell him his actions make no sense? They are right; what he does has no logic. Those actions, like Leonard Crow Dog’s and other more anonymous ones, come from somewhere else. We can’t know the significance of even the smallest action. But I am quite certain now that the small is never small, the past is never past. Each of us can do something. Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t matter.

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.”