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?”

HOW TO OPEN UP HEAVEN

I spent much of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with a friend in the New York suburb where she lives. As she drove us around I looked at the people coming in and out of the synagogues that pepper her neighborhood. I had grown up like her religious neighbors and could recite the schedule of the day:

Now the men are coming to the synagogue;

Now the women with their little children;

Now the mothers bring the children back home to feed them lunch even as they continue fasting along with their husbands who remain in the synagogue;

in mid-afternoon they walk home to rest;

they return around 4 for the final services, which will only end when it’s completely dark, and then they will go home, happy and satisfied, to finally break their day-long fast.

There was a pang in my heart as we passed a park where children played across the street from a synagogue, guarded by three policemen in brightly colored vests. We didn’t need that when I was young.

The twilight hour came. I sat in my friend’s living room and knew that even then the final prayer of Ne-ilah was being offered, the last chance to talk directly to God, with many bows and prostrations. Full prostrations are common in Buddhism, rare in Judaism, but on the Day of Atonement they will go face down on the floor, the men in long white robes called kittels. White for purity.

How does one be pure, I asked the darkening sky through the window.

Many years ago Sensei Tetsugen Glassman entertained questions on the dharma. I raised my hand from the back of the zendo and said: “Every morning we chant a dedication: May all karma be resolved and the mind flower bloom in eternal spring. How does karma get resolved?” What does one do with the baggage of not one lifetime, but of many many? The never-ending responsibility of past actions, harm done and gotten, the endless deeds?

Sensei didn’t answer my question.

Years later, in the midst of marital squabbling, the same man, now Bernie, said to me: “You have so much vajra energy, you’re always trying to figure things out!” He did not mean that as a compliment.

By now I know that purity is not something to figure out. Aussie has more purity in one rush after a ball, in one 6 am nuzzle of my face—Get up! Get up! Get up!—than any idea of mine. Unfortunately, you are not a dog, Stanley used to remind me. Nevertheless, I am pure, I wish to tell him posthumously. Just like you, just like Aussie.

What is our practice? Life as it is, Bernie repeats again and again. Just life as it is, nothing more.

There are many Hasidic stories about this special twilight time of the Day of At-one-ment. A famous one relates to the time the Baal Shem-Tov, Founder of Hasidism, led the congregation in prayer on such a day. But his fellow Jews eyed him nervously because he was praying more and more urgently, looking anxious and unhappy. Are his words not reaching heaven, they wondered. If the pleas of this holy man, the holiest of his generation, don’t reach Heaven, what is there to do? Trepidation overcame them.

Twilight came, and the Baal Shem-Tov prayed more intently and devotedly, prostrating himself repeatedly, but they could see from his demeanor that he knew his prayers weren’t being heard, and the fear in the synagogue grew palpably.

In that congregation was a peasant boy, poor and illiterate. He never came to the synagogue other than in these holy days, he didn’t know the holy language, never studied, and couldn’t pray because he couldn’t make out the words in the liturgy book. He’d been shunted off to the very back, ignored by the others who were devotedly reading the prayers. But he felt the need to talk to God, to express joy and sorrow, beg for forgiveness, beg for his life, only he didn’t have the words. This welled up in him all day, he could no longer remain silent, so in those last twilit moments he took a breath and, with all his heart and soul, gave out one loud, extended whistle.

For a second the congregation was struck silent; the next moment they jumped all over him, ready to tear him to pieces over this sacrilege. But the Baal Shem-Tov called out to them to stop, and now there was a smile on his lips. He said: “This entire day my words couldn’t penetrate heaven, neither could yours. Everything we learned, everything we quoted, all our prayers—none broke through and I thought all was lost. Then this boy whistled. His whistle went straight to the Divine Being and opened up Heaven for all of us.”

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.”