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?”

FREE. SAFE. FREE. SAFE. FREE. SAFE.

This morning I sat, the window above the altar, and noticed a black animal hopping up and down in the snowy slope behind our house. Looks like Aussie, I thought drowsily. Then: It is Aussie!

I jumped up and ran downstairs in my yellow-and-white bathrobe, slipped on a pair of boots because it was snowing. There’s a fence outside to keep her in, and she’d obviously found a way out. She was nowhere to be seen so I went out front and yelled for her, and she came sprinting down the driveway, as happy as could be.

“Okay,” I said, leading her to the back, “show me how you got out.”

Proudly she scampered towards two bird feeders that had obviously drawn her attention, walked behind the maple, and I saw it. The roots of the maple were above-ground, the fence behind it had been lowered by a bear interested in said bird feeders last spring, and by scampering up the roots she was able to bound up and over the lowered fence.

Doggedly (yes, even people walk doggedly), I went to the back shed where I found a large, broken trash barrel. We live in New England; no one throws anything away. It had snow and ice inside even this early in the season, so I emptied it, took it back to Aussie’s escape route, and planted it smack between the tree and the lowered fence, blocking her way to freedom.

She sniffed it, first from one side, then from the other. “You blocked my way to having fun,” she says.

“I’m keeping you safe,” I tell her.

“I don’t want to be safe, I’m young. I need to differentiate and individuate.”

“What does that mean?”

“I need to run away,” she says.

“You need to be safe,” I tell her.

“I need to have fun, run, do my thing,” she says.

“Safe.”

“Free.”

“Safe.”

“Free.”

“Safe.”

“Free.”

“You, Aussie, are a juvenile delinquent!”

“And proud of it!” she retorts.

For most of his life, Bernie didn’t play it safe.

A couple, students of his for almost 40 years, told me he was the freest man they ever knew.

“The way he led Greyston was like dancing on the precipice of an abyss,” someone else said. “I see him in my dreams dancing on the edge, holding on to an umbrella, and laughing at our fears and worries, just laughing.” Add to that a cigar in his mouth and a red beret on his head, I think to myself, and yes, that was him. We still shake our heads incredulously at what he and a small community of talented but incompetent Zen students were able to build in southwest Yonkers: businesses, apartments for homeless families, a child care center, apartments and day center for folks with AIDS.

“You have no experience,” people told him.

He laughed.

“You have no money.”

He waved the beret in the air.

And finally, the remark that was so classic back then: “This isn’t Zen.”

That drew the biggest guffaw of all.

He had enormous failures, but then you have to define failure. He knew better than anyone that the lifeblood of the Buddha flows endlessly. He looked at the battered, depressed southwest corner of Yonkers, the city referred to by others as the armpit of Westchester County, and saw a cathedral city. That’s how he referred to Yonkers, a Cathedral City. Most of us saw red crack vials littering the sidewalks, big housing projects surrounded by police cars day and night, unsafe night streets, break-ins and violence. He saw a Cathedral City.

Who saw life as it really was?

Our dokusan, or Zen interviews between teacher and student, took place on the bakery floor, over a second-hand, broken-down Apple desktop that refused to print out that day’s orders, or driving to the weekly farmers market to sell our baked goods. In one of them I complained to him that we had no money.

“We have the Buddha’s wealth right at the tips of our fingers,” he shot right back.

“The Buddha had to beg,” I moped.

Some people called him financially reckless, but many Zen Peacemakers lost their fear of money, or lack of it, by going on the streets or working with him. More important, they learned to do their own kind of begging, sometimes called fundraising, to finance the Greystons they wanted to build.

The freest man they ever met, our friends said. And my mind went back to an evening of just him and me.

He: “Why do you talk of the past? The practice is to drop attachments.”

“For some it’s to develop them,” I retorted.

Free. Safe. Free. Safe. Free. Safe.

 

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.”