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?”

AN OPEN WOUND

All my life I have listened to what people will let slip when they think you are part of their we. A we is so powerful. It is the most corrupt and formidable institution on earth. Its hands are full of the crispest and most persuasive currency. Its mouth is full of received, repeating language. The we closes its ranks to protect the space inside it, where the air is different. It does not protect people. It protects its own shape. You have belonged to many of them. So have I. . . . The story of a family is always a story of complicity. It’s about not being able to choose the secrets you’ve been let in on. The question, for someone who was raised in a closed circle and then leaves it, is what is the us, and what is the them.

These words were written by Patricia Lockwood in Priestdaddy, a brilliant memoir of growing up in a Catholic family in the Midwest. And though her upbringing was so different from mine, when I read the above paragraph I sat up and thought, She’s talking about me. She’s talking about my life, the we of my family, the we of what it was to be Jewish in those days, and for many, what it’s like now.

Yesterday was Israel’s celebration of 70 years of independence. I was born there a year and a half later to parents who arrived from Holocaust Europe to Israel illegally (due to British blockade, going on to a refugee camp), and a year later were in a southern kibbutz fighting Egyptian forces in Israel’s Independence War.

It’s easy to forget now, given the superiority of their army, how vastly outnumbered Israelis were back then (almost everyone fought in the war, not just the army), under-armed, with no air force, with some 7 Arab armies vowing to annihilate them. My parents weren’t the only ones who were dumped from the boiling kettle of Holocaust Europe right into the fire of a war in 1948, with almost no military training of any kind.

No one saw an alternative.

So I grew up understanding in my bones the importance Israel had for many Jews as a refuge; in my family, Independence Day was a real holiday. It continues to have that meaning for many. Just the day before those celebrations a few German men approached Jewish men in Berlin and struck out at them with belts, yelling “Jew!”

But yesterday is also marked as the day of Naqba, Catastrophe, for Palestinians who lost their homes, villages, towns, and a way of life. So yesterday a small group of Zen Peacemakers bore witness to both: Israelis’ joyous celebration of claiming their home from thousands of years ago, and the Palestinians’ marking of Naqba.

There was also a joint memorial service honoring both Israeli and Palestinian families who lost relatives in this endless war between both nations. The government tried to erase the event by making it illegal for Palestinians to join the service, and Israel’s Supreme Court struck that decision down.

In some ways the fight is always about we. Who are we right now? Jews, Germans, Palestinians, men, women, Americans, survivors, refugees, asylum seekers? Not just one but combinations of several? And how do we maintain our local we’s, which are our history, religion, and culture, precious things after all, without the circle closing in on us, separating us from the rest of the world?

So I was deeply moved to read the words of the Israeli writer David Grossman at that memorial service, still dealing with the complex, indescribable pain of the death of his son 12 years ago in the Israel-Lebanon war. Just before receiving Israel’s highest prize for literature, he attested: It is difficult and exhausting to constantly fight against the gravity of loss.

It is difficult to separate the memory from the pain. It hurts to remember, but it is even more frightening to forget. And how easy it is, in this situation, to give in to hate, rage, and the will to avenge.

But I find that every time I am tempted by rage and hate, I immediately feel that I am losing the living contact with my son. Something there is sealed. And I came to my decision, I made my choice. And I think that those who are here this evening — made that same choice.

And I know that within the pain there is also breath, creation, doing good. That grief does not isolate but also connects and strengthens … We, Israelis and Palestinians, who in the wars between us have lost those dearer to us, perhaps, than our own lives — we are doomed to touch reality through an open wound.

Yes, an open wound, I thought. One that will never seal, never heal, one that you will remember first thing upon waking up in the morning and last thing when you go to sleep at night. But there is life there, not just death. From now on your arc will contain both life and death—viscerally, not theoretically as it is for the rest of us. It’ll ache and scratch, delivering frequent jabs to your belly, or suddenly, when you least expect it, the air will go out of the room.

Someone died, leaving you to bear witness, to live past their death. To realize, struggling and fighting every inch of the way against this knowledge, that living past their death is indeed possible. That this life will never be painless, perhaps not even happy, but still awake, alive, birthing and rebirthing again and again.

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.”