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?”

I WAS ONCE VERY ANGRY: AT LITTLE BIGHORN

I used to get so angry when I would come here, Violet Catches says.

At that time there was no monument to the Natives who fought here, just to the soldiers from the 7th Cavalry who died under Custer. It was George Bush who authorized the monument to the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe in 2001.

All the tribes came here with their families, wives and children, for Sundance with Chief Sitting Bull. This is all sacred land. Instead it became a battleground.

Violet surveys the land around Little Bighorn. I’d read up on accounts of the battle, but who would have thought the place would be so beautiful, rolling long yellow grasses with large clusters of blue-gray sage (That’s very special sage, says Violet, and she will pick some later), all looking down at the green valley with the blue river snaking around groves of cottonwoods and a green meadow.

The enormous Natives’ encampment, come to do Sundance with Chief Sitting Bull along with their wives and children, left a trail half-a-mile wide. They were here, Custer came from there, Reno was here, Benteen was there. The rangers’ descriptions are loud and even theatrical, and why shouldn’t they be? While the direct battle with Custer only took three hours, the scouting and strategic parrying beforehand went on for several days, and in the telling it almost sounds like a Hollywood movie. Till you see the names of all those that were killed. Till you remember the long history of what brought it about, and what came afterwards, including Wounded Knee 15 years later, and so much more more more after that.

I wasn’t the woman you see now, Renee tells us. She’s the wife of Manny Iron Hawk, and he refers to her with a Lakota word denoting My Second Half. Together they do many presentations to groups all over Cheyenne River Reservation and as far north as Canada. They’re terrific together, each with his/her separate song, separate voice, singing in harmony. The song they sing is lilting and hopeful towards the end, but its early parts are painful to hear.

I was angry all the time. You lose everything you love—your land, your family, your traditions, your children and grandchildren. The hardest thing is when you’re not allowed to be who you are, you are not allowed to speak your language or practice your way of life. That’s what will cause you to be angry, that’s what will cause you to do alcohol and drugs, that’s what will bring violence into the family.

And then she, like so many other Lakota I have listened to, goes through a big change. Something happens, an awakening, a transformation, they stop dulling their pain with intoxicants, they face things squarely, and they learn how to deal with the rage that’s been inside since the time they were toddlers.

How do you do that, I wonder, when your parents acted out of trauma, out of mass violence, poverty, and family deaths (someone tells me that sociologists conclude that while the average American from European roots experiences 2 deaths before s/he is 18, the average Native American experiences closely some 30 deaths by that age, and hundreds more before his/her death at a younger age than the European American counterpart)? I think of my own family history, the Holocaust, of my parents witnessing and experiencing things no human should, of running and hiding and starving, of war and bloodshed. And yes, it’s there in the family, running its way through generations.

So what to do with so much anger? The elders’ humility and vulnerability shine as they share these personal stories with us right there, on a yellow hilltop under a hot sun, and I know that heroism isn’t just to be found in Little Bighorn, it’s there right now, palpably if less visibly, in men and women who refuse to continue the legacy of hating the Other and themselves, who model to the next generation—and to us—a very different way of being. They are not just our guides to Little Bighorn; they are our guides to a different way of living.

If only this could be the legacy of this place, purified finally not just by blue-gray sage but also by the actions of all its descendants, Indian and non-Indian.

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.”