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?”

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO

Last night I finished George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the Man Booker Prize for literature this year. I can’t remember when I’ve felt so moved by a novel. First, by Saunders’ daring to bring so many different elements into the book, but more deeply by the struggle and generosity of his characters.

The story takes place right after Abraham Lincoln loses his 12 year-old son Willie, in the middle of the American Civil War. The nation is already reeling from countless deaths (with many more to come) and its leader, the President, is full of doubts and misgivings. Is it right to fight on? Is he a peacemaker or a warmonger? What must he do? What does he call on? And in the middle of all that, his own little boy dies. He’s interred in a crypt close to Washington but his father can’t let go, so he visits the crypt at night to hold his son close one more time.

That’s the historic framework. Saunders has peopled that one-night scene with long-time inhabitants of the Bardo, people who died but don’t know they’re dead. Stuck between life and death, they’re no longer flesh-and-blood but are still attached to the things of flesh-and-blood, the lives they left, the men and women they loved, the violence they endured, the things they never had but wanted passionately, craftsmen, business owners, soldiers, slaves, mothers, fathers, housewives, unable to let go or move on, stuck for eternity in the web of desires and regrets.

Onto that stage enters the 12 year-old Willie, followed by his father the President. Lincoln has his grief and despair, the father who loses his second child, the leader who can barely face himself in the abyss of uncertainty, even as so many depend on him.

Everyone is hooked, everyone is stuck. And still there is movement; there is courage and friendship, surprise, a call and response, stirrings of deep generosity that brought tears into my eyes. How is all this goodness possible from beings whose time here is finished, who’ve reached a dead end, and who can never return to reap the blessings or results of what they did? And still, though they can’t touch, they are touched. Feelings are still there (for some), a humaneness that seems to have nothing to do with flesh-and-blood.

Buddhism is rife with names of spirits or supernatural beings that attend the Buddha, invisible to our own eye. I’ve never taken that very seriously, only now I wonder how else can I explain a sudden burst of clarity, love, or generosity when just 10 minutes ago all I wanted to do was go to bed? What possessed me? What goes on right here in my room, spirit and energies coalescing or coming apart, following their own threads of karma and evolution?

Even the worst of times have mercy and small acts of transformation. Saunders wrote a novel about a time of terrible brutality, when we encountered the worse wounds in this country’s history, and how beings both white and black, caught in the web of their own desires and unfinished lives, could somehow give courage and renewed determination to a man drowning in sorrow and help him fulfill his destiny. The goodness comes invisibly out of the page and nestles in my own heart now, towards the end of 2017, reminding me that one is never alone. Never.

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.”