DEPARTMENT OF NONHUMAN AFFAIRS

 

“Aussie, how come you’re turning back to the car? We just started our walk.”

“I don’t like the noise.”

“You mean the gunshots from the shooting range? They’re pretty far away, Auss, they can’t hurt you.”

“I’m heading back.”

“I’m surprised at you, Aussie. You, a Proud Poocher! You didn’t used to be afraid of gunshots.”

“The world isn’t as safe as it used to be. It’s becoming downright dangerous! That’s why Joe needs me in his cabinet.”

“You, Auss?”

“I’m from Texas, they’ll confirm me in no time.”

“I can think of a big reason why they won’t, Aussie.”

“I’d be great at Homeland Security, you know what a good watchdog I am. I walk the perimeter every night!”

“Aussie, you’re a dog!”

“So? What about his other nominees? They’re from every race, culture, and religion in this country. Why not a dog?”

“I never thought of that, Aussie.”

“Joe says he loves diversity, so when are nonhumans going to be represented in government?”

“That’s a good question, Auss.”

“I can represent all nonhumans. In fact, I can create a Department of Nonhuman Affairs.”

“What a great idea. Who will you put on staff?”

“Everybody. No specie will be excluded in the Department of Nonhuman Affairs except for Henry the Chihuahua.”

“I’m not sure Republicans want another cabinet office, Auss. They wanted to eliminate the Department of Education.”

“That’s a good one for me, too. I’m great with treats.”

“I’m not sure treats—”

“Or else I can take over the Department of Agriculture.  I’m a terror on chipmunks, squirrels, mice, moles, voles, and other dangerous varmints. Head of Transportation? I love car rides!”

“Aussie, get a hold of yourself.”

“He could put me in charge of the FBI. I’m mostly black, think of the great message that would send!”

“Aussie—”

“Director of National Intelligence, for obvious reasons. “

“I love a Department of Nonhuman Affairs, Aussie. It will be called DNA and its job will be to represent all nonhumans.”

“I have the best ideas! Does Major the German Shepherd have–”

“Aussie, my sister wrote me that I have an amazing alter-ego in you.”

“What’s that? Something you put on your altar? Don’t even think of lifting me up and putting me on that—”

“No no, Aussie, you don’t understand. She thinks that in you I’ve created a different version of me. Even an opposite version of me.”

“Of you? How come she doesn’t think that you are an opposite version of me?”

“Maybe because we haven’t found evidence of dogs having alter egos, Aussie.”

“How much evidence do you have of alter egos?”

“Aussie, my sister is convinced that I write your voice.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha! You’re not clever enough, creative enough, or bitchy enough!”

“We have this argument often. She says I write your voice, while I tell her: No, this is Aussie’s voice.

“I’m registering my words with the US Copyright Office. I need to claim my voice! I need to stand for my separate identity!”

“She says that your identity is my secret identity, too.”

“Sounds like a Zennie to me. And here I hoped that somebody in your family was a little normal.”

 

 

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LIVING WITH GOYIM

When I turned 18 and started driving my mother’s red Dodge, she asked me one day to drive my aunt Sarah to Brooklyn. Sarah had come from Israel to see her sister and needed a ride.

I asked her how it felt to come to New York for the first time, and she said: “I can hardly wait to get back home.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t like to live with goyim.”

I thought she was being ridiculous but said nothing. Okay, she’d come from Holocaust Europe like the rest of my family, but this wasn’t Germany, this was America. She’s too sheltered in the small enclave she lives in, I thought.  I was proud of being 18, proud of driving, proud of the red car. My whole life was ahead of me, and I certainly didn’t want to stay with my family and neighborhood. Get me out of here, I thought endlessly. Take me to Manhattan, with its jazz clubs, its bars, its unkosher Italian and Chinese restaurants, its 60s demonstrations.

I’m dying to live with goyim, I thought to myself.

I figured my parents were different, but they actually weren’t. Just three years later they were back in Israel, from where they’d originally arrived in the US. And while I never once heard a word from them that they didn’t feel safe here—if anything, they looked back on their life here as one of struggle that ended with a successful entry into middle class—they were glad to go back and be with their own kind. They had fun visiting, but they didn’t want to live here.

For me, the more kinds the better.

I think about my parents when I hear how many people of color also feel best among their own kind. “I talk differently, I don’t look over my shoulder to see what anybody thinks of me,” an African American friend recently told me. She liked my part of New England and its progressive values but had no interest in living here or in mixing with whites generally, she felt best in her own community.

When I go to schools or universities, I see very few mixed groups. In Queens College in the 1960s there was a lot more mixing; by the time I was in Columbia University’s graduate school, bordering on Harlem, students stayed apart a lot more.

We have our lives and experiences. Some cling to people like them, and some love to mingle with others who’re different. It’s way too complex for guilt or blame, right or wrong. Nevertheless, I often think about how segregated we are becoming. We always had challenges integrating races and cultures; now we also have the challenge of integrating across economic classes. Most white, well-to-do families wish to be with others of their kind, live only in certain (suburban) neighborhoods, and send their children only to certain schools so that they could get into certain money-making professions.

Maybe we’re not meant to mix easily here in America, which lacks one hugely dominant culture in the way European countries have.

Zen Peacemaker International hosted a program on racism this past weekend, and what moved me most was the presentation by Mark Eckhardt, Founder of One Million Truths, on the universal effects of racism. Usually, we talk about who does what to whom, and Eckhardt spoke movingly about what he’d personally suffered. But he challenged a mostly white audience to examine the question of how racism had affected each and every one of us.

This time I seriously thought about it. I realized that I grew up in a home where the question of having a friend of color couldn’t even come up, and where I would have been kicked out of home and told never to come back had I dated a man of color. I thought of the lack of diversity in my early places of work.

I remembered a large publishing company, one of the first places I worked in, with an African American researcher, the only person of color there. He was quiet, thoughtful, and always with a book in his hands when not working. The book was the opening we’d use to strike a conversation, but he ate lunches alone. There was an invisible line neither of us crossed, though I remember him vividly to this very day.

Reflecting on Eckhardt’s question, I realized that relationships could have been so much richer, so much more interesting, so much deeper and more fun, had I been able to break through the strictures of racism. Had I been able to live with goyim

We’re one body and each part yearns for the other part. It’s often not conscious; at times it may even feel quite the opposite. But that’s just in our own small, mechanical minds. Outside that minion mind there’s a call to connect with each piece of the whole, inside and out, see ourselves as one community of humankind trying to live together, claiming its identity as family. It doesn’t mean you don’t have preferences; you like to talk to one cousin and not to another. Ultimately, it’s still one family.

Love comes up for me when I think of this family, when I think of this one country.

Earlier today I went to Jimena’s house to meet immigrant families with food cards and cash. Jimena had bags of food—mostly processed or canned—given out by schools for pupils still staying at home, along with lots of milk.

And even as I was told by a few how much they appreciated the food cards and used them for fresh meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables, I was deeply moved by how we, as Americans, feed people. Perhaps it’s not highly nutritious, and yes, we could always do more and better, but we feed children. Listen to that: We feed children. It doesn’t happen everywhere. And for that time in Jimena’s unheated closed porch, I felt humbled by and grateful for how much we keep on doing for people, whether they’re like us or not.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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MAKING A MOVE

My mother moved this morning. She had to leave her old apartment of some 20 years and rent a new apartment.

My sister, brother, and brother-in-law found her a bigger, sunnier place in the same neighborhood, ground floor (she had to negotiate two flights of stairs till now), arranged payment of the rental, went through everything she owned and packed them up, moved the boxes and furniture on Sunday, and this Monday morning brought my mother to her new home, where she found a clean, bright apartment with furniture in place, books in a bookcase, kitchen installed, even pictures hanging on the wall (deep appreciation to my brother-in-law for that special effort).

Yesterday I called her in her old apartment and she answered. “How’s the move?” I ask her.

“I’m already here,” she said.

“Are you sure you’re there,  mom?”

“Of course. I moved, didn’t I?” She continued: “All my friends congratulate me on how, at my age (almost 93), I could do the entire move, with all the things and the furniture. They can’t believe I could do it, but I tell them: ‘Do you know who you’re talking to?’”

I listened, thinking about how that very day her children had hauled things onto a truck, unloaded, and then put away, sweeping and cleaning. She has dementia, I know. At the same time, I wondered about what happens to our minds in dementia, and whether and how our habitual patterns persist even into very old age.

A friend of mine a long time ago related how a friend of his had ended her life at 75. She wrote a letter to her friends, of which he was one, saying that even though she was in very good physical and mental health, she was putting an end to her life because she wanted to die as she had lived, on her terms. Not for her the deterioration of body and mind that happens to those who age, she was putting a stop before any of that happened.

We both agreed that this is an individual decision, there’s no principle that applies to all. But, I added, what your friend may have missed is that getting older is as much of a growth process as when you’re young. When you decide to shut off the lights at a particular time, you may be doing this even when there’s still a lot to  learn and discern.

What I think we most have to learn, I told my friend, is to empty our hand of things we clutched at much of our life, including our self-image, identity, and even work. None of that will last. It’s a big reason why Buddhism recommends that you prepare for death even when you’re young. Not that you shouldn’t have idealism, energy, and passion, not that you shouldn’t fall in love and raise your children, but even as you acquire, conquer, and enjoy, you learn not to cling to them too much. In the end, it will all go.

We open our hands loosely, I’ve told students. We have our opinions, stories, ideas, all of which are fine. But can we loosen up those fingers and hold things lightly?

My mother prided herself on her independence and drive for life. This is true for many people, but in her case I think much came from the Holocaust. The lesson she derived was that you had to survive at all costs, on your own.

Over the years, as she got older, her Buddhist daughter tried to talk to her about decisions she should make about end-of-life care, medical proxies, how she would like to live and die, and failed miserably. I think she heard that conversation as a betrayal of her deepest beliefs. She knew she couldn’t go on forever, but investigating what that meant, how she needed to consider a time when she couldn’t control her life, was anathema.

In her dementia she’s sure she’s the one who moved her home, she’s the one who packed everything and even helped load the furniture. Not very different from her confidence that she’s the one who organized my brother’s wedding last summer, that it wasn’t catered but that she’d cooked the food night and day (she hasn’t made a cup of coffee for herself for the last four years).

She doesn’t let go of old thinking patterns, won’t acknowledge much what folks do for her nor express appreciation. I’m not sure that’s just her dementia, I think it’s also old assertions getting stronger and even a little contentious. “Humph,” she snorts, “when they ask me how someone my age could do all this, I say: ‘Of course! Why not?’”

This is not easy on those working hard to take care of her. She has grown much softer and tenderer towards me, the one who lives far and can’t do much at all. Sometimes I think that it’s precisely because she knows I’m not there and that she can’t depend on me that she cherishes me so much.

I think of my mental and emotional habits, and how now’s the time to practice letting go.

I also think of Bernie, and especially how yielding he became towards the end of life. He was second only to my mother when it came to being independent, hating to rely on people. But after the stroke he just let it all go. He insisted on exercising every day and doing as much as he could for himself, but when he couldn’t, he let others take over and said thank you. He let others serve him, feed him, buy his clothes, and look out for all he needed. He, who loved to drive and play with computers, let others drive him, work out the hardware and the apps, help him to bathrooms, clean up, help him get up when he fell. Not once did he betray the slightest twinge off resentment or frustration.

You can say his brain had changed due to the stroke, but I don’t think that accounted for it all. He had practiced for this period of his life all his life, even as he couldn’t see the stroke coming. And when it came, he was readier than anyone I’d ever seen.

I always envisage him when he got up at 10 in the morning. I would hear him move around and would go to the bedroom to see him sitting up and looking out the window before laboriously putting on the heavy black shoes that, winter and summer, took him to the bathroom. I’d sit alongside and look out the window, too.

“How are you? How was the night?”

He answered truthfully. Okay to the first, and the nights were often not so good. What was he thinking, what was he feeling, I’d wonder about this most uncommunicative of men. He would look out the window, the beginning of another day with only half his body operating, and open his hand.

 

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THE PARTICLE OF DUST

In 1987 I came down with terrible abdominal pain on the eve of Thanksgiving, and on Thanksgiving morning a good physician friend came to where I lived, in the Zen Community of New York and diagnosed appendicitis. He called the local Yonkers hospital and brought me himself to Emergency to have my appendix removed. It was done quickly that same day, but I had an anaphylactic reaction to the antibiotic the surgeon had given me.

Thanksgiving weekend is not the best time to get sick and lie in a hospital. It took them 24 hours to realize what was happening, and that realization only happened due to a good friend who came to visit, realized what was going on, and raised the alarm. By then I was fading fast, so they put me in the ICU for a several days till I recovered. They also gave me large doses of steroids, which produced hallucinations. One of them involved friends, blood, and enlightenment, leading me to believe I’d just had the most significant  insight of the century. After all, I’d been practicing for some three years!

While in ICU, Bernie, or Sensei as I called him then, came to visit. This was long before we came together as a couple and I  was moved, knowing  how busy he was. I babbled to him about my enlightenment episode and what I had seen (surely as a result of massive drugs), giving him a blow-by-blow description. He stood at the bedside listening quietly, a small, strained smile on his face, and said nothing.

When he left I was a little disappointed. Wasn’t he going to confirm that I had seen something significant? Wasn’t he going to say Wow! or That’s great!? Here I’d been granted a glimpse into the essence of the essence and he had no response other than that small smile, not even a grunt to show he was listening.

And yet, he had listened; he just never said a thing.

I love spiritual drama. I love studying, reading texts and passages, and thinking Yes! Yes! Yes! with marquee lights blinking. I love reading profiles of leaders, accounts of their dreams, their prayers to God and how God or some inner voice spoke and told them to go ahead, risk all. I love to read of their successes, of how they transformed not just their own life but helped others transform theirs.

Transform. What a big and splashy word that is, full of promise of metamorphosis and, even better, improvement. I was a caterpillar, slow and lumbering, easily stopped and even trampled upon, and now I’m a butterfly, gorgeous and free, asked for dates by cute flowers.

Oy, has that word gotten me into trouble! So many people want that: insights, revelations, at least a corner turned. And if we work towards social or environmental change we want results. We want to see great work done, smiles on people’s faces. We want to blog about successes.

Successes happen all the time, but they’re not the big headlines we dream of: No children starving anywhere! Covid gone! No more suffering in the city of Greenfield!

It’s hard at times to accept my smallness. I have big emotions, great passions—I don’t feel small. I want to give big hugs, even if now they encounter only space.

“I’m giving you a space hug!” cried Violet Catches to me on Zoom the other night from Pierre, South Dakota. And her face smiled as if I was actually there, in the flesh.

I feel warmth and excitement, the sense of always being on a journey—and you’re telling me I’m just a particle of dust? Even the realization that I’m just a particle of dust comes with no bells or whistles, only a kind of yielding and surrender: I see, I’m just a particle of dust.

Reader, there’s beauty in that smallness.

On Wednesday I went to give out food cards and carried $700 in cash to pay rent for the woman whose daughter with child had come from Atlanta. I’d written about her last week, a girl who’d arrived in the US pregnant, gave birth and raised an infant while finishing high school, and now all three generations needed a place to live. People responded, making me happy as I handed out the cards and the cash.

“Thank you so much, Eve, and thank everybody for us,” says Jimena, “and OMG, Eve, somebody really needs help!”

The story comes out. A woman gave birth but her placenta didn’t come out. They operated on her and she began to hemorrhage and almost died (I start slinking down in my seat). They helicoptered her over to Boston where she’s been in ICU for 2 weeks (I slink down even more). Husband left work to take care of two children plus new infant, wants to visit his sick wife in Boston but has no transportation and must do covid test before any visit, etc., etc. Also, has no money.

By then I’m practically sitting on the ground. “I’ll check the bank account and let you know,” I murmur.

The particle of dust drives home. We’ll do something, she’s thinking, but not a lot. The particle of dust reminds herself that the money given out so far has made a big difference in people’s lives. She thinks it was Thomas Merton who said: Leave something to God. The particle of dust knows the ballgame with balls and strikes goes on forever, but luckily she loves baseball and will keep on playing.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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DISCARDING CLOTHES

I’ve had low spirits over the past few days, even as the sun finally comes out from behind the clouds and temperatures rise.

I believe we’re rounding the corner with the coronavirus, spring optimism—a little muted, a little tentative—is in the air. I go online morning and night in search of a vaccine appointment, for which I’m now eligible (no success so far). I even had visits at home from two friends of mine over the past several days, after so many weeks of none, and I can hear a whisper: Yes, we can do this, we can finally meet for lunch or coffee, we can finally hug!

At the same time, I hear about other friends who are very ill, even beginning the dying process. I don’t cry much, but in the past few days I find myself again and again looking out, lost in snow.

In Riddley Walker, a wise old woman tells Riddley that she can feel how It doesn’t feel like wearing her body anymore. It wears all of us like clothes, she says, but I think it has trouble putting on my body, like a shirt I have to stretch hard to get my arm through.

Lately I feel that it is discarding many clothes I know, clothes that were once beautiful outfits full of splashy and daring color, in-your-face frills and puffy sleeves. There are some clothes it’s not going to wear much longer.

Last thing at night, before going to bed, I put my boots and jacket on and go out to the yard in back. I walk up and down the shoveled paths of my outside home, first visiting Kwan-Yin, then going down one side and coming up the other, and finally visiting the birdfeeders that lie in deeper shadow. I stop in front of Kwa-Yin, compliment her on her latest snow outfit, and beg for compassion.

What is that?

Lately, perhaps due to the illness and death around me, I think a lot about Bernie. People ask me if I miss him. There are all kinds of missings. There are the unnumerable times when I think: Oh, if Bernie was here this is what he’d say, or If Bernie was here he’d do this, or together we’d do that. Situations galore come up, like my friend, Maggie, who’d come to clean the house and loved to tell Bernie off—”So now you’re making yourself coffee—when I’m doing the kitchen?” or “Why are you sitting in your office when you know I have to work there?” She was the only person in the world Bernie was afraid of.

Scenes reappear, stories, and memories. Memories, too, are stories.

One night I made my nightly tour outside, came back in, and went upstairs. Lately, I’ve been listening to the music of jazz musician Keith Jarrett while reading. And out of the blue Jarrett began to played the duet from Porgy and Bess: Bess, You Is My Woman Now. I don’t think anyone has ever played this melody as simply as he played it, and the melody ran through me so deep and sudden that for a moment I couldn’t breathe. In fact, for some seconds I couldn’t “place” the music, could just listen with a vague sensation of familiarity, and then remembered what it was.

What it was and wasn’t. It was more than that famous duet, it was words and music of yearning and passion, of a promise never to be sad (No wrinkle on your brow) even in the face of fear and an unknown future. The simple melody Jarrett played went through me, the bed, the floor, the foundations, into the deepest part of the earth. The book was gone, the hour, the sense of tiredness. There were no memories, no stories, no recollections. Sadness was there but Jarrett’s melody hit a place that was beyond sadness or gladness, a place deep in the marrow of things. Yes, it was sad; it also quivered with life.

When you get to that place, you become less afraid of deep feelings. You become less afraid of your emotions and of being at their mercy, of losing all balance and control, even of being swept up by memories that recreate trauma.

What I experienced that night had nothing to do with any of this. The sadness that was there was not like some dark, heavy coat; more like an unknown instrument being plucked and creating the First Sound, and that First Sound included my sadness and loneliness and so much more, longing, yearning, and response all together.

That was the night that I had come to a pause by Kwan-Yin and begged for compassion.

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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EVERY SPIRITUAL HOME NEEDS A FASCIST DOG!

Ignoring Winnie!

“I feel a lot better, Aussie, now that Joe Biden is in the White House.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s he doing? Anything important?”

“He’s governing, Aussie. Not spending half the day tweeting and the other half watching TV.”

“Joe Biden is anti-capitalist!”

“What makes you say that, Aussie?”

“The vaccine, for one thing.”

“Wait a minute, Auss. Joe Biden finally marshalled the federal resources to get more vaccine distributed to more people. We have hundreds of millions of doses more coming. Even yours truly is going to get the vaccine, my number is up.”

“What number is that?”

“65+. So why is Joe Biden anti-capitalist?”

“Because he’s losing the best opportunity he’ll ever have for promoting his brand.”

“Promoting what, Aussie?”

“His brand. Himself. He’s giving away hundreds of millions of vaccines and he’s not promoting himself. Remember what the Man did with the first stimulus check? At first he held up the checks because he wanted his signature to be on them, and when they couldn’t do that, each check came with a personal letter informing you that the check was from him, from Donald Trump.”

“It wasn’t from him, Aussie.”

“So? What’s truth got to do with capitalism? Here’s Biden handing out all these vaccines. Is his name there? That would have been the first thing on any true capitalist’s mind. There are weird names like Pfizer and Moderna; where’s Biden?”

“What do you suggest, Auss?”

“A true capitalist would have seen to it that when you get the vaccine in your top arm, a tattoo appears the next moment saying: This is from Joe!”

“Heavens, Aussie.”

Joe loves you?”

“Terrible!”

Joe cares? It’s genius, don’t you see? The tattoo comes out blue, get it? But in red states add an American flag.”

“Aussie, Biden doesn’t care about red and blue states.”

“Then he’s a dummy. Now, if only there was a way to add a Donate button that gets into your skin along with the shot, the Democrats would have it made! If not all the credit cards, Paypal at the very least.”

“You can’t do that to people’s bodies, Aussie.”

“The Man would have thought of that, but not socialist Joe. Here’s another idea—”

“I don’t want to hear it!”

“Every vaccine dose would come with its own band-aid, which would be blue with Joe’s face on it. Blue, get it? In certain states you have the same band-aid and underneath the words: I love getting shot!

“Aussie, we don’t do things like that anymore.”

“Don’t be silly. Now if you’re really concerned about elections, the best idea of all is to give the real vaccine to Democrats and a placebo to everyone else. Watch the other side’s numbers plummet!”

“You’re making me sick, Aussie.”

“Get your vaccine. Joe needs me in his brain trust. Does Major the German Shepherd come up with these ideas? How come he’s in the White House while I‘m wasted away in these snowy woods?  I was born to be part of the inner circle!”

“Look, Auss, here comes Winnie the Pointer.”

“Let’s go back to the car.”

“She loves playing with you, Aussie.”

“I’m not into playing, I’m into policy! You know what else Joe could do?”

“No, Aussie.”

“Don’t send the next stimulus check in an envelope, send it inside a cup with Biden’s face on it with the words: Have a cup of Joe!”

“That’s it! No more policy. You’re playing with Winnie!”

“You think the Man wouldn’t have done that? I guarantee you he’d have used all my great ideas, every single one! I’m wasted here. ”

“You’re wrong about that, Aussie. You belong right here.”

“Why?”

“Because every spiritual home needs a fascist dog.”

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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ANY GOOD NEWS?

It’s so satisfying to help people directly.

For much of my activist life I helped organize things. I did orders and sales for the Greyston Bakery, which subscribes to Open Hiring of its employees, meaning they’ll hire anyone on a list of applicants without asking for information re past jobs, a criminal record, prison time, etc.. I wrote and wrote and wrote: grants for our supportive housing projects, childcare center, and an AIDS center. I wrote profiles, articles, and books to tell the world about efforts by peacemakers around the world. I loved my Zen Peacemaker family and want to make sure it nurtures future generations.

I write checks, I tithe, I speak with people on Zoom. It’s easy to feel good about yourself.

What I’ve missed since my Greyston days is to actually see folks face-to-face.

Indirect service is crucial: sharing ideas, writing up text for web pages, all the endless, invisible planning and structure-building efforts that not only keep things going but also renew them and gives birth to new creations. At the same time, you can fall into the trap of seeing the people you serve as abstractions. Even as you write fancy mission statements about helping, when you stay far it’s easy to lose individuals in favor of stereotypes, to trust data and statistics over personal stories, to lose an authentic sense of connectedness that reminds me I have no monopoly on being a human being..

So, come Wednesday late afternoon, I stop what I’m doing. I match food cards with supermarket receipts and fold them together, bring my envelope of cash, and drive to meet Jimena in the cold, closed porch of her house, where we meet in winter. When it gets warmer we’ll get back to the streets outside.

Slowly people arrive. Women and also men, occasionally with their children. Since they’re undocumented it’s awkward for me to ask if I can take a photo. The adults are often carelessly dressed even when it’s very cold out, but the kids are invariably wrapped in warm coats and jackets.

Jimena reminds them that schools open next week for in-person learning. She often has forms for them to sign and has to explain them at great length in Spanish

“Eve,” she recently told me, “most have had only an elementary school education. No one finished high school. There are some who are not only illiterate in Spanish (forget English), they don’t speak Spanish well but only their own native dialect. They actually learn Spanish here.”

We’re careful with social distance and our masks hide all our smiles and good wishes. Thank God for the wrinkles around my eyes, I think to myself. They now give away not just my age but my heartfelt wishes.

I watch their faces and listen to Jimena, and if it’s been an especially cold and difficult day, or if covid makes me feel like an island lost somewhere in the Arctic Sea I can get discouraged. How are they going to make it? Will they always be working on the farms for wages no one with legal papers would accept?

And what about the macho culture they bring with them from a few countries (not all)? What about homes where birth control is seen as something sluttish when used by a woman and not masculine when used by the man? Where women can’t buy things for themselves even when they earn the money, but have to be accompanied by their husbands who give their okay and take out the cash to pay? Where men who can’t read and write won’t dream of letting their wives call for and pay for the check even when the women are the ones who’re working?

I can feel anger coming up when I hear these stories. And then I remember: My parents also had East European shtetl culture on the brain. They couldn’t imagine their daughter going off to live on her own after high school and told me if I did that I could never come home again. Their son was to be a judge and their daughters mothers, maybe teachers, too, to supplement the family income, nothing else.

For many years my father used to encourage me to move to Israel, telling me how many good secretarial jobs there were for women who were bilingual. I obtained two graduate degrees from Columbia University and he still couldn’t imagine my doing anything else.

But things changed. My brother wasn’t much into studies and never became a judge; his sisters had more advanced degrees than his. More important, we built very different lives for ourselves than those my parents envisaged for us.

“Any good news?” I ask Jimena.

“Things always change,” she says, turning suddenly into a Buddhist.  “And by the way, can we give someone $700 for rent?”

“Along with food cards for next week?” I say dubiously, trying to remember how much was in the account last time I checked.

“You see that woman who just left with the shopping card?”

“The one in the pink jacket with whom you talked for a long time?” I feel my lack of Spanish acutely, there isn’t a Wednesday when I don’t wish I could do more than hand out food cards and say: “Para usted y su familia. Con todo corazon.“ I wish I could babble away like Jimena.

“Her daughter came to join her from Atlanta with a baby. Valentina was already living with another family so when the daughter came the landlord said they have to move. The daughter made it to Atlanta when she was 16, I think she was already pregnant don’t ask me how she made it. Over there she gave birth and took care of the baby alone even as she went to high school, she got very good grades. Now she’s moved here and I am trying to help her transfer her high school records from Atlanta to here so that she could graduate in May. They found an apartment and I helped her get first and last month rents together, but in addition they still need to make a deposit.”

“So, what’s the good news?” I ask. Maybe she’ll say that $700 monthly rent is pretty good in this area.

“Aren’t you listening, Eve? She has very high grades. She can graduate with an excellent record and go to college. She really wants to build a life for herself. She raised a baby all alone in a strange new place from the time she was 16 and she kept up with her studies and she will finish here and will go on and learn. She will build something different, you will see.”

As I did, I think to myself. And I wasn’t pregnant and didn’t give birth all alone in a strange city and a strange language even while going to high school. And I’m the one getting discouraged?

“We’ll have the money for them,” I tell her.

Who am I to get discouraged? What do I know how much life there is even in this world’s very margins, how quickly things turn, and the power of deep faith and imagination?

It was a beautiful sunset when I finally left in the early evening (see above).

My job is just to ask for help in these posts and come Wednesday afternoon give to those who need face-to-face. You can’t join me face-to-face, but you can help here below. Thank you.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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EYES LOOKING INTO THE NIGHT

Violet Catches blesses Greta Thunberg. Photo taken at Takini School, Howes, SD

It was around 9:30 at night when I woke up Aussie. “Come on, Auss, let’s go fill up the bird feeders.”

“Now?”

“I know, but they’re pretty empty and I don’t like seeing them empty first thing in the morning and going out, so let’s do it now.”

“You go, I’m sleeping.”

The poet Laura Fargas wrote: “The heart wants something to be kind to, even if only a fish to sprinkle crumbs on the water for, once or twice a day.”

My once or twice a day happened last night, just a crescent moon waxing to the west. Five birdfeeders hang under the trees in back. The snow brightens things up considerably, but I’ve never been comfortable in the dark.

Some people love to walk at night. They’re not concerned by uneven terrain, by the frozen slush currently lining the driveway or the ice on the paved roads, they just lace up their boots and go. I, on the other hand, reach for my phone flashlight after just two steps.

Last night I, too, put boots and jacket on, and went out without the phone. Walked a little up the slope and picked up two empty feeders, back to the garage holding two cars and an aluminum barrel with black sunflower seeds, filled them up, and retraced my steps. Kwan-Yin stood off to the side, gazing impassively, wearing a small yarmulke of snow on her head.

The other three bird feeders hang on the other side of the house, in the shadows. I can’t walk over there without recalling the enormous black bear I saw contemplating me from the other side of the fence one day. Sleeping the winter off, I reminded myself last night, walking up in the snow to fetch two feeders, back down, and around to the last one which was in perfect darkness.

In Riddley Walker, novelist Russell Hoban relates his own Eden story: A long time ago there were a man and a woman. One day a black dog came. The man and woman watched how the dog looked at the night, and in doing so, got the First Teachings. They couldn’t get the First Teachings by staring into the night themselves; they couldn’t see it as the dog did. So they did the next best thing, looking at the dog’s eyes as the dog stared into the night, and thus obtained the First Teachings.

Zen is about doing things yourself. You can’t awaken to the oneness of life for anybody else and no one else can give you that realization, you can only realize the one body yourself. But I often think of how it has helped me to look at other beings’ eyes as they contemplate the world.

I always liked to look into the eyes of Violet Catches, a Lakota elder, whenever we were in South Dakota together. I think of her as the medicine woman of our retreats. It seemed to me that wherever she looked, deep intelligence stared out at deep intelligence, contemplating all aspects of itself, including pain and suffering.

Obstacles were everywhere—especially with her old station wagon. February was the month of our preparatory meetings, and several of us from the Northeast would fly out to Rapid City to meet with Lakota elders, and the phone calls would come in: “The muffler of my car fell on the highway so I’ll be a few hours late,” she’d say, or “The transmission went today and I have to find somebody to fix it.”

Don’t ask me why we’d gather in South Dakota in temperatures that at times were around -30, but we did, and Violet, either driving alone or with a few grandchildren in tow over hundreds of frigid miles, would call: “There’s a big noise coming out of the engine, I have to get the car fixed.”

When she finally arrived she’d laugh apologetically, look us in the eyes, and it was compassion looking out at compassion. I’ve never met anyone quite like her, and at the same time she’s the least obtrusive person I’ve ever known, part and parcel of things, no fighting anywhere, no resistance. At times she’d admit sheepishly to bad decisions or misdoings, certain regrets—“Now I think I shouldn’t have said that”—and then make wholehearted apologies. Life for her is full of things going right, wrong, and every which way sideways, and still so seamlessly intelligent.

Why did I think of Violet Catches from Cheyenne River Reservation as I fetched that last feeder in the dark? Brought all three back to the garage, filled them up, and went back out again for the last time in the cold. I knew the birds would be huddled around the feeders by the time I got up next morning, three and even four at each one.

I went round the bend to hang the last one and felt that I disappeared into the dark. It took a while to find the tiny protuberance on the branch from which the feeder hung. I turned back and saw two glints in that black yard, Aussie’s eyes. She had finally come out and followed me, eyes looking into the night.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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SO WHAT’S INSIDE YOU?

Henry got a new toy for Valentine’s Day yesterday: a pink elephant.

I didn’t know about it for some 24 hours, just heard squeaking upstairs all day. When I finally went up, there he was, holding Pinky proudly in his mouth, shaking her and throwing her around. If I was in the immediate vicinity he’d growl louder and more ferociously than ever before.

He and I have a playing routine in which I try to pull the toy out of his mouth and he growls and pulls it back. But not with Pinky. Pinky was only his, no one else’s. I couldn’t go after it even in joke or play. He was as proud as could be with Pinky in his mouth, swinging her up in the air, brandishing her like a weapon, bouncing and jouncing her, making her squeak.

Pinky, I was told, was one of those indestructible dog toys made from material that dogs couldn’t tear up quickly, and she survived yesterday’s gymnastics with Henry.

But of course, Henry couldn’t keep Pinky to himself, so today he came down with her in his mouth, swinging her around and shaking her right in front of Aussie.

Though Aussie is the president of the local chapter of the Proud Pooches, she still has some decorum. She watched him carefully, not making a play. But of course, Henry ran out to pee, leaving Pinky behind, and when he came back Aussie had Pinky with her, growling threateningly if Henry came anywhere nearby.

“Oh, Auss,” I told her, “you don’t care about toys. Henry loves that pink elephant. Why are you doing this to him?”

“Because I can,” she said.

So, she kept Pinky right by her in my office, giving Henry a look of pure wickedness over her shoulder as he sat outside the office, forlorn and helpless.

“What is she?” asked a neighbor I met in the conservancy late this morning, pointing at Aussie who was busy playing with his dog.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“She has a little German Shepherd in her,” he surmised. “Doberman?” I shook my head and he proceeded to tell me that he submitted his dog’s DNA and discovered she’s part Hound, part Lab, and part Pointer,. At that moment Aussie ran by him. “So, what’s inside you?” he asked her playfully.

Aussie had no time for him, wagging her tail madly as she chased his dog down the ravine to the freezing pond below.

What’s inside you? As if a DNA test could answer that. It’s like asking What’s love? and replying:: Valentine’s Day.

We had a Zoom meeting today of various Zen teachers and seniors associated with the Zen Peacemaker Order. We all recommitted ourselves to the Order and the practice of social and environmental justice based on the Dharma. Much of the time was used to reconnect with each other, recounting memories of how we got involved with this meshugena family, and especially, with its meshugena founder, Bernie Glassman.

It’s challenging for me to attend these. There’s the public dimension of work, practice, companionship, and love between Bernie and so many people, and there’s my own private realm with him as my husband. It’s difficult to express both together.

Asking me to share memories of Bernie is like someone asking me to carve out a joint or a finger and examine it under the light, share it with others. Bringing up a memory or anecdote feels like a DNA test that can’t describe the way the Aussie’s tail vibrates in circles when she sees another canine, or how she curls up on the black lounge chair in the living room with her head thrown sideways, or how I look down from my office chair and there she is, standing alongside, mewling softly, head nestled against my leg.

So, while the tales and the laughs we shared today among some 28 of us felt deep and tender, I couldn’t express what was inside. To do that, I’d have had to verbally operate on myself, say This is what he said and This is what I said, splitting the one into two. I’ve done that in the past, just not today. Today it felt like just the one looking at the screen, unable to speak.

 

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DOPPELGANGERS EVERYWHERE

“Aussie, you  haven’t been talking much since we got a new president.”

“I plan to sleep through the next four years. Wake me when the Man gets back to the White House.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Auss, but I’ve been wrong before.”

“Often.”

“You know what I think, Aussie? You’re my doppelganger.”

“You’ve called me dope lots of times.”

“Not dope, Aussie, doppelganger. Doppelgangers look like you—”

“I don’t look like you.”

“—but they’re the other side of you. So, if I’m the good Eve, you’re the bad Eve.”

“But I’m Aussie.”

“Of course you’re Aussie, Aussie. Doppelgangers look like you only they’re the opposite of you, like a good twin and a bad twin.”

“You don’t have my beautiful black hair.”

“The point is that somewhere in the world there is someone who may look like you but is the exact opposite.”

“I don’t look like—”

“You believe in everything I don’t believe in, Auss. You believe that Donald Trump actually won the election—”

“He did!”

“You believe Biden stole the election.”

“You mean, there’s a question?”

“Aussie, you believe Kamala Harris is the Antichrist—”

“I probably would if I knew what that was.”

“—and that come spring she’s going to kill Biden and take over the country.”

“May 13!”

“And that she’s going to make us all Communists and close up all the churches—”

“Zendos, too!”

“Make us put on a dozen masks at once, go to socialist doctors, and burn down California using Jewish lasers.”

“The last is happening already.”

“She’s going to make all illegal immigrants legal and all white people illegal.”

“Exactly. Only Donald Trump can save us now.”

“That’s what I mean, Aussie. You’re completely the opposite of me.”

“Not to mention that I’m a dog.”

“What’s interesting about all this, Aussie, is that such opposites can exist all in one world.”

“Not if Donald had his way. You know what would happen to dopes like you?”

“Doppelgangers, not dopes. The point I’m making, Aussie, is that this world is full of paradoxes, contradictions, and things that generally don’t make sense. We like to think that things make sense and therefore there’s no room for opposing views. But somewhere in this world I have a doppelganger, someone who’s the exact opposite of me, and I think that’s you, Aussie.”

“The only way I can be your doppelganger is that I’m gorgeous and you’re not.”

“Oh, Aussie!”

“I run like the wind and you can barely walk.”

“That’s not true, Auss. Who walks with you every day?”

“I’m smart and funny, and I have the most beautiful eyes. You’re—”

“Aussie, let’s forget it.”

“What’s the matter, can’t deal with opposites anymore?”

“Another thing about doppelgangers, Aussie, is that they can cause bad things to happen. For example, you can pretend to be me, take my credit card and buy yourself lots of steak. Or bite somebody and make it look like it was me.”

“Or attack the Capitol and pretend it’s you, just like you antifas terrorized the Capitol and pretended it was us.”

“Aussie, we weren’t at the Capitol.”

“If we all have doppelgangers that are the exact opposite but look like us, how do you know it wasn’t all Commie doppelgangers that day? Of course! That explains everything!”

“Aussie, let’s get down to earth here. There’s no way you could march on Washington and pretend it’s really me making all that trouble. Look at you and look at me, you think the FBI won’t see a difference?”

“Because I’m cute and you’re not?”

“Aussie, you’re a canine.”

“Remember Commie Comey?”

“James Comey? He hasn’t been in charge at the FBI in almost four years.”

“Heh! Heh! Heh! There are doppelgangers everywhere!”

 

 

 

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