WIDOW

“Aussie, where is my other gray wool sock?”

“I can’t talk right now.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m busy chewing on it.”

“Aussie, for heaven’s sake, you have made the empty space right in front of Bernie’s picture into your personal junkyard. Where’s the respect?”

“I’m a juvenile delinquent, I don’t respect nobody.”

“The Man didn’t ask for respect. He didn’t care about that, certainly not in the last years of his life.”

“Who asked you, Stanley? And why am I talking to a dead dog anyway? Talk to the Delinquent, Stanley. She’s tearing up not only his shoes but also the orange bag he used to carry his iPad in when he only had the use of one arm.”

“Aren’t you doing the same thing?”

“What’s that, Stan?”

“Tearing things apart.”

“I guess so, maybe. I have to break apart bank accounts, credit cards, title to a car, title to a house. I even have to break apart the sense of being half of one whole.”

“You’re doing what Aussie’s doing.”

“Only she’s having more fun, Stanley. Tearing things apart isn’t fun for me.”

“Of course not. You’re the widow.”

“I am not! I hate that word.”

Widow? What’s wrong with it?”

“Oh Stanley, when you say widow I think of someone wearing all black and hiding herself inside a veil. Or else she throws herself onto the funeral pyre. I’m not a widow, Stanley, just a little less than I was.”

“You’re a widow, Eve. Hear it, listen to it. Your husband died, you’re a widow. Say the word after me: Widow.”

“The man from Social Security called me that when he talked to me of widow’s benefits. I could hardly hear what he had to say, Stanley.”

“That’s because you’re a widow.”

“I’m not.”

“You’re confused.”

“You’re right about that, Stan.”

“You’ll get it in time.”

“You know what’s hard for me, Stanley? When I talk to people who were close to him. We tell the same stories, we laugh about the same things. And then I hear the person on the other end of the line say something to someone behind her, maybe even laugh. But there’s no one behind me. No one to laugh at, no one to say to: Just a minute I’ll be right there.”

“You do have Awesome making a racket in her junk yard.”

“That’s true, there’s always the Juvenile Delinquent destroying things right in front of Bernie’s picture like some wrathful dakini, enjoying every minute of it. I guess I have that.”

THE MYSTERY OF THINGS

Aussie and I started going up the hill yesterday, and she paused. Ahead was heavy mist, the light of the sun struggling to come through.

My life, too, feels like a fog right now. Not even what’s ahead, more like: What’s now? How does it feel? How do I feel? Going through motions. Swimming in fog.

Not-knowing is not fog. It’s clarity unobscured by fear, pretension, and the endless chasing of our tail through words. But fog is also about not knowing. When I drive through the mists at night I squint trying to make out the road. Walking in the fog is more restful. I don’t strain, I’m satisfied with the mystery of things.

Retreat starts tomorrow, celebrating the awakening of a man many years ago who went deeper into not-knowing than anyone, and called it enlightenment. I wish to follow in his footsteps and dedicate the merits of the retreat, whatever good effects it brings, to my husband Bernie.

The blog will be silent till Monday.

BERNIE AND SARASVATI

Bernie’s first gift to me when we came together as a couple was this statue of the Hindu goddess, Sarasvati. Her name refers mostly to certain rivers, at times standing for healing water, but Sarasvati can also refer to speech, the goddess of eloquence.

I gave Sarasvati away some years ago, and now she came back. She sits next to a drawing of Bernie done by our neighbor, the artist Jack Coughlin. That drawing is now at the center of my altar and receives incense and candlelight each morning, while Sarasvati is at his side. But one day—perhaps after Bernie’s 49th day, perhaps after the New Year—she’ll take her place at the center of the altar.

I think of my Bernie. I think of his Sarasvati. The two loved their work together. Sarasvati never had a doubt in her mind about the breadth and clarity of Bernie’s vision. All of life was his practice, and as he grew older he seemed to give up more and more attachment to this form vs. that form, this way of practice rather than that way, certainly this spiritual tradition vs. another. The very vocabulary became foreign to him. Everything became bigger, nothing was excluded. He was more aware of areas where he hadn’t engaged much, things he apologized for and wished he’d done differently. But this went with a radical acceptance of life as it is, a radical acceptance of himself as he was.

It was in our personal life that our differences arose. We were so different from one another, and we lived together. Which brings me to love.

For Bernie and me, love never implied two matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that came together. We didn’t match; sometimes these two strong personalities, 11 years apart in age, barely fit. We loved to laugh and watch movies together, we loved to talk about Zen Peacemakers, projects, and what different folks were doing. And sometimes we were very quiet, especially in the last years after his stroke.

The most intimate moments that I remember from that time were spent sitting over the dining table by the kitchen and admitting to each other that we didn’t fit perfectly, or even near perfectly, that between us lots of needs remained unmet. I admitted that I couldn’t be there for him all the time, he admitted there were things he wanted to do for me now that he would never be able to do. We knew we often didn’t even talk the same language.

The gap was there over those dinners; it was probably always going to be there. We’d sit in silent acknowledgment of it, no blame or anger, not even disappointment, just seeing that this was our life together, unified and relentlessly imperfect, till he’d say, “I’m tired, I have to go up.”

“Okay,” I’d say. And it wasn’t just an okay to his going upstairs, it was an okay to the gap, and to letting that gap be.

We certainly had that love that came out of seeing eye-to-eye, the excitement of being parts of something unified and whole. It’s great when you’re going great guns and you love each other because you fit each other hand in glove. That’s when your energy is so contagious that it spills out into the world.

After his stroke we had much less of that, many more of the moments when we could see our streams diverging, when contrasts stood out in sad honesty. That, too, was love. A different kind of love, more private, aching, when you get to the heart of things and there isn’t much more to say. We would contemplate those moments not in silence but in a tender kind of quiet, the sun setting just beyond the right-most window, Stanley settling down from his restless pacing after food. And it always ended the same way: “I’m tired,” he’d say, “I need to go upstairs.”

 

 

THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THINGS

JD, a/k/a the Juvenile Delinquent, a/k/a Aussie, tears everything apart in Aussie’s Junkyard, which used to be our dining room, especially shoes, boots, slippers, and yak trax.

After Bernie died I took a long, hard look at the heavy black shoes he had worn since his stroke. I remembered how in the hottest summer days he had to put them on, even in the middle of the night to walk to the bathroom. No sandals, no slippers, and certainly not barefoot.

“What happens if Bernie never regains the feeling in his right side?” I’d asked Edward Taub, founder of the Taub Clinic in Birmingham, and he’d answered: “He could still walk.” But not without those heavy black shoes.

So after he died I took them down to Aussie’s Junkyard and dropped them heavily on the rug. “Here you are,” I told her. “Get to it.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” says she.

First, she pulls out the tongue. Then she gets into the leather sides and the heavy heels. This is a long project, even for Aussie. I sit silently upstairs in the early hours when the sun isn’t yet up, listening to BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! as JD zealously bangs Bernie’s black shoes against the wooden floor, disassembling them piece by piece.

Why do I dislike those shoes? They gave him stability for almost three years. He never complained of them even as he tiredly bent down to affix them onto his feet, again and again, and take them off in the same way when he got back to bed. I’d watch him do this in the mornings, listen as he did this in the middle of the night, remembering how much he liked his sandals in the summer, how easily he went to the bathroom, his walk lighter, thoughtless, free.

The feelings he gave so little expression to I felt a hundred fold over these last three years, as though I took on all the emotional distress he would not express. Is that love? Is it dysfunction?

The thing about grief is that it doesn’t go through your mind, not even your heart. The whole system breaks down and it doesn’t ask for permission. You eat, you drink, answer emails, limit phone conversations to 2 a day because they’re so consuming. Occasionally someone says or writes something and you tear up, but most of the time you’re numb. Life as you knew it is breaking down, unspooling thread by thread.

A photo of Bernie with his two sisters comes down from the mantelpiece, to be given to his sole surviving sister when I see her. A Tibetan thanka of a Medicine Buddha comes down from the wall that overlooked the bed, to return to the house we lived in in Santa Barbara, which now has an entire wall of bricks dedicated to the homeless people who’ve died on the streets. Vague instructions mentally appear: this to go here, that there.

Don’t think of what’s left, don’t think of rebuilding. I’m either numb or deconstructing. The quilt of our life together is slowly coming apart, I can’t stop it. One patch after another tears away. I look at it, remember, let it go. But it doesn’t feel like I’m the one doing anything, it feels as though it’s happening all by itself.

And at the same time, I’m dimly aware of participating in a very human ritual called mourning. There’s celebration and excitement when we begin, and grief when we end. Millions of people around me are doing this. A few call and share this with me: I lost my husband to illness, to an accident, to violence. You’re but one of a large community of humans suffering loss. Welcome to the heart of the heart of things. We have joy once again, we rebuilt our lives, even new relationships, but this is at the heart of the heart of things. This is journey, this is sacred. Don’t go anywhere, stay. It will reveal things you never knew were there.

So I continue to sit with all this quietly in the early mornings, while downstairs JD goes BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!, eagerly destroying Bernie’s heavy black shoes.

WHAT ZEN IS: HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW

“Awesome, where are you going?”

“Watch me fly over the fence, Spook. I’m outta here!”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a juvenile delinquent and that’s what juvenile delinquents do, they run away from home. Beside, there are also lots of interesting smells under the dead leaves and snow, lots of little critters. One day I’ll catch me one.”

“Eve can’t be happy about this, Awesome, especially now in hunting season.”

“She and Tim are constantly trying to fix the fence so that I can’t get out. But you know my motto, Spook: Where there’s a fence there’s a hole. Beside, it’s depressing back home. Eve is glum after the Man went. She’s very quiet, doesn’t do much.”

“What do you mean, she doesn’t do much? That woman ran around like a banshee from morning till night when I was there, Awesome. Full of activity, that one.”

“Right now she’s a puddle of mud. I don’t get it, Stanley. So the Man went, what’s the big deal? Here today, gone tomorrow. Isn’t that what this Zen is all about?”

“She and the Man were not only a couple, Awesome, they worked together since 1985.”

“Give me a break, Stanley. The Man had been sick for almost 3 years, couldn’t do much, had little energy, was tired. Everybody knows his going was a treat to him and to her.”

“A treat, Awesome?”

“They call it a gift, I call it a treat. When I get a treat I’m happy, especially those beef jerkies she now has for me. What does she do when she gets a treat? Sobs her heart out, walks around like the world’s come to an end, stares out the window at nothing in particular, and sleeps at different times in the day.”

“Eve’s always had her problem with attachments, Awesome. I tried to teach her different, but she wouldn’t listen. Woman hasn’t learned to let go.”

“That’s what I mean, Spook. When you get a treat, be happy. When you get locked up indoors after they catch you outside, get sad. When you break through the fence again, be happy. When they catch you and bring you back, be sad. Life is really simple.”

“I agree with you, Awesome, and nobody does like it like we canines. When my longtime companion, Bubale the Pitbull, died, I gave her one farewell sniff and that was the end of it. Why do more? Eve fretted. Even the Man fretted, but just a little.”

“You know what Eve’s problem is? She no longer has a teacher.”

“Because the Man died, Awesome?”

“No, Spook, because you died. When you went, Stanley, her teacher disappeared.”

“Maybe you need to take on that role, Awesome. Humans have so much to learn from us.”

“I tried, Stanley. I told her she had to break out of the fence, but she said that this is her time to stay home, be in her grief and sorrow.”

“For how long, Awesome?”

“Forty-nine days, Spook. Forever!”

“That’s another thing about Eve, Awesome. She never did know how to listen to teachers. Too much in-your-face, if you know what I mean.”

“Of course I know what you mean. I tell her: The snow is waiting for us, the leafs are swirling in the wind, we have to catch them now!

“A great teaching you’re giving her, Awesome. What did she say to that?”

“She just called me a juvenile delinquent again. I’m telling you, Stanley Spook, this Zen teaching is for the birds. Nobody listens to you!”

STINKY ACTION

“So, Tootsie, how was Thanksgiving?”

“Ah, there you are, Rocky. I thought you might start talking to me one of these days, especially after I put away the dog-shit scooper.”

“You thought of me because of the dog-shit scooper?”

“That was the only housework you liked to do, Rocky, cleaning up the dog shit in the back with the scooper.”

“And always with a cigar, Tootsie. I’d pick up a turd or two, toss it over the fence, get a couple of puffs in, find another turd, toss it over the fence. It was hard work. So what else reminds you of me, Toots? Peacemaking work? Retreats? Social action?”

“Rae said that she thought of you today while doing her eyebrows, Rocky.”

“Is that so?”

“I asked my brother what, of all your things in the house, he wanted, and you know what he said, Rocky?”

“Soen Nakagawa’s calligraphy? The Kwan-Yin Roshi gave me? My piggy suspenders?”

“He said he wanted your handicapped parking ticket.”

“But what about Thanksgiving, Tootsie? Did you make anything to remember me by?”

“Of course I did, Rocky. Turkey, potatoes—”

“I always loved mashed potatoes in Thanksgiving, Toots—”

“And cranberry sauce.”

“Cranberry sauce? I hated cranberry sauce!”

“That’s why I made it, Rocky. I figured somebody was bound to say, ‘Remember how Bernie hated cranberry sauce?’, and we’d think of you all over again.”

“You made something I hated in order to remember me by, Tootsie?”

“It’s the ODness in me, Rocky.”

“Ahh, Toots, I always knew you had potential. What else?”

“Your grandson and I saw Captain Underpants. JD, too.”

“Who’s JD?”

“Aussie is now officially the Juvenile Delinquent, Rocky. She’s broken through the fence at least a dozen times and gone exploring in the woods.”

“A good thing to do in hunting season, Tootsie. And what’s Captain Underpants?”

“Well, Rocky, Captain Underpants is a movie about two boys who change their evil principal, Mr. Krupp, into a superhero wearing underpants. Mr. Krupp thinks only of how he could make school the worst experience for children ever, but all it takes is one snap of the fingers and he becomes a fat, pink man wearing only a pair of white underpants, and he fights baddies like Droopy Drawers, called that because her drawers always fall down to her shoes, or Professor Poopypants, called that because—“

“Yes, I think I get that one. But you know, Tootsie, I never liked animated movies. We always argued about that, remember?”

“But there are a lot of jokes and puns on farts, piss, shit, and other such toilet-related items, You’d have loved it, Rocky. In fact, there was a moment there when I had your grandson stretched on top of me and JD, forgetting her JD nature, had her head on my knee, and I got weepy thinking of how you’d have loved to have been there.”

“You’re a sweet girl, Toots.”

“But then the gigantic toilet that Professor Poopypants used as a vehicle emitted a green gas that almost destroyed the world!”

“What a gas, Tootsie. You’re right, it might be just my kind of movie.”

“Any chance you could see Captain Underpants where you are, Rocky?”

“Don’t think so, Toots, but maybe we should consider changing the Third Tenet from Loving Action to Stinky Action.”

“Oh, Rocky, I miss you!”

WHISPERS OF THANKSGIVING

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner on Friday rather than Thursday, with Bernie’s daughter and family, along with several people who supported him with generosity and grace, especially after his stroke.

The heavy manzanita dining table had been moved long ago from the dining room and became Bernie’s desk, in order to make room for his exercise mat. It was too heavy to move back, so we pulled it to a diagonal in the office Bernie shared with Rami Efal, ZPI’s Executive Director, and set up a buffet on two adjoining desks and a sideboard which carried a heavy bust of Bernie’s teacher, Taizan Maezumi.

Just two weeks ago the same desks and sideboard had been set up with photos, flowers, and candles while Bernie lay there. Occasionally I’d notice Maezumi Roshi’s stern visage looking on at the body in the center of the room, the body of the man he’d called Baisen Tetsugen, the penetrator of mysteries. After Maezumi Roshi’s death this same Tetsugen let his hair grow, then a beard, and told everyone he knew, including all students, to call him Bernie. He’d wanted to do that for many years, but wouldn’t as long as Roshi was alive, out of respect for his Japanese teacher.

This teacher had left these parting words to his first successor:

Life after life, birth after birth
Never Falter.
Do not let die the Wisdom seed of the Buddhas and Ancestors.
Truly! I implore you!

And Bernie/Tetsugen, indeed, publicly wrote out his promise to fulfill his teacher’s last wish.

I am one of many of Bernie’s fine successors, and also his wife. His last words to me, as his body entered septic shock, were quite different: I am so much trouble for you! My heart broke when he said them, and breaks every time I remember them. “No, no,” I begged him, “it’s all about love, Bernie, it’s all about love.” But I have no idea if he heard me.

There’s nothing fine or poetic about these words; they’re not drawn out in beautiful calligraphy, remembered reverently by students, printed and reprinted in articles and books. Just a man in the process of relinquishing his physical form, his body in septic shock, unable to find peace, and a wife who can’t do anything to stop the agitation other than to call 911, who in fact has no idea that these are the very last hours of his life, and makes one last entreaty: It’s all about love.

So we sat in that room last night and ate and drank. The snow waited on the dark ground outside for the past-full moon to light up the slope. These last nights have seen so much light I’d wake up in the middle of the night and watch the moonlight splash on the pillow where his head lay. The kids played hide-and-go-seek in the rest of the house; Ava even hid in the dryer—I didn’t fully shut the door, just a little!—and hopped out to scare the others, while we talked of Bernie.

 

CALLING FOR HELP!

Calling for help!

Calling for help!

Calling for help!

I disconnect the medical alert system which we used to keep track of Bernie after his stroke, but the battery still functions so a woman’s firm, calm voice keeps on calling for help in this empty house. I can hear her even when I’m upstairs—Calling for help! Calling for help!—but I can’t open the yellow console to remove the battery.

Various people tell me that Bernie has appeared in their dreams and talked or walked with them. I wished he’d do that to me, but not so far. Such a recalcitrant guy. But I did have a dream the other night in which he figured indirectly.

In the dream he, I, and other teachers in his lineage are teaching in a large, unfamiliar conference center. He’s not in the room with me and I never see him, but everyone knows he’s there. In the large meditation hall Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, of Village Zendo, is giving a talk, only I need to use the bathroom. My room has none so I go up and down the hallways looking for public bathrooms and showers, and to my surprise can’t find any.

Finally I enter an enormous dormitory, the biggest dormitory I ever saw. Single beds separated from each other by curtains, small and narrow cubicles. Looking in, I see that everyone is there, lying on their beds, doing everything in the world: working on their computer, reading, talking on the phone, drawing in a sketchbook, even working out with weights.

I also notice that a few of those cubicles have toilets, only each cubicle is so narrow that the toilet is right by the bed, close to where the people sleep, no avoiding the smell of piss and shit right by the pillows where they put their heads. I marvel, thinking that prison cells must be designed better than this. With no other bathroom facilities in the center, I wonder if I could ask people whether I can use the toilet in their cubicle, even though I know how this will affect them.

I woke up from the dream and thought of my 33 years with Bernie.

I thought of the last dharma schmooze in our living room on the evening of October 25; he was more alert and actively engaged that evening than in any of the other dharma schmoozes we’d hosted since his stroke. He said then what he’d repeated to me and to others many times over the years: “My teacher, Maezumi Roshi, said over and over that Zen is life. It took me years to understand this, but finally I did.”

I thought of that Greyston Bakery on Woodworth Street in Yonkers, with the illegal paint factory across the street emitting poisonous fumes and the illegal Latinos working there; the wholesale butcher next door with animal carcasses hanging inside; you glimpsed them when the doors opened and the butchers in white aprons came out to smoke their cigarettes.

Next door was Little Bit’s Place, the only all-night bar in Yonkers. We did retreats on the top floor of the bakery, 30 of us lying as close as sardines while loud rock music made the walls shake. At 4 am we’d be seated on the stoop outside drinking black coffee before the first sitting. That’s when Little Bit’s Place would close and the last drunks would come out, steadied by gorgeous hookers holding on to each arm.

“How you doing?” they’d say, never blinking once at our black robes.

“Fine, how you doing?” we’d say back.

It all felt natural: the music, the loud tractor trailers on the noisy street, the paint fumes, the illegal workers peering carefully out of the brick factory, the red crack vials on the sidewalk (the biggest crack house in Yonkers was right behind the bakery), and zazen. Zazen felt natural there.

I never heard Bernie utter the words radical acceptance, but in some ways he lived it better than anyone I knew. This is the world, he seemed to say. You want to waste your time picking and choosing, or are you going to go for it?

Bear witness and act, bear witness and act, bear witness and act. What choice have you got? “My teacher always said, Zen is life.”

 

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.

 

One Into Two

With Sami Awad in Palestine

We had our first snow of the season, and I bet it was Dixie Aussie’s first snow of her life, coming as she has from somewhere south of Houston, Texas. She peered out at it, baffled, but after I called to her she charged out, running while looking down at her paws in surprise. I shoveled and sprayed her with snow, tossed snowballs at her till her black back turned white, and voila! Transformation complete. She became a New England dog.

I wish it were this easy with humans.

Countless times Bernie told me that his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, said that the strongest, greatest teachings are the last ones, those given in death.

Right now I am so full of the man it’s hard to explain. He’s everywhere.

I don’t mean in the house, surrounded by photos of wearing a red nose and blowing bubbles at refugee children in Chiapas, or sitting in a large circle on the steps of the Capitol in the deep snow of January 1994 to clarify his next, post-Greyston steps (create the Zen Peacemaker Order!), or even the magnificent photo of him in black-and-ochre robes in a Japanese cemetery, following the Kurodas down the path alongside Peter Matthiessen.

The photographer Peter Cunningham took all those photos over a period of close to 40 years. “I told Bernie, ‘One more adventure,’” Peter said in the crematorium. “’We have to have one more adventure.’ So he gave me one more adventure.”

But no, it’s not those photos or the gorgeous Buddhist art he received as gifts over the years that fill me. It’s the sensation of him inside that’s so strong, that we’re both eating hot soup or petting Aussie and even breathing. I’m gone and it’s just us. It’s hard for me to even experience him as the man who died while I stayed behind and am now in grief. There is that part, too, but what I’m much more aware of is how much he fills me.

A friend who lost his wife over four years ago told me: “Your koan is, how does the one become two?”

The two were one for a long time. Did they fight? Sure. Did they argue? Naturally. Did they see eye-to-eye? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But they were one. They did the getting-up dance day after day, the breakfast dance, the you-want-coffee? dance. Even the you-do-this-I-do-that times, the you-travel-here-I-stay-home occasions, those were the one dancing. Yes, even the Why-do-you-always-talk-about-that? times and the You-never-really-listen-to-me times, those were all dances, too, danced by a couple, danced by one.

Only now the one becomes two, and I can’t fathom it.

People call and talk of the freedom that’s promised now. The freedom to travel, to go out whenever I feel like, eat what I want, see whom I want, not have to coordinate anything or wait for the right time when he’s tired and up in bed, not have to nail down coverage. The freedom to be me.

That ain’t now. Now is when I walk heavily around the empty house, feeling like I copy Bernie’s ponderous walk after his stroke. Now is when I eat tentatively, as Bernie had after his stroke, and get tired after 3, just like him.

The one resists breaking down with all its might.