HOLMES AND WATSON

Henry’s sick; we believe he ate something that upset his delicate stomach.

The sweet thing about Henry is that when he’s sick, he wants comfort. When he’s unwell, he seeks love and attention. This morning I opened the door, and though he immediately jumped up on me, I could see he wasn’t his usual rambunctious self. He wasn’t bringing me toy monkeys and balls to throw, he wasn’t snarling when I pulled them away. He just wanted stroking and cuddling.

“What’s the matter, Henry?” I asked sorrowfully.

He whimpered and bent down to give a few licks to his penis, which he likes to do when he needs solace.

Later that morning his human went to work and I found him in her room. He likes to stay in his crate, but this time he was on her bed, resting on his special warm blanket. He wasn’t the usual maniac chasing squirrels and play-growling at Aussie. When I approached his bed, he lay on his back and opened up his stomach for strokes.

“I’m not feeling well,” he said sadly.

Aussie’s very different. On the rare, rare times when she’s unwell (usually because she ate things she shouldn’t), she curves herself into a ball and tells me to go away. This morning she, too, didn’t seem quite herself, but once we went out for a walk she found her mojo.

“What do you mean, you forgot the treats! You expect me to check in with you and come when you call–for nothing?”

“Aussie, all good deeds get rewarded, but some get rewarded later than others.

“Who said that?”

“The Buddha, Aussie. He said that good deeds have good results, harmful deeds have harmful results. Trouble is, we can’t control when.”

“Timing is everything.”

Later in the day she lay on the futon behind my desk, keeping an eye out the window for marauding squirrels.

“Aussie, why are you in such a bad mood today?”

“Because I’m living with an enema of the people.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m living with an enema of the people.”

“Do you mean enemy of the people, Aussie? And are you referring to sick little Henry upstairs?”

“No, I’m referring to you.”

“To me? So let me ask you, Aussie, if I’m an enemy of the people, and if someone asked you to kill me, what would you do?”

“Ask me an easier one.”

“Like what, Auss?”

“Like what would I do to Schmancy Nancy.”

“Nancy Pelosi?”

“Or what would I do to Poopoo Pants Pence?”

“What would you do, Aussie?”

“Or what would I do to Kamakazi.”

“Who’s Kamakazi, Aussie?”

“I’ll give you a hint. Her name ends with Allah.”

“You mean, Kamala?”

“She’s going to overthrow Biden very soon and take over. Ask me about—”

“I’m asking you about me, Aussie.”

“Errrr … Errrr—”

“WHY ARE YOU EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT?”

“It takes me a while—”

“Let me ask you this, Aussie: Who feeds you?”

“You do.”

“Who gives you a nice warm home?”

“You do.”

“Who gives you walks and car rides and outings with Leeann and weekly marrow bones and makes you a blog star?”

“You do. You’re my Dr. Watson, I’m your Sherlock Holmes.”

“Holmes and Watson were dear friends! I do so many nice things for you, can’t I expect some kindness back? Instead, you’d consider taking me out?”

“You’re an enema of the people, what do you expect?”

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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MESSIAH

Avoid drama, keep your mind clear and stable. These were a couple of my mantras over the past few months. One result was that I became prematurely hopeful of putting Trump behind us.

I was sure Joe Biden would have a big victory on Election Day, not because he was a great candidate but because this country was poised to reject Donald Trump big-time. When over 70 million Americans voted for Trump, I was shocked.

After the election, I still thought Trump would go away. Of course, he would bellow and scream, do everything needed to remain in the spotlight, but after all, I reasoned, what can he do? Even as the noises and litigation started around a fraudulent election, local governments and the courts, bless their democratic hearts, weren’t having any of them. After all the posturing and yelling, what could he do?

Last Wednesday I found out. And I believe now, as the days go by, that Wednesday was the tip of the iceberg.

“The genie has been let out of the bottle and we can’t put it back in,” a friend said yesterday.

State Capitols being put under lock and key is now a frequent phenomenon. We  hear of extra protection for governors and other political leaders, and an inauguration guarded by an army even in this time of covid, when there can’t be a crowd.

We hear of police and army veterans who supported the  rioters, even rumors of some form of quiet collaboration by members of Congress. If they didn’t collaborate, they spoke alongside a few rioters in past rallies. The President isn’t the only one who has to watch his words. Certain members of Congress fear for their lives and I don’t blame them. They know that even as January 20 is the focal date, the violence won’t end on that day, not in Washington and not anywhere else.

I believe it’s only a matter of time till a well-planned and organized operation finally succeeds and a political leader is killed. The odds point in that direction. The FBI can’t penetrate every single small, armed group. And while many of the rioters in the Capitol acted like buffoons, some were prepared. Others will be better prepared, even if Joe Biden is not their immediate target.

Some say that democracy has still won the day. Yes—and at what cost? What will it rack up to ultimately?

Democracy isn’t the only thing that’s endangered, the entire social contract is imperiled, and that’s not just because of Donald Trump. That contract began fraying long ago, when millionaires became billionaires and even super-billionaires while wages for the lower and middle classes stagnated and even dipped. When we forgot that the basis for coming together as a society is that all lives should improve by that act, not just a few. When we accepted the label of consumers as the dominant adjective about ourselves, replacing humans.

For me, the question always comes down to this: What do I do? Isn’t that the most important question? We read the newspapers and listen to the radio, we may draw different conclusions, but regardless, isn’t the final question: What do I do?

In times of uncertainty, in times of pandemics, fear rules the day. And when fear rules the day, so do blaming and scapegoating, that’s the history of the Western world. The greater the success of people fighting racism, misogyny, and corporate dominance, the more threatened others feel. Who would have thought that socialism, Communism and Red will return as this country’s great bugaboos?  Trump may go to Mar-a-Lago, but panic, rage and delusion ain’t going nowhere. They’ve come out of the bottle and will have their say.

I hope next week’s Inauguration helps, but I believe the fire will burn for a while. It’s too early for us to talk of making a turn, we’ll be sitting in the middle of that fire until something else happens, the next bend in the road that no one can predict right now.

So, what do I do?

Late this afternoon I’ll go over to Jimena’s house to give out food cards, our first time since Christmas. We were prevented last week because of her need to quarantine after the possibility of infection by covid. That didn’t happen, so today we go back again, and next week and next week. I have no illusions, this winter will be horrific for immigrants, but we’re doing the best we can with food and utilities, and sometimes health emergencies. I’m showing up.

I reach deep inside for a sense of purpose. I remind myself of my vows, and one of those is exactly what I wrote above: Just show up. Follow what’s going on, change direction and steer differently when needed, listen, show up. Don’t ever get too stunned by the news and the upending of assumptions you made about this country that you don’t show up.

How does it measure up to the messianic quality of the rioters?  Make American Great Again points to nothing but grandeur and some vague glorious horizon . The rioters and others like them speak little of concrete measures or actions, and more of some sublime vision of greatness we once had and lost. When I see photos of their adoring faces at Trump rallies, they look and talk of him as though he’s a messiah and that we live in messianic times. Somewhere out there is the dream, the fantasy that this man will singlehandedly, without Congress or even a Vice President, bring it all back. His actual record has nothing to do with it; his actual deeds have nothing to do with it—that’s why remonstrances and reminders of his miserable performance with the pandemic go nowhere. You don’t sweat the small stuff in messianic times.

What great messianic vision have I to counter that one? Personally, I’m highly suspicious of big-scale dreams even as I recognize that there are worlds and infinities out there I know nothing about. I won’t go up to the roof and wait to spread my wings and fly to the Holy Land as East European Jews did back in the 17th century, when a false messiah told them to do just that.

I’ll do small, practical things. Food cards to immigrants. Ask someone in quarantine what they need, support peacemakers around the world, give Zoom talks when I’m asked, help others make their vows in the middle of these dark times, meditate in the mornings, fill birdfeeders along with dog bowls, feed families, bring a small measure of comfort, ease, and understanding where I go. Basic humanness.

Not interested in messiahs. Just want to show up.

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

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IS JESUS YOUR SAVIOR?

Late Saturday morning I was in the bedroom folding laundry. I heard a whimper and looked towards the rocking chair in the corner. It’s old and comfortable, and becomes fully stationary when I sit in it, so I do my meditation and often give talks while seated there.

But it wasn’t stationary now. Henry, who loves to bring me his stuffed monkey toys to throw for him, had put one on the rocking chair. Usually, he puts them next to me—on the bed, the office chair, the sofa, and even in the shower and dishwasher. This one he put on the rocking chair, and as he jumped up to pick it up with his mouth, putting weight on the front part of the chair, the chair swung forward. Instantly he jumped back, surprised that the chair didn’t stay put. He tried again, the chair swung forward and at him, instantly he jumped back. He sat on his haunches, clearly flummoxed. He tried again and again, and always the chair rocked forward towards him, throwing him off balance.

That’s when he began to whimper, causing me to look up. “Get it, Henry,” I told him. “Come on, get the monkey.”

But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the chair to stay still long enough for him to fetch his monkey from the back. He began to go around the chair because, after a while, he realized that if he went at it from the side, the chair didn’t rock so much. Finally, he found just the right angle from the window side, got his teeth around the monkey and instantly jumped back. He shook his monkey treasure with a big roar (big for him, that is) and threw it over his head in triumph.

“Good dog, Henry,” I congratulated him. “You did it!”

I thought of how the pendulum of life goes back and forth just like my rocking chair, and if we put our weight on one part of it, it will sink right under us, taking us off balance.

I think of the time we’re in and how we try to lean on something, depend on this vs. that, only to have it swing and bite us in the face. I think of the rioters who smashed their way into the Capitol, defacing, bullying, endangering people in the name of patriotism. The FBI and local police should arrest every single person they can identify and bring that person to justice.

But now other reactions are coming in. I read that companies are firing any employee who went to the DC rally; they’re shamed, ridiculed, and even threatened on social media. It’s good to remember that the rally was nonviolent till the attack on the Capitol. It’s good to remember that only a minority went to the Capitol, the majority did not. Some of that minority had planned and plotted, and came prepared. But a majority wanted to protest in support of Trump and the Congress Republicans voting against the election results, and then go home. Firing them from jobs, indulging in what we do so often, e.g., public ridicule, shame, and slurs, don’t go anywhere.

I admit it’s hard for me to feed that way towards the Republican leaders who hid for their lives during the attack (many refusing to wear masks), and then came out to vote against the election results. They’re the ones I wake up at night thinking about.

Over the past 5 days I have woken up in the middle of the night to a surge of anger inside, turning from side to side, feeling a stranger in my own bed. Indignation and something else:  revenge. The monologue is a familiar one. Finally, they’re getting what’s been coming to them for years. Finally, the pendulum is moving to the other side. Finally, people are waking up to the danger we should have seen years ago. Finally! Finally! Finally!

I could say that word in the spirit of gratitude, but in the middle of the night I don’t feel gratitude, I feel RIGHT! I feel pride at being proved right and disdain for those who couldn’t see it coming, like Republican lawmakers. Deep inside there’s the voice I know so well: I knew it! I just knew it!

What’s better than life proving that you were right all along, that you knew better than those frauds sucking up to Fox, that all along you knew what would happen—and it happened. SEE!

When I wake up in the morning and sit, those emotions settle down. Hypocrisy and manipulation didn’t stop outside the boundaries of this person called Eve, they’ve been there for years. Ambition and self-regard are part of my nature, too. If everything meets inside, how can it meet outside?

What will finally bring us together, even into the same room, around the same table? I shiver when I think that it might take some momentous external catastrophe that is so clear and visible that no one has a doubt about it–and is that what we’re waiting for?

An old friend, Paul Gorman, founded an interfaith partnership for environmental action many years ago. It took him a long time to convince even liberal denominations of Christianity and Judaism (I know little of his experience with Muslim communities) to come around the table, quoting liberally from the Old and New Testament to remind them that God asked us to be stewards of the earth.

In later years Paul tried to bring in the American evangelical community and finally got a meeting with some major players. He made his presentation, and when he finished one of the leaders said: “That’s all fine, Paul, but we can’t move forward till you answer me this: Do you declare that Jesus Christ is your savior?”

Bernie used to say that no matter how open you are, not everybody will want to come round the table. He remembered being part of a program many years ago in Chicago, where an African American woman minister pointed to him and said that since Buddhist priests wore black robes, she could have nothing to do with him because for her, black was the work of the devil.

At night the voices of rage and indignation arise. In the morning they subside and I remember again and again that we’re One Body. How do we realize and manifest this day after day?

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

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THE PICNIC ON WEDNESDAY

Jimena’s porch full of gifts for immigrant children

On Wednesday morning I sent out a piece about Aussie searching everywhere for Trump votes. As it went out, I saw the first news about rioters breaking into the Capitol. When things subside, I may hear from Aussie about how she broke into the Capitol, too. For now, she’s quarantined and I tell her I don’t want to hear one word from her. I tell her, “It’s not funny, Aussie.” And then I remember saying this to Bernie a number of times, and he replied: “Something is always funny, Eve.”

After sending the post out I could do nothing but look at the papers online and then switch to TV. I rarely watch news on TV, but this time I couldn’t step away till after 10 pm, when the Senate voted to accept Arizona’s electors. I thought that that would be it, that the Republican Senators who said they would challenge other states’ electors would now be too shamed, or simply tuckered out, to challenge more states. I was wrong, and Joe Biden wasn’t certified the winner till 3 am US Eastern time.

The next day I could barely focus on anything. To a lesser extent, it’s still true. My finger has a tic and leaps off the keyboard to click on online newspaper outlets. “Focus,” I tell myself. I’m focusing, and among all the things grinding at my  insides, one hurts like no others:

How did rioters get into the Capitol with such ease? How did the police do so little, how were they so unprepared? How did they talk to them like pals? How did they do selfies with them? Where was the alarm?

Yes, some shepherded the Congress and Senate to safety, good for them. Some drew their guns. Others just stepped away and let the rioters take over, or else stood on the sides with no one taking command.

For the rioters, this was a picnic. They looked like happy kids on some big adventure, with just enough obstruction to make it a little challenging, but nothing serious. No shouted threats on bullhorns, no batons or guns, very little tear gas. They climbed up those walls as if they were on some outdoors tree-climbing course. They broke windows and clambered inside as if this was a movie. One woman did that and was shot and killed, and that is terrible. But—what was she thinking?

I stared and stared at the pictures, and always the same words flashed in my mind: And if they were black? What would have happened if these people were black?

Hours after thousands of National Guard came in, two hours after the curfew had set in at 6:00, people sauntered down the streets, laughed, high-fived, compared photos, posed for selfies. “Why aren’t they arresting them for violating curfew?” I asked my housemate, who was watching, too. “They’re treating this like it’s not even a minor disturbance.”

Where was the rush with tear gas, batons, and guns that we saw in American cities this past summer? Kid glove treatment doesn’t begin to describe the caution, the neutrality, and even the friendliness that some of the police exhibited.

If you were to say that they were outnumbered, overpowered, and faced limited choices, how did such a situation arise? Does anyone alive over the past year believe that if the people coming to DC to protest were black Americans, such a situation would have arisen? Could you imagine the high alerts, the quick authorizations, the thousands in riot gear? Could you imagine a Defense Department not authorizing the National Guard to rush out to the Capitol out of some perception of political correctness if they were going to face black people?

That is what I’ve carried in my belly since Wednesday.

I don’t think privilege ever punched me in the stomach as did those scenes on television. I watched and watched and watched, much as I’d watched and watched on 09/11 as those towers came down. As if a voice was whispering: Take this in, bear witness, take it all into the deepest places of your conscience, the depths of your heart/mind. Never forget.

I’m aware that there are major constituencies out there that have long felt neglected by the powers that be, their cries for help in the rural heartlands, on Main Street, and in factories rusting away unheard. I know that big money and corporate lobbies have ransacked the Capitol long ago far more effectively. But those are not the people described in the profiles of rioters; they described people who follow certain social media, who still think the coronavirus is some kind of hoax, whose hatred of liberals boggles my mind, and who have made it perfectly clear what they will do to perpetuate their vision of this country. Camp Auschwitz said a lot.

This is the last cry of privileged white males, some say. Demographics are on our side.

Maybe, but it’s a very prolonged last cry. The guns they carry are real and they are condoned by our legal system. Too many of our police see comrades in this sea of white faces breaking windows and wrapped in the American flag. I think they see them as recognizably white, people who’re a little misguided but don’t really mean harm, good guys who occasionally overdo it but are still good guys. When will they extend even half that goodwill to people with a darker color skin?

It’s not that I want the same violence that exploded in Seattle and other cities to happen here; that kind of police brutality goes nowhere. And good things are happening, too. Raphael Warnock winning a Senate seat in Georgia almost brought tears to my eyes. A black pastor from the famous church where King preached, what could be better than that? It’s as eloquent as almost any of King’s speeches.

Yes, demographics are changing in Georgia and other places, bringing the inevitable change to American society, a more diverse country where multi-culturalism isn’t happening just in some big cities but penetrating the heartland.

I thought all that when I watched television on Wednesday. And still I stared and stared, forgetting to blink. “Remember this,” a voice said. “Don’t ever, ever forget what they did here, and how police responded.”

 

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CONSPIRATORS

Leaves Under Ice

“They gotta be here somewhere. I just know it, they gotta be here somewhere.”

“Aussie, why are you going through the bin of paper recyclables?”

“You know why!”

“Scrounging around for food, Auss?”

“Votes! Votes! I’m sniffing around for votes!”

“But what makes you look for them here, Aussie? Donald was looking for 11,780 votes in Georgia, not Massachusetts.”

“You take me for a dope? I know that this bin isn’t for recycling. Just look at all those papers and envelopes.”

“Aussie, that’s recycled mail. We’ve been recycling paper every two weeks for years! Are you taking stuff out of the bin? Stop that!”

“You think I don’t know the truth?”

“What truth, Auss?”

“The Trump votes from Georgia were never all counted. Instead, they snuck them onto a truck and sent them off to Massachusetts, where they get dumped or recycled. I know I’ll find votes here somewhere, I’m a Doberman, after all.”

“You’re a Dobie like I’m a squirrel, Auss.”

“See? Here! I told you I’d find votes!”

“Aussie, that’s junk mail.”

“You think I believe any of that?”

“It’s an offer from a credit card company.”

“What’s the heavy thing inside, eh? Answer me that!”

“Probably the credit card, Aussie.”

“And what’s this? Secret instructions from Jimmy Carter?”

“No, a fundraising letter from Habitat for Humanity, Aussie.”

“And what about this?”

“A letter from Medicare reporting on what they covered for my doctor consultation.”

““Medicare! I knew it. You can’t say Medicare without thinking of fraud.”

“You’re not going to find 11,780 votes in the blue bin in our garage, Aussie.”

“Don’t worry, we got all of New England covered.”

“Who’s we?”

“The Proud Pooches. We’re sniffing through trash barrels, recyclable bins, office cabinets, even the pockets of Bernie’s bathrobe.”

“Bernie’s dead, Auss!”

“So you say, so you say.”

“Aussie, you’re making a fool of yourself. Who thought of such a stupid idea anyway?”

“Who do you think? I told them that if they could bring me up in a truck from Texas and my ex, Harry, from Mississippi, they can smuggle votes up from Georgia.”

“In a truck that says Animal Rescue?”

“Clever, aren’t they? I told the Pooches that we got all it takes to turn this election around. If we can smell pot in airports, cancer in hospital patients and marrow bones in the freezer, we can smell out votes. We have our uniforms—”

“That’s an orange vest so that hunters don’t mistake you for a deer.”

“—and we have our motto.”

“What’s that, Auss?”

“Live Free or Bark.”

“Aussie, put back that paper.”

“Even Enrique is helping us.”

“Henry? You enrolled Henry, the chihuahua you want to deport?”

“Just in case you’re conspiring in Spanish. We got all the languages covered.”

“What about Yiddish? When my parents didn’t want us kids to understand them, Aussie, they’d talk in Yiddish.”

“We asked Benny the Schnauzer to join but he demurred. Lousy traitor!”

“Aussie, this is embarrassing.”

“Haha! Found it.”

“Found what?”

“Cardboard! Flattened out. The evidence we’ve been looking for.”

“Flattened boxes, Auss?”

“What was in those boxes before they were flattened, eh? Tell me that!”

“Aussie, we have to flatten corrugated boxes to have them recycled.”

“Everybody knows there were votes in those boxes!”

“Who’s everybody, Aussie?”

“You, me, everybody!”

“Show me proof, Aussie. Show me one stolen vote!”

“I don’t have to show you proof, you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because in my heart I know I’m right! And the heart never lies.”

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. If you’re sending a gift to immigrant families, please note this on the memo line.

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A NEW YEAR BONE

On Sunday mornings, after breakfast, Aussie gets a big marrow bone. She got an especially big one New Year’s Day. Henry, too, though his is quite a bit smaller, to keep things in proportion. That buys us some quiet time before the morning whining to get going, go for walks and car rides, etc.

One of my favorite sounds in the world is the grinding of Aussie’s teeth against the hard bone behind me, with intermittent loud, lushy licks. If I was to turn around and watch, I’d see her start the operation by standing on her legs and sniffing at the bone, biting and pulling at some errant meat, and finally getting down on her belly to really do the job.

It’s a good time on Sunday mornings.

There are other sounds I don’t like so much, especially Aussie’s whining for no apparent reason. I know the Mmmm! sounds when she’s hungry and it’s time to eat, I know those sounds, accompanied by shiny eyes and a tail wagging furiously, telling me that it’s after mid-morning and when are we going out?

My old dog Stanley used to come up to my office at 5:00 sharp and start whining, and in that case, it meant: Okay, who’s cooking this evening? It’s time to make dinner. He’d walk and whine, walk and whine between Bernie’s office and mine; you could have set your watch by it.

And then there are the whines whose reasons I don’t know. Not so with Henry. Every single one of Henry’s whimperings has one message: There’s a toy in the neighborhood, why aren’t you throwing it?

With Aussie it’s different. She stands alongside my chair and goes into a high soprano Mmmm! I look down at her.

“What is it, Auss?”

“Mmmmm!”

“We just came back from a walk.”

“Mmmmm!”

“We just came back from the bank and they gave you a cookie.”

“Mmmmm!

“Lots of birds and squirrels for you to chase outside in the snow.”

She doesn’t budge. “Mmmmm!”

I watch the frustration begin to rise up inside. She’s not into ball-throwing or frisbee catching. I can’t let her wander on her own. Do you want a job, I ask her silently? Do you want to be a therapy dog? Do you want to have more to do in your life aside from starring in a blog? I can’t give it that much time, Aussie, I continue, it has to work for me, too.

But the frustration inside continues, mostly fueled by a suspicion that she’s not happy, that I’m not making her happy, that she wants and needs more than I can give.

But this isn’t about Aussie and me, it’s about life and me.

In so many ways I feel not up to things, including those I take on myself freely. In writing, I reach for something and instead cliches come up. It’s a big discipline to find new ways to express old things, some narrow arc of light that illuminates a bigger surrounding.

I can’t possibly respond to the different emails and texts for ideas, help, and support. I have a responsibility to my students, but the world is far bigger than that and multitudes raise their arms and call out, and I feel the limits of my own humanness.

It’s winter now and I’m confronted by immigrant families for whom this is the worst time because farms shut down. Whatever I do—$750 in weekly food cards, cash assistance to meet rent and utilities—doesn’t feel enough. I’m more alert than ever to how much suffering the poor and the elderly have had through covid; the rest of us, including me (am I elderly at 71?), make it through. I probably would have gotten more teaching income if not for covid, but I can live with ease with what I have. They can’t. And the wealthy have gotten far wealthier.

Since turning 70 I have felt a distinct change in my energy level. I sleep more than I used to and there’s not much creativity in the evenings. Bernie let go of so many things even before the stroke; the stroke took most of the rest, and death took what was left.

For the new year I wish myself an end to frustration. An end to expectations and the margin between them and my capacity. I wish for myself to get closer to the earth and nourish it, as do the Sawmill River under our house and the creek that meanders in the woods, rather than walking mightily on my two legs, head up in the sky. Dwell peacefully in my true proportions.

I’ll keep on supporting the immigrant families in our community. But the bigger piece is now more indirect, supporting the peacemakers, supporting the people whose turn it is to do the helping, those who often feel alone and despairing when there’s a call they can’t meet, like Mmmmm! I benefitted so much from my own teacher and husband, and even more from the big international sangha around me. They completely changed my life, and the best thing I can do is try to supply this to others.

Work with quiet focus. Give Aussie her walks and car rides, throw Henry’s stuffed monkeys for him to fetch, keep bird feeders full, and the heart open to the multitude of voices I can’t realistically respond to. Feel that gap, feel that space, don’t let frustration rise to take its place.

Enjoy the sound of canine teeth grinding happily against marrow bones.

A new year.

You can also send a check to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. If the check is for immigrant families, please write this on memo line.

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A NEW YEAR FOR AUSSIE

“Aussie, it’s a New Year, a time of new beginnings, a chance to turn the page and start anew. What do you wish yourself for the New Year?”

“I want to live a completely unspiritual life in the new year.”

“What does that mean, Auss?”

“Let me tell you exactly. First of all, I want to be able to complain.”

“You complain plenty!”

“I don’t complain enough. You’re too stoic and spiritual about everything. You could get sick and have lots of pain and froth at the mouth, and all you’ll say is: ‘Life is good.’”

“That’s not true, Aussie, I try to be as real as possible.”

“As if you got much choice.”

“And life is good, Aussie.”

“Here we go again. Life isn’t good. Not with a foreign spy in our house like Henry.”

“Henry’s not a spy.”

“If a Chihuahua has a name like Henry, you bet he’s a spy. In the new year I’m calling him Enrique.”

“You know, Aussie, my father, the rabbi, lived till he was 90. As he aged and got sick, every time I asked him how he was his standard answer would be: ‘You’re not allowed to complain.’'”

“So much for rabbis. I’m complaining. I want you to put up a sign at our house: Complaining welcome here. Bitching even better.

“Okay, Auss, complain away.”

“Why do you hang the birdfeeders so high up? How am I supposed to get birds that way?”

“Noted. What else?”

“Why do you give me marrow bones only on holidays and Sundays? What’s wrong with the other days of the week?”

“Noted. What else, Aussie?”

“I’m through accepting life as it is.”

“So, what are you going to do, Auss?”

“Fight! Fighting is exciting, fighting is drama. Fighting life creates heroes—moi!”

“Fighting life also creates losers, Aussie. Life is always going to come out ahead.”

“True, but think of the fun I’ll have.”

“What else do you want for the new year, Aussie?”

“No more of this non-killing bullshit.”

“I assume you refer to birds?”

“No, I refer to the UPS man. And now we come to food. I don’t want no vegetables. I want raw hamburgers. And I don’t care where they come from, local, far away, pasture-raised or feedlots. I ain’t choosy, like someone I know.”

“Noted. What else?”

“Donuts and cookies. Anything with corn syrup, the more fructose the better. And one more thing. McDonald’s fries.”

“I thought you didn’t like them so much anymore, Aussie.”

“I want the old McDonald’s fries, the ones they made with hydrogenated oil. Those were great! The ones they have now are terrible.”

“And what else, Auss?”

“The most important thing of all. I want us to put up a sign at the front door: .”

“Impossible, Aussie. Don’t you want to be in your body?”

“Just as long as I’m not in Enrique’s body.”

“What about when you’re doing things like running? Don’t you want to know you’re running when you’re running? Resting when you’re resting?”

“Duh, I guess.”

“So, let me see here. For the new year, Aussie, you want to bitch and complain, daily marrow bones, raw hamburgers, lowered birdfeeders, old-style McDonald’s fries, no mindfulness in the house, and renaming Henry Enrique. Did I miss anything?”

“And fighting life every single day!“

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INSTEAD OF BEING SCARED, GET SCARY

 

I watched Henry after the big snowstorm that hit us in mid-December and that was washed away on Christmas Day. We got some 16 inches of snow, not the most by a long shot (we’ve gotten as much as 3 feet), but enough to deter a small Chihuahua mix like Henry from venturing out.

Never having had a small dog before, I love getting to know Henry, who belongs to my housemate. He camps outside my door in the morning, whimpering till it opens, and then hops on his back legs like a meercat for his hugs. Aussie, on the other hand, sleeps downstairs till late. He walks with us in the deep woods, usually positioned between Aussie, up ahead, and me, and if he gets too close to a cold stream evil Aussie , with her two coats of fur, pushes him with her muzzle right into the freezing water and grins happily. He, a short-hair dog, shakes himself indignantly but continues to follow her. He has learned a lot from Aussie.

This time, the snow was deep. Aussie, originally from Texas, loved it. It was cotton-soft and light, she scampered in it for hours, scaring away the squirrels and creating deep indentations with her paws. Henry, however, stopped in his tracks at the garage door. He had a short path shoveled for him for excretory purposes, but outside was a winter amusement park that he didn’t know how to negotiate. Sixteen inches of snow is no small matter for a dog that weighs 12 pounds.

I was standing there, looking out at both of them, when Henry had his eureka moment. He watched Aussie running off in the snow and suddenly jumped into one of her tracks, bounded over the deep snow onto the next deep paw print, flew over the snow till he landed in the next, and kept on doing that all across the yard, jumping from one deep indentation to the other, hurdling over the in-between high snow like a horse.

After that, Henry had no more problems with snow. We went into deep snow in the conservancy nearby and he did the same across the wide, snowy meadows, flying over the snow from one of Aussie’s paw prints to another, having a blast. When he got home, he shook himself off, ran upstairs, jumped on the bed and went straight to sleep; he was a tired little dog.

Sometimes we’re most creative when we  encounter obstructions in our path. Most of us, I think, wish that our lives will go like a sitcom, predictable and a little giggly. They don’t, and that’s when they get interesting. Our individual creativity is challenged, we’re asked to come up with a different approach, the more unique the better.

It’s as if life is laughing at me and saying: I threw this your way, let’s see what you come up with. Show me what you got. Sometimes we need muscle and perseverance, and sometimes it’s a lightness and agility of being, like Henry, dancing from one of Aussie’s pawprints to the next, flying in the air.

That’s when I get that life isn’t about eliminating hindrances and obstructions; it could be about befriending them, studying them, and coming up with a new idea: I wonder what I could do with this. Henry could have gone back indoors and gone to sleep till spring, letting Aussie have all the fun. Instead, he worked out a whole new sport, and was happy and proud of himself.

You don’t have to wait till spring or the end of covid to renew yourself; you can do that right in the middle of the cold.

I remembered Bernie’s surgery to remove his squamous cell carcinoma from his brow, right on top of his protuberant nose. It had looked like nothing at all for a few months, but he insisted on waiting with the small surgery in order to be able to fly to Poland for the annual retreat at Auschwitz, and by the time we got there it had gotten really big and ugly. We got home and went straight to the hospital where they put him into full anesthesia to have it removed.

I was told it wouldn’t be a big deal, but when I entered the recovery room, I came to a standstill. His face was half bandaged up like a mummy, the bandages were bloodied and what was visible of his face was swollen and bruised. His face was horrifying.

I ran off to get some new meds for him, and when I returned his bandages had been changed but there was no missing the blood at the edges. His face looked like something out of a Halloween horror movie. This was just 10 days after Halloween.

He got into his wheelchair, saw his face in a mirror, and shook his head in disbelief.

“There are lots of kids in the reception area downstairs,” I told him. “Should we go scare them?”

This cheered him up. “Yeah!”

Down we went in the elevator, people edging away from us when they saw him in his blood-rimmed bandages and the dark purplish bulges. When we got into the big waiting area of the hospital, he swung into action. I wheeled him through and he began to growl softly as we passed the people coming towards us. They went the other way, staring in shock, and a few kids hung close to their parents.

“Stop doing that,” I  laughed. “You’re scaring them to death.”

He had such a good time.

I left him inside the main doors, went to get the car, and brought it to the front. When I came back in, he was sitting right in front of the doors as people came in, growling and snarling, his hands up in the air as if ready to pounce.

“Bernie, what are you doing?” I said, hurrying to get him out of there before someone called the hospital police.

He brought his hands down wearily and leaned back into the wheelchair. “When I’ scary, I’m really scary!” he said with some satisfaction.

We got into the car and drove home.

 

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SO WHAT’S NEW? NOTHING.

I lit a tall stick of incense today for my uncle who passed away some years ago. His name was Simcha Singer. The ch is soft, as in my Hebrew name, Chava. Simcha means joy.

My family, like others, has lost people over the years, but many of the cousins of my generation, on the maternal side, feel they owe a special debt—in fact, their lives—to this uncle.

How to describe him? He was born two years ahead of my mother to a poor Jewish family in Bratislava, then part of Czechoslovakia. The brother and sister, two siblings among 11, with a mother who could give but little individual attention, hung out a lot together.

He looked down from the roof when the Nazis entered Bratislava in the middle of the night in 1944 (the second time they came in), woke up the family, and took them into a rarely used room in the very back of the basement of their apartment house. Once they were safely inside, he shut the doors on them and piled up wood, boards, and thrown-away objects so that  it would look uninhabited. Other families from the building rushed downstairs into the basement proper, were discovered, and sent to Auschwitz. No one discovered the family behind the hidden door.

Rather than taking shelter, my uncle, around 18 at the time, leaped from roof to roof and knocked on as many windows as possible to tell people that the Nazis had come in and to save themselves. There are some funny stories about those hours, too, that I won’t detail now.

He had planned for the Nazis’ arrival for a while.

“I tried to talk to Abba (Dad) about it but he never liked to listen to me, he had other favorites among his sons,” he told me many years later.

He had met a non-Jewish construction worker who had a cellar in his house. That’s where the family hid out. The cellar was so low, damp, and crowded they could only sit huddled inside, unable to stand. They were finally discovered by the Nazis.

“I think it was a Jewish man from somewhere else who joined us for a short while,” my mother remembered. “We were found right after that, they knew exactly where to go to find us. They probably caught him and promised him his freedom if he’d tell them where he’d been, not that they ever had any intention of keeping their bargain.”

It was often my mother who was sent out to get food because she was more Aryan looking, but her brother also sneaked out though he looked as dark and Jewish as could be. Their toddler nephew, his mother killed at Auschwitz, was being hidden and raised by a non-Jewish woman in the country, and she insisted on being paid monthly. Month after month, regardless of what happened to the family, one of them had to get to her and make that payment.

My uncle was caught more than once, even tortured, but he had a way of evading his captors. Once he was put on a train to a concentration camp, and as soon as the train pulled away, he started whittling away at the heavy wooden door, trying to create an opening big enough to escape through it.

“The others there were afraid of the guards,” he remembered. “I told them I had to pay for my nephew; besides, we had nothing more to lose.”

The story of that escape is even more bizarre, complex, and inspiring than I can relate right now. Books and books can be published about the heroism of people who were ready to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. My mom is no slouch in that department, either.

When I was a child, I looked at him as a hero; I think we all did. It was hard to believe that this thin, diminutive man had done so much; we felt we owed him our lives.

It took my uncle a long time to settle into his own life in Israel. He had a family but not a particularly happy marriage. He opened up an appliance store which made money and bored him, so he tried many different things, investing in various companies, and even traveled through Asia as an arms dealer, purchasing American weapons abandoned in Vietnam and selling them to other bidders.

There was a time when he dreamed of leaving everything and everyone, going away to Argentina, and starting anew. There was always that restlessness about him, searching the horizon for new ventures. But he stayed put, went to class, and learned how to be comfortable with computers.

The final stage of his life was characterized by a small series of strokes. My mother, who adored him above all other men, couldn’t understand it. “What’s wrong with him?” she’d say. “Why doesn’t he do something?”

But he was through doing things. He was a grandfather, a family patriarch, and I think he found happiness there.

According to my count, he died some eight years ago. Time goes by and it’s hard to keep track. The marker on his grave acknowledges the sacrifices he made to save Jews from death.

Between him and my mother, I feel I’ve lived in the shadow of heroism and self-sacrifice from the time I was born. Given the stories I grew up on, Mother Goose and even Grimm’s Fairy Tales paled in comparison. Children’s stories and books had no interest for me. I was proud of this family. You read and watch TV about courage, I used to say silently to the other kids around me, but our family’s the real thing.

I grew up wishing I could prove myself as they had. I’m very, very lucky not to be challenged in that way. I know what a blessing it is to have daily, uninterrupted routines.

“So, what’s new?” my mom asks in our daily phone calls.

I try to comb through the day to find something to entertain her, but finally I say: “Nothing, mom. Nothing’s new. We’re closed up, just like you.”

“Why?” she wonders, because she can’t remember.

Nothing’s new. What a privilege, how special! Even with covid around, there is no enemy with boots and guns at the door, no deportations, no need to hide. Others experience that—it’s why I help immigrant families—but that’s not my karma right now. No need to feel afraid. I miss certain things, and at the same time relish the ordinary routines of daily life: get up in the morning, shower, sit, coffee, greet the dogs, check the news and emails, look at the calendar to see what’s up for me that day, get to work.

Is there a greater blessing than that?

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THE WORLD KNOWS

Merry Christmas, everyone.

I sit here in a darkening Saturday afternoon, the day after the holiday. We had a spectacular rainstorm on Christmas Day. It began with a sprinkling on Christmas Eve and relentless torrents for most of yesterday. Aussie insisted on going out and dripped water all over the floor each time she came in; there was flooding everywhere, and practically all the snow—15 inches of it— disappeared by end of day, including all the snow surrounding the apple tree in the photo. I was grateful we didn’t lose power.

Here we are, I thought to myself, closed in by covid, and now closed in even more by the rain. Not only don’t we see family and friends, we can’t even go out to walk or play outdoors.

No matter how we look at it, this past year is still pushing us inside and inwards all the time, we can’t seem to avoid it, as if it’s saying: Don’t look out, look in. It doesn’t matter what you resolved or wished for 2020, your job is to stay inside.

I think of two things:

The first is my religious Jewish family, which, of course, never celebrated Christmas. More important, they tried to render it as invisible as possible in our home. It wasn’t considered good form to even say Christmas in the house, and while we never had much occasion to mention Jesus Christ, his name too was almost never mentioned. Not prohibited, just not considered proper..

For Jews, Christmas and Easter, Christianity’s biggest holidays, come with a lot of baggage. Historically, those were the times when Jews living in Europe and Russia during the Middle Ages and well into the European Age of  Enlightenment feared for their safety and lives. It was very common for Christians to go to church for worship, leave, and find joy not in a good holiday dinner at home but as a mob descending on the local Jewish community or ghetto, starting a spree of violence that often ended in plunder and murder. There are many documented cases of priests inciting their congregations to kill the Jesus-killers.

A strange way to celebrate the birth and later resurrection of a savior.

So, it’s no surprise that even a couple of centuries later, many Jews who’re still cognizant of that history—and especially religious Jews—view Christmas with suspicion. A good friend of mine, a Jewish woman who loves to cook for and celebrate holidays, wrote me that she doesn’t celebrate Christmas out of the resentment she harbors for  Christianity.

For years I had a hard time wishing people a Merry Christmas, even after they first wished it to me; I felt I was betraying my people who locked their doors in terror all those years ago when the church services ended, holding their children close and hoping that this year, at least, it will go by with no harm to them.

But, here I am, years later, and I appreciate the birth of a great spiritual leader and warrior. We had a very quiet day yesterday, but when my housemate invited me to join her in a Christmas dinner here at home a few days earlier, my immediate response was: “What can I make?” As a result, we had a magnificent dinner, I hadn’t eaten so rich in a long time: a roast beef, scalloped potatoes, snap peas, a berry crumble, wine. The dogs gathered by the kitchen stove, sniffing happily, causing us to trip over them. We worked out who had the oven first and in the end we filled up the dishwasher.

The rain pelted away: Stay indoors, stay inside. Don’t get distracted, don’t try to escape. Stay in.

And I remembered another Christmas holiday many years back, long before I married Bernie, when I lived in a cabin on my own. A good friend arrived for the holiday and I was very grateful for her company. We had a good time throughout.

In the middle of the day my brother called to ask how I was doing just as Linda  went for a walk outside. I told him I was hosting my good friend, he asked how that was, I said it was terrific, and then added: “You know, sometimes she talks too much.” We laughed, but even as I said those words, I knew it wasn’t really the case; Linda talked when we were together, but when I wished to be alone, she gave me lots of space. And still I said those words.

When she returned, I saw that her mood had changed. She’d left the house full of cheer, and she returned disgruntled. Immediately I thought: She heard what I said about her. But that couldn’t be, I then thought, she was nowhere near the cabin when I talked on the phone, not to mention that I talked in Hebrew to my brother. But something had changed in her, at least for a time, low spirits in the place of the high spirits she had when she’d left.

We became cheerful again a little later, but I thought to myself: She heard something. The leaves whispered it, or the birds, or the clouds. Somehow, she knew.

Why had I said those uncalled-for, unnecessary words about her?

Years later, Bernie told me he didn’t believe in secrets. “If you really see that we’re all One Body, then the world knows,” he said. “It may not know the details, but it knows something.”

I remembered this yesterday, and how sure I was that somehow, she knew. I thought of the unnecessary things I’ve said over time, and how the world always knew.

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