THE ROCKY THAT NEVER FIGHTS

A big animal is eating our hostas, so I decided to sit outside and look for it.

It was the longest day of the year. At 9 pm there was plenty of light on the western horizon. Fireflies lit up the slope, the overhang around the tool shed, even small caverns inside the bark of trees. They lit up even the darkness of the forest from where Norman likes to emerge, tempting me with his calls to depression, despair, blackness of all kind, and the call to leave the moment and go somewhere—anywhere—where it’s always better.

Norman lies through his teeth, but his voice has whispered to me all my life. I could count on him to point out everything that didn’t work out, the work that didn’t pay off, the blessings that didn’t accrue, the love I hadn’t gotten, the money I didn’t have, and always, always, the passing years. He was also pretty good at pointing out the faults of every single person that ever lived.

I’d sit with his voice in my ears and feel I had to fight somehow, get on top of things, my spirits up, find some spiritual mallet to slam him down with. Remember all the people who have it worse than me. Remember spiritual giants like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, as if they represent some goal line I am kicking the ball towards. Thought of RBG, the film I saw on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the US Supreme Court judge, and my admiration and gratitude for her.

All that lingered a moment, then waned. Instead I sat quietly and watched the fireflies. Don’t have to idealize anyone anymore. Don’t need to go to somebody else for some truth that isn’t already right under this scratchy (from mosquito and tick bites) skin of mine. I find it not by reading books, but by sitting in the dark watching fireflies, waiting patiently for the animal eating up our flowers.

I’ve probably struggled with some form of low-key depression all my life. It’s almost always there first thing in the morning. Activity submerges it, which is one reason why I like to be active. But last night, sitting under the watchful gaze of Venus in one direction and the half-or-so yellow moon in the other, watching blinking fireflies everywhere, even Norman got quiet.

My husband, Bernie, takes my breath away sometimes. The stroke leveled him. The strong, robust, bigger-than-life personality aged so overnight that even now, 2-1/2 years later, I don’t recognize him sometimes. There isn’t a morning when he gets up and, from my desk I look over my shoulder to see him standing on top of the stairs and I startle, ask again for the thousandth time: What happened?

What happened, and continues to happen, is that Bernie plunges. Once he plunged into Zen koans, ending homelessness in Westchester County, inspiring peacemakers for this endlessly suffering world. Now he’s plunged into stroke. Goodbye fierce independence, goodbye quick rejoinders, goodbye complex new solutions and approaches, goodbye daily activity that started at 4 am. Hello to dependence, paying attention to the body, medical decisions difficult to understand, to the changing proportions of a human being as he ages and gets ill. His greatest lesson to me is that no one is exempt, not even a Zen master.

Do you do this fighting or lying down? Bernie has chosen lying down. He fights no one and no thing. He walks carefully, checks his calendar for phone calls, Skypes, and Zooms. And now, when he gets questions from students, old questions he’s answered a million times, he takes his time and goes to a place I don’t know, a place I don’t think he knew before the stroke. A place you go to again and again because it’s never the same from one visit to another.

I used to call him Rocky because that was his nickname when he was a boy, because he was a fighter. This Rocky never fights. Nothing in the world is his opponent, no experience is beyond his experiencing.

“I have a question,” he admits to me quietly. “It’s—what do you call it?”

“I don’t know, Bernie.”

“You know, something philosophical.”

“An existential question?”

“That’s it,” he says, and proceeds slowly. “My existential question is why I am still living.” He doesn’t ask the question, he lives it. Plunges into it, like any good koan master.

Outside it’s completely dark as I wait for the phlox-eating beast to arrive. Stanley comes out of the garage, and though I’m right in front of him he can’t see me, doesn’t catch my scent, and his black shadow passes me by. Only the fireflies keep blinking on this longest day of the year.

A RADICAL CURE FOR TRAUMA

Photo by Rae Cook

“You remember that big fight we had on Saturday night?” Bernie asks at the table.

“Which one?”

“You said something about how you were feeling, he didn’t say anything back, you got mad and said that talking to the Man is like throwing a pebble into a deep well, listening for a splash, and all you get is silence. That one,” says Stanley under the table.

“Yes, that one,” says Bernie. “Well, I just told this to Mike Brady.”

“The President of Greyston?” I ask. “Why did you do that, Bernie?”

“Because I got confused. I heard that Mike was calling me and I thought it was a different Mike.”

“Mike the dog walker?” wonders Stan.

“So let me get this straight, Bernie. You shared this intimate detail of our life together with the wrong person because you were confused about who he was.”

“Exactly,” says the Man. “I said hello and then I went into the whole story and didn’t stop till he told me that he wasn’t the Mike I thought he was.”

“About how long into the conversation was that?”

“Not long, 40 minutes.”

“Bernie, I’m not sure the whole world has to know all the intimate details of our life together.”

“You’re the blogger,” says Stanley. “You tell the world everything! Nothing is safe with you.”

“Speaking of safety, Stanley, remember Caro?”

“Caro the gardener? The one who told me to stop shitting by the flowers and under the laundry lines?”

“Especially when I had our white sheets hanging there, Stan.”

“I love shitting under the laundry lines!”

“It seems that Caro was gone for a few days and a fox went in and killed all her laying hens. Every single one of them, Stanley, can you imagine?”

“It couldn’t leave one for me?”

“You know what she did, Stanley? She killed the rooster.”

“She killed the rooster! Why?”

“Because it didn’t protect the hens, Stan. She also wrote that he was lonely and confused without the hens around, maybe traumatized by all that violence and death he wasn’t able to prevent. It would have been cruel to keep him all alone by himself till they regrouped with a whole new batch of hens.”

“Isn’t that a little radical for curing trauma? She killed him!”

“Butchered and ate him, Stan. End of story.”

“You know what? I’m not hiding behind a chair next time there’s lightning and thunder.”

“Why’s that, Stan?”

“Because you might eat me to cure me of my trauma! And you know how you plan to travel next week to be with your mother? Please, please lock the doors!”

“Stanley, you know we rely on you to guard Bernie.”

“Don’t rely on me! I’m old, I’m deaf, I’m blind, and I’m now retired. What happens if I sleep through a break-in?”

“Nobody will harm the Man, Stan.”

“It’s not the Man I’m worried. Just don’t plan on making any dog broth, okay?”

EYES FULL OF TENDERNESS

 

Genro on Rte. 47, after listening to a reading by Tommy Orange

We all fuck up; it’s how we come back from it that matters.

That sentence jumped up at me last night from Tommy Orange’s incredible book, There There, about urban Natives. Orange did a reading of the book last week in the Odyssey Bookstore in Mt. Holyoke at the very same time that my friend, Genro Gauntt, who coordinates our retreats with the Lakota, was visiting. We both went to his reading and got books. Orange is an amazing talent, and the book has lots of sentences like the one above.

I would add one more sentence to his: We all get fucked; it’s how we come back from it that matters.

It doesn’t matter whether I’ve fucked up (I have) or I’ve gotten fucked by life, the same wisdom holds: It’s how we come back from it that matters. Crying and grieving about that original sin are important, facing what happened is important, because they begin the path of coming back. And coming back is up to me, nobody else.

Last week was challenging. Children are being separated from their parents at the Mexican border by our own government. It doesn’t matter that I wouldn’t do this if it was up to me, the United States is doing it, and that includes me. It feels Godawful. And reading Orange’s book is a mindbender, but also hard, hard, hard. Any window that sheds light on how whites continue to interact with Natives, how we still don’t seem to have gone round the curve of What have we done? and What are we still doing? needs to be opened.

It feels like a lot to carry. Usually I don’t fall victim to the I hate this country wail. No country is perfect, I tell people; the vows we make to awaken and help others awaken are for the long run, not just when things are going well. Still, this last week was tough.

Deer practically never come to the house because of our dog(s), but two came down to the house within one day, and I try to listen closely. Why? Because deer are warriors of tenderness.

Last week I wrote about the importance of kindness. One can give kindness to another, but you can’t really give tenderness. You’re either tender or you’re not. If you are, then tenderness naturally spreads around you.

Our system is not one of tenderness. It proudly proclaims its sole goal of pursuing one’s self-interest, which means the interest of the self. The interest of that constantly yapping, self-important, self-absorbed self. Tenderness is so much softer, deflating rather than inflating, reaching down to the deep essence of things and finding decency there and in everyone else. It’s right there, so palpable you could practically touch it.

I talk to many caregivers now. They work outside, they cook at home, they raise a family, normal working hours don’t exist for them, and often I hear their shoulds: I shouldn’t have gotten angry with her, I should have more patience, I shouldn’t be in such a rush all the time. They give and they nurture, but they lack tenderness. What I love about tenderness is that it always starts from the self. If you don’t got it for yourself, you can’t give it.

Look at how little we control in our lives. Don’t we need a lot of tenderness for ourselves and everyone else?

The deer who came down to the house will encounter bows and arrows in the fall, guns in winter. And still when they look at you, heads flung up, their eyes are full of tenderness. Death may be just around the corner for them, but their eyes are full of tenderness.

SUPER EVE THE SECOND

When we keep our frailties to ourselves, it can perpetuate the illusion that we struggle alone.

That sentence jumped up at me yesterday when I read a fundraising letter from the Sun Magazine. The publisher described that a friend of hers called her up one recent night and informed her that as of tomorrow she would be homeless. She’d had a job and lost it; couldn’t pay rent, and lost her home. The point the publisher was making was that very few of us actually pick up the phone to tell people about our misfortunes or what ails us. We’re embarrassed, even ashamed, as though it’s all our fault.

Sometimes people wonder aloud to me how I could share difficult and raw things about my life and put them out to the world. They usually refer to the stroke and cancer that afflict Bernie (who, it looks like, will have to go through more surgery), but more generally, the edginess of life when it’s lived in the landscape of illness and things going KABLOOEY!, as my dear friend, Calvin, of Calvin and Hobbs, likes to put it. They ask if I feel self-conscious about sharing vulnerabilities and private upsets most people keep to themselves.

I think that in our American culture, with its strong emphasis on independence, millions of people hide out in the privacy of their world and never show their difficulties and pain, afraid to be seen as weak and needy.

What’s wrong with weak and needy? Aren’t there times when anyone would be weak and needy, such as learning you’re being kicked out of your home the next day, or that you are ill and need others to care for you, or even that you’re way overburdened but have no one to share the load with?

Yesterday I met a woman who told me she was working at three different jobs to make do. My guess is she was in the second half of her 50s, moved slowly and a little laboriously because she was tired, but had no choice because, in her words, I’m divorced and it’s all up to me. But I’m okay, she smiled at me.

If there’s a word I’ve learned to dislike, it’s okay.

How are you feeling, Bernie? I ask every day.

Invariably, same answer: Okay.

That doesn’t tell me much, I tell him.

I call okay the great cover-up word. At best it’s a quick rejoinder to tell folks not to worry, but it actually gives you very little information. And I often feel that’s what people want, they don’t want to give you information about their suffering. We want to perpetuate the illusion that somehow we don’t need anything or anybody, we’re fine. We’re okay.

Naturalists may say it’s what’s left of the old herd mentality, the way animals stay far from the sick, old, and lame in their herd, driving them to the margins so that they are the ones killed by predators while the healthy ones stay away and pretend nothing’s happening. But I also think it’s part and parcel of the American culture: the independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself mentality, I’ll-never-be-a-burden-to-anyone kind of thinking.

How much do we really know about the lives of our neighbors and friends? What kind of a country is this that admires rugged individualism and self-made billionaires (self-made, as in: made by the self) and ignores that 1 out of every 5 kids here lives in poverty, has little nutritious food and no stable shelter? Life has zigs and also zags, no one is exempt. Why is it so wrong to admit frailty, weakness, and just the basic statement that I can’t do this on my own! Life is hard, and I can’t always manage things on my own!

Our President several days ago called Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, weak. I know, it’s how he likes to talk, but he also knows, with his unerring instincts about this, that there’s a constituency out there that hates weakness. For them, weakness tops the list of evils; it is to be deplored in others and ignored and denied at all costs in yourself. I believe there are many of you out there who subscribe to this on some level of consciousness, even if you voted for Hillary. Including me.

And then there are us spiritual types, the ones who feel that if they can’t always beam like the sun then it means they’re not really with the life-as-it-is program, the nothing-is-really-a-problem-unless-it’s-your-judgment program. Doesn’t your inner voice say, Look at the Dalai Lama and his jokiness in the face of the Chinese! If he can do it, I can do it! If he can be okay, I can be okay!

Give me a break.

Give me a break from idealization, from Look at him! and Look at her!. I have struggled over my life with various strong personalities, but not one of them—not even my I’m-almost-90-and-I-still-don’t-need-anybody mother—could compare with the person that’s always at my side, Eve the Second, who gets it all right, never makes a mistake, does everything she planned to do, never lets anyone down, and has the strength to withstand a nuclear holocaust. Super Eve the Second never gets hurt and is the only exception to the Buddha’s First Truth that life is suffering. She never suffers. And if she does, do not tell anyone else.

Maybe with this blog I’m finally taking aim at Super Eve the Second. But tell me, gracious reader, who’s standing at your side? What’s their name?

TRUE CATASTROPHES

Why are you running around like a banshee, Stan?

Because we’re going to Leeann for my outing, we’re going to Leeann, we’re going to Leeann. By the way, what’s a banshee?

I don’t know. And furthermore, we’re not going to Leeann. Now, don’t fall flat on the floor grief-stricken!

It’s the end of my life, the end of my days!

No it’s not, Stan!

It’s the end of my life, the end of my days. No Leeann!

I’ll bring you to her tomorrow.

Today!

Tomorrow!

Today!

Stanley, the trouble with you is that you don’t know the difference between important things and not so important things. Not going to Leeann today is not a catastrophe.

Tell me one thing that’s more important!

Taking Bernie to a surgeon in Springfield to consult about his open wound and alternatives for closing it. That’s where I’m actually going now, Stan.

Are you out of your mind? Closing the wound on top of the Great Man’s nose is more important than taking me to Leeann?

Correct-o, Stanley. You’re a dog, you get thrown by the smallest things in life, like not going to Leeann, or when I put on my tennis shoes but don’t take you for a walk.

How could you put on those socks and shoes and not take me for a walk?

Or when I go to the car and tell you to stay. You look at me as though a catastrophe has just happened, Stanley.

I live a life full of catastrophes!

None of those are true catastrophes, Stanley. Or when I say “Later!”

I hate that word! I’ve always hated that word! At least, I used to when I could hear it. Now, lucky me, I’m deaf.

Exactly my point, Stanley, everything has its good side. So there’s no reason to fall flat on the floor in grief because I’m not taking you to Leeann, there are other things in life that are true catastrophes.

Name one.

Donald Trump’s election. Different species disappearing everywhere, animals and birds we used to see even here but don’t anymore, Stanley.

Big deal! They’re not me, they’re not you, and most important, they’re not Leeann. You people make a big deal out of things that are far away and you can’t see what’s right in front of your nose. That’s because you don’t have my German Shepherd nose.

What do you call a president who does diplomacy like the game show Let’s Make a Deal, Stanley? Who shuts the door to Muslim refugees and calls everyone not white names?

I call that life. Get used to it. What are you doing with those chicken bones?

Throwing them out.

You see? That’s what I call a true catastrophe!

 

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT VEGETARIAN JERKY!

I am in a place for weddings.

A big wedding happens here every weekend from May 1 till October 31. Ceremonies take place up the hill and then everyone comes down for reception, dinner, and dance. There is also a fireplace for S’mores (look it up if you don’t know what it is, I had to), not to mention candy bars (as in stands with candies on them). Stanley and I come here a lot in order to go up the hill and into the woods. We usually try to get here in the mornings so as not to disturb the celebrations, and yesterday morning we saw the threads of origami cranes attached to the branches of the tree and I paused, looked, wondered.

The man who owns this place came down with Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago at quite a young age. He loved working on the place on his own; I often saw him on his tractor mowing the long tracts of grass, his wife creating planters with flowers all along the paths. I don’t see him now at all, he’s home exercising and doing alternative therapies to check the disease.

So now it’s his wife who, weekend by weekend, comes down here to manage weddings. She has help, but still she supervises the laying out of the white chairs on top of the hill circling the arbor where the couple stands and makes their vows. She checks out the banquet facility and the placement of chairs and tables, the flowers, the music, the dance floor.

Many of the weddings take place late Saturday and the families come back on Sunday mornings for celebratory brunch before going home. Often the new couple stays in the yurt on the premises, which she beautifies with flowers, and when Stan and I go up the path by the yurt we could sometimes hear them getting up. At the end of the weekend of supervising weddings, she goes home to take care of her husband, Monday through Friday, in his work with Parkinson’s.

So yesterday I stood under the tree and looked at the strings of origami. Stan looked up impatiently. “Why are you standing there?”

“I’m thinking about what it’s like to work on weddings in the weekend, Stanley.”

“I’m thirsty, let’s go home.”

“There’s so much life in weddings, Stanley. You start anew with someone you love. There’s romance, passion, and confidence about the future, the sense that all of life is ahead of you and the world is celebrating your beginning together. But if we were to come back here later today, Stan, we’d see the crew tearing things down and filling up the dumpster, and she will go home to take care of her husband with Parkinson’s for the week before coming down here again late Friday.”

“What kind of snack am I getting when we get home? I hope you thought up something special.”

“Oh Stanley, how come you’re always thinking about food?”

“How come you’re always thinking about life and death?”

“It’s all around us, Stan, that’s why. You think there’s a choice?”

“Of course there’s a choice, you can think of lots of things. You can think of biscuits, cookies, Thai chicken, cheddar cheese, beef jerky—DO NOT think of vegetarian jerky they should be shot—chili, rice, banana pudding, lasagna, chips, sesame crackers, walnuts—”

“Okay, okay, I get the picture, Stan. Why think about important things when you can be frivolous?”

“My point exactly.”

 

 

A REASON TO OPEN WINDOWS IN THE AM

Ms. Compassion, Kwan-Yin, stands in back of our garden, palm up. This is the story that I have heard of her creation. I can’t vouch for it, but here it is:

A schoolteacher who lived down the road had a high-school student who was learning carpentry. He was also a member of a neo-Nazi group. Feeling close to her, he approached her one day and said he’d like to make something for her, what would she like? She said, make me a Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. He did, and she had it in her back yard for many years till she died. She willed it to the Montague Farm, where Zen Peacemakers had its headquarters for a number of years. There Kwan-Yin looked over weekly lunches for the community (precursor of the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield) in warm weather and icy puddles in cold.

When we closed up shop there we brought her home temporarily while the new owners of the Montague Farm decided her fate. But they’ve been slow reaching a conclusion so she’s been here all this time, though I’m concerned about the cavities in her wood providing a home for critters. Each morning after sitting I light a stick of incense, put it in the earth at her feet, chant the Kanzeon Mantra in Japanese and English, and invoke—what? Compassion?

Actually, no. Lately I’m invoking kindness. Such a tepid-sounding word, isn’t it? Brings up an image of weak, milk-diluted American coffee, the kind that gives you no punch at all, barely wakes you up in the morning. Now compassion—there’s a word! Strong, evocative, archetypal, even mythic. Who do you think of? The Dalai Lama. Who do you think of in connection with kindness? The girl scout offering her hand to an old woman crossing the street. Big deal, right? Didn’t we all do that when we were kids? Put the Dalai Lama and the girl scout in a boxing ring and there’s no contest, compassion wins in the first round.

Compassion appears in titles, e.g., Most Benevolent, Most Compassionate. Do you ever see Most Kind, other than polite British civilities such as: You are most kind? Compassion hovers up in the air, demanding to be visualized detail by detail. Kindness, on the other hand, is the little spider trying to climb up the toes of Kwan-Yin. Kindness is moving the chair out of Stanley’s way otherwise he’ll end up smack in his water bowl, or trapping the moth inside a glass and freeing it outside.

In my life, there’s nothing small about small acts of kindness. They’re my lifeblood, the reason I open windows in the morning. It’s the emails I read—How are you? How’re you doing? What do you need? It’s the sound of Rae rolling down the trash barrel from the road or offering to make me a feta cheese omelet. It’s Rami Efal taking time out to help Bernie on the computer in the middle of so much work developing Zen Peacemakers, Genro Gauntt taking long train rides from New York to come here for a few days, walk with Bernie in the back to say hi to Ms. Compassion, wash dishes in his quiet, self-effacing way. Sally and John Kealy coming over for coffee and always bringing their terrific apple sauce with cloves, sangha members sitting with Bernie over dinner when I’m gone. Leeann offering to pick up Stanley for his outings when I can’t bring him.

I know, I know, there’s compassion everywhere, including in the light shining on the leaves outside. I’m more interested in palpable kindness, the things I once thought were small. As I realize the smallness of my own private scale, the things I notice get smaller, too, more quiet, less pretentious. Did anyone ever design a Ms. Kindness, neo-Nazi or not?

Please don’t qualify it with the word loving in front, as in loving kindness. It’s the Buddhists’ sly attempt at pretending they invented kindness, which they didn’t. Kindness needs no qualifier; it has no pedestal to stand on. I prefer it standing closer to our size rather than towering over us, something I can look at eye-to-eye, never miss a wrinkle or a wart, earthbound and doable, nothing subtle or mysterious about it. A boy scout can do it, a girl scout.

Anybody.

 

AHH, PATIENCE

We talk so much about wanting to live a fulfilling and fulfilled life. I wonder at times if that in itself isn’t a source of greed that ends up in a life brimming overfull with too many challenges and activity.

It was Thomas Merton who said that taking on too many things, trying to solve too many of the world’s problems and end too much of its suffering becomes a life of violence. Against ourselves, and against life as it is. While he was all for individual activism, he urged his readers to remember that their lens were simply not wide enough to see the world. He didn’t mean that therefore the poor will always be with us, but rather to remember our true proportions. In his words, the world was God’s, not ours. In my words, we can’t see the beginning or the end of things. What we can do is live the moment causing no harm and doing good—for others and ourselves.

I often feel disappointed in myself. Why am I not working with the illegal community that lives right in my backyard in Turners Falls? I met a wonderful woman from Alexandria, Egypt who wants to cook and cater in order to support her family—why don’t I help her? Why don’t I go more often to the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield? It would all be so fulfilling.

As I get older, I get narrower. Doing just one thing well takes so much effort. Doing two, even three?

Ahh, patience. The patience to settle into this blog, to see through to a satisfying conclusion the book of householder koans, to take care of people, home, dog, to sit with a small local sangha. The patience to sink into the marrow of things, not to rush or hurry, not to forget to go outside at night and check out the moon.

Wanting more and more money has never been my issue, it was wishing to get more and more involved, feel I’m making a difference here and here and here. In a hurry for meaning, in a hurry for fulfillment. I’m beginning to see that the hunger for meaning and fulfillment can also be a trap., its own version of spiritual materialism.

THAI MEATBALLS AND SWEET POTATOES

Oh oh, hindrance up ahead!

Isn’t the rain amazing, Stanley?

No.

It’s as if somebody up there took a giant hose spewing cascades of water all over New England, every single tree, bush and blade of grass, missing nothing. And you know what’s even more amazing, Stan?

No.

We don’t pay for it. Not a cent. It’s just done for us, watering the irises and the hydrangeas, coaxing the phlox and dahlias to come out—all for free, Stanley.

I’m paying for it. I’m not going to Leeann today.

She canceled her outing. But today wasn’t going to be a regular outing, it was going to be Sniff & Greet. You know, the special sessions for old dogs like you that can’t take big hikes anymore in the heat of summer.

I just sniff, I don’t greet, so pay her half, ok?

How come you’re not more sociable, Stanley? You don’t like anybody. Not Minnie the dachshund who adores you, not Ruby the German Shepherd—

Who certainly doesn’t adore me, just bosses me around like all the other females in my life.

Stanley!

How come females like to boss around males?

We do not, Stan.

Look at Gaia and T, the horses I never see. She pushes him around all the time. Whenever you bring them apples she won’t even let him approach the fence.

Am I bossy, Stanley?

Is it raining cats-and-dogs outside? By the way, why do you call it cats-and-dogs? Of course you’re bossy! Look at how you boss me around. The Man, too!

I do not!

Oh no? How about when you get him up in the morning to go to physical therapy, or when you push him to eat more? He’d give me the food he doesn’t eat but no, you have to tell him to finish it all. You stole Thai meatballs and sweet potatoes right out of my mouth last night!

Oh Stanley, it’s all about love.

Of course it’s about love! I love Thai meatballs and sweet potatoes.

It’s much more than that, Stan.

That’s enough for me.

There’s the rain pouring outside and the leaves shivering, Stanley. The birds quiet this morning, the slumbering man in the next room, the slumbering house, tears everywhere,–

Thai meatballs and sweet potatoes–

You know what Rumi wrote, Stan? Every thirst gets satisfied except the thirst of the mystics, who long and long. And then he adds: “No one lives in that without being nourished every day.” Get it?

No.

The yearning and thirst are themselves the nourishment, Stanley. You yearn for love but the yearning is the love. You open your hands, you stretch out your arms, you reach out again and again forever—that’s the love, Stanley, not what you get back.

Are you telling me that my yearning for Thai meatballs and sweet potatoes is more important than having the real thing in my bowl?

That’s what Rumi said, Stanley.

Man’s a lunatic.

The yearning is the love, Stanley. I know, it’s hard to get.

It’s non-gettable!

GOOD-BYE, TURNERS FALLS INDIANS!

We had a local election a few weeks ago for members of the local district school committee. Usually the biggest headache facing school committees here is whether or not the schools have enough money. Usually they don’t, leading occasionally to a tax raise.

But in our nice little corner of progressive New England, a different conflict has emerged, and that is what to call the local school sports teams. Till now, they’ve been the Turners Falls Indians. When people suggested it was time to change the name (especially as Turners Falls got its name from William Turner, who led an 18th century armed raid on an encampment of mostly women, children, and the elderly and killed 200 of them), all hell broke loose. This has always been our name! What’s wrong with it? This is how we grew up! Do you know what great memories we have of the Turners Falls Indians?

The school board put a process together to listen to all the voices and invited everyone: students, parents of students, alumni, Native Americans, teachers, and anyone else with a strong opinion. When the process didn’t produce a consensus, they decided to change the name. A nonbinding referendum was then held in which a majority of voters demanded that the name go back to be the Turners Falls Indians. Finally, in the election two weeks ago, various individuals faced off against each other around the issue of changing the name or leaving it as is.

So early Monday morning I, with no children in this school system, hurried to vote for Jennifer Lively, Haley Anderson, Timmie Smith and Mike Langknecht, who were in favor of changing the name. They won. Once, in this part of New England I’d have assumed they were shoo-ins, but no longer.

There are calls for nostalgia (We grew up with that name!) and invocations of sentiment (We’re recognizing the courage of the tribes! It’s a tribute to their warriors!). These arguments echo back and forth across this entire country, including our great capitol which features a professional football team called Redskins. But the Washington Redskins, though named after warriors, have been losing for years, and at the end of each losing season, year after year, I email their spokesman: Change the name!

Who are these Indians whom we are rushing to honor in this way? Their lives are part and parcel of this land and they lived in intimate relationship with this earth for hundreds of years.

And we? We live at a time of capitalism run rampant, with little that’s sacred or beyond the reach of more and more money. Recently I talked to a friend about the need for a legal right to die if I’m old or infirm. She objected. I no longer trust this country, she said. Somebody will figure out how to make a buck out of other people’s deaths. They will find a way to oh so subtly push certain people to the edge, make it easier to let them go, help them die because that will be cheaper than keeping them alive. Look at how we’re treating the poor! You want to tell me that once we make death more available, somebody won’t be figuring out the dollars and cents of it, and how much cheaper it will be if some of us—the poor, the nonwhites—are not just nudged but even pushed there?

In July the Zen Peacemakers are going to spend time with the Cheyenne Lakota in South Dakota, in particular Manny and Renee Iron Hawk and Violet Catches. Please join us. Chief Crazy Horse will be there too, for we’ll be tracking his last days. What vision did he follow? What vision must we follow as we bear witness to treaties broken and honor lost, all sacrificed for the sake of gold?

Can we trail blaze a new path in the East and West, or are we fated to follow more and more Trails of Tears?