BOXES

Boxes and boxes.

That’s what the basement looks like, boxes of stuff. I get rid of some, and the next day I go downstairs and see that the boxes have given birth to more boxes.

“Where did you come from?” I ask them. Was there an orgy? A party, at least? Did they maintain safe distance? Doesn’t look like it.

The basement used to hold lots and lots of books, and it took some three rounds over the years to give them away. But that still left boxes of remainder copies of books by Bernie, Maezumi Roshi, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex Hixon. About two weeks ago, those went.

Now I have boxes containing corporate files and archival material relating to Zen Peacemakers, including picture albums. I am going over them, closing them up, and they will then be shipped across country.

After that, picture prints will go. The elegant and gracious photographer, Peter Cunningham, has a visual record of all things Bernie and most things Zen Peacemakers, so I don’t need to retain countless copies of photos, even framed ones.

“Don’t you want to ask around to see who wants the pictures and then send them?” someone asked me.

“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” I said.

There is definitely a sense of disloyalty. But it’s not getting rid of things, it’s putting them to bed. It’s looking at them one final time, telling stories, giving them a kiss, and saying good night.

After that, many mats for sitting cushions; I have no idea what to do with them.

Why this work, emptying out the basement? It’s my second round. The first round took place over a year ago, when I had to do a quick inside-the-house move in order to rent out two rooms. That was the first round of emptying. This is the second.

This time there’s no urgency, only the gut feeling that I have to create more space, and the way I do that is to let go of more and more things Bernie, more and more things Zen Peacemakers. The things I have loved most in the world, other than family.

It feels crazy to let go of things that gave you identity, love, and meaning. I pitched my tent under the shade of their great trees for some 35 years. Earlier today I spent an hour telling the story of those early years on Zoom as part of a study program run by Zen Peacemakers. I didn’t need notes, I didn’t need prompts.

But I’m letting go more and more, acquiring space. Space for what? I have no idea, that’s the scary part.

It’s so easy to hold on to the things that in the past meant so much, that continue to mean a lot even now. What happens if you let them go?

Many years ago, I stopped working full-time for Zen Peacemakers. I had been directing peacemaking projects and doing training programs, and I wasn’t sure that whatever came up next would be important enough, valuable enough, meaningful enough. I wondered about my marriage because Bernie and I had been so used to working together. He didn’t like my decision and made no secret of it.

At some point, reading about the huge need for kidney transplants, I began the process of donating a kidney, only to be rejected at the very end by one result out of about a million blood tests, I was crestfallen.

“What’s wrong with my kidneys?” I asked my doctor.

“Nothing. Your kidneys are perfect for a woman your age,” he told me.

Nothing was going to save me from encountering that extra space and time that had before been so full.

I felt the same apprehension when I stopped being a spirit holder of the annual Auschwitz-Birkenau retreats. And this last Monday I told my fellow organizers that I am leaving the organizing group of the Native American retreat. It’s time to bring in new blood, I said, diversify more, do something new.

So, here is another round, a workaholic encountering a half-empty basement, walls not plastered with photos or art, and no rush to watch the clock.

“Something will arise, it always does. At the very least you’ll have more space,” a fellow teacher commented.

“That’s what worries me,” I grumbled back.

Who is this woman if she doesn’t always work? Who is this woman letting go of books, files, and pictures of some 35 years? Who is this woman without those 35 years?

I’m going to find out.

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HOW TO WATER THE WORLD

“It’s raining and raining. Can’t rush off anywhere, can’t take a walk, can’t even run away. I hate it!”

“Oh Aussie, we need rain. We’ve had some very dry weeks and the grass has even gone brown in certain patches. The farmers need rain, the flowers, the vegetables, the trees, the streams that are dried out. Everybody needs rain.”

“I don’t need it!”

It’s been a very dry June, and as I stretch out the hose to water the front garden in the evenings, I think of Bernie and his watering system.

Our house (which we bought simply because it was the only house on the market in walking distance to the offices of Zen Peacemakers) came with a large back area sprinkled with small beds of perennials. In one of several discussions about who was doing the lion’s share of the house work (moi!), I suggested to Bernie that he be responsible for watering the garden. He agreed.

I thought he would connect hoses to water spouts (we have two) and, on dry days, water the flowers. Silly, silly me.

“Stanley!” he called out to the dog. “We’re going to Home Depot.”

He put on his red beret (it was the height of summer), plugged a cigar into his mouth, and off they went. He returned with a car trunk full of garden hoses, two large reels, yards of spring irrigation tubing, hose connectors, nozzles, wands, lots of unknown tools, and a large credit card bill.

Vuss is duss?” I ask him in Yiddish. “What is this?”

“You asked me to take over the watering, and that’s what I’m doing.”

“And where’s Stanley?”

He’d forgotten Stanley at Home Depot.

Do we really need all this? I wanted to ask. But by then I knew better. If you asked Bernie to do something, he was going to do it his way; otherwise, don’t ask.

He began to put together an elaborate watering system that extended from the far side of the house, which contained a water spout, and circled around the back and along the path to the shed, with a diversion to a small bed of lilies on the other side. I could have told him that this one bed of sparse lilies bloomed once, and did we really need so much irrigation tubing snaking its way through the grass and around Kwan Yin? But there was nothing to say. Bernie had been trained as an engineer; he loved nothing more than to design systems.

Of course, he would try it out, find it wasn’t working, identify the reason, put his red beret back on and get his cigar. “Stanley!”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Home Depot. I need another hose connector.” Or he got the wrong sprinkler valve, or just realized that a different fitting would work much better.

“Try to remember Stanley this time.”

By the time Bernie finished the watering system, summer was over. The next summer we used it, and on some occasions water came out of the right sprinkler or tubing and on some occasions it didn’t, no matter how hard I tried. And, you guessed it, it was usually me because Bernie, having given birth to a new system, left me to “raise” it and was on to the next thing.

This summer I gave up on the watering system in the back completely. I even asked the gardener who comes in several times in the summer to look at it, and she, after half an hour, shook her head and said it was too complicated. So while I’ve been fairly good at watering the front, I gave up on the back, and am grateful for these two days of rain. And think of Bernie.

This same Bernie Glassman, who formulated such elegantly simple Three Tenets that encapsulate a vast practice, could get into so much trouble creating incredibly complex models, mandalas, and systems. If Einstein, Hawking and others tried to come up with basic principles to explain life’s physical laws (and failed), Bernie went the other way. He seemed to try to create all-inclusive systems, vast enough to include every single difference, every unique person and being, from ants to Zephyranthes Big Dude (yes, there is such a thing, a flower in the amaryllis family)—without denying their unique individuality. Of course, he was frustrated in the attempt, but that didn’t dissuade him from trying again and again.

Those of us still involved in defining the Zen Peacemakers as a family live with that dynamic of a very rich and international sangha that subscribes to the Three Tenets but struggles, like the water hoses outside, to fit itself into recognizable and dependable forms.

More important, Bernie always warned people that the more you awaken to and experience the One Body, the more tsures (important Japanese word, look it up) you will find. “You think that getting enlightened will bring an end to all suffering and that you will live in bliss for the rest of your life?” he often said, shaking his head. “The more you see we’re all one thing, the more you realize the work that’s needed.”

As our Native American friends might say, once you realize that everyone and everything is a relative, there are a hell of a lot of relatives to take care of.

Working across ethnicities and cultures, across religions and countries, even across species, feels strange, clumsy, and never-ending. We say the wrong things, take actions that aren’t enough (or too much), make the wrong food, make the wrong jokes, wear the wrong clothes. But what choice have we got if we’re serious about experiencing the oneness of life? Go into our corners? Retreat into white-only enclaves, senior residences open only to people 55 and over?

So we renew our vows and go on.

I try to take care of the green plants behind the kitchen, but the lilies in the circle of stones beckon, and the peonies (that didn’t even bloom this summer) are way back by the maples, not to mention the herbs behind the garage, the hydrangeas out front, the small strip of dahlias that always struggle in the shade, and on and on. Some make it, some don’t. Some struggle for sun, for water, for nutrients, against pests and disease.

And I miss Bernie trying to take care of it all, trying to take care of everybody and everything, manipulating this and finagling with that, shaking his head, putting on his beret, reaching out for his cigar, and yelling up the stairs: “Eve, I gotta go back to Home Depot. Stanley!”

 

 

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ONLY PROBLEM IS, HE’S NOT ME

“Harry, you’re swimming! Look Aussie, Harry’s swimming in deep water.”

“Big deal. I was swimming as soon as I got here.”

But this was different. It’s true, from the beginning Aussie showed she could swim. If she was playing with another dog and splashed into deep water, the ground slipping from under her paws, she’d turn and flap her way back to shore. Harry, too, ended up in deep water after playing with a black lab called Mollie, but when he saw how he could stay afloat he swam and swam. Instead of waiting for the lab to get him into the water, he went in by himself and swam in nice, large, round circles, clearly enjoying this new skill.

He galloped up the slope, shook himself all over me, rolled in the dust, and looked up, obviously very proud of himself. I remembered how afraid he was of the water when he first arrived, how afraid he was of crossing the plank bridge or of entering the creek.

“I’m proud of you, Harry,” I told him.

“Big deal,” snorted Aussie.

“You know, Auss, dogs and people like you take no pleasure in others’ pleasure, feel no joy in others’ triumphs. You consider the world to be yours, and yours alone. I think you have narcissistic personality disorder.”

“What’s that, Boss?”

“The Mayo Clinic says: ‘Narcissistic personality disorder … is a mental condition in which [dogs and] people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. ‘ That’s you in a nutshell, Aussie.”

“I hate having to share anything with Harry.”

“What’s wrong with Harry, Aussie?”

“Just one thing. He’s not me.”

I live with Aussie in my home. I live with Donald Trump in my country. Both are narcissists. I like writing about Aussie because she’s funny and a Houdini-like escape artist, also a little arrogant. Trump is just arrogant, and therefore not very interesting. Not to mention that when someone—even the US president—has a severe personality disorder (I think Trump is a 10 in the narcissistic spectrum), I tend to just shake my head and hope for the best come November.

But every once in a while the man’s lack of empathy and sensitivity, his sheer inability to fathom what it must be like to be someone other than himself, someone poor,  who’s lost a job or a business, lost health and loved ones, boggles my mind. That’s how I felt today when I read that his Justice Department is once again suing to remove the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

They’re bringing the case to the Supreme Court and don’t hide the fact that this includes removal of care for people with pre-existing conditions. They say that they’ll come up with something different, something better—but only after they get rid of ACA.

Donald Trump is doing this in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic. He’s doing this as cases spike in many states in the South and West. He’s doing this at a time when health officials are again warning that they’ll run out of ICU beds in July, when doctors and health care workers are close to the breaking point, when exposed people in hospitals and factories—often people of color or immigrants—come down with covid in large numbers, and when the CDC is warning that this crisis will engulf us for a long time.

What do people do without medical coverage?

If Donald Trump wants to come up with an alternative plan, please come up with it, we could compare it with the ACA and go on from there. But that’s not the game he’s playing. And if you believe that once the Supreme Court gets rid of the ACA the Republican Party will magically come up with an alternative plan overnight—something they haven’t been able to do in years—then, as they say in New York, I have a bridge to sell you.

What stuns me is the meanness of it, the indifference. Talk about more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Republican officials stand up and salute. Talk to them about being left without medical insurance at a time like this, when paychecks aren’t coming in and rent and mortgage payments are falling behind, and they’ll talk about cutting down on food stamps and welfare cheats.

I want to shake people up and tell them: Wake up and look in the mirror! Look behind the slogans, behind the red hats, and tell me: What country are we  living in?

Then I look at the card that I kept standing on my desk right behind my computer. It accompanied a check in a relatively small amount of money–I can’t remember how much right now–for food cards for immigrants. It said:

“I figure a portion of my Pandemic Unemploymet check can go to a family in greater need than I. Thank you for all you do. Marilyn.”

Thank you, Marilyn. Thank you for restoring my spirit and faith.

 

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IT’S NOT ABOUT ANGER, IT’S ABOUT HEALING

Martin asked: “How do I stop the suffering of the world?”

This is from our Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments. Now it’s not just Martin asking this question, many many people are asking it.

How do I stop the suffering of a man choked by policemen, who, what with their weapons, training, and discrimination stand in for an entire society—you, me, everyone—that continues to be oblivious? How do I stop the suffering of his family?

What about the Latina woman I gave a food card to yesterday, who was so skinny and frail? ”She has very bad diabetes,” Jimena tells me. “She lost 60 pounds very quickly and is now losing her vision, but she doesn’t have medical insurance so till now she hasn’t had care. We’re arranging this for her now, but the bureaucracy takes a long time and, in the meantime,  she is losing more weight and more vision.”

What about the woman here who just heard that her mother in Guatemala died from covid?

It’s 5 pm and the weather is still very hot and sticky, but giving out food cards and cash goes relatively quickly because people are back from working in the farms under the blast of sun. They laugh about it and shrug, but one woman—let’s call her Carla—hasn’t done so well. She picks up a card, Jimena asks her how she’s doing, they talk, and Carla walks away slowly, falteringly. She was picking asparagus and fell, and the harvester sideswiped her leg.

She’s out for at least another month and the farmer refused to pay her a penny or process claims for workmen’s’ compensation though the law clearly mandated he should. It took a strong woman like Jimena Pareja and others to convince him he had to abide by that law.

What was Carla to do otherwise? She needs the job even if it means working outside in 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, 90% humidity; she can’t afford to lose it.

We had our Native American annual retreat this year on Zoom. CARE checks (coronavirus relief checks) have yet to arrive at Cheyenne River Reservation, Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk said, though monies were allocated for this a long while ago, and this despite the fact that the people living on the Reservation are some of the poorest in the country.

The Reservation has so far avoided big outbreaks of the virus because their tribal chief put up check posts on the roads to prevent travel in and out. He was immediately challenged by the Governor of South Dakota who wants to have free travel across the state as part of keeping the state open. Native members say they have sovereignty and checkpoints will minimize the contagion; the governor has the federal government on her side, and in the meantime, no one is getting any checks.

How do I stop the suffering of the world?

Sometimes we get so confused by what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is not, what is a language we can agree upon. There is much fear of giving offense. What is the right way to refer to certain people? Can I call them Indians? Can I ask some of my black friends for feedback on whether my behavior is racist or not? I’m afraid to ask because I’m told they’re sick and tired of doing that, but I can’t be sure if I don’t ask, and besides, I can then be accused of racial insensitivity. I understand there’s a lot of resources there regarding white privilege, but how do I bear witness? How do I listen if no one wants to talk?

How do I apologize? Some people say that an apology is too quick a way out, so what do I do? Is it kosher to talk about the differences among us, or do I just do the safest thing and withdraw into silence?

This is the time to listen, many people say. Okay, but for how long? What will distract you next? A second surge of the virus? Global warming?

How do I stop the suffering of the world?

Again and again I think that it can be dangerous to be and work with people who are different from us, yet that’s what we’re called to do, to be with people who are different from us but are not Other.

I remember bringing a couple to have lunch with my brother’s religious Jewish family on the Sabbath. They were enjoying themselves tremendously and at some point, the woman rummaged in her handbag and took out a camera. “I’d love to take a picture of this lovely family,” she gushed. “Could you all squeeze together?” Then she froze because she saw the look in their eyes. Use of a camera is prohibited on the Sabbath, I explained to her, and she put it away immediately, but she felt clumsy and self-conscious.

Hanging out with people different from us can be joyful and fun, but also feels dangerous because we don’t know the language, don’t know what’s acceptable, feel it’s easy to offend and hurt—and oh, so much easier to stay home. So much easier to stay silent.

“Not everybody wants to heal,” Renee Iron Hawk had said that first day. “Some just want to stay in their corners.”

Staying in my corner with Harry and Aussie is so comfortable. Sure, they want me to take them for another walk, but they won’t get offended if I don’t. And if I lose my patience and even my temper, they forgive and forget instantly. I know their language: Who wants to eat? Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to go to the car? They’re comfortable with anything I call them: dogs, canines, even doggies.

“I hate doggies,” Aussie says. “And sometimes you call us meshugenas. How do you think we feel about that?”

“Is crazies any better?” I wonder.

It’s so much easier to hang out with a pair of canines, stay in my rural corner with dahlias and begonias that forgive me for not watering them.

But my practice is not to hide in silence or in corners. My practice is to plunge into the gapless gap that separates us. Don’t be afraid to use words. And if you are afraid, remember that you also have eyes, a mouth with which to smile, and a nose you can top with a clown’s red nose.

“I hate being the white woman who hands out food cards to Latino immigrants,” I’ve told Jimena, “and wearing a mask beside.” But I hope they can laugh at my silly elementary Spanish. I hope they can see the laughter wrinkles around my eyes when I tell them their hija is so bonita.

Alexandra Fuller said: “It’s not about anger, it’s about healing.” Throughout the clumsiness and the confusion, the resentment and guilt, I remember that: It’s not about anger, it’s about healing.

We are continuing to feed immigrant families, and I am buying a few sewing machines as well for mothers to sew masks and make more money. You can help by donating. Please use the Donate button below and write, on the Paypal note line: For food cards. You can also send me a check: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351, and write on the memo line: For food cards.

Thank you very, very much for all you are doing.

 

 

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SENDING OUR VOICES TO MOTHER EARTH

Rapid City, SD

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” said Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

We’re in the middle of our annual  Native American retreat, only this time it’s not on the land. We’re not in the Black Hills, or South Dakota, or Wyoming, Nebraska, or Montana. The land is our Zoom Room. Instead of gorgeous hills, streams, and night stars, there are 80 squares containing beautiful faces from different places in the world.

The name of the retreat is Sending Our Voices to Mother Earth.

Today, Violet Catches talked about her status as a “dual citizen.” I am also a dual citizen, a citizen of Israel, where I was born, and the United States, where I was naturalized at the age of 18. But Israel was founded by Russian and European Jews, who made sure that Western culture would be foundational to the State. (Later, Sephardic Jews, originating from the Middle East and north Africa, brought with them their culture as well, and co-existence between the two has never been easy.)  For me, there was no conflict between the culture of Israel and the US.

Violet described something very different. She experienced an American culture that wished to educate and indoctrinate her in its ways, that for many years prohibited most aspects of the other half of her dual citizenship, including native spirituality, all ceremonies and prayers, disbelieved its history, and made its language taboo. For Violet, there was, and continues to be, conflict in being a dual citizen.

“My grandmother raised us, and she’s the one who schooled us. When the social workers came to check up on us, to see why we weren’t in regular schools according to the law, Grandmother would tell us to run down to the river and hide. We’d run down to the river and play, and later in the day we’d return and see her beckoning to us, to tell us it’s safe to come out.”

Violet continued: “When you’re a child you don’t mind all this, it feels like a game. But then you get older, and the pain and the pressure of always having to hide yourself, hide who you really are, explode. That’s why young people get addicted to alcohol and many drugs, because they can’t stand the pain. They go to a very dark place. Some of us come back and continue our journey, but some of us never come back.”

It never occurred to me that for some, dual citizenship implied being erased and ignored, your real name expunged, your language extirpated. Crossed out, one big X across an entire history and culture, splitting up families in a culture that values family almost above all else.

So this time we’re not in the gorgeous Black Hills. We’re in a Zoom Room with 80 people carrying the pain of racism and a pandemic that hits those who are exposed worst of all. Exposed because theirs are the jobs that require them to work in unsafe environments without proper equipment. Their jobs are essential, while they are expendable. It’ll be this way with climate change, which is already affecting vulnerable populations first and hardest.

“When you see that you’re a child of the earth,” said Renee Iron Hawk, “it changes how you see yourself and your life.”

Children are vulnerable; they need to be cared for, held, loved. They’re aware of forces that control their lives that are far more powerful than they are.

“Grandmother would take us down to the river,” recounted Violet, “tell us to open our palms, and put a rock on each palm. ‘Hold that rock till you can hear what it says,’ she’d say. ‘Listen to the wind, the trees, the grass.’ We have to remember that they are all stronger than we are.”

We are not almighty, we are children of the earth. As children, we have to listen, watch, learn. Most important, we have to heal. But—

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” Renee reminds us. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

How much are we up for? And what will we give, what sacrifice will we make, in order to be healed?

 

 

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INDESTRUCTIBLE PORKY

“Who’s that, Harry?”

“Porky.”

“That’s not a pig, Harry.”

“It’s a porcupine. That’s why I call it Porky.”

“How come you haven’t destroyed Porky, Harry? Usually I buy you these toys that are advertised as being durable and tough, and it takes you less than an hour to take out all the white filling and sprinkle it on the floor or the grass outside. But Porky’s been around for weeks and he’s still intact.”

“Porky’s indestructible, Boss. I gave it my best shot.”

“And he also still bellows, Harry. Usually you manage to shut them up real quick, but not Porky. He still has his voice—and his innards.”

“Boss, you finally bought me a toy that won’t die.”

Bernie died. I remember that each time I open my eyes in the morning. But that’s hardly the whole story.

What an honor it was to take care of him after his stroke! Ordinarily, he hated to be taken care of, he often quoted Peter Matthiessen with approval: “When I get sick I just want to crawl under a rock and be left alone.” Yes, I made chicken soup and hot toddies when he had a cold, provided hot and cold compresses for pain. He said thank you, but clearly didn’t depend on them.

He had no choice after the stroke. I wondered how he would respond to so many diffeent therapists and caregivers, people helping him walk and cleaning up after him. He gave in with so much grace it left me breathless.

Usually, we avoid illness. We hate it when someone gets sick and then we have to take care of him/her, especially when it’s for a long time, maybe forever. People used to ask me: “He could last for another decade, are you ready for this?” It took me a while, but at some point I accepted it completely.

Now I feel something much stronger. It can be a real blessing to have sickness right in the middle of your home, inside the family, not in the nursing home or the hospital. Illness stares you in the face day after day, and you learn and understand more than you ever will reading all those books and sutras. What do you learn? To take your place in the wide, unfathomable fields of life; to see how things turn on a dime, that one day you’re the one taking care, the next you’re the one who needs attention; to do your best even when nothing is up to you alone, plunge in with all your heart, with all your mind, with your entire body.

The tragedy of covid is that the sick person—be it with covid or something else—is removed immediately and taken into isolation, and you’re unable to visit him/her in the hospital. In that way we don’t just avoid exposure to covid, we avoid exposure, period. Exposure to the flush on the cheek of someone we love, the quiet sadness in their eyes, the confusion, the need for reassurance. Their need of us. We lose exposure to all those things, yet they’re some of the basic ingredients of a life.

Yesterday I visited a sewing circle made up of immigrant women, many undocumented, who are sewing masks. I won’t identify anyone by name yet, but, as usual, it started with someone who was concerned about the welfare or immigrant families without work or help from any government, social agencies and schools shutting their doors to them. Using her own money, she invested in sewing machines, fabric, elastic, needles, threads of all colors, various cutting and measuring implements, and started a circle of some 15 women to sew masks and, later, other sewing products.

When I came in, she needed help elongating her dining room table so that it could be used for measuring and cutting fabric and liner.  A few women came in, one of whom I remembered from our food card program, followed by my friend, Jimena Pareja, who, after putting in long hours at her full-time work, started guiding one person in measuring the liner and fabric with great precision.

I watched the process: Iron fabrics, measure and cut liner and fabric, put 10 samples of ready-cut materials with elastics into each bag, and get the bags with templates to the members of the circle so that they could sew at home.

I watched this happen in a modest home on a modest street in a neighboring small city. I thought of all the things we do to avoid staring taboos in the face—poverty, homelessness, illness, injustice, abuse. And I watched women transform taboos into things of healing and beauty.

There is nothing so ugly, so horrible, or so painful that it can’t be transformed. That has always been the promise of my Zen practice. I don’t practice so that things will change; rather, my practice trains me to let go of the fears in my head, open my heart, and see what is possible—the lotus in the mud.

My guess is that I will write more about this sewing project in the future. For now, I’m still thinking about how to support them; I’ll know more in a week. What I know they need for sure is help with marketing—a website, for example. They already have a template and some contents. Perhaps one of you reading this post knows how to do put together a website that will promote and sell masks and everything else the women are selling (their masks also include masks specifically made for people who need to lipread, hence, the transparent one below). Obviously, you can do this even at a distance. And if you know of a possible market for these products, please be in touch with me: eve@zenpeacemakers.com. Many more women wish to join this circle and make money for their families.

Finally, I’m still collecting money for food cards. Another $1,000 of cash and cards went out a few days ago; we average giving out about $1,000 a week.

At its  inception, the Zen Peacemaker Order asked of its members to tithe. I had been tithing for my entire adult life due to my Jewish upbringing, the only exception being the year after Bernie’s stroke, when I knew we would need lots of help. A year later Bernie and I went back to tithing again. The Order asked its members to give to charity either at least 5% of their gross income or 10% after taxes.

It’s a marvelous practice to take on, not just because many people of different faith traditions have practiced it for thousands of years, but because it asks you to build giving right into your life instead of leaving it to arbitrary fits of generosity. Sometimes we feel generous, sometimes we don’t; tithing provides a minimal ground under our feet, it’s pure arithmetic, a law unto itself. We give because that’s what we’ve taken on. We give because we’re human, because we inhabit this planet alongside billions of other beings, because we know it’s all us.

You can donate for food cards and cash help to immigrant families by using the Donate button below and adding the instruction: For food cards. You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. On the memo line of the check, please write: For food cards.

 

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SUPREME MEALS AND DOG TREATS

“Aussie, how wonderful. Harry ran after a chipmunk, and instead of running off with him I called you and you came right back!”

“Which means I get Fine Dining instead of a dog treat. So what do we have for Fine Dining, Boss?”

“Pieces of chicken.”

“White or dark meat?”

“Aussie, you’re getting much too spoiled—and fat because of all the different treats you get during this training.”

“Rules are rules, Boss.”

“What rules, Aussie?”

“Whenever Harry goes off somewhere and I come back to you instead of joining him, I get Fine Dining. The bigger the temptation, the greater the reward.”

“What do you mean, Auss?”

“When you say ‘Far enough, Aussie!’” and I come back, I get a regular dog treat.”

“Correct.”

“When Harry chases a squirrel and I come back to you instead of joining him, I get Fine Dining, which is chicken.”

“Correct.”

“If Harry chases a deer and I come back to you, I get Super Fine Dining, which is pieces of roast beef.”

“Huh?”

“And if Harry splashes after ducks in the water and has all that fun, and I don’t, I get the Supreme Meal.”

“What’s that, Aussie?”

“Italian salami.”

“I don’t have Italian salami.”

“It’s either that or the ducks, Boss.”

“You know, Aussie, we sometimes refer to our life as the Supreme Meal.”

“You mean, if I don’t chase the ducks I get to eat you?”

“No, Auss, I mean that our life can be a meal that serves many, many beings. Everything we do in service of others and ourselves is another course of that meal, another dish to savor. In that way our entire life can be the Supreme Meal.”

“I don’t think your life qualifies as a Supreme Meal, Boss. I’m  not even sure it qualifies as a dog treat.”

“We do our best, Aussie. Everyone serves their own Supreme Meal.”

“But some lives are Super Fine Dining, some are Fine Dining, and some, like yours, aren’t even—”

“Aussie, why do you have to be such a hard-ass?”

“Rules are rules, Boss.”

“You know, Aussie, Bernie used to say that there is no rule without exceptions. He’d make up a rule, and then would make an exception of the next person who told him why she couldn’t follow the rule.”

“So that became a new rule, see? Rules are rules, and there are always exceptions. That’s the new rule.”

“Aussie, do you notice your energy?”

“Should I? Is it Fine Dining?”

“Your energy, Aussie, is almost always closing things up instead of opening up to new possibilities.”

“Not so, Boss. Did you notice me swimming? Unlike wimpy tail Harry, who won’t go into water deeper than his knees, yuck yuck!”

“Look at what you’re doing, Aussie. You put me down, you put Harry down, you’re constantly elevating yourself and belittling others. You’re not serving, Aussie. What kind of Supreme Meal is your life?”

“I want to eat the  Supreme Meal, not serve it.”

“Try opening up to new things, Aussie. New ideas, new practices, new foods.”

“Like duck a l’orange? What do I have to do to get duck a l’orange?”

“The closest you’re going to get to duck a l’orange, Auss, is catching one of the ducks in the pond and adding an orange.”

 

 

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FALLING STARS

I take Harry to the Sunday dog gathering in the nearby park. I’d take Aussie, too, but she growls at Joan, Ziggi, and the other small dogs who race around and yap a racket. They don’t acknowledge her seniority, they don’t give her any respect, so after tolerating them for a few minutes she starts snapping, then growling, and it’s time to leave the party. So, Aussie goes on a separate walk with Tim while I take Harry to the canine morning soiree.

But Harry doesn’t mix well, either. The big stars are Australian or Border Terriers like  Ziggi and Joan, who jump up at every big dog to get its attention, run run run, and then collapse and roll onto their backs, small paws up in the air, emitting delighted squeals as everybody sniffs them. They remind me of certain popular girls at parties who had little to say for themselves but talked a lot of self-regarding nonsense, and everyone thought they were cute.

There’s also Midge and Walker, Harry’s size, happy to play but not requiring all the attention. More often than not, they’re Labs, They’re like the regular girls, the ones who didn’t wear the shortest skirts but always had someone to dance with.

Finally, there are older dogs like Smoky and Poppy, who confidently go their own way, at times joining the others, at times not. There were always some at parties who’d stay out to smoke a cigarette, come in to see the action inside, but basically never worried about what anybody thought of them.

And then there’s Harry, the classic wallflower. He comes in, tail wagging, chases the dogs, gets chased back, then pauses because they’re back with Ziggi and Joan again: Where is everybody? He joins the circle running around Ziggi, then stops: I don’t get why this is such fun. Harry isn’t sure who he is, wants to join the others but doesn’t know how, wants to be like the others but doesn’t know how.

“Go play,” I tell him as he comes over to me, “that’s why we’re here. Don’t be so existential, do something!”

And he tries, poor fella, he wants to mix, he want to be like everybody else, but he’s not. It’s not his fault he’s a born wallflower, just like me.

When we get home Aussie sniffs him carefully. “Thanks for leaving me home. Did you at least have fun?”

“No,” says he.

“It’s a waste of time taking him there,” she tells me.

And still I take him on Sundays, trying to see if he could put his nature aside and have fun. Only he can’t.

I want to be different, too. I want my life to speed up a little, I want to go to restaurants, I want to go see a movie, I want to talk with someone who knows me deeply. I want to join the party everybody else is having, but I can’t.

I did some bookkeeping work recently and got into a credit card account that was still in Bernie’s name. I had the username and password, went into his profile, and saw the identifying questions they’d asked him to answer as a second layer of security. One question was: “What’s the birthday month of your best friend?”

His answer was: “December.”

I shut my eyes, then wiped them with a tissue.

He never called me his best friend. He never said anything about our friendship or even our closeness, about the preciousness of daily companionship, two people in the front seat of a car talking or just being silent, passing each other in the house—“Bernie, can you reach up and get that for me?”—”Can you open up this jar? I can’t because of my wrists [he was referring to his arthritis]—”What are we eating for dinner?”—”Do you have an errand for me to do so that I could take Stanley for a ride [he meant: Stanley and his cigar]?—that thing of mystery called a couple.

You can have the love of your life and never know it. It’s not about what the movies show, it’s not about a glorious ring (both of ours cost $25.) or a passionate sunset. In our case it was a million little things, our families, and Zen Peacemakers. While we consumed newspapers, we never discussed politics, the only exception being the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, about which Bernie was passionate (How can Jews do that!). What we talked about was the Zen mishpucha, the Zen Peacemakers, and what we could do. Always what we could do. Nobody felt the slightest interest to talk about politics. Donald Trump was barely mentioned in our home.

“What’s the birthday month of your best friend?”

And he, who would often forget my birthday, knew the answer.

I went to a small party in someone’s back yard the other night, everyone keeping distance. Two children were splashing in a pool and the adults drank wine and laughed with relief at going out.

When I got home, Aussie sniffed me up and down “Did you have a lot of fun?” she asked.

“Not a lot,” I said.

Two days later a friend wrote me this: “Make space for the falling stars.”

 

 

 

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HIDING

Aussie hiding from the heat

“Aussie, why are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding, Boss, just trying not to die from sunstroke. Where did you think you were taking us?”

“I’m sorry. I took you guys on a trail that I thought had more shade as well as water.”

“No water, and almost no shade. I’ll probably die before I make it to the car.”

“Don’t be a prima donna, Aussie. Have a little rest, and then come out. My car’s a 2-minute walk away. All the windows are open, you’ll cool down right away. The air is fresh.”

“It won’t be once we get there. Harry will fart as soon as you pull out.”

“I will not.”

“You always do, Harry. The Boss shuts the door, the car starts moving, and off you go. Never fails. Bam goes the door, car moves, and you let it rip.”

“Enough, Aussie.”

“Harry’s also the one who pulls on the leash, Boss, eats faster than a coyote, remembers he has to pee in the middle of the night because he forgot to do it earlier just before you shut the dog door, and throws down everybody who comes to the front door so that he could make his escape.”

“Aussie, you’re the queen of runaways. Harry’s got nothing on you.”

“Worst of all, he’s always in such a rush that it takes him a dozen times to empty his bowels. He squats down a little, gets distracted, and jumps up. A moment later down he goes again, and quickly up again because something else got his attention. I’ve never seen a dog with more disgraceful bathroom habits. I, on the other hand, take my time, settle down on my back legs, lower my butt daintily—”

“Enough, Aussie, I think we got the picture.”

“Who ever heard of a dog that’s such in such a rush all the time that he can’t even shit normally, Boss?”

“Let’s not discuss this any further, Aussie. The two of you used to get along so well, what happened?”

“Harry’s growing up. He’s becoming a guy. A dude.”

“So what, Auss?”

“I don’t like dudes.”

“You’re afraid of men, aren’t you, Aussie?”

“It’s the common sense approach, Boss.”

“What happened to you before you came here, Aussie?”

“My relations with men have been traumatic. That’s why I hide under the car.”

“Mine, too, Aussie. Why do you think it is? Because we made bad choices?”

“Nah, they’re just no good, Boss.”

“All of them, Auss?”

“They’re always in a big rush to go somewhere else—”

“You’re the runaway of all time, Aussie—”

“And they have no feelings, Boss, they have no emotions. Now, if we could get rid of Harry the house would be all-female and we could build an advanced civilization.”

“You know, Auss, I’d like to meet another man.”

“Oh, here we go. Another bad choice.”

“Come on, Aussie, they’re not all terrible. You like Tim, don’t you?”

“He gets down on the floor and plays with us.”

“What happens if I meet somebody, Auss?”

“Where we live, who’re you going to meet, a raccoon?”

“True, true.”

“You don’t need to meet anybody, Boss, you got me and Harry. Ahead of us is a long life together.”

“I want to talk to somebody, Aussie. I want to love—”

“You love me, don’t you?”

“—And be loved back.”

“Harry loves you.”

“Oh Aussie, I don’t want to be tough like you. Can’t you let go of that and be more open? Get a little softer, a little tenderer? I was tough my entire life, Aussie. Toughness gets you through things, but it can shut other things out.”

“Just as long as it shuts out the sun. Don’t want to get sunstroke.”

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HOW FAR ARE WE?

Aussie hiding from the heat

“Your sister was here earlier,” my mother tells me on the phone from Jerusalem  (I check in with her every other day). “We talked about how much harder things are getting in the world.”

“Yes, mom,” I agree as I look out at the big rain finally coming down in Western Massachusetts. We haven’t had such a thorough drenching in a long time. The flowers are happy, while Aussie and Harry lie disconsolate on chair and floor.

“Eve, do me a favor, you’ve always been the writer in our family. You must write what I’m saying.”

“What’s that, mom?”

“You must tell people how important it is to do good for each other. Things won’t get so bad as long as we do good for each other.”

“Yes, mom,” I say, and for a moment I think about Donald Trump, who has evoked the economy every chance he gets since 2016, as if that’s the only thing that matters. Right now people need help for sure, they need the economy to recover. But the economy is never the only thing that matters.

Traditionally, historians say, when the economy is strong the incumbent party wins the presidential election (an exception was the election of 2000). In America, they say, nothing matters to voters like the economy. Is that so? Will it always be so?

But my mother has left me behind. “Look, Eve, I feel so close to you, see? Can’t you tell? It’s like you’re right here in the room with me even though—how far away are we? How many miles?”

“At least 7,000 miles,” I tell her.

“But see how close we are to each other even talking like this on the phone? I can feel you. Can you can feel me?”

“Yes.”

“That’s always been the spirit between us. So now, carry the spirit into your writing. Tell people they should take care of each other. God will bless your efforts, you will see.”

I hang up the phone. The rain continues loudly outside, leaves rustling a racket, but inside it’s quiet. I still hear her voice, the passion she put into her words. Her voice was often passionate and emphatic in the past, but telling me to write in her name—”You are a better writer than I am!”—to tell people to take care of each other is something new.

Her mind is disintegrating, I remind myself. In the beginning of the conversation she was telling me how beautifully her grandchildren sing to her, but whether she’s referring to her grandchildren or, more likely, her great-grandchildren, I know they don’t visit her. So whom is she hearing?

We are so close, you and I. How many miles? 7,000?

Yesterday Jimena and I gave out more food cards, this time in a different town than usual. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea. “Let’s focus on the same families and maybe make a real difference,” I suggested (she says we’ve been helping over 90 families till now). But she asked me just this once to help with another community of undocumented families, and I agreed.

Usually it takes a while till people walk over to collect their cards. This time there was a crowd in the school parking lot before either she or I arrived, and once she came, it went very fast:

“This is my friend, Eva,” Jimena would say in Spanish, and I’d say “Hola” and they would introduce themselves: Rosa, Carlos, Elena, Gabriella, Jose, Cesar, Julieta. They’re accompanied by small children, who usually have very American names: Jennifer, Ashley, Bethany, Jessica. Everyone wears masks.

“This is a gift from my friends,” I tell them, handing out food cards.

A woman comes, in her 30s, a bashful smile. Jimena says that she’s new here, just arrived from Honduras, two weeks after crossing the border. I’d like to know how she did it, but others are waiting. We give her a card; she’ll also receive $150 for help with start-up rent and utilities. Another $50 in cash for another utility bill and Jimena provides receipts.

Luz (not her real name) has three children and no husband. She worked in a restaurant and got paid under the table, but restaurants are closed except for take-out. Where does she get any money at all, I ask Jimena. Yes, they often have families that help, but how much? And how much can you work with three children at home?

The school is deserted but we have a real crowd.

“Se que no es mucho,” I say to a young woman with a little girl. I know that it isn’t much. $50 is $50, which is not pennies, and I know that small is never small, that you can never know how lengthy the reach of every single act of kindness. Nevertheless, seeing the crowd of people waiting to get these cards makes me wish I could do much more.

“For us it’s much,” says the woman back in English.

What is much? Money is not much; caring is much. It tells them that they are not alone, that people care, even people from far away whom they will probably never see, as far away as Europe, care what happens to them.

“You sound so close, how many miles is it?”

“7,000, mom.”

“But you sound so close.”

We’ve given well over $10,000 in food cards and cash till now, let’s not stop. You can donate for food cards and cash help to undocumented families by using the Donate button below and adding the instruction: For food cards. You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. On the memo line of the check, please write: For food cards. As my mother says, “God will bless your efforts, you will see.”

 

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