When you’re grieving you may no longer have the emotional bandwidth you once had. You may not be excessively happy, but neither are you always sad. What is certain is that you reject small talk and expressions of security, the underlying assumption that things will keep on going as they are and that everything will be okay.” | “Now I know that every story has its gates. If you walk through any one of these gates you’ll fall and hang in the abyss between what you badly wanted and what really happened, what you’d hoped for and how you’d messed up. Somewhere at the very bottom I’ve discovered a jewel that’s hard to describe, only that it has a lot to do with forgiveness.” | “I hurry over as soon as I hear him sitting up in bed. “How did you sleep?” “Fine.” “How do you feel?” “Fine.” But I look at the face, the body, the man, and what I’m really asking is: So today, who are you? Who are you, really?” | “And then one day, when it’s almost too late and fall is just around the corner, the orange dahlia emerges. A human peers closely: Look at that! Did you know that was there? Wasn’t there last summer, right? And not the summer before that, right? But there it is, flashing its colors shyly in the sunlight, waving at the phlox and nearby purple asters, as if to say: I made it; I’m here, even if not for very long.” | “It’s as if the trees are saying: Take your place among us. The small shrubs that struggle for sunlight are saying: Take your place among us. The fallen branches say: Take your place among us. The grass that’s brown for lack of rain tells me: Take your place among us. The only place you stand out is inside your brain; everywhere else you’re just taking your place among everything.”

A HAWK FLIES

“Mom, how are you?”

My sister texted that my mother is having a hard time. Israel is going into a strict 3-week lockdown for the Jewish holidays. There is arguing and fighting on TV, much confusion. No synagogue for my mother this year, no hearing the shofar.

”She thinks that somebody’s trying to kill her,” my sister explained.

I called her.

“Don’t worry about me, Chavale,” my mother says, “we have a plan.”

“What plan is that, mom?”

“We’re going to do something very big to beat this. Very, very big.”

“Beat what, mom?”

“You know,” she says vaguely, “this. What is going on.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“I can’t tell you, Chavale, it’s a secret. But listen, do you have a television? Watch the news tomorrow and you’ll hear all about it.”

“Who’s planning this, mom?”

“Two friends and me. But I can’t say anything now, you’ll know tomorrow because you’ll hear it on the news.”

In the middle of dementia, my mother is still the eternal hero. There are enemies everywhere but she will beat them, she will serve on the front lines of the coming war. She tells me this often. It’s how she copes with hardship and the loss of her mind.

How do you cope with it? How do you cope with loss of your mind and your body? Of someone you love?

My friend, Fleet Maull, lost his only child, a 42-year-old son found in bed by his mother in Peru, probably from complications coming out of epileptic attacks that began after a horrific beating he suffered years ago. There’s something about losing a child that catches me around the throat so hard I can hardly breathe. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it: the phone call out of nowhere, the news out of nowhere. The absolute, irredeemable fact of loss.

I come across people whose relentless caution with covid seems to me to border on the extreme. Put gloves on all the time, don’t stop at a rest stop but pee and shit in the woods (a mask, sanitizer, and gloves aren’t good enough), take a covid test before venturing anywhere (though I come from an area that has seen 0 covid infections in August and 1 in July).

Everyone has a right to their own guidelines, as I have a right to agree to those terms or not, but at times I wonder what control we’re trying to exert here. There’s a difference between taking precautions and trying to practically guarantee that nothing bad will happen.

“Americans haven’t learned that life carries risks,” an African woman told me.

Risks and loss for everybody, not just our poor cousins in Third World countries or the hundreds of employees who died from covid infection because they worked in unsafe conditions in slaughterhouses so that we could have our supply of meat. Exposure is everywhere, you can’t avoid it.

I take the usual precautions, but I don’t wish to fight exposure. My life isn’t any more important than anyone else’s. It’s true, I don’t work in a slaughterhouse and I’m not about to lose my home, at least not in the near run. But I will be part of a group holding an in-person service for Fleet’s son on Saturday morning. We will maintain distance and wear masks, all the usual covid-related accessories will be there, but I need to show up in person. I need to see him face-to-face and see his grief, and be seen by him, in my deep, deep sorrow, face-to-face. I want to expose my broken heart to him, and while there will be opportunities to do that on Zoom, sometimes we just need to do it in person.

I wanted to be exposed in flight and airports in order to see my mother still alive because I don’t know when she’ll go. If she goes soon, I won’t be able to attend her funeral or the Shiva. The brave, demented woman continues to imagine herself at the head of an army, taking care of her family, taking care of Jews everywhere, taking care of the world. Even with a clear mind she would wish to be exposed, to share in the risks of being human.

We love and we lose. The risks of being human are everywhere.

I often think of love, of finding someone who wishes to deeply connect, to share a life with a man once again. At the same time, a voice tells me inside: You know, we humans are pretty small when it comes right down to it. We’re small creatures with enormous needs for this and for this and for this and for this, hungry ghosts everywhere. By all means, find love if you can, but don’t forget, you’re not that big. Ours is not the tape measure by which to measure the world, by which to measure how much I give and how much I receive by tiny teaspoonfuls.

So much gives me life that I’ll never repay it in a thousand lifetimes.

How do I repay the gently sloping oak behind the Kwan-Yin in the back yard? We would be nowhere without the green universe that none of us created. How do I repay the hawk that several days in a row has flown low across the windshield of my car as I drove down the road above my house? I must remember to tell this to my Indian friends, I think, and immediately recall that 4 days ago we heard from Renee Iron Hawk that her grandson, whom she is raising, had a fire accident and now lies in a burn unit bed in a Sacramento hospital with burns on 92% of his body (you can support Magnus’s recovery by going here).

Renee took precautions, and still this happened. She knows it, and sounds stoic on the phone. It’s the risks of being human.

Just do your work, I tell myself. Not in some huge way—my work doesn’t have such proportions, nor do my mistakes. I’m not heroic like my mother. Just be ready, I tell myself each morning, and take care. A hawk will guide you on your way.

 

 

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THE DOGS OF THE KISKADEE HILLS

The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx begins a trilogy about a society of dogs after humans have destroyed themselves and much of the world. Living with their families and clans in the Kiskadee Hills, they’ve developed over generations a rich tradition and way of life, and have prospered. But now, an unknown killer is butchering the Kisdees of the Hills.

Academy Award-winning actor Jeff Bridges says: “You will never look at dogs the same again. Eve Marko gives us a story that explores the path that life on our planet has taken, and asks what your role in that course might be.”

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BEARING WITNESS

Eve Marko - Bearing Witness

To bear witness to anything is to be as close to it as possible.

It’s not to read books or see movies about it, it’s not to have an opinion or tell a story. It’s to let go of all ideas about it—be in the space of not-knowing—and simply be there, up close and deeply personal.

Eve has been involved with the Zen Peacemaker Order’s Bearing Witness Retreats—in places of suffering and conflict since her first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

There have been 20 retreats at the site of those concentration camps since, along with retreats in Bosnia, Rwanda and the Black Hills of South Dakota, near the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Upcoming Bearing Witness Retreats:

Bosnia, May 2016 (Please email for details)

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ABOUT EVE MARKO

Eve Marko

Eve Marko is a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order and head teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts. She received dharma transmission and inka from Bernie Glassman. She is also a writer and editor of fiction and nonfiction.

Eve has trained spiritually-based social activists and peacemakers in the US, Europe and the Middle East, and has been a Spiritholder at retreats bearing witness to genocide at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda, and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Before that she worked at the Greyston Mandala, which provides housing, child care, jobs, and AIDS-related medical services in Yonkers, New York.

Eve’s articles on social activists have appeared in the magazines TricycleShambhala Sun, and Tikkun. Her collection of Zen koans for modern Zen practitioners in collaboration with Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao, The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up In the Land of Attachments, is coming out in February 2020.

Hunt for the Lynx, the first in her fantasy trilogy, The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills, was published in 2016.

“When I was a young girl my dream was to be a hermit, live alone, and write serious literature. That’s not how things turned out. I got involved with people. I got involved in the world. Two things matter to me right now: the creative spark and the aliveness of personal connection. In some way, they both come down to the same thing.”

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