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.”

I DON’T WANT THIS WINDOW TO CLOSE

My friend, the Zen teacher Myotai Treace, wrote the following in her terrific book, Wake Up: How to Practice Zen Buddhism: “After a shared tragedy, people are washed clear for a while, after the wringing grip of intense grief. We are left with this sparseness—a tenderness that is practically edgeless. When the mental clutter begins to reassemble, many find themselves grieving not only for the dead, but also for the passing of that quality of spare tenderness. Daily routines can heal, but they can also put our hearts to sleep.”

When Bernie’s second wife, Jishu Holmes, died suddenly, I watched the teacher I’d known for over a dozen years turn into bare bones. He was raw, aching, without the confidence and even swagger that often characterized him. He was a different person, and knew it. His beard grew, hair gone wild, confronted by something bigger than himself, and he knew better than to fight it. He plunged into an immense lake of grief, and it held and sustained him. He was full of wonder at this change in himself.

And then he seemed to change back, the old personality returned, altered somewhat but bearing old patterns I knew well.

“What happened?” I asked a friend of ours, a Zen practitioner and psychiatrist. “He was so different!”

“The window’s begun to close,” he said.

I don’t want my window to close. This skin that grew so thin, even diaphanous, since Bernie’s stroke, that opened itself up to fear (How will I take care of him! What will happen to us!), sadness, and infinite alteration—I want that skin to remain as it is. I want the sparseness that Myotai talks of so eloquently to stay.

Not that my life is sparse. I still love the cappuccino I make in early mornings and drink from a blue cup I bought at an Armenian pottery store in Jerusalem. I love the hot baths at night, films on television weekend evenings.

But relationships have gotten spare. I’ve no patience for small talk, for conversations that remain on the surface, for connections that don’t connect. It’s not that I’m sad, not at all; I can get pretty frivolous with a couple of good friends, talk and laugh and gossip like anyone else. What I’m talking about is wanting to be real, stop with the yada-yada, make sure my words reveal what I think and feel. Try to come from a place deep inside, not just the hi place. Not talk about the man in the White House and what’s wrong with half the country or the rest of the world.

I don’t want this blessed window caused by illness, death, and grief to close. I don’t want to stop being tender and raw. I don’t want mental chatter to return, the old veils seducing me out of grief and back into routine. I never cried so easily as I did this past year, and though at first I felt like a silly child, now I kind of like it. It means I break down more easily, and that’s a good thing.

I don’t want the old veneer, I’d like to shiver when it’s cold. There’s so much going on around us, and all of it needs tenderness. It’s all dharma, pure reality, and my practice—and what I love—is to sit with it, pay attention, appreciate every single tiny moment. The time I waste on nonsense is really and truly wasted. Sleep nourishes m, but not petty, depthless moments.

Reference points? Three years of mornings when Bernie would finally wake and sit up. I’d sit on the edge of the bed with him as he looked out the window, contemplating another day of life as it was, not as it had been.

“How did you sleep?” I’d ask.

“Fine. And you?”

“Fine.”

All of heaven and earth were in those few words.

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.”

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)

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.”