Two hard things happened after Bernie’s major stroke. The first was coming to grips with the fact that our life won’t be what it was. The second was bearing witness to the things my husband wanted or needed, and that I could not provide. In face of suffering and disappointment, my big challenge is not to react. There are unfulfilled wants and needs, curves no one expected. Cultivating curiosity about what’s around that bend has never been easy for me.” | “I have walked dogs while leaves are falling over many years. Stanley will be 13 shortly and I find myself wondering if this is his last fall, just as I wondered a few months ago if that was his last summer and I will probably ask the same question about winter when we walk on the snow. And I wonder what it would be like one day for both of us to lie down in the woods because we’re tired or our legs hurt, and never get up again.” | “Years ago I took a course on how to raise money. I was told that, when meeting a potential donor, the hardest thing isn’t to ask for a specific donation, the hardest thing is to ask and THEN SHUT UP. I can apply that lesson to the most mundane of circumstances: “How are you?” I ask someone. And now, Eve, shut up and listen.” | “Bernie’s physical therapist doesn’t want Bernie to favor the left leg, which he feels, over the right, which he can’t feel after the stroke: “Don’t stand on the leg you know can hold you,” he tells him. “Stand on the leg you don’t know can hold you.” Let go of what you know, the working limb that gives you confidence, and lean on the other side, the side you don’t trust, that you can barely make out is there.” | “I didn’t grow up on Mother Goose rhymes, I grew up on my mother’s stories of the Shoah and what she had had to do to survive. These were tales of death but also grit and courage, and they’ve influenced me from the time I was a girl.” | “Bernie was about to go out on an errand yesterday when I saw him standing at the door, his funny hat framing a sweet and happy face. I tried to capture the image right there, not a great photo by any means, just a casual, intimate moment that I may go back to years hence to remember how happy we were.” | “Nothing deters Stanley and me from our daily expeditions to the woods, not even shooting and the occasional glimpses of men in hunting gear with guns.” | “I am an immigrant, having come to the US at the age of 7. I remember tiptoeing silently down the hallway back then and listening to my parents talk in their bedroom about money, about how to pay bills and afford schoolbooks and clothes. Often the words they repeated were: What will happen?”

SPILL-OVERS

My red car is at Rau’s, a local garage. Right from where I sit I can see it, its oil changed and snow tires replaced. A funny day to do a change of tires since it was sleeting this morning, but I’m taking my chances that spring is just around the corner (the weather forecasters don’t agree).

This is a very different place from the Toyota Service Center, with its big waiting room, comfortable couches (here I go between an old wooden bench and a chair with its seat fabric torn, revealing a spongy mat), free coffee, soft TV, and WIFI. You don’t see what they do to the car. Everything is quiet and esthetic; the dirty work is done out of sight and hearing.

Bernie loved to go to the Toyota Service Center. It was far enough for a cigar (Rau’s, being local, is not) and he loved sitting down comfortably over a coffee and his computer while the work on his blue Camry was done somewhere else. He didn’t prioritize supporting local businesses, but did fill up gas at Rau’s even as he complained that the prices by I-91 were a lot lower.

When he was at the rehab hospital after his stroke, one of the first things he’d ask me was what was the price of gas at the gas station just outside the hospital which he could see from the window.

It’s easy to overlook the mess of things, not to hear the drilling and the whoosh of the tube, the pop of the machine they use to put on tires, the clanging of a press and the hammering in back, the smell of oil and grime. It’s not just around my red Prius. How do you live and not get dirty?

Even in my current clean, rural life in New England there’s a mess everywhere. Aussie continues to run away and the voices in my head are relentless: You can’t let her do that, more training, more restraint! Harry on occasion goes back to messing up in the house in the middle of the night and yesterday I found a paintbrush with small yellow paint particles on the living room rug. How he found it I have no idea, but it took two days to get the yellow spot off the rug with the aid of pain thinner.

What am I going to do with these two, I wonder.

There are billions of husks of sunflower seeds under the bird feeders, the tub broke and requires a plumber’s visit, I broke a plate last night while washing dishes. And finally, there’s all the mess that Bernie left behind: Zen artifacts, pictures, photos, organizational charts, their corners nibbled by mice.

“What’s this?” someone asked me the other day, pointing at two thin, jagged slices of slate.

“It’s from School 6, an abandoned school where Bernie wanted to build housing and a community center for homeless familiesin Yonkers, only the community got up in arms and we couldn’t do it. Nothing was ever done with School 6, it’s become a magnet for drug dealers, and an environmental hazard for the neighborhood because of the asbestos. He said it was an example of what happens when people just fight among themselves and can’t come together around something productive, be it our project or someone else’s.”

He’s gone, his ashes neatly placed in a few urns, but the results of that life still spill over, spread out across tables and the basement floor, a spill you can’t control.

In this house, I tell myself sternly, I am controlling that spill. I am cleaning it all out, getting some space in which to breathe. A space that isn’t completely taken up by Bernie, but that contains him while giving space for some other things to happen.

And as I wait for the work on my car to be finished I remember how we were both very conscientious about taking good care of our cars, washing and servicing them regularly. A year ago I was at the Toyota Service Center and overheard the folks out front talking.

“Did you see what a dirty car that was?”

“Yep, worst one I’ve seen all winter.”

I looked. They were talking about Bernie’s blue car that I had brought in for service. After his stroke I had no time and just let it go. A century-old abandoned hovel in the woods, crumbling and rotting, consumed by brambles and stumps, couldn’t have looked worse than that car. His stroke had spilled over so much, consumed so many things.

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 writer of fiction and nonfiction, head teacher at the Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts, and a Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order.

She has trained spiritually-based social activists and peacemakers in the US, Europe and the Middle East alongside her husband, Bernie Glassman, and has been a Spiritholder at retreats bearing witness to genocide at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda, the Black Hills in South Dakota, and Bosnia. Before that she worked at the Greyston Mandala for a decade, 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 Tikkun and Shambhala Sun, and her collection for lay Zen practitoners, The Book of Householder Koans, will come out in late 2016. Her great love, Hunt for the Lynx, the first in her fantasy trilogy, The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills, will come out in early 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.”