I came across this photo of Bernie and Pake Hall, from Sweden, at a restaurant the last time we were in Krakow, Poland, for our annual retreat at Auschwitz. It must have been November 2017, almost 2 years after his stroke, and Bernie had a band-aid on his nose. Underneath was a squamous cell melanoma that would eventually necessitate a couple of surgeries. Already it looked pretty ugly, so he covered it up with a band-aid.

For the last year or so of Bernie’s life, he spoke to a counselor by phone every week. It was a generous offer by an old friend, and to my surprise, Bernie took him up on it. I still remember the phone conversation.

“If he’d like to talk to me, I’m available,” was the message.

I said: “Bernie doesn’t talk to therapists; he doesn’t talk to counselors. Just to warn you ahead of time.”

Bernie said yes, and they talked weekly. Not very long, I noticed, sometimes 15-20 minutes. I didn’t hear what they said. Every once in a while I’d ask how it was going, he said fine, and that was it.

They had their conversation the day I returned home from Europe on November 2, 2018, and Bernie died 36 hours later. A few weeks later his counselor died, too.

Very shortly after that second death I had a conversation with the counselor’s partner, who  told me that while his partner never shared the contents of those conversations, much as Bernie hadn’t shared them with me, he did say that his last conversation with Bernie had been a very important one, and that something had really opened up for Bernie during that last talk.

“What?” I asked on the phone.

“I don’t know,” he said, “he never told me, and he’s not here anymore.”

Bernie didn’t tell me anything, and he’s not here, either, I thought to myself.

At first I was very moved. Then I started torturing myself. What was it? What did they talk about? Was it about his stroke? Was it about his life? Was it about us? Was there some breakthrough? It had to be big, I reasoned.

Over and over again I tried to imagine the phone dialogue as he sat on his chair after lunch, his closing up the phone, resting in bed for the afternoon. Over and over, I imagined what life might have been due to that big opening. His body was probably going into sepsis even then, but no one knew.

I got upset about it. What’s the good of a breakthrough if you go and  die right afterwards? It’s just like Bernie to do something like that, I thought.

Remembering those times, I think: You still want things to have been different, don’t you? You still want him to have been different. What a sneaky Buddhist you are! You still can’t be with things as they are, with Bernie as he was. You want another turn at the wheel, another opportunity, another change.

Whatever happened in that phone conversation, I’ll never know. I’m left with what was, which was huge, and still, at times, not enough.

I think of Michelangelo’s ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. God (an old white guy with a beard) stretches out his right arm to touch Adam, while Adam (young white guy) stretches out his left arm to touch God. They reach but never touch.

It’s not about God and Adam but about me and people,  me and him. I wasn’t him and he wasn’t me, I think to myself. We had our moments, hours, days, did so much together. We empathize, listen, care for, yes, love too—all that’s available, but we’re different so we can’t fully touch no matter how hard we try.

But oh, that trying! That reaching!


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Eve Marko - The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the LynxThe 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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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.

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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, came 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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