Photo by Peter Cunningham

I loved watching the inauguration. It’s our only day of pomp and circumstance. No royal marriages or divorces here, no royal personage opening Parliament. Just one day every four years, and by now I know the elements, even this year during covid, when flags covered the Mall instead of people. You get to know the sequence, only the stars are different, and the political leaders taking office.

I have to admit that I deeply appreciated seeing Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell there, freezing in the wind, and listening to Senator Roy Blunt, all Republicans. Showing up when you’d really rather not, in fact when there’s pressure on you not to show up, is hard. Obama seemed happy, but it’s easy to be happy when what you wanted to happen happens.

I enjoyed Biden’s speech. It wasn’t brilliant, it wasn’t historic, it was Joe Biden. Sounded just like him. Very decent, a warrior for unity, urging us to do what he did—keep on showing up.

The big star was the 22 year old Amanda Gorman. Her poem, The Hill We Climb, was inspiring, but not as inspiring as she was. Beautiful, confident, poised—Yes! I felt like yelling, you go, girl! You’re the one we depend on for the future, you’re the one surpassing hopes and expectations.

My one issue with Joe Biden’s government picks (other than Tom Vilsack, which is another matter) is that he drew on so many from Obama’s time. He knew and respected them, but I would have liked to see younger, newer faces; I would have liked to see him groom a new leadership to take over, not so many old names and faces.

“I do solemnly swear . . .” The same oath every four years; I remembered when Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled administering the oath to Obama, and Obama reminded him. Always the same words, the same oath written up in the Constitution, regardless of who fills the position. It’s not personal to you, it’s personal to the country.

Vows are more personal. When I make a vow, even if it’s said in a few simple words, my entire life is there: awareness of attachments and karmic cycles, a life that disappears as quickly as it appears, wasted opportunities and endless possibilities for renewal.

People say they don’t want to make vows because they’re afraid they won’t keep them. But how do you know? How do you know that the minute you made a vow a world wasn’t created in which those vows were kept all the time? We know so little about this world, this dimension of being, what do we know about others?

In that spirit I remembered that Bernie’s birthday was January 18, 1939—”a triple Capricorn,” I used to say, shaking my head sadly— and on that date in 1994, when he turned 55, even as the Greyston companies he and Jishu Holmes founded were still trying to find a stable footing in the world, he knew it was time to make another vow. He didn’t wait to assess the success of the past, he was moving on.

That used to annoy folks—You can’t just leave now, Bernie, wait a few more years, etc. But he was a man in a hurry. He also had a gift for seeing where things were headed, both individually and socially, and he liked to be ahead of the curve. And, too, he didn’t need to be affirmed or validated by anyone else (except maybe his wife).

So he sat on the steps of the Capitol in the coldest time of year. He invited folks to join him. That, too, was Bernie. Many of us make our vows privately, perhaps feeling that if no one else knows, they also won’t know if we fail. We’re self-conscious and keep it to ourselves.

Not Bernie. “I’ve made a vow to end homelessness in our county,” he’d announce every chance he got. Then he’d work like crazy to do that, day after day; how it came out didn’t concern him too much. “If you announce it to the world,” he liked to say, “the world comes in to help. If you keep it secret, nobody knows so they don’t help.”

And folks joined him. People from different walks of life sat with him in DC that winter, a motley group. It was historically cold and the Capitol actually shut its offices, very typical for Bernie’s retreats. As one man from Cameroon later said: “I always hated the winter cold in New York. After sitting with Bernie that winter in DC, I lost my fear of the cold.”

He made a vow at the steps of the US Capitol that he would begin an order of Zen Peacemakers, folks not content with sitting on a cushion to gain clarity and peace for themselves but use that as a foundation to make peace in the world in all areas, integrate all the voices, see the dharma in all things. He came back home and set about doing that.

Peter Cunningham was with him, the photographer who dogged Bernie’s steps and documented the fulfillment of his vows again and again. These photos are all his, as are so many others in which he bears witness, showing again and again how personal and creative this bearing witness journey is. You can find many of these photos, and others, on Peter’s website.

Peter, too, was someone whose life intersected with Bernie’s trajectory in many different places, though the two men had their own respective journeys. As I wrote yesterday, every once in a while, someone else says to me: “I was there in that retreat on the steps of the Capitol that freezing winter.” They may have made vows as Bernie did, or not. They went back home and did photography, social service, poetry, business, one is even the President of Naropa University. But at some point, their lives intersected with Bernie Glassman’s because he opened his space of practice so widely, let everyone in who wanted to come, let them be who they were, and said goodbye when they left.

Photo by Peter Cunningham


You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families


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.”

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families


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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families


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.”

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families