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?”

WE WERE CRAZY!

I was in New York for the past two days. I spent hours with a friend sitting on a rocker and looking out her back yard at a tree full of birds. The next day I went to visit with Mike Brady, President of Greyston, along with Rami Efal, the Executive Director of Zen Peacemakers. Together we talked about how to strengthen Bernie’s Zen flavor in Greyston, the mandala of for-profits and not-for-profits that he, along with his Zen Community, established in the 1980s and 1990s.

It was Rami’s idea that one of the things I should do at Greyston is tell stories of those early years, when a group of inexperienced but devoted dharma students started a café, an almost-failed bakery that became a great success, a housing program that built permanent homes for homeless families, a child care center, and a highly-regarded AIDS care facility with housing for people with AIDS in southwest Yonkers. Mike gave both of us bags of brownies from the Greyston Bakery which you can buy at Whole Foods.

A week ago I opened up a file I hadn’t looked at in a long time. It contained many pages of journal notes I wrote at night in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I call it my Greyston Journal and I have no memory of writing it. But the pages are there, single-spaced, evidence of a fanatic who stayed in the office night after night trying to capture the flavor of events, and especially stories of the crazy people, like me, who were there because they were madly in love with the dharma.

From a day in April 1989:

“Jack [a consultant who visited the Greyston Bakery to see why it was losing so much money] saw all the employees going upstairs to the zendo and asked what they were doing. ‘Every month we have Mandala Day,’ we explained to him. ‘We gather on the third floor for a couple of hours. The Bakery folks share what they’re doing, the housing folks talk about their work, the Builders [Greyston Builders} talk about their projects. It’s always someone’s birthday so we cut up a cake. The Greyston-ettes sing a couple of songs [that day they sang Didn’t we Almost Have It All and Amazing Grace]. Ariyaratne from Sri Lanka talked at Mandala Day last month. People like it”’ Jack was flabbergasted: “You stop work for this? No wonder you’re broke!”

And this, the following day:

“Yesterday the executive director of the Center for Preventive Psychiatry came to visit. We spoke to him about providing psychiatric services to the children moving into the building [68 Warburton, our first housing project]. We suggested we keep the building in a “wellness” mode and send any adults and children who may need help out for treatment. He didn’t agree at all. He told us that CPP gave as conservative estimates that 75% of the homeless people they deal with have drug abuse problems. He said: ‘Whatever your expectations are, I don’t care how low, slash them by 80%. My office can tell you about success stories we’ve pointed to with pride, women who got off drugs and were housed and working in a good job, their kids doing well in school, and four months later they’re back on crack and the kids are out of school and you can’t even find them anymore. They have no social fabric, no basic security of any kind. It takes nothing for them to have another fall, nothing at all.’”

And finally, this from earlier that same morning:

“Lately each time I wake up in the morning and still find myself on my mattress on the floor I wonder if it makes much sense to be spending years of my life here: Why I’m on some mattress rather than on a bed, why I’m not in my own apartment [we lived communally], why somebody isn’t lying at my side.”

Why? Because there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I loved this way of Zen practice, of making a go of a for-profit bakery and helping families (almost always single mothers with children) live in new apartments, get jobs, get child care, get a life. We were constantly broke, with unpaid stipends and wages, on the brink of collapse, perpetually on edge, trying to make up for our ignorance and lack of business-world competence by always working harder.

“Oh yes,” someone once said when he head that I’d worked in Greyston for years as part of that meshugena community, “you were the ones who practiced in a zendo on the 3rdfloor of a bakery, and afterwards would go downstairs and get to work.”

“No,” I told him, “we were the ones who practiced in that funky zendo early each morning and then went downstairs and continued to practice Zen the rest of the day.”

“We were crazy,” I told the friend I visited last Wednesday. She had been there too, and now we both sat in back of her house and contemplated the birds.

“You’re not kidding,” she said. “We were crazy all right.”

But we were in love.

 

Someone recently said to meitting in the morning

 

 

 

 

This morning I walked the dogs and they rummaged around the shrubbery that runs on both sides of the creek, lunging after various critters I couldn’t see. And then in complete silence a gray-blue heron rose high up in the air to grace-filled heaven.

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.”