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?”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Photo by Clemens Breitschaft

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.

How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you now?

Not answering? Cat got your tongue? Never mind. I know it’s your 80th. Or would have been.

“What do you want to do for your 80th birthday?” I asked you in early fall.

“Nothing,” you said.

You had a big party for your 70th, another one for your 75th. What do you have for your 80th? Gray frosty skies, Aussie lying on your bed, Harry the Cur, who’s never met you, lying on mine, all of us awaiting a big snow.

How we loved a big snow, you and I, the feeling of being in a shrouded world, islanded and safe, waiting for the snowplow to clear the driveway. “Till then,” you used to say happily, “there’s nothing we can do.” You were tired from all those years of doing, glad to wait things out till the snowplow arrived. Glad to watch the Patriots play on Sunday, play against time, a little like you.

And though you said you wanted nothing I’d have bought you something sweet, like the Boston Cream donut you liked. And we’d have discussed the coming storm, me remembering to fill the bathtub with water in case we lost power and bring up the battery-operated lamps. And in the recess of my mind I’d wonder what I’d do if we did lose power, along with our heat and water, that I’d have to get you and the dogs out of the house. But I wouldn’t have worried, I knew I’d take care of everything.

So why don’t I feel that way now? Why do I feel my constitution has melted into puddles? That of course I’ll take care of things, but it won’t really matter?

That’s what I’m missing in your absence, Bernie, that things matter. That we may not be important, but that things matter. Or, to turn it around, the matter of things. Not to look through a book or the black bean soup or the dogs’ toys on the floor as if they’re made of air, as if they don’t exist, but to see that they have matter, that they exist, that I exist.

A student of yours posted the photo above, from one of the times we taught in Switzerland. How different we always were. You liked to improvise everything, I liked to plan. But that photo! My goodness, that photo! We’re in good health, walking towards the meditation hall to start another segment of teaching, doing it like we’ll do it forever. Did we know how unbelievably gorgeous that moment was?

Is that why we humans aren’t usually so present, because the uncertainty coupled with the beauty are way too much for us?

I think they were too much for me that day, so I probably lost myself in the usual things—What do we talk about now? Who starts? What do we do this evening, or tomorrow?

Happy birthday, Bernie.

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.”