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?”

HOT PINK TOENAILS

I’m lying flat on the Dead Sea, feet turned towards Jordan, hot pink toenails pointed to the sky.

I came down to the Sea last evening at around 7. It was over 110 during the day, but by 7 it had come down to a cool 98 degrees. On one side of the Jordan Valley Rift, the Israeli side, the sun had sunk behind the mountains, leaving t hem purple; on the other side, Jordan had turned into pink-blue haze. Later at night I’d see the lights of their Dead Sea hotels and resorts.

The staff is putting away the beach chairs and cleaning up the debris from the sandy beach, the lifeguards are gone. I walk down a wooden boardwalk which goes right into the oily water, holding on to thin rails, advancing towards a pavilion at the end of the walk where people who don’t wish to venture out too far can get into the water and hold on. But I, at the end, slowly lower myself into this sea that’s almost ten times saltier than the ocean, gray and dense at this hour, and with slow, focused strokes, careful not to splash and get any of it into my eyes, I make my way farther out.

Soon the boulders of salt disappear from under my feet. Slowly I turn and lie on my back, suspended between heaven and earth. I feel held and safe like a baby; nothing bad will happen to me as long as I remember not to move or turn too fast. Don’t make waves is taken very seriously in the Dead Sea, and everyone has stories of seeing someone ignoring the warnings and jumping into the water, head first, screaming when the water gets into their eyes and mouth.

Indulge in macho behavior, and the water burns. Bear witness softly, and it will hold you like a mother.

What do I think about in this belly of the earth, floating at its lowest point? At first, nothing. Then, catching sight of my hot pink toenails, I think of pedicures.

This morning I had my toenails done. They get dirty even in winter and I like to have them thoroughly cleaned and, in summer, painted. The woman who did it had come from Russia and lived in the city of Arad, in the south of Israel, half an hour’s drive away.

“I wanted to settle closer to the center [of Israel],” she told me as she worked, “but my sister left Russia and settled in Arad so I decided to live near her. Then my parents followed me from Russia, they settled in Arad, too, so now I don’t leave because my family is here. You have to be with your family, of course.” I thought of how far I chose to live from my family and said nothing.

Floating in the Dead Sea, I contemplate the hot pink toenails pointed towards heaven and remember other pedicures I’ve done,. Closer to my New England home there used to be a day spa with walls painted blue, no television and no music. Instead, the receptionist brought me herbal tea as I sat in a big chair and looked down at the dark hair of Irene [not her real name}, who was seated below and working on my feet.

You ask her how she is and she tells you. She lives in Springfield, has a married son who rarely visits and a brother who lives together with their sick mother. “When I divorced I lost everything,” she tells you. She works at three jobs to make ends meet. She does pedicures most afternoons and Saturday, makes tips as a waitress at a local restaurant five evenings a week, and is a private caregiver to an elderly gentleman on weekday mornings. She goes to see her mother every night in order to give her an injection.

“Can’t your brother do it?” you inquire.

“She says it hurts when he does it, but not when I do it.”

The day spa closed down and I have no idea what happened to Irene and whether she found a new third job.

“Why can’t you stop thinking about bad things?” my mother used to ask me when I was very young and couldn’t stop asking about what happened to the dead bird I’d found in the park, the woman seeking handouts by the supermarket, or the small moth caught in the spider’s web. “Why can’t you just be happy?”

Floating in the Dead Sea, hot pink toes flashing in the warm sulfur water so healthy for my joints and muscles, I think of Irene and pedicures:

Why can’t you just be happy!

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.”