BIG ROOM, BIG WORLD

Each morning, I wake up in a big bedroom that once accommodated two, and the first thing I feel is somewhat intimidated by its size. Behind the full-size bed (it used to be king-size) is the Medicine Buddha, on the side between two windows one of Mayumi Oda’s paintings of Kwan-yin. An altar and chair in the corner by the window, and standing on the floor on the opposite side is a terrific Peter Cunningham photo of Bernie and Jeff Bridges in a New York City restaurant celebrating Bernie’s 70th, Jeff sitting and playing guitar while Bernie looks over his shoulder. Never hung it up because I ran out of wall space; you have to give Peter’s photos the space they need. Yes, a TV screen on the dresser after his stroke that I never use, and a walk-in closet of which half is empty, the other half sparse.

The room feels too big for me, first thing in the morning. The world feels too big for me, too.

I then wonder what it would feel like to wake up in a smaller bedroom, something that fits one person, the walls closer in, the windows and door narrower. Wouldn’t that be more my size? More manageable at this time of life, as they say it? More handleable?

Bernie’s world was huge, and he had no fear. He didn’t understand other cultures or other languages—Brooklyn English and silence were pretty much what he spoke—but wherever he went he felt right at home. In 1997 he was even considering moving out of the United States. We could develop the Zen Peacemakers anywhere, he’d say. He gave some consideration to Poland, where his mother was born.

“I can’t speak the language,” I told him.

He didn’t worry because he could speak every language.

But some cultures he couldn’t get used to. Around 2009 or 2010 the Zen Peacemakers sponsored a safari in Tanzania led by Peter Matthiessen, with profits going to benefit the organization. We did what we were supposed to do, got khaki pants and shirts, decent sunglasses, and packed relatively little because we’d be moving a lot. Everyone else brought excellent, expensive camera equipment.

It was very memorable, as you can imagine. In the days we’d go out in several jeeps, each containing a driver who doubled as a guide, instantly pointing out the flora and fauna, and providing detailed explanations of habitats and habits, what to look for, what to watch out for. I remember the jeep coming to a screeching halt one day when the driver pointed out the highly dangerous Green Mamba slithering its way across the road. Peter, who loved snakes, instantly jumped out to take a closer look as the driver pleaded with him to come back.

That first night out in camping tents (fancy, with showers whenever you wanted them and coffee brought to you before dawn), we had a sumptuous dinner prepared by the staff in a large dining tent with a long table, linen tablecloth and napkins.

Where were the African guides? They sat separately outside, plates on their laps by the fire.

It’s the way it’s done, they explained to me when I asked why. The clients inside, the staff outside. Even the guides we depended on so much, those who’d demonstrated college-level knowledge of zoology, geography, and wildlife biology? The personable, good-natured black men taking such good care of the whites? The ones I’d love to ask about their families, their studies, how they knew so much?

 This is how it’s done in safaris, I was told.

Finally, our last dinner, a festive occasion on our last night together. People were invited to make comments about the safari, most of which were very positive, till it was Bernie’s turn.

“We shouldn’t be eating separately from the guides,” he said. “We’re together all day, they share all their knowledge with us, we should be eating all together.”

“Bernie, it’s the tradition,” Peter remonstrated from where he sat at the head of the table. “I’ve done this for many years, this is the tradition. It’s what they’re used to.”

“I’m not used to this,” said the guy from Brooklyn.

Peter was clearly irritated. “Bernie, it’s not helpful to come here and use a sledgehammer on long-term customs and traditions. People don’t appreciate it.”

It ended pretty much with that, and we went on.

Several years later, after his diagnosis of leukemia, when we visited him at his home for the last time, Peter told Bernie he’d been right that evening about the seating in the safari,

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THE DOGS OF THE KISKADEE HILLS

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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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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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

ABOUT EVE MARKO

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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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.