I talked to a woman working for JetBlue yesterday, and the experience moved me deeply.
Bernie and I were supposed to fly to Sivananda Ashram, in the Bahamas, to participate in their Peace Conference. We have taught there annually for many years and love the place. This was the one teaching engagement Bernie wished to hold on to, wished to go for. I had bought 3 tickets because Rae, his caregiver, was coming as well.
Several days ago we canceled. He’s just too tired and weak, recovering from radiation treatments and cancer surgery very, very slowly. Luckily, our good friend, Roshi Genro Gauntt, will take our place, making for a wonderful conference. And there I was, stuck with 3 nonreimbursable airfares representing a big financial loss.
I called JetBlue and explained the situation to a woman at Customer Service. Nicely and courteously, she told me the money was already in a credit account to be used only as credit for other JetBlue flights for one year, nothing else was possible. This didn’t change even as I described our homebound life right now. So I asked to speak to her supervisor.
A warm, feminine voice came on and the woman introduced herself. I told her I was well aware of their fare restrictions, but things happen in life and I asked her to listen as I described our situation. And listen she did. Without interruption, without a word about rules and regulations. I appealed to her to please waive the restriction and reimburse our money in full, especially when we were spending so much now on medical care.
When I was finished she simply said: Of course I want to help you. You have so much on your hands! Can you stay on hold while I try to do this? I said of course. She came back twice apologizing for the delay, and when she came back a third time she said: Mrs. Marko, I just succeeded in transferring those funds out of the credit account and back to the ticket, from which they’ll be credited to your credit card in 7 business days. When I thanked her profusely—I had been so worried about the financial loss—she simply said, Just take good care of your family.
It’s hard for me to describe how moved I was. There was no argument, no institutional voice wagging a finger and reminding me that rules were rules. She had actually listened to me. Regardless of the outcome, there was a genuine human being on the other end of the phone, someone who not just listened but also believed, and then responded.
Remember how it feels to be heard, to have your life witnessed, to receive acknowledgment for what you are going through.
And if you remember this, I wish to tell you that in July of this summer the Zen Peacemakers return to South Dakota to spend more time with our Lakota elder friends, Manny and Renee Iron Hawk and Violet Catches. They, along with Genro Gauntt and Rami Efal, have developed an itinerary taking us to Fort Laramie (where the infamous Treaty was written) and Fort Robinson, where Crazy Horse was killed. Violet said that Crazy Horse is not just a great warrior from the past, but also someone who will return in the future, a little like our own Maitreya Buddha, the Buddha of a time to come who has taken vows to endlessly return to help suffering beings. The journey will continue to Wounded Knee at Pine Ridge, to stay in that field below the cemetery where so many were killed, much as we stay for days on the grounds of Birkenau in Poland during our retreat there.
But the itinerary, beautiful and devastating as it is, is not the thing itself. For me, the essence of the retreat lies in listening, and especially listening to the Lakota elders who speak of the past as though it’s present, as though it’s right now. Who bear witness to how they grew up, of the addictions and temptations they and their families faced, of the sacrifices that were made, the tears wept, and the deaths grieved.
It’s sitting in Violet Catches’ battered station wagon and hearing instructions her grandmother gave her many years ago on how to listen to a stone. It’s watching Manny’s grin (How can he smile so much in the face of all this?) and hearing him translate from the Lakota. It’s watching the silent communication between Renee and her daughters and realizing, in shock, what was here a few hundred years ago, what had been trampled and leveled, and what is trying to survive and flower once again, like our own early crocuses waiting for glimmers of sunlight.
Sometimes people ask us what they can do for us. Bernie and I can’t travel as we used to and help to develop and attend these retreats, but you can. You can continue to go to places of loss, connect with the people, bear witness, and help.
These elders are showing us something, pointing the way to a different way of life that honors a great mother we must never disown. There are so many ways to honor her, but one important way is to listen to all her children, especially those we destroyed and tried to make mute.
They are not mute. They speak to us not just of the past, but also of prophecy. It’s up to us to listen. Please come. Check out the link on the Zen Peacemakers’ site, read the details, call if you have questions—and come.