In the morning the dogs like to greet me, a daily ritual.
I come down the stairs in the dark to hear a flap-flap in the living room. Aussie. looks up, inviting me to come and sit next to her on the sofa. She’s at her softest and most sensual. First I stroke her belly. Repeat for 5 minutes. Next she furrows her brow, her signal to roll one finger down from the top of her forehead to the top of her eyes. Repeat: a dozen times. Next is a soft, slow one-finger massage down her spine. Repeat: a dozen times.
It reminds me of my routine with Bernie after his stroke. The man who was up by 4 every morning wouldn’t get up till around 10. I’d listen for those sounds, come into the bedroom, and see him sitting on the edge of the bed looking out the window. Did he wonder how much longer he’d live this way? Was he gearing up for another day of exercise? Was he just wondering about the weather?
I’d sit next to him on the bed.
“How are you?” I’d say.
“Okay,” he’d say, regardless of whether he was okay or not. “How are you?”
“Fine. How was your night?”
“Okay,” he’d say, regardless of whether it was okay or not. “And how was your night?”
Nothing conversations. I miss them badly.
Harry likes to sleep late and barely opens his eyes from the black chair he’s lounging on for my performance on the sofa with Aussie. But at some point, starting to think of breakfast, he’ll jump down and smash right into my legs with all the sensuality of a tank.
“Harry, the dermatologist says that I have a bad rash but it’s not an allergy to you.”
“I knew it.”
“Especially when I explained to him that I leave tonight to Boston to fly to London and then to Poland and then drive up to Oswiecim to bring and leave Bernie’s ashes at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”
“You don’t have to do that for me when I die. “
“Thanks, Harry. If you change your mind, let me know.“
“I doubt you’ll outlive me anyway.”
In the first Zen Peacemakers bearing witness retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1996, someone brought up the idea of doing a fire ceremony in which people working out deep feelings of guilt or shame will write notes asking for forgiveness and we’ll burn them right there by the railroad tracks. And then we remembered the fires that burned by those railroad tracks and decided it wasn’t such a good idea.
That was the same year when I, coordinating a retreat for 154 people, arrived late to the Auschwitz Museum only to be taken aside by one of the Museum personnel and told that they’re missing 26 beds that they’d promised us.
“So what do we do for the 26 participants with no beds?” I asked.
“No problem,” I was told. “We put them in former Gestapo headquarters right in main camp.”
Harry paws my leg. “What else did the dermatologist say?”
“Well, Harry, he did a full body scan and told me I had great skin. So I reached a decision.”
“What’s that, Boss?”
“When I come back from Auschwitz-Birkenau I’m marrying the dermatologist.”