HOW TO WATER THE WORLD

“It’s raining and raining. Can’t rush off anywhere, can’t take a walk, can’t even run away. I hate it!”

“Oh Aussie, we need rain. We’ve had some very dry weeks and the grass has even gone brown in certain patches. The farmers need rain, the flowers, the vegetables, the trees, the streams that are dried out. Everybody needs rain.”

“I don’t need it!”

It’s been a very dry June, and as I stretch out the hose to water the front garden in the evenings, I think of Bernie and his watering system.

Our house (which we bought simply because it was the only house on the market in walking distance to the offices of Zen Peacemakers) came with a large back area sprinkled with small beds of perennials. In one of several discussions about who was doing the lion’s share of the house work (moi!), I suggested to Bernie that he be responsible for watering the garden. He agreed.

I thought he would connect hoses to water spouts (we have two) and, on dry days, water the flowers. Silly, silly me.

“Stanley!” he called out to the dog. “We’re going to Home Depot.”

He put on his red beret (it was the height of summer), plugged a cigar into his mouth, and off they went. He returned with a car trunk full of garden hoses, two large reels, yards of spring irrigation tubing, hose connectors, nozzles, wands, lots of unknown tools, and a large credit card bill.

Vuss is duss?” I ask him in Yiddish. “What is this?”

“You asked me to take over the watering, and that’s what I’m doing.”

“And where’s Stanley?”

He’d forgotten Stanley at Home Depot.

Do we really need all this? I wanted to ask. But by then I knew better. If you asked Bernie to do something, he was going to do it his way; otherwise, don’t ask.

He began to put together an elaborate watering system that extended from the far side of the house, which contained a water spout, and circled around the back and along the path to the shed, with a diversion to a small bed of lilies on the other side. I could have told him that this one bed of sparse lilies bloomed once, and did we really need so much irrigation tubing snaking its way through the grass and around Kwan Yin? But there was nothing to say. Bernie had been trained as an engineer; he loved nothing more than to design systems.

Of course, he would try it out, find it wasn’t working, identify the reason, put his red beret back on and get his cigar. “Stanley!”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Home Depot. I need another hose connector.” Or he got the wrong sprinkler valve, or just realized that a different fitting would work much better.

“Try to remember Stanley this time.”

By the time Bernie finished the watering system, summer was over. The next summer we used it, and on some occasions water came out of the right sprinkler or tubing and on some occasions it didn’t, no matter how hard I tried. And, you guessed it, it was usually me because Bernie, having given birth to a new system, left me to “raise” it and was on to the next thing.

This summer I gave up on the watering system in the back completely. I even asked the gardener who comes in several times in the summer to look at it, and she, after half an hour, shook her head and said it was too complicated. So while I’ve been fairly good at watering the front, I gave up on the back, and am grateful for these two days of rain. And think of Bernie.

This same Bernie Glassman, who formulated such elegantly simple Three Tenets that encapsulate a vast practice, could get into so much trouble creating incredibly complex models, mandalas, and systems. If Einstein, Hawking and others tried to come up with basic principles to explain life’s physical laws (and failed), Bernie went the other way. He seemed to try to create all-inclusive systems, vast enough to include every single difference, every unique person and being, from ants to Zephyranthes Big Dude (yes, there is such a thing, a flower in the amaryllis family)—without denying their unique individuality. Of course, he was frustrated in the attempt, but that didn’t dissuade him from trying again and again.

Those of us still involved in defining the Zen Peacemakers as a family live with that dynamic of a very rich and international sangha that subscribes to the Three Tenets but struggles, like the water hoses outside, to fit itself into recognizable and dependable forms.

More important, Bernie always warned people that the more you awaken to and experience the One Body, the more tsures (important Japanese word, look it up) you will find. “You think that getting enlightened will bring an end to all suffering and that you will live in bliss for the rest of your life?” he often said, shaking his head. “The more you see we’re all one thing, the more you realize the work that’s needed.”

As our Native American friends might say, once you realize that everyone and everything is a relative, there are a hell of a lot of relatives to take care of.

Working across ethnicities and cultures, across religions and countries, even across species, feels strange, clumsy, and never-ending. We say the wrong things, take actions that aren’t enough (or too much), make the wrong food, make the wrong jokes, wear the wrong clothes. But what choice have we got if we’re serious about experiencing the oneness of life? Go into our corners? Retreat into white-only enclaves, senior residences open only to people 55 and over?

So we renew our vows and go on.

I try to take care of the green plants behind the kitchen, but the lilies in the circle of stones beckon, and the peonies (that didn’t even bloom this summer) are way back by the maples, not to mention the herbs behind the garage, the hydrangeas out front, the small strip of dahlias that always struggle in the shade, and on and on. Some make it, some don’t. Some struggle for sun, for water, for nutrients, against pests and disease.

And I miss Bernie trying to take care of it all, trying to take care of everybody and everything, manipulating this and finagling with that, shaking his head, putting on his beret, reaching out for his cigar, and yelling up the stairs: “Eve, I gotta go back to Home Depot. Stanley!”