That’s an apple in the photo, the sole surviving apple of our apple tree. It has survived, among other things, 16 inches of snow the other day. “Now, that’s persistence,” a friend told me.
Today would have been Bernie’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. We lived together for two years before that and neither of us was in any hurry to formalize things. I think it was Maria Matthiessen, Peter’s wife, who first asked why we didn’t get married; that’s how it got put on the table.
Bernie left the time to me and I chose to get married on the winter solstice. At the time, we lived in Santa Barbara, California, and the winter solstice didn’t feel dark and cold as it does in New England. Here is where the winter solstice feels magical, here is where it feels like a big deal: the days are short, gray on top and white below, and the dark encroaches by mid-afternoon. But I love the dark. Rumi encourages people in his poetry to stay up and see the divine, the Lover, in the dark. The closest I get to meeting that invitation is at this time of year.
And part of that includes Bernie, and it also includes my friends and students who practice with the light and dark, who dance with them day in and day out. The birds cavort around the birdfeeders, spilling sunflower seeds on the snow and flying down to eat them, unaware of Aussie crouching around the corner of the house, waiting for her chance to pounce.
“If you didn’t feed them, she wouldn’t kill them,” someone said.
“If I don’t live, I don’t die,” I said back.
Only who wants to live like that? If I don’t walk, I don’t feel the arthritis in my left knee. If I don’t cook, I don’t mess up the vegetable pizza. If I don’t write, I manage to avoid cliches. If I don’t love, there’s no loss. But who wants to live like that?
A friend told me this story:
He was walking through the San Francisco airport on his way to his flight when he saw a Buddhist monk walking by, wearing the saffron robe so well known in southeast Asia. My friend said he was moved to see the monk because years back he also felt the call to become a renunciate. That was not the direction life had taken him, he had work he loved, he had a family, he was traveling. That moment he felt a deep gratitude for the monk who was not just living his life of a monk, but also the part of my friend’s life that had wanted to be a monk.
“He was living my monk life for me,” he told me, “and I suddenly felt full of gratitude to him for doing that.”
The story doesn’t end there. He then boarded the plane and got into his seat, watching as other passengers boarded as well. Down the aisle came a young, handsome, well-dressed man with a pretty woman on his arm. The young man had the look of pride and self-satisfaction of all fortunate men with pretty young women on their arm, aware of the looks he was getting. And my friend felt a tinge of regret there, too, because there were years when he’d wanted such a life, full of promise and even swagger, with pretty young women hanging on. And his life didn’t go in that direction either, it took him into a long-term marriage with children.
He realized that here, too, this young man was living the life for him that he’d wanted long ago. He didn’t have to regret anything. He didn’t have to fuss over the fact that he hadn’t become a monk or that he wasn’t flying places with beautiful young women in attendance, other people were living that life for him so that he could live his own life. And this time, too, he was full of gratitude to the young man.
I’ve made choices and they’ve brought me to this moment of sitting in my office and working at my computer, blogging, getting the plan for the winter intensive in shape and into newsletter form, preparing documents for going online in January with the Zen Peacemaker Order, the screenplay revision. Thinking about a Christmas dinner not with Bernie but with my housemate, a lovely person. Taking the dogs out for a walk and going to Home Depot to get wires to hold up the insulation in the basement. Looking at the birds feeding happily, and Aussie just as happily hiding in ambush.
So many lives I didn’t live that others are living for me. People in couples, people with children, people in beautiful clothes with lots of leisure people who haven’t yet found out about loss and empty spaces. So much gratitude to them for living like that, so many wishes to them to live their lives and find meaning and joy in them.
I’m the luckiest woman in the world, living so many different lives.
So here I am, towards end of year, asking you to support my blog. I feel a little constrained in this, since I seem to ask so much. Usually, it’s for immigrant families who have little, but this time it’s for the blog. I spend money on it, getting technological help. Without the blog I’d have no platform to ask money for the families. Without the blog I wouldn’t be able to respond to folks who reach out to me. Without the blog I’d be just talking to myself, which I’ve excelled in much of my life, wasting silly words on just one person.
My mother told me something the other day and I said, “Mom, I never heard you say this before.”
“That’s because it’s stupid.”
“No, it isn’t, mom.”
“Yes, it is. Let me tell you something, Chavale. Anybody can say something smart. To say something stupid—now, that’s smart.”
I could have sworn Bernie was talking.
You can support the blog by using the button below. If you prefer to send a check, you can send it to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Thank you very much.