In 1987 I came down with terrible abdominal pain on the eve of Thanksgiving, and on Thanksgiving morning a good physician friend came to where I lived, in the Zen Community of New York and diagnosed appendicitis. He called the local Yonkers hospital and brought me himself to Emergency to have my appendix removed. It was done quickly that same day, but I had an anaphylactic reaction to the antibiotic the surgeon had given me.
Thanksgiving weekend is not the best time to get sick and lie in a hospital. It took them 24 hours to realize what was happening, and that realization only happened due to a good friend who came to visit, realized what was going on, and raised the alarm. By then I was fading fast, so they put me in the ICU for a several days till I recovered. They also gave me large doses of steroids, which produced hallucinations. One of them involved friends, blood, and enlightenment, leading me to believe I’d just had the most significant insight of the century. After all, I’d been practicing for some three years!
While in ICU, Bernie, or Sensei as I called him then, came to visit. This was long before we came together as a couple and I was moved, knowing how busy he was. I babbled to him about my enlightenment episode and what I had seen (surely as a result of massive drugs), giving him a blow-by-blow description. He stood at the bedside listening quietly, a small, strained smile on his face, and said nothing.
When he left I was a little disappointed. Wasn’t he going to confirm that I had seen something significant? Wasn’t he going to say Wow! or That’s great!? Here I’d been granted a glimpse into the essence of the essence and he had no response other than that small smile, not even a grunt to show he was listening.
And yet, he had listened; he just never said a thing.
I love spiritual drama. I love studying, reading texts and passages, and thinking Yes! Yes! Yes! with marquee lights blinking. I love reading profiles of leaders, accounts of their dreams, their prayers to God and how God or some inner voice spoke and told them to go ahead, risk all. I love to read of their successes, of how they transformed not just their own life but helped others transform theirs.
Transform. What a big and splashy word that is, full of promise of metamorphosis and, even better, improvement. I was a caterpillar, slow and lumbering, easily stopped and even trampled upon, and now I’m a butterfly, gorgeous and free, asked for dates by cute flowers.
Oy, has that word gotten me into trouble! So many people want that: insights, revelations, at least a corner turned. And if we work towards social or environmental change we want results. We want to see great work done, smiles on people’s faces. We want to blog about successes.
Successes happen all the time, but they’re not the big headlines we dream of: No children starving anywhere! Covid gone! No more suffering in the city of Greenfield!
It’s hard at times to accept my smallness. I have big emotions, great passions—I don’t feel small. I want to give big hugs, even if now they encounter only space.
“I’m giving you a space hug!” cried Violet Catches to me on Zoom the other night from Pierre, South Dakota. And her face smiled as if I was actually there, in the flesh.
I feel warmth and excitement, the sense of always being on a journey—and you’re telling me I’m just a particle of dust? Even the realization that I’m just a particle of dust comes with no bells or whistles, only a kind of yielding and surrender: I see, I’m just a particle of dust.
Reader, there’s beauty in that smallness.
On Wednesday I went to give out food cards and carried $700 in cash to pay rent for the woman whose daughter with child had come from Atlanta. I’d written about her last week, a girl who’d arrived in the US pregnant, gave birth and raised an infant while finishing high school, and now all three generations needed a place to live. People responded, making me happy as I handed out the cards and the cash.
“Thank you so much, Eve, and thank everybody for us,” says Jimena, “and OMG, Eve, somebody really needs help!”
The story comes out. A woman gave birth but her placenta didn’t come out. They operated on her and she began to hemorrhage and almost died (I start slinking down in my seat). They helicoptered her over to Boston where she’s been in ICU for 2 weeks (I slink down even more). Husband left work to take care of two children plus new infant, wants to visit his sick wife in Boston but has no transportation and must do covid test before any visit, etc., etc. Also, has no money.
By then I’m practically sitting on the ground. “I’ll check the bank account and let you know,” I murmur.
The particle of dust drives home. We’ll do something, she’s thinking, but not a lot. The particle of dust reminds herself that the money given out so far has made a big difference in people’s lives. She thinks it was Thomas Merton who said: Leave something to God. The particle of dust knows the ballgame with balls and strikes goes on forever, but luckily she loves baseball and will keep on playing.
You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.