I have so many different thoughts and feelings from this long weekend I hardly know where to start.
“Start at the end.”
“I don’t usually, Aussie.”
“That’s why it’s a good idea.”
Which instantly reminds me of the death of Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little in the best TV series ever, The Wire. I’m not the only one who calls it that, so have British newspapers, and you know what great series the Brits create.
Bernie and I devoured all five seasons of The Wire, and he later watched the interview Barack Obama did with David Simon regarding that series. He was especially gratified to hear the two discussing the challenges that ex-cons face as they try to get jobs upon their release from prison. Greyston, which Bernie founded, addresses those issues with their Open Hiring policy (in which no questions are asked of an applicant’s jail or prison record) and have become national spokesmen for it.
While all the characters were beautifully developed—police detectives, politicians, teachers, journalists, etc.—it was the drug dealers on the streets of Baltimore that stood out best. Instead of just seeing them as abstract violent hoodlums running amok in poor neighborhoods, the series explored them as human beings, as competitors, family people who stand by each other, and the neighborhood kids who see their participation in the drug trade as their only entry into not just the economy but also into a family that cares. It didn’t hurt that some great actors appeared in that series, including not just Williams but also Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan.
One of the many jewels that came out of Omar Little’s mouth was: Boy, you got me confused with a man who repeats himself. A far more eloquent presentation than one of Bernie’s favorite Buddhist aphorisms: Don’t be consistent. If you thought you knew Bernie, you were in serious trouble. If you thought you knew Omar Little, you were in worse trouble because Omar carried a shotgun.
“That’s the end, Aussie. What else has come up?”
“All the packages that prevent me from getting down the stairs. That driver comes round again, watch me bite him!”
I posted the Back-to-School 2021 list of school supplies needed by children of immigrant families (mostly undocumented) late Saturday. Some 24 hours later I received a message that the list had sold out. And late morning of Monday, Labor Day, an Amazon truck brought the first shipment of boxes and left them on the front steps.
“Don’t they believe in holidays?” Aussie growls.
Today I rushed them to Jimena’s house, who took a quick break from the schools where she works to meet me and take them in. She and her family will break those boxes down and put various materials in the new backpacks and give them to the children, all filled with paper, notebooks, calculators, pencil holders, etc.
And suddenly I have a flash memory of what it was like to be a young immigrant girl myself. I came to this country when I was 7. No language, no sense of American culture, no childhood TV programs, no slang. I was puzzled and disconnected. I looked funny, too. My clothes later on were often clothes discarded by my mother, I always seemed to have the wrong bags, the wrong covers on books (we always covered our books and notebooks), the wrong hair. I simply didn’t fit in at an age when fitting in is all that matters.
Now that I think about it, I can see that the issue of fitting in has been with me for much of my life and has led me down some interesting paths. At the same time, I’m glad that we could provide school supplies to Latin American children, strengthening their confidence and ability to be with their American peers. My parents did the best they could for us, but I always seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
So thank you thank you thank you. It’s great to start the Jewish New Year with gratitude. While Aussie grouses all day about these obstructions on the front steps, I see the boxes as people connecting from around the world (yes, even outside the US) with a local community that needs help. They also connect with me and with each other. We’re often not aware of these connections—we tend to be more aware of connections by friends and family, folks we’re directly involved with—but these more remote relationships are going on all the time.
Bernie often quoted his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, one of the pioneers of Zen in the West, who said that there’s direct karma (causes and situations) that we see clearly, such as those arising out of our close relationships, work, and family, and there’s indirect karma, which arises from causes, situations and people that are invisible to us. And, Maezumi Roshi added, it’ the indirect karma that’s most important.
Finally, I got a text message from a non-Jewish friend: Le’Shanah Tova to you and loved ones. The first two Hebrew words mean: A happy new year. And it instantly reminded me of how he and his husband, also not Jewish, had sent Bernie and me a card some years ago saying: Le’Sanah Tova to you and Bernie. As you can see, I have kept that card all these years. Why? Because a Latino Texan and an Italian New Yorker wished us a happy new year in Hebrew.
It touched me very deeply then, and continues to touch me now. Not just the blessing, but the blessing in a language foreign to them and familiar to us. Reaching out to people in their language, not just ours. It continues to be a big lesson for me.
And finally finally (I told you there’s a lot), Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao and I did a podcast on our book, The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up In the Land of Attachments, with Simran Singh on her radio program: 11:11. We had a good time doing it. Our book tour had been completely upended by the covid outbreak, so it was fun to do this together at least remotely, if not in person. I think it was very good. You can listen to it here.
You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.