Henry stands high up (high for him), front legs up against my hip and hind legs on the floor. It’s that time of the day when he wants attention, and my consciousness goes: Not now, Henry, need to write a post, need to catch the moment, leave me alone.
The moment always seems to offer so many options:
Don’t forget the soup you were going to make.
Pay attention to Henry.
Over the past few years, maybe since Bernie died, I choose to give the dogs attention when they ask for it. Aussie is far more subtle about it. I look down from the computer and there she is, standing quietly at my side, maybe an abbreviated whine. She’s easier to ignore than Henry, who wants me to pick him up and let him settle on my lap. While Henry paws me insistently, Aussie stands there, a silent invitation to stop what I’m doing and stroke her softly, give her tenderness—give me tenderness, too. In stroking Aussie, I stroke me as well.
“Look at me,” Sarah Manguso wrote, “dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity.”
I think my time is so important! Meeting in the morning and at noon, private study tomorrow morning, finish this and that at home, walk dogs, meet Jimena later today and bring cash for Julia’s rent. Julia had to stop working because her son has pulmonary problems no one has diagnosed yet and lost 47 pounds in less than a month. She has to bring him all the way to a Worcester hospital because that’s the only hospital that will work with their lack of medical insurance.
But tell me, are moments like these, filled to capacity, all that time is about?
November is no great shakes in New England. Once we move the clock back the afternoons turn into evenings awfully early, and the perpetual daytime clouds make them feel even earlier. The sun is receding from us and barely manages a weak shine. The lights go on early, the heat, too.
Something in all that gray beckons, time to walk out and greet Kwan-yin, who’s getting ripped up by rodents more and more every day. She’s about to lose an elbow, which may mean she’ll lose her arm. Luckily, she doesn’t seem upset about it. Further down the path is the half-eaten body of a rabbit. A fox, my housemate opined. Luckily, not the rabbit with the white dot on its forehead that she saved from death and nursed back to health a few months ago, but still, a young adult rabbit.
Kwan-yin doesn’t seem upset about that, either, just smiles her smile of eternity, reminding me of bigness all around.
My problem with checking out the news nowadays is that everything feels so small. Republican this, Democrat that, covid’s continuing grin, climate climate climate. On the one side there’s a danger of getting so upset you think life is coming to an end. The other side is that you get beyond it all, lost in eternity. The more we fight, the smaller the fight starts feeling. In the midst of passion and pandemic, we sense there’s a whole other scale to things we won’t find in the newspapers.
I look at the news—Is Trump coming back? Are the Democrats in such trouble?—and think to myself: This can’t be all of it. This can’t be what I need to pay attention to. Even wildfires in Colorado and the shortcomings of the global meeting in Glasgow on climate change—it can’t be all there is. And that’s the other danger, taking not one step back but a mile. The Buddha did say it’s all delusion, didn’t he?
Or else feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I read that these are more rampant than covid right now. But I sometimes wonder if anxiety and overwhelm haven’t become the choices of the day, the daily specials on the menu, exempting us in some way from staying engaged and conscious.
Comes this early hour of twilight and I pick up Henry and put him on my lap. He won’t let me type on the computer, he wants those hands on his body that shivers with excitement, hungry for tenderness.
His isn’t Aussie’s thick, soft hair; his is short and bristly, not that pleasurable to stroke. But in seconds his eyelids close, the mouth relaxes, he gets heavier on my lap, fully, fully here. And he takes me here with him, and that’s the real miracle of the afternoon. Not the small signposts of busyness, the emails viewed and the to-dos checked off, just a little dog absorbing tenderness with every ounce of his being. Henry’s gift to me.
At some point I say: “Enough, Henry, gotta get dressed and leave,” pivoting away from the desk so that he could more easily jump down on the floor. How does he deal with his disappointment? What many males do if they only could, licking his penis a few times.
I could write about preparing a retreat, giving talks, teaching, next year’s plans for the Zen Peacemaker Order. I can write about the books I read, the sutras I study, the deep thoughts I think, plans with Jimena for what immigrant families will need in December when I’ll be mostly gone, and yes, even the back ache that has plagued me over the past few weeks: How busy and important I am!
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.