We finished retreat yesterday at mid-day.
That same day was my 72nd birthday, and as always, I recalled what Roshi Joan Halifax told me many years ago: “On your birthday, call your mother. I know you’ll get lots of birthday greetings and wishes from friends, family, and students, but it was your mother who worked so painfully hard many years ago to give you birth, so call your mother.”
I’d done that every year, so yesterday I got into the car and called my mother, certain that she wouldn’t remember a thing. She hasn’t remembered my birthday in a number of years. But this time, to my great surprise, she herself said, “It’s your birthday!” and laughed as I asked her to think back to all the labor she underwent that day—and all the labor she underwent afterwards because, as we both well knew, I wasn’t an easy child.
We talked only briefly—we usually talk only briefly—but it was very heartwarming. And this time she’s glad because she knows I’m coming to visit her. I plan to travel tomorrow night to Israel, restrictions notwithstanding, to see her, my brother, and sister. The latest Covid restrictions are stringent—a series of covid tests (starting this morning) over the next several days and at least 3 days of quarantine, depending on test results.
To tell you the truth, this morning I felt somewhat unwilling to go through all that: getting down to Newark Airport, a long flight wearing masks, and all the testing in the Tel Aviv airport followed by quarantine. Just printing out all the documents necessary is a little daunting.
At the same time, I am so grateful to be alive, and who should receive that gratitude more than my mother? For most of my years we didn’t see eye to eye. We’re both strong and stubborn (I inherited those qualities from her) and she didn’t approve of my life in Zen practice and social engagement. She got a kick out of Bernie—he saw to that—but by now doesn’t remember him at all. She has dementia, so now she and I finally have only one common language, and that’s the language of love.
It took me three tries to fill out Israel’s covid form to get approval to fly there, and I could feel the familiar sense of anxiety and rush coming up, the old feeling that time was running out. And then I paused and thought to myself: Time isn’t running, you’re the one running. At this time, more than ever, you need to slow down, take care, support people who struggle with fear and anxiety, with their sense of love lost. You’ve gotten so much love, you need to give this back again and again to those without.
Maybe, to echo my mother’s situation, this pandemic is humanity’s form of dementia, in which we’re encouraged to forget our usual ways of doing things, our avarice, our greed for more and more things, more and more content for our ever-grasping minds, and the anxiety that these foment, and rest in something simpler and more basic. Rest in love. Remember what is important: caring, giving, service, and presence. Show people that, in essence, there is nothing to fear.
We had a marvelous 5-day retreat with a pretty intense schedule. I loved my co-teachers, Roshis Genro Gauntt and Fleet Maull. We were all different, with different emphases in our talks and face-to-face; they are two men and I a woman. But it’s that difference that makes it so much fun. The essence wasn’t different at all, but our lives and therefore our teachings are different. I felt a deep appreciation for all the great Buddhist teachers over 2,500 years on whose shoulders we rest, and enormous curiosity about what the coming generations will bring.
Buddhism has changed radically since it came to the West a very short time ago, encompassing householders and lay practice, bringing in women teachers, now opening up to people of color and of different gender orientations, and getting more and more engaged in the challenges our world faces. I’m deeply grateful to Bernie Glassman, my husband, who understood long before others did that Zen practice, while retaining the essential, excellent practices that came to us from India, China, and Japan, would change a great deal in the West. He welcomed that opportunity with all his heart.
A microburst hit us one night during the retreat—we’re getting more and more of those in New England—and the following early morning I rounded the bend driving to the zendo and the car hit a heavy branch that had fallen across the road. The branch snagged on the undercarriage of the car and pulled out a long, heavy plastic object. This morning a service man at the garage looked at it and told me it was safe to drive to Newark Airport without it, and after Christmas they will re-install it.
Life isn’t a bowl of cherries, it’s full of risks and sharp objects. The important thing is to know what’s important and what isn’t and proceed accordingly. So I will start my travel tomorrow. I hope and plan to blog from Jerusalem before I return on December 23.
Our little Henry, Aussie’s Chihuahua nemesis whom she constantly wants to deport, has taken sick. Soon I will go out to our rainy Kwan-yin and, with chant and incense, invoke her compassion for that sweet little dog.
Thank you all for your gifts to children in immigrant families. 82 of them will get what they asked for, what a blessing that is! Thank you to Jimena for distributing the gifts you bought, and to my housemate Lori who will make sure those gifts are in Jimena’s hands even as she works full-time and cares for two dogs I leave behind at home.
So much is being done all the time for our benefit!
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.