I was unable to blog the entire past week because the blog was down. Silvana, the intrepid, hard-working, and resourceful website consultant who has supervised all my blog work, looked things over right away and then brought in techies from the web host as well. She kept on updating me, letting me know she hadn’t seen anything quite like this in years, and was still working on Saturday on the blog even as I hosted family for the holiday weekend. This morning she told me to give it a go. I may be back—and I may not. Let’s see what happens.
The greater the technology, the more complex life becomes. In my head, I keep on hearing my father’s voice: Things were so much easier years ago. Who needs all this? Families stayed together, children respected their parents, parents took care of their children. There were no divorces, life was simpler and happier. Everyone knew how to behave.
This from a man who left his wife after over 40 years of marriage and married a woman who was a better match for him, no doubt, and also 15 years younger than my mother. Abandoning an unhappy marriage, he became a much kinder man, as if once he admitted to himself that his system had its own challenges and even failures, he could then better tolerate his children’s choices.
But there was always a disconnect there. Even as he loved to go online to read newspapers and study, he was always nostalgic for the old shtetl days when none of those things existed, when the news arrived very late, if at all, and when everybody knew their roles in life.
In our younger years he was highly disturbed by me, his oldest child, who was not going to limit her life, friendships, and marriages to religious Jewish society and who had no interest in a suburban middle-class life.
I still can’t forget how he visited me in Yonkers many years ago, where I was part of the Zen Peacemakers building the Greyston organizations. He looked around the rundown house where we lived communally, the dirty, vacant lot with broken beer bottles and used condoms nearby, the abandoned School 6 across the street, the people living across from us who didn’t look anything like the people we grew up with, and said, shaking his head in alarm: “Why are you living this way?”
About Zen Buddhism he didn’t ask or say one word and I learned to never bring it up. My father was easily frightened by life, and we had a tacit understanding: He wouldn’t ask me about things he might find unpleasant, and I wouldn’t talk about them. Our family version of Don’t ask, don’t tell. To this very day I’m not sure that was a good thing. It would have taken lots more skill than I had then to bring up tricky things. On the other hand, hiding things that are important to you brings its own badge of shame, as if something about you isn’t right.
From very early on, I learned not to say too much about myself. In a way, this written blog is an antidote to that history.
At the same time, I’ve learned not to bang on doors that won’t open. The world asks for many things from us. People reach out wanting to study, learn, communicate. And then there are those who appear in your life with no interest in what you do. At times you want to share with them, you want to open your heart, but the doors are closed. You try tapping lightly, and when there’s no answer you knock, and at my dumbest I’ve even banged on the door trying to get in.
I don’t do that anymore. Some doors are closed. You can try again in a few years, and again after that, but I no longer waste my time or effort trying to get through padlocked gates. Luckily, life leaves lots of doors open.
I have to negotiate that every day. At certain times in our life, when we have to provide for ourselves, family, manage career, etc., it doesn’t feel like there’s much flexibility or room for creativity; our hours are full. But even then, the question appears: Is the door open or closed?
I’ve returned to some sketches I wrote years ago, thinking of making a book out of them, and I have to ask: Is it more writing or less? I think it’s more, but not sure what. Is it towards more work with the Zen Peacemaker Order? Should I do more locally? The Stone Soup Café, which we began years ago half a mile from my home, doesn’t just continue to feed people but is expanding into a culinary institute and a supplier of daily meals to the community—is that what’s next for me?Is this what I’m meant to do here? Do I feel excited, alive, and childishly hopeful? Or am I banging on a door that isn’t opening anymore? Is there something else that is waiting in the wings, beckoning? Where is the curve taking me now?
Even the blog going down in such a sudden way—what is that about? It’s like dancing with life and always asking: So what’s the next step? And the step after that?
When I lived in Manhattan long ago, I went for a short period to a dance studio because I wanted to become a good ballroom dancer. I was a whiz at learning the steps, but my gorgeous dance instructor would shake his head and say, “Eve, you’re not feeling the dance.”
I think that lots of the Zen training that I’ve done since then has been to feel the dance, to listen more deeply, bear witness, be more in congruence rather than in conflict. At the age of 72 you don’t want to waste your energy on fighting or banging on doors, you want to hear a call and answer.