I’m writing this at Newark Airport, waiting for my El Al flight to Israel. El Al is the only airline flying there. If it’s anything like the last time I flew out of Israel when rockets came in, the plane will probably arrive in Israeli airspace further to the north than usual, then fly south and east to land in the airport immediately, rather than circling around as it usually does, all to minimize its time in the air.
But just in case I get too complacent in New Jersey, I was just kicked off the third floor because of “an emergency situation,” as the police said as they ushered us out of there. What emergency, nobody knows, but a Canadian fellow passenger informed me that there are lots of police with machine guns downstairs.
OMG, you’re not safe! someone may exclaim. Unlike many people of the younger generation, I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as safe space and therefore don’t believe anyone owes me that.
Several months ago, a member of the Zen Peacemaker Order from another country shared that what most surprised her when she came to live in the US was how scared people were here. She told the rest of us: “Here you are, living in one of the safest countries in the world, and people here are afraid all the time.”
We’re not so safe here if we’re not white, I thought to myself then. But she had a point. When there’s a fire, we can count on fire engines rushing over, loud sirens everywhere. Electricity works, water works, town administration works. FEMA tries to work. There are lots of other places that can’t count on any of that, so why are we so afraid here?
We finished our Zen retreat on Sunday. I also gave dharma transmission, recognizing two new teachers of the dharma. I can’t remember when I last felt so happy. I love my students, love my dharma successors. They have taken vows to perpetuate the Buddha’s teachings on giving no fear. How resonant that is for me now. As someone said to them, “You could have taken vows to Amazon.” Not these two.
For me, at least, there was a sense of milestone. I may or may not do more Zen retreats; if I will it will be jointly with others. I remember that when Bernie reached 70, he wouldn’t do a rigorous Zen retreat unless it was with others, especially me, and even then, by 6 in the evening he’d say, “I’m out of here.”
“What about the evening schedule?” I’d ask.
“Too tired,” he’d say. Instead of a retreat meal, he’d take himself out for pizza, and when I’d come home late, he’d be in bed, watching TV. “How was the evening?” he’d ask, yawning.
This last weekend I discovered what he meant. No, not pizza, just that I can’t muscle through the way I used to in the past, when I could see a long line of things to get done and I could call on reserves of energy and resilience and push through.
What I want to do in Israel is shut up and listen. Not an easy task for me. People in Israel, including my family, have gone through trauma and continue to feel the shock of what has unfolded, beginning on October 7. I have two nephews fighting in Gaza.
A psychiatrist friend said, “When people go through trauma, it’s hard for them to hear anything else, including that there’s tremendous suffering on the other side. When you say something like that, it feels to them as though you are invalidating their experience.” I’ve seen proof of that over and over again and I know my job. Just listen, listen, listen.
Of course, there are people who also hold other narratives and with whom I can be more transparent, sharing our joint horror at what is happening not just in Israel but also in the West Bank and Gaza. My brother has said he’ll take me to the West Bank to meet with some Muslim associates.
Even as I am so glad to be with my blood family, I am also very happy to be with my dharma family—not Buddhists—but dharma in the widest sense, that we’re all one body and that the ties connecting us are way bigger than the differences and the conflicts. There are Israeli activists and Palestinian activists, Muslim and Christian, who work for this even now, and I love them deeply, deeper now than ever before. I hope to write about them in the next couple of weeks, till I return home on December 26.
Thank you all very much for buying out our list of Christmas gifts for immigrant children. I hope to get photos of the wrapped gifts from Jimena and will post them.
There seems to be so much to do, right? But my heart is full of love for the people I sat with in the retreat and for the people I will spend time with in Israel. Last night Henry put Llama Louie on my lap.
“Not now, Henry.”
“Listen to what Llama Louie says,” says Henry.
“May all beings be happy,” says Llama Louie.