THE BIGGEST ADDICTION

The Zen Peacemaker Order installed a second cohort yesterday at the end of a two-year program of study. The new members created their own personal plunges (sometimes known as bearing witness retreats), looking not only at the raw challenges of their own lives but those of other lives around them, and beginning or continuing the work that addresses those challenges and needs.

Folks from the US, England, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Australia and New Zealand all met on Zoom, and the Rule of the Order was recited in English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, and German. Given our different countries, the installation had to be done on Zoom, and the ceremony was directed by the new members, which I so prefer over top-down planning. It’s like we’re telling them: Okay, you’ve graduated; now get to it.

Part of the ceremony showed Bernie sitting next to the chanter Krishna Das. I knew the scene not just through the video clip but because I had been there in person, so I used the opportunity to take a good look at Bernie, re-remember the clothes he was wearing (jeans, blue jeans shirt, black suspenders with pink piggies on them), saw the gestures of scratching his nose or the inner side of his eye that I knew so well. Most visible of all to me, the expression on his face when he hears things he’s heard many times before and still stands by them, always stands by them.

I know that feeling that comes up when you’re older, when you hear things you’ve heard lots of times before, old memories and expressions. Are they still new? Are they still vital and alive? I spent 35 years with and around this man, 20 as his wife, 35 as a student. Know the feel of the beard, the crazy eyebrows.

A few veterans spoke, one of them a friend and peace activist from Israel. She’s lost allies and friends in both Israel and Gaza. She remembered first meeting Bernie and how he explained that for him, making peace is making whole. In the Hasidic tradition, the vessel of creation is smashed to pieces and it’s the role of the Tzaddik, or Bodhisattva, to bring the pieces back together again.

I’ve heard this so often, since 1996, that it’s become a part of me; I’m no longer aware of it. But every once in a while, I hear it anew. Maybe because this friend was so broken by what has happened in the Middle East. After bitter disappointments you can feel your vows almost tearing you apart. What whole, you want to scream. And yet, she said, you don’t give up even in the face of the sudden urgency to objectify people, stay away, affirm separateness rather than wholeness.

You don’t need to start drinking or do drugs; the most basic addiction of all is the addiction to the self, as Bernie himself so often said, and when the world falls apart, when your world falls apart, staying inside a hard, fortress-like self feels natural. You look away, you feel good blaming the world and proclaiming: Not in my lifetime, it’s finished, I’m done. Our most basic addiction is to the stories and constructs of our life, to a skin that covers up terror, fragility and the gnawing admission that life cannot and will never be just how we want it.

Protecting myself in that way is the most powerful addiction of all.

And we go on.

This morning, I got a text from my brother in Saudi Arabia (Saudi and Israel have no diplomatic relations but he, as a dual American-Israeli citizen, flew there). He was there to continue his talks with Muslim leaders. He wrote that he shared the hotel elevator with a young 15-year-old Saudi boy wearing a Ronaldo t-shirt. He asked my brother where he was from, my brother said: “You’ll never guess!” The boy said: “Italy, US, Ukraine, France, Spain.” My brother finally whispered: “Israel.” The young Saudi’s eyes opened wide, and he hurried out of the elevator at the very next floor.

After that, my housemate told me of one of her clients, a woman from Tennessee who is unhoused and living in her truck through this cold winter with a broken window. She has a dog with her and therefore can’t go into shelters, and do I know someone who could rent her a room for $500 a month. Rents here are so off the wall that working singles simply can’t afford them. I’m looking into it.

At 7:30 am a 15-person crew, all Latino and Latina, came to take down our 35-year-old roof and put in a new one. They finished by 1:30 in the afternoon, leaving the yard, the gardens, and the apple tree just as they found them, pristine. The two dogs freaked out from the horrific noise, and I took all of us to two good friends who housed us for half the day, including preparing a terrific lunch.

So many threads run through us all the time, our lives nothing but a fabric of those threads. They bring needs and wants, as well as gifts of kindness, humor and generosity, culminating, at 4 pm, with new members installed into an order of whole-makers, connecting, bridging and bonding across vast distances, and not giving up.

How fortunate I am in this life!

“Are they gone?” Aussie asks, looking fearfully as we drive down to the house.

“Who, Aussie?”

“The racketeers.”

“Who?”

“The racket-makers.”

She’s sleeping now after a long day of scary noises, peace and quiet restored. For now.

Next week we begin with the third cohort of some 44 people from various countries, and two years from now I hope to attend their installation, too.

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