ENDLESS RIVER

I spent 35 years as Bernie’s student, including the 20 we were a couple.

In that last stage, I had two different relationships to engage in, two different roles. Our biggest challenges came out of our life as a couple, two human beings working out how to live together under the same roof, with different opinions, wants, and needs. In that connection I think of what my friend Jeff Bridges, who’s looking forward to 50 years of marriage to his wife, Sue, said to me the other day: “Eve, you can be right, or you can be married.”

As usual, I nodded to myself and thought: Now why did it take me so long to learn that?

But there was no question about the teacher/student relationship. While I knew that there were things Bernie learned from me, in our day-to-day life together I never forgot that he was a Zen master. I watched him, listened to him (even while occasionally disagreeing), and reflected on his actions. It was an opportunity I didn’t squander.

There was always so much to learn from how he lived day to day: his jauntiness (reflected in the insouciance with which he wore his beret), his wild-eyed optimism, the way he blinked and moved his eyebrows up and down a la Groucho, all the while puffing on his cigar, the way he’d suddenly grow quiet and go to a place only he could see, though he left plenty of crumbs, big and small, for others to follow. In those last years, his radical acceptance of everything life threw his way.

I think of his morning routine for so many years, up at 3 or 4 in the morning, working till 6, taking a bath for an hour punctually at 6 (which included meditation), and by 7:30 he’d be dressed and going downstairs for that first car ride with cigar and Stanley the dog. The day-to-day discipline, sharp, undeterred focus, combined with his love of jokes.

After his bath, he’d come back to the bedroom, his hair like the Bride of Frankenstein’s, and say: “Eve, what do you think of my hair?” I’d give an appreciative scream.

But what I find myself remembering most of all is his deep faith. In what? In life, in dharma, the oneness of everything. I think of it especially now, when many of us get gloomy and pessimistic though we’re not in danger of life, limb, or lack of resources. Maybe it’s the cloudy skies or the bare tree branches, an ache around the left shoulder or too many headlines screaming Trump’s vision for this country, which to me evokes death more and more.

 It’s not that Bernie talked about faith, his entire demeanor expressed it. If you got too serious about something, he’d make a joke (Israel-Palestine being the only exception). If you were down he’d sing Bill Withers’ Moanin’ and Groanin’, or he’d turn Jewish and say oy! oy! oy!, but with such cheer it sounded more like the Australian cheer: Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi! when their teams play.

It’s like he knew something, though he’d qualify everything in his later years with: That’s just my opinion, man. Of course, he was completely at home in the present moment, but he also seemed to be seeing and hearing something else. Naturally, he loved the theory of multiple universes. Everything had a reason, and everything became a reason for something else, and it was the way the world worked. There was nothing wrong with it, even when great harm was done and suffered by various beings.

If he’d been a theist, he might have said that God doesn’t make mistakes, that nothing and no one is a mistake—and now, he’d add in his practical engineer’s voice, what do you do? How do you work with it skillfully?

Bemoaning life was not wrong, it was just a waste of energy. Over 35 years I’ve absorbed some of that, though without his natural buoyancy. He had his really dark moments, but he was not a depressive.

Some people wish they could see around the corner to the future; to Bernie, the future was right here. He loved computers, he was sure the Internet would help everyone experience our interconnectedness, and at the same time, when asked, he’d refer to the old sage: Nothing’s new under the sun.

Among all the grimy details and headlines that pile up, he discerned something (some may call it no-thing) that he knew intimately, with every ounce of his being (even as he’d say it was just an opinion), life vast and changing. Not the life as opposed to old age, illness, or death, much bigger than that. He was in joyful service to it all the time, even after half his body was paralyzed.

Drop off the body; the river of the world will never end.

Stately and grand: Nothing to show but the inner master.

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