ON TURNING 73

Last of our sweet pea leaves, moon above

Today is my 73rd birthday.

Yesterday we finished our winter retreat and I feel the results of it even now, sitting at the computer wearing a large, bright, red sweater. I got the sweater last summer on the island of Grand Manan. I went with Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald to visit their friends, who grow and sell food at their farm. I can’t remember their names, only that the woman made the best jam I ever tasted in my life and that she had hung up some used clothes for sale. I looked it over, picked up a red sweater, and asked how much it was.

“It’s free,” she said genially.

I brought it home and it’s keeping me warm this evening. Also reminding me of endless free gifts that I’ve received my entire life, especially when I finally learned to listen.

If I want to get depressed, all I have to do is glance back at my life and list the many times I was offered excellent advice and didn’t listen. The many friends and family members who made suggestions: take some writing workshops, take better care of money, buy yourself something nice, slow down, the man you’re dating isn’t behaving right—and I shrugged it all off. Why? Because I knew.

But I don’t get depressed anymore because I try to listen more deeply to advice, new ideas, and plain messages from the universe. Day after day I find that I’m getting answers to questions about work, teaching, writing, friends, dogs, and whatever arises. Before I also got terrific answers, only I didn’t listen.

One of the things that happens when you have a birthday in your 70s is this: Rather than thinking: It’s my birthday, my 73rd year, etc., even as you’re still learning, doing, and exploring new territories like a senior Huck Finn, you start seeing yourself as a function of history. You start seeing yourself as a function of lineage. It’s not about you anymore, it’s about what flows through you, what flowed through your parents and your grandparents, and what’s going out through your descendants, who aren’t just your children but also the people you’ve learned fro, and who have learned from you, be they students, friends, collaborators, co-workers, whatever. You start identifying the stream that runs through you, carrying a pinch of your own individual flavor.

Bernie knew this long ago. In the late 80s we began to build permanent supportive housing for homeless families. I can write books about all that, starting with the fact that at that time there were almost no permanent apartments being built with wrap-around services like child care, jobs, tenant support, after-school programs, etc. We had a hard time convincing state officials in Albany that this model was viable.

Finally, after a lot of setbacks, we put together the money to buy a run-down building that needed to be totally renovated, and one fine day Bernie, along with some seniors (I was not one of them), obtained the key to actually go inside and have a look at it. After so many years of work, this was an exciting development.

That evening, a Wednesday, was when he gave his weekly talk to the community. He sat down and said this: “As you know, today we went in for the first time to look at the inside of 68 Warburton. We unlocked the door and had to push it hard to get in. The floor was wet from where the rain had come in through the broken roof. There was a terra cotta staircase at the center leading to the upper floors, and at the bottom of the stairs lay a dead dog.

“This is what will happen. We’ll renovate 68 Warburton, create a childcare center on the ground floor and apartments for families on the upper floors. Then we’ll buy more buildings and do the same for them. We’ll develop after-school programs for teenagers and hire parents to work at the bakery and in construction of other projects, families will move out and we’ll bring in new ones. Some of you will leave and new students will come in. We’ll do this for a long time and then, as things go, we’ll either move on to other things, go to other parts of the country, or maybe die, and new people will take over.

“They will do wonderful things till they also change and move on. After a while the building will be sold, then sold again. The apartments will get run down and no one will renovate them. The roof will again start rotting and will let in the rain, and finally the Housing Authority will come in and condemn the building. The families who live there will leave, and one of them will leave their dog behind before locking the front door and the dog will die at the foot of the terra cotta steps. And that’s our life.”

Much later on I’d tease him that my favorite of all his talks was also the shortest.

Bernie kept his promises, and more. We did buy more buildings, we renovated them and brought more families in, we even built an AIDS center with care and housing, expanded the childcare and bakery, things he didn’t predict back then. But throughout it all he knew it wasn’t about him or us but rather a stream of energy where he and we were just the tiniest of wavelets, bubbles in the foam.

He accepted that fully; perhaps it even gave him some relief, knowing that nothing was all up to him. I know it gives me relief that nothing of any substance is really up to me. The Jewish sages said that your job is just to start, not to worry about how things end. Just do your part, be a bubble in the stream.

But this bubble needs support. I ask for support for my blog several times a year. I won’t kid you, tomorrow Jimena Pareja will be here. I told her that I’ll be leaving to visit my family, so we will review what’s needed for undocumented families before I go, including our annual Amazon list of Christmas gifts for children. The stream I talk about derives its power from infinite acts of goodness and generosity.

But this time I wish to ask for support for my blog. I use my blog to get help for others, but mostly to explore my own edges and calls, the dimensions of a bubble that goes here and there, bumps into rocks and fallen tree trunks, or else sparkles modestly in a shiny sun. And what I discover, I share with you.

If you can help, please use the button below, or else send a check to the address below. This past summer we lost the entire subscription base for the blog. Fixing that cost a lot of time and money, and we still lost some readers. But, like 68 Warburton, we renovated and built anew—and no dogs died.

“Where are you going?” Aussie asked me 5 days ago. ”Take me with you.”

“I took you to Washington DC for Thanksgiving,” I told her.

“That was then. Take me now.”

“I took you shopping at the dog supply store this afternoon, Aussie.”

“I want to go now. By the way, where are you going?”

“I’m going to a retreat, Aussie.”

“Forget about it.”

                                                     Donate to My Blog

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Thank you.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

ENLIGHTENMENT

Windhorse Hill

It’s Wednesday morning. Soon I will get into my car and go to the Windhorse Hill Retreat Center and start our annual winter Enlightenment Retreat, accompanied by my dear friend, Genro Gauntt, who will co-lead it with me.

In Zen we celebrate the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment on December 8, so practitioners all around the world participate in retreats at this time. I hear stories about small Japanese temples with lines of people sitting out in the snow. I remember starting these retreats at 4:00 in the morning and going on till 9:30 at night, often sitting even later; on December 8 some people sit all night, till dawn, the rise of the morning star that brought such transformation to Gautama. Our retreat will be more abridged, but still demanding.

By sit, I mean sitting meditation. Sitting on a cushion or a chair (lying down due to physical constraints is fine, too) and taking the backward step inwards. Who is this person? What is this life? Everything follows the schedule—sitting, eating, walking, chanting, listening to talks, doing face-to-face with teachers. We don’t worry, we don’t plan, we don’t consult our preferences, we just follow the schedule. Life gets real simple.

On the one hand, I’m aware that we’re just one small group amidst many others doing this at this time of year. On the other, I am aware that Windhorse Retreat Center sits right over the Connecticut River, smack in the middle of old, historic, torturous relations with the Native Americans who lived here—Nipmuc, Narragansett, Wampanoag, Pocumtuc—ranging from skirmishes to raids and kidnappings to full-fledged massacres.

We sit right on the route taken by William Turner’s soldiers who massacred some 250 Indians in what is now called Turners Falls and then retreated, only to find death at the hands of avenging warriors right below the hill.

We don’t sit to escape the world. We sit on land that has tasted too much blood, that has heard too many cries and absorbed too much pain. It’s right there under the cushion or the chair, I can feel it under my feet as I walk down the driveway towards the road.

I look forward to sitting in the middle of it all, to emptying the mind, finding my place in the middle of gray mornings and cold afternoons, the only hint of passing time the bells that ring the beginning and end of meditation sessions.

Next Monday will be my birthday, but even before that I will take to heart the words of the great Zen poet, Ryokan:

Looking back I see more than seventy years

   have already passed.

I am tired of seeing through right and wrong

   in the human world

Snow in the late night covers all traces

   of coming and going

A stick of incense burns by the old window.

I sit.

The blog will be silent till Monday.

                   Donate to My Blog                      Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

THE BUTCHERING OF DEER

Walt Whitman wrote: “After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains.”

I feel the truth of this almost every day, but especially with the turn of the seasons, and especially the turn from fall to winter and winter to spring. I filled our five birdfeeders for the first time before leaving for Thanksgiving—I couldn’t believe how expensive two 40-pound bags of sunflower seeds are now!—and within minutes the sparrows and chickadees were on it, not to mention juncos and woodpeckers. The squirrels will find them, too.

The fallen leaves are all gone, swept away by a 2-man crew Jimena recommended to me who worked very hard for the money. The outdoors table, chairs, and mats are in the shed at the mercy of mice that will keep them company all winter. And as soon as I returned home from the holiday, up from the basement came bright green and orange hunting vests which the dogs and I will put on in all walks till the end of the year. Not to hunt, but to keep from getting hunted.

This is the first week of shooting season. When Lori and I walked the dogs yesterday, there were so many gunshots that if I hadn’t put Aussie on leash, she’d have run back to the car (this despite the fact that, in theory, there isn’t supposed to be any hunting on Sundays in our state, or the Commonwealth, as it’s known by its more grandiose appellation).

Today I took the dogs to the Plains, a long north-south stretch of woods known for its old pine-scrub oaks. No shooting at all on Monday, but as we walked to the car 6 hunters in camo shirts and pants, wearing bright orange hats and vests, emerged one by one, big guns in their hands and a look of disappointment on their faces.

“Any luck?” I ask one, heavy-set with moustache and beard the color of his hunting vest.

“None,” he says.

“Aussie clearly sniffed a deer and rocketed after it, but I don’t think she found anything because she didn’t give her Me-Aussie-Big-Game-Hunter bark,” I told him.

I like talking to local hunters. They usually hunt for the meat, which is needed by many families around here.

On the weekend before I left for the holiday, I was invited to a community gathering around the butchering of two deer. Before I’d arrived, I was told, they had stretched the two deer carcasses on the grass, covering them with fall vegetation, and hunters and their families, including children and dogs, stood around them to thank them. The hunters spoke of what it is to hunt deer and their appreciation for this great gift. They hung the bodies and skinned them, then began to cut swabs of meat.

The children were completely into it. Teenagers learned how to comb layers of fat from the skins in order to prepare the skins for tanning. One young girl—couldn’t have been older than 10—was bending over the head of a deer on her lap.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“I’m cleaning out the fat behind the ears,” she told me matter-of-factly, so focused on her work she hardly bothered to look up.

Older kids were given sharp knives to cut the slabs of red meat into smaller portions, to be wrapped up and shared among a number of families. My mind went to the meat department of a supermarket, with its clean-cut fillets in white packaging, not a hint of the work that goes into those supermarket cuts.

The dogs and I didn’t stay long, but I was immensely grateful to the deer, the hunters, and their families. The deer hadn’t made a gift of their bodies, their lives had been taken from them without request or permission. But they were recognized and acknowledged, and their butchering became a ceremony and prayer of thanks.

Thoreau wrote: “The price of anything is the amount of life you pay for it.” The deer had paid the biggest price, their lives. The families around them were paying with cheerful labor, skinning, defatting, cutting, and cleaning. There was respect there: This is what it takes to have meat on our table.

The rest of us pick up packaged meats from the refrigerator or freezer sections of supermarkets and toss down our credit cards with the same alacrity as taking a hamburger out of its packaging and tossing it into a frying pan. But we, too, have used up a piece of our life in that transaction, only with far less awareness than the families who gathered around and thanked the two deer carcasses.

And that’s why I love living in nature so much. The arrival of winter makes the dance of life and death sharper and more visible. The hooting owls looking for prey, deer coming closer to habitations in March out of hunger, mice in our basement seeking warmth, the bare trees creaking in the merciless winds. So much going on undetected, underground; always, always the hard work to live, to survive. We may not be living on that edge ourselves, but we pay for everything we consume with pieces of our life, whether by growing and hunting for our own food or by filling a shopping cart in Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods or the local co-ops.

Rolling the fat off the deer skins

                         Donate to My Blog                     Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

LEAVING COMPUTER BEHIND

On Monday I prepared to travel to NYC to spend the night with friends, and then proceed the following morning to Takoma Park, Maryland, to spend the holiday with Bernie’s daughter, Alisa, and her wonderful family.

Long ago Bernie created a Travel List, one for him and one for me, an Excel sheet listing everything we need to take with us when we travel. First on the list was office items—computer, cable, hard disk, different phones, electrical adapters, etc.—followed by clothes and drugstore items—cosmetics, creams, shampoos, contact lens accessories, medications—and finally, at the end, study materials, teaching files, maps (eventually dropped in favor of GPS), gifts, you get the picture.

Over the years I’ve heard jokes about these lists, insinuations that only overly compulsive workers like us needed them. I don’t care. There isn’t a trip I’ve taken when I didn’t bless this list and am happy to share it with any overly compulsive reader who asks.

So, on Monday afternoon I packed a small valise with my clothes and a small backpack with computer, cable, and books. In New York I discovered that I left the backpack at home.

My first response was chagrin. Five days without a computer! That hadn’t happened since Genesis.

In the early 80s, my first computer had been a Compaq, a mobile version of their desktop which weighed about 40 pounds and which I actually took with me on various trips, including one long bus trip to Virginia. I couldn’t imagine being without one even then. And here I was, heading out for 5 days of digital desert.

The next thing I thought was: My blog! I’m limited in what I can do on my phone because my vision isn’t very good. How am I going to blog on Wednesday and Friday?

How am I going to report on cooking for Thanksgiving with my family, bringing a whole pile of Thanksgiving recipes I have been using for some 25 years? On seeing The Wizard of Oz in a special showing on a huge movie theater screen in Silver Springs? On warm walks with Aussie at Sligo Creek, bounding over fallen tree trunks or bending under half-fallen ones, Aussie beside herself with unfamiliar smells? On watching the movie Wonder with my grandson and doing some heavy talks with him on walks, e.g., what do you want for Chanukah?

On all the serious conferences and family meetings we had about what we’re going to eat (turkey and turkey and turkey) and what we’re going to snack on (apple pie and pumpkin pie and coconut cream pie and chocolate cream pie)? On the serious question that all 10-year-olds ask every single day away from school: What are we doing today?

I gritted my teeth. This is your practice, I told myself. If you were important enough, you might say that Heaven intervened in this way so that you wouldn’t check a few newspapers every day, monitor emails, or worry about what will happen to the world if it doesn’t hear from you.

Give thanks.

I did. I drove down to Maryland listening to a book-on-CD, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which wowed me. Found myself waking up in the mornings without the rush for reading newspapers (Argentina fell to Saudi Arabia in the World Cup!), without the need to get up to speed, know everything that’s meant to be known, learn everything needed to be learned. And while I’d have liked to blog about what it is to be with family in Thanksgiving, the nuances, the expectations rising and falling like tides, dynamics way more dynamic than I knew, the complex complexity of love—I couldn’t. Not for lack of time or will or energy, but for lack of computer.

“Did you do it on purpose?” my grandson asked me when I told him I left my computer at home.

“I didn’t,” I replied, “but maybe God did.”

                         Donate to My Blog                      Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

CONNECTING THE DOTS

My father and me when he turned 80.

Today I mark seven years since my father died. Last night I lit a Jewish memorial candle for him.

Bernie and I had been at the Auschwitz-Birkenau bearing witness retreat that year. Bernie himself would have a major stroke two months later, but who knew? The retreat ended Friday night and we were back in Krakow on Saturday afternoon. We had reservations to return home on the following day, but Lufthansa employees had gone on strike and we had to make alternative travel arrangements. I recall how several of us sat on the floor in the Saski Hotel corridor, computers open, trying out different routes and airlines. It took a few hours before we were finally able to reroute using two different airlines.

Exhausted, we went to bed. At midnight my brother called to tell me that my father, watching a soccer game on TV, had had a heart attack and died.

“Because the Israelis won?” I almost said. But I was shocked. My father had been 90 and still healthy; no one expected this.

More rerouting was needed. My brother made plane arrangements from Warsaw to Tel Aviv while I went downstairs, woke up the redoubtable Andrzej Krajewski, who has coordinated all our retreats in Poland, and asked for his help in making train arrangements to the Warsaw airport. At 4 am Bernie and I were on our way to Israel. My father was buried that very night in pouring rain in Jerusalem; we were there.

His body had already been shrouded, but before they took him up to the grave, they opened the shroud to show me his face. I looked and nodded, and they closed up the shroud once again.

It’s no coincidence, I mused last night, that his memorial takes place at the opening games of the World Cup. He wouldn’t miss a game. He loved football, as soccer is referred to the world over except in the US, but was prevented from playing it as a boy by his father, the village rabbi, who had very different ideas about what a rabbi’s son should do with his spare time.

This year my brother sent me a recording of my father singing a nigun, a religious melody, in his old, soft voice. Different communities of Jews, both Hasidic and non, developed their own nigunim and melodies over hundreds of years in East Europe, and if you went to visit a family on Friday evening you could often tell where they originally came from according to the melodies they used for singing Sabbath or holiday songs.

Shortly before he died, my father had a surprise visit from a Hasid he didn’t know. The Hasid lived far away and came to him because he saw my father, one of the last survivors of his village in northern Rumania, Stefanest, as a repository for the nigunim sung by Jews who’d lived in Stefanest for generations before being exiled by the Nazis.

He recorded my father singing them and that’s what my brother sent me by WhatsApp. I could hear my father’s voice, weaker than it had been but still clear and mellifluous, the Hasid joining in every once in a while in joyful fervor.

I listened and listened. What was I listening for?

My sorrow isn’t connected to the loss of my father but rather to the lack of sorrow. I mourn the absence of strong feeling, the absence of strong connection. In a way, I’ve envied people who have deep emotional bonds with parents after their death, who often evoke them and what they meant in their lives even if it brings tears. That’s not been my case. We spoke such different languages, he and I.

But when I was young, there was one language we did share. My father loved to sit at the head of the table and lead our family in Sabbath songs at Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch, his left hand rising and falling like an orchestra conductor’s measuring out the beat, and we’d sing with him. I had an immature soprano voice at the time and could provide harmony.

Looking back now, I realize the connection we had over the dining room table in those early years was perhaps our strongest. I loved those songs till I turned rebel, and things went downhill from there.

“You’re a Sagittarian,” people have told me “Sagittarians tell things as they are.”

I don’t know what telling things as they are means. I liked to be in his and others’ faces, flaunting my difference from him and the rest of the family. He had little patience for that, and finally I felt alienated from the very songs I once loved. Our connection broke down for years.

Last night, as I listened to him singing, I bore witness to the big differences between us, to how hard it was for me to relate to a father who deeply loved me but spoke such a different language. Like so many men, he had a hard time with feelings, but towards the end of his life there was no mistaking how much he cared; you couldn’t miss his big heart.

In a few weeks I’ll start teaching a module on History and Lineage to a Zen Peacemaker Order cohort, and that includes my personal lineage. But I don’t feel connected to it. Interesting how much more I feel connected to the Buddhist masters than I do to my own father.

On the rare occasions when I talk about my family history, how my father was a rabbi and the scion of a line of rabbis, while my uncle, his brother, married into a Hasidic family and his son, my cousin, heads the Boyan Hasidic sect, people say: “Wow, and you’re one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and your husband was Bernie Glassman. What a rich family tapestry you have!”

And I think: That’s true, but what happens when you can’t connect the dots?

                      Donate to My Blog                       Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

HOW TO GET RICH

“Henry, get off her desk!”

“Why, Aussie? I love jumping on the chair and then onto her desk.”

“Because that’s where She works! I’ve told you over and over again not to—”

“What’s the big deal, Aussie? Look at what’s here: A glass of water, a computer, a screen, computer cleaner, phone, files, notebooks, covid masks, hundreds of paper clips—”

“Don’t you see, Henry? When She dies all those things will be worth a fortune!”

“Paper clips? A black three-hole punch? Bookmarks?”

“All of them, Henry. Some famous writer called Joan Deadion died a while ago. They auctioned off all the things in her office and made gobs of money.”

“What’s money, Aussie?”

“Just think of enough freeze-dried venison and turkey treats to last your lifetime, Henry.”

“They sold all her things for treats?”

“For instance, that big red rubber band—DON’T TOUCH IT, HENRY!”

“Is it good to eat?”

“It’s terrible, but that won’t stop certain humans for paying $50 for it.”

That thing? It smells funny.”

“And the yellow lipstick that makes her look like a mummy? Another mummy will pay about $100 for that, they see it as the height of fashion.”

“What’s fashion, Aussie?”

“Something to do with fish. And you see the turquoise mask in the corner, the one she puts on when she has to go anywhere indoors?”

“The one full of her germs?”

“It’ll get us a year’s worth of steak dinners, Henry. WATCH THAT GLASS, YOU ALMOST TIPPED IT!”

“I just wanted a sip of water, Aussie.”

“Drink from your water bowl. Her glass of water, with the lipstick mark on the edge that never goes away because She’s too lazy to wash the glass, that, Henry, is worth a small fortune. This is how She hydrated herself, they’ll say. It was an essential ingredient of her life!”

“Aussie, water’s essential in everybody’s life.”

“But don’t you see, Henry, it was as she lifted the glass to her lips that she suddenly would pause, struck by a new idea for a story, a bearing witness retreat, a blog post, remembering she has to pee. That glass was essential to her creative process! Like her glasses. DON’T LICK THEM!”

“I’m trying to clean them, Aussie.”

“The dustier they are, the more steak dinners they’ll sell for. Dust makes them look antique, like Gandhi’s glasses.”

“Who’s—”

“And don’t even think of chewing on her pens. In fact, get some more pens out of the drawer and toss them around her desk. Humans think it shows how productive you are.”

“Wouldn’t they think She was just messy?”

“And look! Some pages from Engaged Buddhism in the West with notes on them!”

“Good, I need to poop.”

“Are you crazy? With notes on them! Notes in her handwriting. Let’s just hope the Smithsonian doesn’t take them, but if they don’t, we’ll sell them for a fortune.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, here could be the star of the auction. A vibrator!”

“That’s a hand sanitizer, dummy. But look here, a purple desk lamp from Target!. I can hear the auctioneer now: What am I bid for this purple desk lamp to enlighten your soul and transform your spirit? Starting bid is $5,000. I tell you, Henry, we’ll be rich!”

“Humans really pay for this junk, Aussie?”

“They did for Joan Deadion. So be careful, Henry. If we sell everything—including the vase with flowers and the blue book called New England Birds on the windowsill—we’ll be as rich as Elon Musk.”

“Who’s Elon—”

“Never mind, Henry.”

“There’s only one problem, Aussie.”

“I know what you’re going to say, Henry. She’s not famous. But don’t worry about that, soon I’ll convince her to write only about me and nothing else. She’ll go viral!”

“There’s another problem, Aussie.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s not dead.”

“Hmmm. I’ll figure something out.”

To all Aussie and Henry fans, I’m raising $1,500 for rent for a family that was evicted just before Thanksgiving and holiday food cards for 10 families. I tried selling my three-hole punch but it didn’t bring much. Neither did 2 pencils, 1 scotch tape, 2 staple removers, and Walgreen’s Rewetting Drops for Soft Contact Lens. If you could contribute to the fund for Immigrant families, please do so. Thank you.

                      Donate to My Blog                      Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

LONG DUSKS

A friend of mine commented yesterday on how long the dusk is getting now. Direct sunlight is getting shorter, but the dusks seem to stretch on and on.

“It’s a time of transition,” he said, “something I’m not crazy about.”

Who is crazy about transitions, with their accompanying sense of fuzziness and not knowing what’s going on? But perhaps the length of dusk at this time of year is an invitation to stay with it. A distant sun lingering at the horizon invites us to straddle the edge of light and darkness and accept how little we really understand, how little we know.

My Finnish friend, Mikko, who leads a Zen Peacemakers group in Finland, ordained to become a Zen priest last summer, and in the winter he asked me for a piece of fabric that he could include in his kesa. Kesas are robes sewn and worn by Zen priests or monks, based on the robes worn by Buddhist monks from time immemorial. In the Zen Peacemaker family, rather than making black kesas as is done in Japan, aspirants ask family, friends, teachers, and others with whom they have close relationships to give them a piece of fabric that they could sew as part of their kesa. It’s a way of honoring the big mandala of our practice, encompassing all relations.

The fabrics must be something we don’t use any longer, something we might throw away, much in the spirit of the old monks who, when they decided to follow the Buddha, went to the local dump in search of cloths that had been tossed away due to impurity.

People have asked me over the years for fabric belonging to Bernie as well as fabric belonging to me. I found a cotton duvet cover that didn’t fit any blanket here and that I had already cut up, so I cut a piece of that and sent it to Mikko.

He never got it. Months passed by, he emailed me, I emailed back and went to the post office with the tracking number, but the mail clerk couldn’t locate it. Mikko gave up and sewed his kesa without my fabric, telling me it’s probably on its way back to me.

He was right; I finally did get it back, but not till a few weeks ago. There was the familiar manila envelope in the mailbox, only completely taped across the surface, top to bottom, which certainly wasn’t how I sent it. It had all kinds of country stamps, too, including a Japanese customs stamp. It looked like it had gone everywhere in the world except Finland, and maybe off-planet as well. I didn’t open it—I usually don’t open mail till the weekend. After all, I recognized it, knew what it was, knew it was too late, there was no hurry.

In the weekend I finally opened the envelope. Out came the fabric I’d sent Mikko in its thin plastic bag, along with the card that accompanied it. But something else fell out, too, a small, light blue, velvet bag with drawstrings. I opened it up and out tumbled a gold wedding ring.

I stared at it, went upstairs. “Lori,” I said to my housemate, “Is this gold? It sure is heavy.”

Lori looked it over, weighed it in the palm of her hand. “Looks like gold to me,” she said.

But it wasn’t gold, the words tungsten carbide were scratched on the inside. Wiki immediately informed me that tungsten wedding rings, cheaper than gold, are very heavy.

I emailed Mikko. “Did we get married and I forgot?”

Mikko, who has a wife and son, emailed back: “Maybe the fabric you sent got married.”

Over the next few days, I stared at the wedding ring and the blue velvet bag. It certainly wasn’t my wedding ring, Bernie and I both wore double rings made of two linked stainless-steel circles that cost $25 per ring. What was this wedding ring doing in the manila envelope? Who put it there and then taped it all up?

I mused about the Japanese customs stamp affixed to the envelope. Bernie often told me that when he had trained in Zen in its early years in this country, his teacher had ambivalence towards marriage. His students wanted to ordain but they weren’t celibate, they weren’t monks. He wanted them to dedicate themselves to the dharma, but they were still getting married.

Here I’d sent fabric for someone’s ordination robe in Finland, which never arrived at its destination, seemed to go all over the world including Japan, and returned to my hands nine months later with a wedding ring inside a small velvet jewelry bag.

This happened close to Bernie’s 4th memorial, and I told his daughter what happened. “Maybe it’s from Dad,” she said on the phone. Then she added brightly: “Or maybe it means you’re going to get married again.”

So, what is it? Is it from the past? Is Bernie sending me jewelry, which he never did during his lifetime? But he might have changed, given that he’s currently in a different realm of existence.

Or is it from the future?

Slowly, slowly the sun sinks over the horizon. Long, long dusk connecting today with tomorrow.

                     Donate to My Blog                 Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

KEEPING WINDOWS OPEN

I often think about this age of pandemic and what it has done to us, as individuals and as a society.

I talked to a friend today, who reminded me of our double wiring. On the one hand, we want to be in connection with another; on the other hand, we’re afraid of the other.

We’ve been afraid of others from the beginning; we see them as competitors for food, water, territory, and the opportunity to procreate. We’re most afraid of those who don’t look like us, who have different histories, come from different places, and don’t speak our language.

At the same time, we need to connect, to open the doors wide, let fresh air in, listen to people’s different takes on reality, new stories, new ideas. We need to be with other human beings; we are, more or less, social animals.

The pandemic brought on not just more isolation, but also more insulation. Zoom calls notwithstanding, if I am working at home rather than in the office or in the classroom with other people, it does different things to my brain. It may increase my sense of self-sufficiency: Wow, look at what I can do all by myself! Maybe I don’t need other people as much as I thought. I’m not disturbed as much, I don’t have to listen to stories about someone’s weekend, I’m much more productive.

But the pandemic has also increased that old fear of the other. At the height of covid, each encounter with another human being represented a serious health hazard. People looked at each other up and down: Is he wearing a mask? Does she look sick? Is he coughing? STAY SIX FEET APART! No, that’s not enough—TWELVE, EIGHTEEN!

I remember flying to South Dakota in February 2020 for our annual weekend with Lakota elders to prepare for the summer retreat at the Black Hills. News about the pandemic was filtering in slowly, but official government alarms were still low-key and even reassuring. On the small plane to Rapid City, a woman boarded and sat next to me. Immediately she took out a large package of wipes and wiped down the table, armrests, her seat, and even the window. She barely made eye contact with me, but when she did, she looked at me as if I was the enemy.

It reminds me a little of walking on the streets of Jerusalem when suicide bombings were a regular occurrence and staring at people’s torsos to see whether they might be wearing a suicide belt under their jackets. The fear was palpable, both in me and in others. Your entire system gets affected.

I feel the pandemic reinforced the old paranoia that is part of our evolution, the sense that others represented a threat to my wellbeing even as a deep yearning for connection remained unfulfilled. Our brains are malleable and change with our experience. I wonder whether the brain cells related to vigilance, danger, and threat have increased in number and strength, firing a lot quicker and stronger than the cells related to connection, trust, and empathy.

If that’s the case, how easily do we get afraid? How quickly do we feel victimized and threatened?

And if I work in the cracks of society, as Bernie wanted people to do, if my vow is to care for all beings and especially those who fall through the wide cracks of our social fabric, I am purposely placing myself in the realms of want, loss, and struggle. How do I prevent the brain cells related to fear and victimology from taking over my life? How do all of us, working under the strain of a pandemic and inflammatory media, stop blaming and labeling, stop seeing hate and enmity wherever we turn, and take care of our minds and heart?

The autumn leaves framing the blue arched trestle in front of the house are still gorgeous, but snow arrives tonight. A freezing winter has finally begun here in New England, but I must keep some windows open, if only a crack.

                        Donate to My Blog                     Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

HOW TO TRAIN HUMANS

 

“Pssst, Henry, don’t look now, but guess what?”

“What?”

“She’s got freeze-dried beef liver treats in her bag today. That means pure liver, nothing else.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, what a walk this is going to be!”

“So, this is what we’re going to do, Henry. We take turns, see? Every three minutes one of us hangs back and gives her the I’m-starving pleading look.”

“I know how to do that, Aussie, chihuahuas have the biggest eyes. I’ll get those liver treats, I promise.”

“No, no, Henry, this is not about liver. It’s about training. We have to train our human.”

“It’s not about liver?”

“Liver is just a pretext, Henry, it’s not that important.”

“What’s more important than liver, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than liver, Henry, and humans must be trained. So, we take turns walking back and giving her the look. At first, she’ll say, ‘No, no, we’re walking now.’ So you take a few steps forward, then I go back. And she’ll say ‘No, no, let’s walk,’ and I move forward while you go back, see?”

“Not really. When do I walk, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than walking.”

“When do I start racing after chipmunks? When do I smell Priscilla’s Poodle pee under the forsythia?”

“Henry, training is way more important than those things. If we don’t train Eve, she’ll get herself into trouble. So you come back with The Look, move forward, then I come back with The Look, and finally she’ll give us liver treats. And we keep on coming back, see?”

“But I want to walk, Aussie.”

“These things take patience and practice, Henry, so you have to sacrifice. We have way more patience than humans. Pretty soon she’ll get disgusted and find it’s much easier to constantly give us the liver treats.”

“We win!”

“It’s not about winning, Henry, it’s always, always about training. It doesn’t matter who gets the liver, what matters is that the human gets trained. Same thing with the sofa.”

“What sofa, Aussie?”

“When I first arrived at the house, I right away jumped on the living room sofa. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again-“

“How long did it take till she stopped telling you to get off?”

“About two weeks. Did I like to go up and down and up and down day after day? Of course not, but now the sofa’s mine. You see, Henry, she thinks she has power, but inside she knows she’s a wimp. Whereas each time we win, we develop our power and our confidence. In the end, we control the day, Henry.”

“We do?”

“Just look at our day, Henry, it’s one big treat. We have breakfast, then our morning walk with lots of treats, come back to the car safely, treats, go to the bank, bank treats—”

“Those aren’t so good, Aussie.”

“We got to train her to change banks, Henry. Come back, more treats, take a little nap, walk, more treats, then dinner. Isn’t that the best? But it takes training. After all, Henry, humans live in our world and we can’t expect them to figure things out. For one thing, they can’t communicate.”

“Because they don’t have a tail, Aussie?”

“Precisely. They don’t understand each other, never mind us. This could result in danger, Henry. Humans could get hurt.”

“Don’t they know about porcupines?”

“It’s up to us to watch out for their safety and security. It’s up to us to take care of them. And how do we do that, Henry?”

“Training!”

“Pssst, Henry, don’t look now, but guess what?”

“What?”

“She’s got freeze-dried beef liver treats in her bag today. That means pure liver.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, what a walk this is going to be!”

“So this is what we’re going to do, Henry. We take turns, see? Every three minutes one of us hangs back and gives her the I’m-starving pleading look.”

“I know how to do that, Aussie, chihuahuas have the biggest eyes. I’ll get those liver treats, I promise.”

“No, no, Henry, this is not about liver. It’s about training. We have to train our human.”

“It’s not about liver?”

“Liver is just a pretext, Henry, it’s not that important.”

“What’s more important than liver, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than liver, Henry, and humans must be trained. So we take turns walking back and giving her The Look. At first, she’ll say, ‘No, no, we’re walking now.’ So you take a few steps forward, then I go back. And she’ll say ‘No, no, let’s walk,’ and I move forward while you go back, and we do that over and over again, see?”

“When do I walk, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than walking.”

“When do I start racing after chipmunks? When do I smell Priscilla’s Poodle pee under the forsythia?”

“Henry, training is way more important than those things. If we don’t train Eve, she’ll get herself into trouble. So you come back with The Look, move forward, then I come back with The Look, and finally she’ll give us liver treats. And we keep on coming back, see?”

“But I want to walk, Aussie.”

“These things take patience and practice, Henry. We have way more patience than humans. Pretty soon she’ll get disgusted and find it’s much easier to constantly give us the liver treats.”

“And we win!”

“It’s not about winning, Henry, it’s always, always about training. It doesn’t matter who gets the liver, what matters is that the human gets trained. Same thing with the sofa.”

“The sofa?”

“When I first arrived at the house, I right away jumped on the living room sofa. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again–“

“How long did it take till she stopped telling you to get off?”

“About two weeks. Did I like to go up and down and up and down day after day? Of course not, but now the sofa’s mine. You see, Henry, she thinks she has power, but inside she knows she’s a wimp. Whereas each time we win, we develop our power and our confidence. In the end, we control the day, Henry.”

“We do?”

“Just look at our day, Henry, it’s one big treat. We have breakfast, then our morning walk with lots of treats, come back to the car safely, treats, go to the bank, bank treats—”

“Those aren’t so good, Aussie.”

“We got to train her to change banks, Henry. Come back, more treats, take a little nap, walk, more treats, then dinner. Isn’t that the best? But it takes training. After all, Henry, humans live in our world and we can’t expect them to figure things out. For one thing, they can’t communicate.”

“Because they don’t have a tail, Aussie?”

“Precisely. They don’t understand each other, never mind us. This could result in danger, Henry. Humans could get hurt.”

“Don’t they know about porcupines?”

“It’s up to us to watch out for their safety and security. It’s up to us to take care of them. And how do we do that, Henry?”

“Training!”

                          Donate to My Blog                       Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.

BEARING WITNESS

 

Photo by Suzanne Webber

I my last post I wrote about last Saturday, which I spent bearing witness to the repatriation of artifacts belonging to those who were massacred at Wounded Knee, housed for so many years in a small private museum in Barre, MA, to their Lakota descendants. I also wanted to support Violet Catches, a Cheyenne River elder who has been an important part of the Zen Peacemakers’ retreats at the Black Hills and is also a descendant of survivors of Wounded Knee.

The day’s event in the local school was beautiful, but what happened that evening was unforgettable. A few of us returned to the museum after dinner to bear witness to the taking out of the artifacts and packing up the first van, driven from South Dakota by Cedric, a descendant of Chief Big Foot, who was starting home that very night.

We stood by the door and waited, speaking in low tones or staying quiet. Someone burned sage and smudged the van inside and out, and we were asked not to take photos. The first long, white, rectangular box was carefully brought out by two people. Violet alternated between weeping and singing; another Oglala elder prayed aloud. Tenderly, they pushed the box in as deep as it would go.

I knew as clear as daylight that the boxes did not contain things. They were not just articles of clothing or footwear or ceremony. We weren’t bearing witness to ancient artifacts but to presence, one big presence, deeply alive.

I think of the many times I’ve visited and revisited areas or situations of catastrophe. People back home don’t get it. Why go back there again and again? What is there for you? Those events happened long ago, people were murdered, they’re dead, it’s over.

It’s not over. If we’re all interdependent, then somewhere we carry the hurt that others feel whether we know it or not, regardless of whether that hurt happened to Lakota Indians or Jews or Gypsies or Tutsis. They are more directly hurt, but the pain is in all of us.

Only we have to be there in person. When they were taking the white boxes out that Saturday evening, I felt the same quandary I’ve felt after being in our retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Rwanda, the Black Hills, on the streets. How do I explain to people back home about what I experienced there? How do I explain that there’s something vital and alive even in the middle of tragedy that you can’t locate in history books or newspaper articles? You lock eyes with those who hurt, listen to prayers and songs in a language you don’t understand, and share people’s deep sadness with respect—and also with humility, because you’re not them, it wasn’t your family, it wasn’t your nation, you’re just bearing witness, nothing more. And I don’t think you can do that reading something about it or watching a screen.

Some call this healing, but as I wrote earlier, one of my reservations about healing is that it sounds like some final, permanent state: I was broken, now I’m healed: I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see. It’s a great song but I don’t believe it. My experience is that we break apart and come together, break again and come together again, opening ourselves to more and more of life. In the process we’re challenged to change and grow and let life use us at will.

Earlier today I was in Hadley, some 25 minutes away, and as I turned right to go east on Route 9, I saw an elderly woman carrying bags right at the corner. She had paused to put them down and I had but half a second to see her before I turned. Instantly I regretted not stopping, asking her if she needed a lift somewhere. I know, it was too fast and there was nowhere to stop, and this is not about being right or wrong, compassionate or not. This is about an opportunity that I missed to be face-to-face. She may have needed help or a lift or not, it doesn’t matter. In evading the encounter, I missed a piece of my life.

On Saturday people came together, Native Indians and non, elders and young, and acknowledged publicly that a great wrong had been committed many years ago. We can’t right that wrong, but the energy of public acknowledgment and confession, accompanied by grace and love, started changing things.

I drove home and thought of my 2 aunts, 1 uncle and a cousin—a baby—who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau so many years ago. They were more alive to me during that night drive home than they’d been in a very long time. Their bodies, too, were looted, their possessions put in warehouses the inmates called Canada because Canada represented ease and wealth. The Canada warehouses were bombed by the Nazis before the camps’ liberation to hide the evidence of their crimes, so those possessions won’t be coming home in any white, rectangular boxes.

Where are you now, I asked them while driving down the dark country roads. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about things I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

                   Donate to My Blog                       Donate to Immigrant Families

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.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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.