BEGINNER’S HEART

Tomorrow, July 14, is Bastille Day. Nine days ago was July 4. Both days are seen in much of the world as commemorating uprisings for independence and equality. I didn’t write about July 4, though I lit incense in honor of the vision, regardless of the shortcomings in implementation.

I once went to an evening with a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism. He recounted how, when he arrived in the New York airport, he was welcomed by the passport control agent:

“Welcome to the United States!” the man had boomed.

Recounting this, the teacher said: “A big grin came over my face and I said—‘Why, thank you!’” He looked around at the rest of us—the usual New York progressive crowd, some wearing a smirk on their faces–and shook his head. “You are so cynical,” he observed.

I often think of that. I think of the irony that overwhelms our humor, the nasty ripostes, the need to undermine hope and optimism with some derisive comment.

The classic Zen challenge for daily practice is: Can you start each day, each moment, with a beginner’s mind, a mind that isn’t certain of its truths or knowledge, a wide open, curious, unattached mind?

I face another challenge, and that is: Can I start each day with a beginner’s heart? A heart that lets itself, time and time again, be touched by the joy and suffering of the world, a heart that never says enough, that doesn’t close up (Yeah yeah, been there, done that), that doesn’t say: That flag may mean something to them, but to me—naaah! Not a know-it-all heart, not a heart gloating in its truths and superiority. A simple heart.

I think of simple hearts when I meet immigrant men and women who hurry over to pick up food cards after a long, tiring day working in heat and humidity in the fields for very low wages. Their gratitude overwhelms me because it’s so deep and unaffected. It doesn’t just reflect their need—which is very large—it also reflects amazement that people want to help. And not people from social agencies or even the church, but people they don’t even know. In their wide open eyes you read the message: It’s a miracle.

This country is still a miracle for them. What I read in their eyes is: It’s okay for you to pooh-pooh this place, it’s okay for you to remember time and time again its terrible failures, including its terrible failures with us. But this is still the place where we want to raise our families. This is still the place which gave us i-Pads and helped us hook up with WiFi so that our children could do distance learning. That buys us sewing machines so that we could make a little extra.

If the rents are high (and they are), we double up. If we can’t afford a car, we give each other rides. They are immensely grateful for everything, and it makes me grateful for them, for how we could come together if only once a week, in how they’ve given me the incentive to learn Spanish, in the grateful, simple heart I take back with me when I drive home. In the freshly-picked vegetables they give me (above).

They find joy here, and give it back. Occasionally I go swimming at 6 pm in nearby Lake Wyola. By then most families are gone home for supper so parking is easy. Many New England families are there in the day, but by 6 pm it’s changed. I arrive to hear small children babbling in Spanish in the water, the teenagers screeching as they fall out of kayaks, families and friends sitting together in large groups preparing barbecues, salsa music playing. It’s a welcome change to the Puritan culture one still sees here in New England. They radiate joy to me, and often it’s warmer than the water I am going into. They’ll be there till dark.

It’s not all fun and games. A month ago I’d visited with Jimena a woman who’d just given birth and gave her a small cash gift to celebrate. A few days ago Jimena told me she needs cash to give the mother for rent because she’s about to be evicted.

“I talked to the landlord,” she tells me, “I told him she couldn’t work, she just gave birth. But she’s behind at least two months, so he served her with eviction papers.”

’”Can he do that in these times of covid?”

Jimena thinks there’s some protection—every time any of these families have trouble with landlords, lack of medical care, schools, etc., they call her—but they try to take advantage of families who have no papers. “They don’t think anyone will complain.”

I gave her some cash which she thought he’d accept as a temporary offering, and told her to tell me if she needs more. She will soon, it’s just a matter of time.

Bernie’s daughter, Alisa, works very hard with her organization, VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement), to persuade the governor of Virginia to extend the moratorium on evictions that they had persuaded him to issue during June for a few more months. She tells me that even as she labors for hours each day, she is aware that hundreds of families are being evicted now; soon it will be thousands.

“Does her husband work?” I asked Jimena.

“Her husband was deported,” Jimena said. He’d been stopped by the police, detained, and flown right out of the country. “It’s very bad,” she said, “they don’t know if they’ll see him again.”

“It was bad under Obama, too,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but back then, if they stopped you, they always gave you a hearing and you could see your family. Now you don’t even get a hearing, you get deported right away, so every time you go out the door you don’t know what may happen, you may not see your family again.”

It’s not all Trump, it’s not all ICE, it’s life too. A handsome young man (I always have eyes for them) comes by for a food card and we have a charming conversation. Jimena tells me he’s a single father to one child; his wife left the family for someone else. “Can you imagine that?” she huffs indignantly. “Leaving your family! How can anyone do that?”

Immigrant families aren’t upright martyrs victimized by prosperous Norte-Americanos. They hurt themselves, they betray each other, they love and hate, they’re human beings just like us. Life happens to them as it happens to us, only they have much fewer protections than we do, less layers to insulate them from the struggles of life and love.

But when they’re down by the lake they’re happy, and so am I as I go into the water that’s been warmed all afternoon by the sun. They give me that. Covid reigns in Massachusetts, we can’t sit together, we give air hugs. And still it’s summer. Still the flowers get rain in the evening and children smile in their dreams at night.

Don’t be cynical.

Please help out immigrant families. You could hit the Donate button which will take you to PayPal, and make sure to write in the note: Food cards. Or else send a check to me and write on the memo line: Food cards. Send it to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351.

 

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GOODBYE TO HARRY

I packed 15 boxes to ship to San Francisco, taped them shut, and UPS agreed to transport them by ground. A friend agreed to take them up from the basement, load them on his truck, and bring them to UPS.

Almost 3 hours later, we were back. We’d gone to two different UPS shipping places, were told the tracking numbers didn’t work, the boxing didn’t work, the distribution centers didn’t work. My poor friend loaded and unloaded the heavy boxes again and again, and finally, racing against rain, we got home and the boxes went into the garage.

Before he left, my friend shook his head and said, “It’s hard to get rid of Bernie, isn’t it?”

“Very hard,” I laughed.

So, we will re-tape everything from scratch, re-do the shipments, get the right preprinted labels, tape those on, etc. Call UPS for pick-up from home, cross our fingers, hope for the best, and I know the truth: Bernie will leave when he’s ready. Or rather, when I’m ready.

He was ready to leave when he died. “I’m so much trouble for you,” were his last words to me. But am I ready? There’s the rub. That’s why, while I dislike going through boxes, records and photos, and though I certainly did not like the runaround with UPS in humid heat, thunderstorms threatening, I feel mostly relaxed. I know it’s part of a process not completely up to me, taking as long as it has to take; UPS is but its agent.

Today, I let go of someone else, and that’s my dog, Harry. Harry didn’t die, he simply found (with my help) a beautiful couple to take him home not too far from here.

I’ve raised Harry for a year-and-a-half. I picked him up from a Vermont shelter in January 2019, two months after Bernie died, not the best timing in the world. He was an untrained, very young mountain cur from Mississippi. Harry learned to stop peeing in the house, stop pulling on the leash, stop jumping on people by the front door (well, almost), stop jumping on me when I’m about to feed him, and stop stealing food from Aussie.

When he came here, he was a desperately hungry dog with no manners and no sense of pack or family dynamics, intelligent, soulful eyes that still wore a dazed look I’ve seen in other unsocialized dogs. He learned a lot in a year and a half:

How to ride in a car (he wouldn’t get in one for about a month), screaming in my ear to open the window completely so he could stick his head out.

How to walk on a plank bridge and not be left behind.

How to splash in the water, and

Finally, this summer, he learned to swim laps.

Trouble was, from Aussie he learned how to run away. At home the two of them were terrific, quiet and relaxed. But on walks they became a pack that left me behind, unwilling to obey and come. I trained Aussie separately and had good success, but I couldn’t integrate Harry. Once he joined, the pack was back.

There were two options: Take them on leash on the road for the rest of our lives together, which was going to get harder as I grew older, or let go of one and train the other to walk off-leash with me, as I had done with Aussie.

“Isn’t it better to take them on leash to letting one go?” a friend asked. My answer to him was no, I need to be grounded, not tethered. I need my walks in the woods, which I can’t do holding on to two dogs, I need to meander among the trees deep in thought or else watching the grouse overhead and following owl calls. I need to relax on those walks, not forever focus on dogs, not get anxious if they escape and wonder nervously if this time, they‘ll stay gone, or else get hurt.

I placed an ad in the paper and got literally a dozen calls over some 24 hours, in other words, the pick of the litter. I met a lovely and warm couple, with a house in the country as well, who took to Harry right away. I have every confidence they’ll give him the love and attention he needs. I packed a bag of Harry’s toys, including Indestructible Porky (who remains indestructible), medical records, dog food, and even a marrow bone. I also made it clear that if for any reason Harry wasn’t a good match for them, they could give him back to me immediately, no questions asked.

I’ll miss him, and at the same time, I’m glad. Without Harry, without boxes, without pictures and books and corporate files, I feel lighter on my feet even if I don’t know where I’m going.

I wonder if Aussie will miss him. I gave her a marrow bone when he left, which she considered a fair exchange.

“Are you sending him to San Francisco in one of those boxes?” she asked.

“Of course not. He left with that nice couple.”

“If they give him steak, salmon and hot dogs, I’ll join him. In fact, I think you should leave Harry and me here and find somebody who’ll take you.”

“Good idea, Aussie.”

“Good luck finding them.”

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BOXES-2

My mother turned 92 today. I called her.

“How are you?” she asks.

“t’s crazy around here, what with covid,” I tell her.

“I don’t want to hear it anymore,” says she.

“Huh?”

“And stop saying crazy, Chavale. Try to put away the word crazy and say something else.”

“You mean, something more precise?”

“Yes,” she says uncertainly, voice fading a bit. “Something like that.”

My brother likes to say that precision is a spiritual practice. You can be lazy and say it’s all crazy, or you can really pay attention. So I got more spiritual with my mother:

  1. The streets continue to be fairly empty, lots of parking spaces available, and the traffic lights seem to blink for their own entertainment.
  2. All you have to do when you go out is put on a little eye make-up because no one can see the rest of your face anyway.
  3. I’ve gotten more sensitive to the smile and laughter wrinkles around people’s eyes.
  4. I’ve started seeing black masks, which I didn’t see earlier, and more masks with logos.
  5. I say a heartfelt “Thank you, stay well” to store staff that serve me because I know they’re more exposed than I am.
  6. I once hated the phone, but now I appreciate every single call that comes in.
  7. When the Green River Zen group meets on Zoom I notice people’s small squares of home, humbly reminding me that even as we meditate, meet, and talk as one, each one has a personal life, personal challenges, personal practice.
  8. I notice when people sit in the dark so that you can barely see their faces and when they choose to sit in the light.
  9. I love seeing couples sharing that same little square.

“Finally, mom, I’ll tell you a little secret. You’re ready? I hugged and was hugged by two different people. Don’t tell anybody.”

“I want to hug you, too,” she says.

“I’m working on it,” I tell her. “Just don’t shut down the airport.”

My mother lives in Jerusalem, my brother 5 minutes away from her, and he plans to get married before end of summer. No restaurant or banquet facility will host them because of the virus. Do a small, potluck wedding outdoors, I suggested to him (it’s his third marriage). By hook or by crook, I’ll get there.

At the time of a virus, some of us wish for our family again. Our husband, our brother, our sister, our parents. You want to take shelter in someone’s arms, the person closest to you, who’s been there with you for so long. I  remember that Bernie, after the stroke, could only raise one arm to hug me.

I continue to take boxes out of the house. Some 15 boxes will go out within the next few days, followed by various trips to the dump. That’ll be the end of Round 2. I give it lots of attention because I know what this is about. I’m making space for an unknown future.

“You can finally come into your own,” a friend said to me. She had just lost her husband as well, but she talked about mine, Bernie Glassman. “Bernie relied on you and needed you, he made demands on your attention and your time, he needed your energy. I’m not talking about after the stroke, I’m talking before. Now that he’s not here, you can discover who you really are, your own power, your own voice. It’s time.”

“You were his backbone,” someone else told me.

I would do anything for him to still be here, with me, stroke or no stroke. Instead I pack and tape shut boxes, look through historical documents, page through history with my fingers. I found his notes, exactly 50 years ago, of preliminary koans he did with his teacher, Maezumi Roshi.

So who am I exactly? I wonder about that even in this blog. How honest can I be? I don’t want to write as a Zen teacher, I don’t want to write as any kind of teacher. Can I stop worrying about what others think? Zen doesn’t encourage focusing on a personal self, it often points you away towards an absolute reality. At the same time I can mine that personal self for experiences, insights, humor, and beauty. Can I let myself do that fully? Will others get turned off, make a face, unsubscribe?

It’s not a matter just of caring what others feel, it’s also a matter of re-interpreting and re-imagining one’s life. Of creating and re-creating a new story. My life has such different parts, and rather than rejecting any, I prefer to create new connections between these contrasting parts, based on a fully lived, fully experienced life. And go public with them.

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THE FUTURE IS NOW

“Querida Sra. Eva,

Gracias por ayudarme a pagar mi renta. Sinceramente, la familia Garcia.” [Thank you for helping us pay the rent. Fictional name.]

Another: “con esa puedo pagar el gas.” {with this I can pay the gas.}

Another: “With this I was able to send money home after my mother died of the virus.”

And the end: Con de todo corazon. With all my heart.

I stopped at the post office today and picked up some checks that came in. One was for $1,200, one was for $5., another for $15. I am thrilled with all of them. Please understand that when it comes to kindness, nothing is too small. Or as my Zen grandfather used to say, “Small is not small.” No one can possibly know the full extent of kindness and generosity.

By the end of this week I will have spent some $700 on sewing machines for women sewing masks and other articles to make money for their families. That’s in addition to cash to help pay rent/utilities and $750 each week in supermarket goods.

We help one woman, she takes care of her family, they help other families (immigrant families help each other a lot), her children go to school, and the benefit multiplies and multiplies. My Bachelor’s Degree is in economics, believe it or not, so I know that money has a multiplier effect. Compassion’s multiplier effect is way bigger.

I’ve had some dour thoughts lately. There’s a consensus that covid will be with us for some time, which doesn’t prevent the stock market from booming. Meanwhile, Fujitsu, the giant Japanese tech company, announced that it will let its 80,000 workers work from home and halve its office space, all within 3 years, to facilitate a “new normal” for its employees. This is not good news for commercial real estate, and while it may sound nice for its employees, I don’t believe it.

I believe that human employment is on its way down. There has been a lot of talk over the past decade about Artificial Intelligence and how it will take over the production as well as service sectors. It was seen as something in the future. Well, the future is now.

If you were a corporate CEO and read what we’re all reading about covid and such viruses, arising from animal-to-human transmission (there are potentially thousands of these), what would you invest in, people who get sick, or robots and machines who don’t?

There isn’t a company in sight that won’t be thinking this way: Office or home? Medical insurance? Maternal leave? Medical leave? Sick pay, pensions, paid holidays? And now, to top it off, covid? Who needs all this!

AI becomes the solution of choice. The more the covid, the higher the value of AI and the lower the value of human workers. Which means that the future is now. Not in the time of your grandchildren, not even in the time of your children, but in your time and mine.

Add to that scientists’ declarations that climate change is moving a lot faster than originally predicted. Change is happening at warp speed, making human beings seem weak, unable to cope, and expendable.

What will we do without jobs? The stock market will continue to boom even as people lose work opportunities. Some talk of a minimum income, but what will happen to us without work? What will happen to our self-esteem, to our identification, to our value in our families and society?

“Men were taught to be warriors,” Manny Iron Hawk was saying about the old Lakota ways. But what has happened to the Lakota men when the old warrior ways are no longer needed by their society? What is already beginning to happen to non-Native men, who have watched jobs leave the country and will see so many more given to robots, their roles as “breadwinners” gone? Look at the rise in addictions to drugs and alcohol, the increase in domestic violence.

Women will be the first to lose their jobs because they always do. But they could continue to have babies and raise children, be the backbone of the family, do whatever is needed to keep the home going, keeping their eyes on the prize. But they, too, will suffer.

This isn’t about Trump, it’s about losing our way. We’ve been losing it for a long time, under both Republican and Democratic political administrations.

So, what am I going to do? Don’t know about you, but I’m not running for any hills, certainly not taking shelter in hefty savings accounts.

Thoreau wrote: “The melancholy man who had come forth to commit suicide on this hill might be saved by being thus reminded how many brave and contented lives are lived between him and the horizon.”

All around me are brave and contented lives. I see the critters running into the tree hollow, the dogs sleeping off the summer afternoons, and I see a beautiful young girl color-coordinated, a princess T-shirt, matching sandals, and eyes that can conquer the world if given half the chance.

Don’t tell me she isn’t worth being fed, housed, nourished, schooled, sheltered, and inspired. Don’t tell me her mask isn’t fabulous, a testament to how hardworking mothers still insist on bringing beauty into difficult daily lives. There is curiosity in those eyes, there is hope and joy. There is vision.

I don’t rate in comparison. My masks aren’t nearly that pretty and my clothes tend towards bland. But I have other things: food cards, sewing machines, cash, checks to be deposited. I have this blog to put out the word again and again, find another way to say the same thing again and again: Small isn’t small.

There are times when I wish I was more like Bernie. I think to myself that he would have started companies and not-for-profits to help people out, he would have looked at all the enormous empty mills lying on the banks of the Connecticut River with stars in his eyes and plans whirling in his head.

I’m not Bernie, but I can be kind, and that’s enough right now. There’s nothing small about kindness.

If you’d like to donate to help immigrant families with food and other basic needs, please use the Donate button below, and make sure to write on the Note: Food cards. Or else, send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351, and note on the memo line: For food cards.

Muchas gracias.

 

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I DON’T KNOW WHO I AM ANYMORE!

“I’m not a happy dog, guys.”

“What happened, Jewel?” Harry asks our guest who arrived yesterday for a short while. “You’re usually so happy when you come to play.”

“Only you and Aussie try to rush out that gate every time it opens.”

“Our mission in life is to escape at every opportunity,” says Aussie. “So why aren’t you happy, Jewel?”

“I lost my way, guys. I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“That’s sometimes a good thing,” I tell her.

“Don’t listen to her,” says Aussie.

“I know who you are, Jewel,” Harry says. “You’re a Great Dane. You’re the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.”

“Jewel, you’re at least three times as big as Harry and Aussie,” I tell her.

“Doesn’t mean she’s smarter.” From Aussie.

“I know I’m big, that’s not the problem,” says Jewel. “The problem is, I used to be a service dog. Taught, trained, battle tested. My boss took me everywhere with her, lots of medical appointments, get food, go see the family. She needed me!”

“Uggghhh,” says Aussie. “You liked it?”

“I loved it! That was my mission in life, to help and support her. She could even lean on me if she felt weak sometimes.”

“If our Boss ever tried to lean on me, she’d fall smack on the ground,” Aussie says.

“What happened?” asks Harry.

“Since this virus this came along, we don’t go anywhere. I’m not needed.”

“We don’t go anywhere either,” I tell her. “Hey, where is everybody—?”

The dogs rush up to the fence because Gala and T, the neighborhood horses, are coming down the road, accompanied by Ruby the German Shepherd. Aussie barks; Harry barks. Jewel coughs. Dogs look up at her.

“What’s that?”

“That’s my bark,” says Jewel proudly.

“That’s your bark?”

“I’m practicing to be a guard dog.”

Aussie sits back and laughs her heart out. “You’ll never be a guard dog with a bark like that. It doesn’t scare anybody.”

“You sound sick!” says Harry. “Do you have the virus? Get away from us!”

“I’m not sick, guys. I’m telling you, I need a new career. Here, watch this.” And Jewel scampers down the yard, gets behind the Kwan-Yin, stumbles, and scampers back.

“What’s that?”

“I’m trying out for dog-racing. You think they’ll take me?”

Harry giggles, trying to restrain himself, but Aussie laughs so hard she rolls on her back, legs kicking the air. “Was that supposed to be a run?”

“I ran as hard as I could. Next time I’ll make it as far as the shed.”

“You’re a Great Dane, Jewel, not a Greyhound,” Harry tells her earnestly.

“I’m dieting, trying to get into shape.”

Aussie is laughing so hard she can’t get up on her paws. Finally, she straightens up with a grin: “Any other career change? I don’t think you’ll make it in agility, hee hee hee!”

“You suppose I can herd some sheep? This is terrible. I’m used to working hard all the  time, to be reliable and dependable, and I can’t do anything now. I don’t know who I am anymore!”

“We’re all facing this problem, Jewel,” I tell her. “We’re all used to going out into the world with our identity in place, our schedule set, the usual places, the usual people. And now we can’t do that.”

“Maybe you could be a service dog on Zoom. Hee hee hee!”

“Ignore Aussie,” I tell Jewel.

Aussie gets serious. “Harry the Cur and I never forget who we are for one minute. We know our mission in life, which is to escape as much as possible. No virus can ever make us forget that. If only you hadn’t blocked the gate when you came in today, we’d have been out of here again, only you’re so big!”

“Don’t listen to them, Jewel,” I tell her. “First of all, you have your True Nature, which you never lose.”

“Here we go, Buddhist baloney,” says Aussie.

“I love baloney!” from Harry.

“Also,” I continue, “when you’re not one thing, you’re free to explore being something else. Like me, I’m no longer a wife or caregiver, so I’m free to explore new things. That’s good.”

“Don’t believe her,” says Aussie,  “she hates every minute of it.”

“I don’t want to be anything but a service dog,” says Jewel. “Born, bred, trained. I’m no good for anything else. When will this virus be over so I could get back to work? I want to get back to myself!”

“Nobody knows, Jewel. None of us may ever go back to be ourselves.”

“Except Harry and me,” says Aussie. “Our work, which is running away, is endless. We even took vows.”

“What’s that?”

Aussie and Harry sit back and recite:

“Beings are numberless, we vow to get away from them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, we vow to give up on them real quick.

Reality is boundless, we vow to watch TV.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, marrow bones are a lot better.”

Jewel looks dazzled. “Could you teach me that? Nothing like vows to give you a purpose in life.”

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BOXES

Boxes and boxes.

That’s what the basement looks like, boxes of stuff. I get rid of some, and the next day I go downstairs and see that the boxes have given birth to more boxes.

“Where did you come from?” I ask them. Was there an orgy? A party, at least? Did they maintain safe distance? Doesn’t look like it.

The basement used to hold lots and lots of books, and it took some three rounds over the years to give them away. But that still left boxes of remainder copies of books by Bernie, Maezumi Roshi, Peter Matthiessen, and Lex Hixon. About two weeks ago, those went.

Now I have boxes containing corporate files and archival material relating to Zen Peacemakers, including picture albums. I am going over them, closing them up, and they will then be shipped across country.

After that, picture prints will go. The elegant and gracious photographer, Peter Cunningham, has a visual record of all things Bernie and most things Zen Peacemakers, so I don’t need to retain countless copies of photos, even framed ones.

“Don’t you want to ask around to see who wants the pictures and then send them?” someone asked me.

“Do you know how long that’s going to take?” I said.

There is definitely a sense of disloyalty. But it’s not getting rid of things, it’s putting them to bed. It’s looking at them one final time, telling stories, giving them a kiss, and saying good night.

After that, many mats for sitting cushions; I have no idea what to do with them.

Why this work, emptying out the basement? It’s my second round. The first round took place over a year ago, when I had to do a quick inside-the-house move in order to rent out two rooms. That was the first round of emptying. This is the second.

This time there’s no urgency, only the gut feeling that I have to create more space, and the way I do that is to let go of more and more things Bernie, more and more things Zen Peacemakers. The things I have loved most in the world, other than family.

It feels crazy to let go of things that gave you identity, love, and meaning. I pitched my tent under the shade of their great trees for some 35 years. Earlier today I spent an hour telling the story of those early years on Zoom as part of a study program run by Zen Peacemakers. I didn’t need notes, I didn’t need prompts.

But I’m letting go more and more, acquiring space. Space for what? I have no idea, that’s the scary part.

It’s so easy to hold on to the things that in the past meant so much, that continue to mean a lot even now. What happens if you let them go?

Many years ago, I stopped working full-time for Zen Peacemakers. I had been directing peacemaking projects and doing training programs, and I wasn’t sure that whatever came up next would be important enough, valuable enough, meaningful enough. I wondered about my marriage because Bernie and I had been so used to working together. He didn’t like my decision and made no secret of it.

At some point, reading about the huge need for kidney transplants, I began the process of donating a kidney, only to be rejected at the very end by one result out of about a million blood tests, I was crestfallen.

“What’s wrong with my kidneys?” I asked my doctor.

“Nothing. Your kidneys are perfect for a woman your age,” he told me.

Nothing was going to save me from encountering that extra space and time that had before been so full.

I felt the same apprehension when I stopped being a spirit holder of the annual Auschwitz-Birkenau retreats. And this last Monday I told my fellow organizers that I am leaving the organizing group of the Native American retreat. It’s time to bring in new blood, I said, diversify more, do something new.

So, here is another round, a workaholic encountering a half-empty basement, walls not plastered with photos or art, and no rush to watch the clock.

“Something will arise, it always does. At the very least you’ll have more space,” a fellow teacher commented.

“That’s what worries me,” I grumbled back.

Who is this woman if she doesn’t always work? Who is this woman letting go of books, files, and pictures of some 35 years? Who is this woman without those 35 years?

I’m going to find out.

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HOW TO WATER THE WORLD

“It’s raining and raining. Can’t rush off anywhere, can’t take a walk, can’t even run away. I hate it!”

“Oh Aussie, we need rain. We’ve had some very dry weeks and the grass has even gone brown in certain patches. The farmers need rain, the flowers, the vegetables, the trees, the streams that are dried out. Everybody needs rain.”

“I don’t need it!”

It’s been a very dry June, and as I stretch out the hose to water the front garden in the evenings, I think of Bernie and his watering system.

Our house (which we bought simply because it was the only house on the market in walking distance to the offices of Zen Peacemakers) came with a large back area sprinkled with small beds of perennials. In one of several discussions about who was doing the lion’s share of the house work (moi!), I suggested to Bernie that he be responsible for watering the garden. He agreed.

I thought he would connect hoses to water spouts (we have two) and, on dry days, water the flowers. Silly, silly me.

“Stanley!” he called out to the dog. “We’re going to Home Depot.”

He put on his red beret (it was the height of summer), plugged a cigar into his mouth, and off they went. He returned with a car trunk full of garden hoses, two large reels, yards of spring irrigation tubing, hose connectors, nozzles, wands, lots of unknown tools, and a large credit card bill.

Vuss is duss?” I ask him in Yiddish. “What is this?”

“You asked me to take over the watering, and that’s what I’m doing.”

“And where’s Stanley?”

He’d forgotten Stanley at Home Depot.

Do we really need all this? I wanted to ask. But by then I knew better. If you asked Bernie to do something, he was going to do it his way; otherwise, don’t ask.

He began to put together an elaborate watering system that extended from the far side of the house, which contained a water spout, and circled around the back and along the path to the shed, with a diversion to a small bed of lilies on the other side. I could have told him that this one bed of sparse lilies bloomed once, and did we really need so much irrigation tubing snaking its way through the grass and around Kwan Yin? But there was nothing to say. Bernie had been trained as an engineer; he loved nothing more than to design systems.

Of course, he would try it out, find it wasn’t working, identify the reason, put his red beret back on and get his cigar. “Stanley!”

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Home Depot. I need another hose connector.” Or he got the wrong sprinkler valve, or just realized that a different fitting would work much better.

“Try to remember Stanley this time.”

By the time Bernie finished the watering system, summer was over. The next summer we used it, and on some occasions water came out of the right sprinkler or tubing and on some occasions it didn’t, no matter how hard I tried. And, you guessed it, it was usually me because Bernie, having given birth to a new system, left me to “raise” it and was on to the next thing.

This summer I gave up on the watering system in the back completely. I even asked the gardener who comes in several times in the summer to look at it, and she, after half an hour, shook her head and said it was too complicated. So while I’ve been fairly good at watering the front, I gave up on the back, and am grateful for these two days of rain. And think of Bernie.

This same Bernie Glassman, who formulated such elegantly simple Three Tenets that encapsulate a vast practice, could get into so much trouble creating incredibly complex models, mandalas, and systems. If Einstein, Hawking and others tried to come up with basic principles to explain life’s physical laws (and failed), Bernie went the other way. He seemed to try to create all-inclusive systems, vast enough to include every single difference, every unique person and being, from ants to Zephyranthes Big Dude (yes, there is such a thing, a flower in the amaryllis family)—without denying their unique individuality. Of course, he was frustrated in the attempt, but that didn’t dissuade him from trying again and again.

Those of us still involved in defining the Zen Peacemakers as a family live with that dynamic of a very rich and international sangha that subscribes to the Three Tenets but struggles, like the water hoses outside, to fit itself into recognizable and dependable forms.

More important, Bernie always warned people that the more you awaken to and experience the One Body, the more tsures (important Japanese word, look it up) you will find. “You think that getting enlightened will bring an end to all suffering and that you will live in bliss for the rest of your life?” he often said, shaking his head. “The more you see we’re all one thing, the more you realize the work that’s needed.”

As our Native American friends might say, once you realize that everyone and everything is a relative, there are a hell of a lot of relatives to take care of.

Working across ethnicities and cultures, across religions and countries, even across species, feels strange, clumsy, and never-ending. We say the wrong things, take actions that aren’t enough (or too much), make the wrong food, make the wrong jokes, wear the wrong clothes. But what choice have we got if we’re serious about experiencing the oneness of life? Go into our corners? Retreat into white-only enclaves, senior residences open only to people 55 and over?

So we renew our vows and go on.

I try to take care of the green plants behind the kitchen, but the lilies in the circle of stones beckon, and the peonies (that didn’t even bloom this summer) are way back by the maples, not to mention the herbs behind the garage, the hydrangeas out front, the small strip of dahlias that always struggle in the shade, and on and on. Some make it, some don’t. Some struggle for sun, for water, for nutrients, against pests and disease.

And I miss Bernie trying to take care of it all, trying to take care of everybody and everything, manipulating this and finagling with that, shaking his head, putting on his beret, reaching out for his cigar, and yelling up the stairs: “Eve, I gotta go back to Home Depot. Stanley!”

 

 

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ONLY PROBLEM IS, HE’S NOT ME

“Harry, you’re swimming! Look Aussie, Harry’s swimming in deep water.”

“Big deal. I was swimming as soon as I got here.”

But this was different. It’s true, from the beginning Aussie showed she could swim. If she was playing with another dog and splashed into deep water, the ground slipping from under her paws, she’d turn and flap her way back to shore. Harry, too, ended up in deep water after playing with a black lab called Mollie, but when he saw how he could stay afloat he swam and swam. Instead of waiting for the lab to get him into the water, he went in by himself and swam in nice, large, round circles, clearly enjoying this new skill.

He galloped up the slope, shook himself all over me, rolled in the dust, and looked up, obviously very proud of himself. I remembered how afraid he was of the water when he first arrived, how afraid he was of crossing the plank bridge or of entering the creek.

“I’m proud of you, Harry,” I told him.

“Big deal,” snorted Aussie.

“You know, Auss, dogs and people like you take no pleasure in others’ pleasure, feel no joy in others’ triumphs. You consider the world to be yours, and yours alone. I think you have narcissistic personality disorder.”

“What’s that, Boss?”

“The Mayo Clinic says: ‘Narcissistic personality disorder … is a mental condition in which [dogs and] people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. ‘ That’s you in a nutshell, Aussie.”

“I hate having to share anything with Harry.”

“What’s wrong with Harry, Aussie?”

“Just one thing. He’s not me.”

I live with Aussie in my home. I live with Donald Trump in my country. Both are narcissists. I like writing about Aussie because she’s funny and a Houdini-like escape artist, also a little arrogant. Trump is just arrogant, and therefore not very interesting. Not to mention that when someone—even the US president—has a severe personality disorder (I think Trump is a 10 in the narcissistic spectrum), I tend to just shake my head and hope for the best come November.

But every once in a while the man’s lack of empathy and sensitivity, his sheer inability to fathom what it must be like to be someone other than himself, someone poor,  who’s lost a job or a business, lost health and loved ones, boggles my mind. That’s how I felt today when I read that his Justice Department is once again suing to remove the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.

They’re bringing the case to the Supreme Court and don’t hide the fact that this includes removal of care for people with pre-existing conditions. They say that they’ll come up with something different, something better—but only after they get rid of ACA.

Donald Trump is doing this in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic. He’s doing this as cases spike in many states in the South and West. He’s doing this at a time when health officials are again warning that they’ll run out of ICU beds in July, when doctors and health care workers are close to the breaking point, when exposed people in hospitals and factories—often people of color or immigrants—come down with covid in large numbers, and when the CDC is warning that this crisis will engulf us for a long time.

What do people do without medical coverage?

If Donald Trump wants to come up with an alternative plan, please come up with it, we could compare it with the ACA and go on from there. But that’s not the game he’s playing. And if you believe that once the Supreme Court gets rid of the ACA the Republican Party will magically come up with an alternative plan overnight—something they haven’t been able to do in years—then, as they say in New York, I have a bridge to sell you.

What stuns me is the meanness of it, the indifference. Talk about more tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Republican officials stand up and salute. Talk to them about being left without medical insurance at a time like this, when paychecks aren’t coming in and rent and mortgage payments are falling behind, and they’ll talk about cutting down on food stamps and welfare cheats.

I want to shake people up and tell them: Wake up and look in the mirror! Look behind the slogans, behind the red hats, and tell me: What country are we  living in?

Then I look at the card that I kept standing on my desk right behind my computer. It accompanied a check in a relatively small amount of money–I can’t remember how much right now–for food cards for immigrants. It said:

“I figure a portion of my Pandemic Unemploymet check can go to a family in greater need than I. Thank you for all you do. Marilyn.”

Thank you, Marilyn. Thank you for restoring my spirit and faith.

 

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IT’S NOT ABOUT ANGER, IT’S ABOUT HEALING

Martin asked: “How do I stop the suffering of the world?”

This is from our Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments. Now it’s not just Martin asking this question, many many people are asking it.

How do I stop the suffering of a man choked by policemen, who, what with their weapons, training, and discrimination stand in for an entire society—you, me, everyone—that continues to be oblivious? How do I stop the suffering of his family?

What about the Latina woman I gave a food card to yesterday, who was so skinny and frail? ”She has very bad diabetes,” Jimena tells me. “She lost 60 pounds very quickly and is now losing her vision, but she doesn’t have medical insurance so till now she hasn’t had care. We’re arranging this for her now, but the bureaucracy takes a long time and, in the meantime,  she is losing more weight and more vision.”

What about the woman here who just heard that her mother in Guatemala died from covid?

It’s 5 pm and the weather is still very hot and sticky, but giving out food cards and cash goes relatively quickly because people are back from working in the farms under the blast of sun. They laugh about it and shrug, but one woman—let’s call her Carla—hasn’t done so well. She picks up a card, Jimena asks her how she’s doing, they talk, and Carla walks away slowly, falteringly. She was picking asparagus and fell, and the harvester sideswiped her leg.

She’s out for at least another month and the farmer refused to pay her a penny or process claims for workmen’s’ compensation though the law clearly mandated he should. It took a strong woman like Jimena Pareja and others to convince him he had to abide by that law.

What was Carla to do otherwise? She needs the job even if it means working outside in 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, 90% humidity; she can’t afford to lose it.

We had our Native American annual retreat this year on Zoom. CARE checks (coronavirus relief checks) have yet to arrive at Cheyenne River Reservation, Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk said, though monies were allocated for this a long while ago, and this despite the fact that the people living on the Reservation are some of the poorest in the country.

The Reservation has so far avoided big outbreaks of the virus because their tribal chief put up check posts on the roads to prevent travel in and out. He was immediately challenged by the Governor of South Dakota who wants to have free travel across the state as part of keeping the state open. Native members say they have sovereignty and checkpoints will minimize the contagion; the governor has the federal government on her side, and in the meantime, no one is getting any checks.

How do I stop the suffering of the world?

Sometimes we get so confused by what is right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is not, what is a language we can agree upon. There is much fear of giving offense. What is the right way to refer to certain people? Can I call them Indians? Can I ask some of my black friends for feedback on whether my behavior is racist or not? I’m afraid to ask because I’m told they’re sick and tired of doing that, but I can’t be sure if I don’t ask, and besides, I can then be accused of racial insensitivity. I understand there’s a lot of resources there regarding white privilege, but how do I bear witness? How do I listen if no one wants to talk?

How do I apologize? Some people say that an apology is too quick a way out, so what do I do? Is it kosher to talk about the differences among us, or do I just do the safest thing and withdraw into silence?

This is the time to listen, many people say. Okay, but for how long? What will distract you next? A second surge of the virus? Global warming?

How do I stop the suffering of the world?

Again and again I think that it can be dangerous to be and work with people who are different from us, yet that’s what we’re called to do, to be with people who are different from us but are not Other.

I remember bringing a couple to have lunch with my brother’s religious Jewish family on the Sabbath. They were enjoying themselves tremendously and at some point, the woman rummaged in her handbag and took out a camera. “I’d love to take a picture of this lovely family,” she gushed. “Could you all squeeze together?” Then she froze because she saw the look in their eyes. Use of a camera is prohibited on the Sabbath, I explained to her, and she put it away immediately, but she felt clumsy and self-conscious.

Hanging out with people different from us can be joyful and fun, but also feels dangerous because we don’t know the language, don’t know what’s acceptable, feel it’s easy to offend and hurt—and oh, so much easier to stay home. So much easier to stay silent.

“Not everybody wants to heal,” Renee Iron Hawk had said that first day. “Some just want to stay in their corners.”

Staying in my corner with Harry and Aussie is so comfortable. Sure, they want me to take them for another walk, but they won’t get offended if I don’t. And if I lose my patience and even my temper, they forgive and forget instantly. I know their language: Who wants to eat? Do you want to go for a walk? Do you want to go to the car? They’re comfortable with anything I call them: dogs, canines, even doggies.

“I hate doggies,” Aussie says. “And sometimes you call us meshugenas. How do you think we feel about that?”

“Is crazies any better?” I wonder.

It’s so much easier to hang out with a pair of canines, stay in my rural corner with dahlias and begonias that forgive me for not watering them.

But my practice is not to hide in silence or in corners. My practice is to plunge into the gapless gap that separates us. Don’t be afraid to use words. And if you are afraid, remember that you also have eyes, a mouth with which to smile, and a nose you can top with a clown’s red nose.

“I hate being the white woman who hands out food cards to Latino immigrants,” I’ve told Jimena, “and wearing a mask beside.” But I hope they can laugh at my silly elementary Spanish. I hope they can see the laughter wrinkles around my eyes when I tell them their hija is so bonita.

Alexandra Fuller said: “It’s not about anger, it’s about healing.” Throughout the clumsiness and the confusion, the resentment and guilt, I remember that: It’s not about anger, it’s about healing.

We are continuing to feed immigrant families, and I am buying a few sewing machines as well for mothers to sew masks and make more money. You can help by donating. Please use the Donate button below and write, on the Paypal note line: For food cards. You can also send me a check: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351, and write on the memo line: For food cards.

Thank you very, very much for all you are doing.

 

 

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SENDING OUR VOICES TO MOTHER EARTH

Rapid City, SD

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” said Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

We’re in the middle of our annual  Native American retreat, only this time it’s not on the land. We’re not in the Black Hills, or South Dakota, or Wyoming, Nebraska, or Montana. The land is our Zoom Room. Instead of gorgeous hills, streams, and night stars, there are 80 squares containing beautiful faces from different places in the world.

The name of the retreat is Sending Our Voices to Mother Earth.

Today, Violet Catches talked about her status as a “dual citizen.” I am also a dual citizen, a citizen of Israel, where I was born, and the United States, where I was naturalized at the age of 18. But Israel was founded by Russian and European Jews, who made sure that Western culture would be foundational to the State. (Later, Sephardic Jews, originating from the Middle East and north Africa, brought with them their culture as well, and co-existence between the two has never been easy.)  For me, there was no conflict between the culture of Israel and the US.

Violet described something very different. She experienced an American culture that wished to educate and indoctrinate her in its ways, that for many years prohibited most aspects of the other half of her dual citizenship, including native spirituality, all ceremonies and prayers, disbelieved its history, and made its language taboo. For Violet, there was, and continues to be, conflict in being a dual citizen.

“My grandmother raised us, and she’s the one who schooled us. When the social workers came to check up on us, to see why we weren’t in regular schools according to the law, Grandmother would tell us to run down to the river and hide. We’d run down to the river and play, and later in the day we’d return and see her beckoning to us, to tell us it’s safe to come out.”

Violet continued: “When you’re a child you don’t mind all this, it feels like a game. But then you get older, and the pain and the pressure of always having to hide yourself, hide who you really are, explode. That’s why young people get addicted to alcohol and many drugs, because they can’t stand the pain. They go to a very dark place. Some of us come back and continue our journey, but some of us never come back.”

It never occurred to me that for some, dual citizenship implied being erased and ignored, your real name expunged, your language extirpated. Crossed out, one big X across an entire history and culture, splitting up families in a culture that values family almost above all else.

So this time we’re not in the gorgeous Black Hills. We’re in a Zoom Room with 80 people carrying the pain of racism and a pandemic that hits those who are exposed worst of all. Exposed because theirs are the jobs that require them to work in unsafe environments without proper equipment. Their jobs are essential, while they are expendable. It’ll be this way with climate change, which is already affecting vulnerable populations first and hardest.

“When you see that you’re a child of the earth,” said Renee Iron Hawk, “it changes how you see yourself and your life.”

Children are vulnerable; they need to be cared for, held, loved. They’re aware of forces that control their lives that are far more powerful than they are.

“Grandmother would take us down to the river,” recounted Violet, “tell us to open our palms, and put a rock on each palm. ‘Hold that rock till you can hear what it says,’ she’d say. ‘Listen to the wind, the trees, the grass.’ We have to remember that they are all stronger than we are.”

We are not almighty, we are children of the earth. As children, we have to listen, watch, learn. Most important, we have to heal. But—

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” Renee reminds us. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

How much are we up for? And what will we give, what sacrifice will we make, in order to be healed?

 

 

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