THAT WAS BERNIE

Photo by Kathy Solomon

“So girlfriend, how’s Bernie’s memorial coming?”

“Stop calling me girlfriend!”

“I’m The Entire Kit & Caboodle, I can call you anything. Every word is at my command.”

“I can call you anything, too, and I will very soon.”

“Every name you call me will be my true name, girlfriend.”

“We scheduled Bernie’s memorial to take place in Greyston, in Yonkers, on February 17.”

“It’s going to be lots of fun!”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that, Kit & Caboodle, it makes me sad.”

“Why?”

“Because I used to ask Bernie what he wanted in case he died, and he said: ‘I want to do what my sister, Bea, did when she died. She invited her family and friends to a party in which she could say goodbye, and then she died. So that’s what I want, a party.”

“So why are you sad?”

“Because he died so fast he never had his party.”

“Sure he had his party.”

“No he didn’t, Kit & Caboodle.”

“The Zen Center of Los Angeles had a Love Bernie Day, with a service and a big party. They even had action cards where people could write something they were going to do to make life better for the world.”

“But Bernie’s dead.”

“He was there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just look at the photo.”

“That’s Mark Bloodgood, Kit & Caboodle., standing with Roshi Egyoku, abbot of the Zen Center. Don’t you know anything?”

“I’m a know-nothing, girlfriend.”

“That’s Mark Bloodgood dressed like Bernie, with the eyebrows and everything. I even sent him a few of Bernie’s clothes for the occasion.”

“No no no, girlfriend, that’s Bernie.”

“Mark.”

“Bernie.”

“Mark.”

“You, girlfriend,  are the silliest, most stubborn person I know. Take my word for it, that was Bernie.”

 

A STREETS BAG

Saturday was the 49th day since Bernie died. According to many Buddhists, the 49th day is the time when what remains of the person who died—some call it energy, some call it soul—is completely released so that it could continue on its journey. But as I wrote before, I felt Bernie was truly gone from the moment the doctor informed me that he was dead.

And actually, Bernie was ready to go all the time. Or more accurately, to be gone. Recently I took down the small bag he used to take on street retreats, when he’d lead a group to live on the streets for several days with just the clothes on their backs and no money. We wrote extensively about that in Bearing Witness, I won’t do that here. He hadn’t been able to walk the streets for a long time; the arthritis in his knees caused him enormous pain on the streets, and he finally stopped, though other teachers continue to do those retreats in various cities here and in Europe.

So I didn’t expect much when I took down his streets bag, yet there it all was: a flattened roll of toilet paper, a folded up sheet of plastic to put down on the pavement for sleeping, a tiny stained pillow, a few bandaids, and an old folding umbrella. He was ready to go. The bag itself was a monk’s bag with the insignia of the Zen Community of New York on it, antecedent to Zen Peacemakers. In short, close to 40 years old.

“What are you going to do when you get old?” I’d sometimes tease him.

And he’d say, in all seriousness, “I want to go on the streets and disappear.”

He dreamed of going on the streets and leaving it all behind him: the organizations he’d founded, the buildings, the money cares, the incessant phone calls, the calendar full of programs, the many, many people in his life. Even me, I sometimes suspect.

He didn’t do it. He didn’t leave even after the stroke, he stayed right with us till sepsis came on and killed him. When it was time to die, he died, but not a moment sooner.

Sometime around 1989 we had a conference around a HUD grant I was writing to fund support programs for homeless families moving into housing we’d built in Yonkers. There were several of us around the table. It was a hard time. We hadn’t been able to get a federal grant yet, there was no money, and the taste of disappointment was in all our mouths. Even Bernie didn’t have his usual vigorous optimism. As it turned out, that $750,000 grant was the first federal grant we won in competitive application—HUD ranked it second in the nation—and parts of the grant were automatically renewed year after year.

But we didn’t know it then. Then all we saw were people shaking their heads, all we heard was criticism: Why’s a Zen group doing this kind of work? Finally, the others left and only he and I were still seated at the table. I was about to get up, preparing for a long day and night of work, when he said to me, “I know that people criticize me for many things. I know that I’m probably not the best person to do this kind of work, I don’t always know how to talk to people in a good way. But nobody else is doing this, that’s why I do it.”

Going on the streets was his relief from all this: meandering, talking to street people, no phones, no watches. So where did he go after 49 days? Has he been reborn? He didn’t believe in reincarnation and I still think of him as gone. But if I see him anywhere again, I know where it will be.

ATTACHMENT/NON-ATTACHMENT

Today is Bernie’s and my anniversary. Or would have been if he didn’t go off and die.

“That man would do anything to avoid a party.”

“Who asked you, Stan?”

“I come back to life whenever there’s a need for commentary.”

The photo was taken when we were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in a costume shop. My mother was there, too. Bernie dressed as the owner, she, an orthodox Jewish woman, as the madam, and I—well, you know what I dressed like. A few months later we got married and I had the idea of using the photo to announce the occasion. Inside it said: “We got hitched.”

We photo-shopped my mother out of the photo, clearly revealing the sign on the left: Beware of Texans, drunks, and loose women.

“And Awesome. Did you have a good luck at how she destroyed the sitting mat on the floor? Took out all the stuffing.”

“Quiet, Stan. This photo gave me the idea for the RockyTootsie audios.”

“That was your idea?”

“You’d be surprised where some of Bernie’s best ideas originated.”

“Such as?”

“How do you explain not-knowing?”

“How?”

“It’s a no-brainer. What’s the definition of a Jewish Buddhist?”

“What?”

“A self-hating Jew.”

“That’s terrible.”

“True. Bernie liked to quote the one about not-knowing. The self-hating Jew not so much. But you’re certainly right about one thing, Stanley, Bernie wasn’t into celebrations or parties, wasn’t into candle-lit dinners or romance.”

“He probably made a joke of it all.”

“He made a joke out of everything! In all our years together he gave me exactly one Valentine’s Day card. You opened up the card and you heard Bernie’s voice saying: Hey Tootsie, I love you! accompanied by the silliest music in creation. That’s the music we used in the beginning of every Rocky/Tootsie segment. Just one Valentine’s Day card in 20 years and he couldn’t do it straight.”

“Of course he couldn’t do it straight. The Man didn’t do anything straight.”

“Yeah, but that was also his way of staying away from attachment, Stanley.”

“You want to know what I think?”

“No.”

“I think you were the Man’s teacher of attachment. He was your teacher of non-attachment.”

“You can’t have non-attachment without attachment, Stanley.”

After his stroke Bernie lost all sense of proprioception. As a result he’d roll over in the middle of the night and ram right into me. He never felt a thing because it was his right side. Finally we got two smaller beds with a small gap in between. Sometimes we fell asleep holding hands across that narrow gap, only it could only be his right hand in mine, the one that was almost paralyzed. He felt almost nothing, but still wanted us to hold hands.

 

STALKED BY LOVE

“Guess what, Rocky? I had a dream last night.”

“You did? About me?”

“No, Rocky. I dreamt that a stalker was stalking me.”

“That’s not so good.”

“He hid in the bushes outside the house. Then he hid in the woods, following me. Finally I’m in Greenfield at night and I round the corner, and there he is, a big heavy man wearing a big coat. You know who it was? Ralph Kramden.”

“You mean Jackie Gleason, from The Honeymooners? You loved The Honeymooners.

“Why do you think Ralph Kramden was stalking me, Rocky?”

“Maybe it was humor stalking you, Toots.”

“Speaking of humor, what do you think of your old shoe? Juvenile Delinquent’s been steadily working on it, taking it apart piece by piece. First the tongue, then the leather sides, then the sole. She’s just about down at the very bottom.”

“She’s doing a great job.”

“Look at the mess in front of your picture. You know what it reminds me of?”

“What?”

“Your life, Berns. Our life together, and all the messes that were there.”

“There sure were lots of them.”

“You always liked to bring things together.”

“What do you mean, bring things together? Things are together.”

“But in our day-to-day life they seem to go in very separate directions, Bernie. You never had any patience for vilifying rich people or saying the government was bad. Remember how we didn’t get that HUD grant and then found out we’d qualified for it only Reagan’s HUD secretary stole all that money and awarded it to his developer friends? We all got so righteous about it.”

“Nothing wrong with government per se. Not even this one.”

“You never bad-mouthed the Corporate Nation. You said that everything is energy and the question is how to work with it, be it Donald Trump or a homeless woman on the street.”

“That’s what Greyston was all about, a mandala where a profitable bakery works together with a health center for folks with AIDS, a child care center, and an organization building low-cost housing. A microcosm of how the world works.”

“But the world doesn’t work this way, Bernie.”

“It works how it works, Toots. My job was to try to move things just a hairsbreadth.”

“Towards what? Towards the world acting as one?”

“No, towards our seeing that the world acts as one. Towards our seeing that nothing is separate from anything else no matter how it looks to us. I wanted everyone to see this, not just Zen people. I wanted the Greyston bakers to see that they needed the child care center for their own children and that even the folks living with AIDS were all a part of them, all a part of this whole. I wanted everybody to experience this as a living thing, not just something they read in a book.”

“Sometimes it all felt like a big mess, like the mess Aussie leaves in front of your altar. When I look at what she did to your shoes I remember how much you loved to walk up and down the neighborhood, always on the lookout for what’s for sale. There would be police cars and crack needles everywhere, dilapidated houses and grungy front yards. Nobody wanted to buy anything or move in except for you.”

“It was so exciting, Toots. So many things to get done, so much that needed doing. I was right in my element in Yonkers.”

“But what about all the messes, Bernie? What about all the times we almost went broke, when we couldn’t pay folks their salaries or stipends, couldn’t pay our bills? What about the layoffs and the crumbling ceilings because we couldn’t keep up the places we lived in? When we couldn’t do the projects we began, when we couldn’t keep our promises?”

“Life doesn’t work according to our ideas of whether something is orderly or a mess.”

“But human beings can only tolerate so much mess before they start cracking, Berns.”

“That may be true. Remember what I used to tell you about me and pain?”

“That you have a high threshold for pain?”

“I think I also had a high threshold for messes. For instance, I’m not bothered by what Aussie leaves on the floor, that’s Aussie. What’s to get upset about?”

“You’re not the one cleaning it up, Berns. Not to mention that you’re dead.”

“That’s true, I’m dead, ain’t I? Should I stalk you, Tootsie?”

“Yes, Rocky. You can stalk me.”

THE ENTIRE KIT AND CABOODLE

Late Friday night I cried in bed. A short while later, just as I was falling asleep, I looked up and saw someone sitting further down on the bed. It contemplated Aussie, who, strangely enough, didn’t move in her dog bed.

“Who are you?” I asked, sniffling.

“Who do you think?”

“I don’t think you’re a guy, otherwise the Delinquent would be running downstairs and out the dog door. She’s scared of men.”

“It’s true, I’m not a man. Not a woman, either.”

“One of those,” I said.

“Why were you crying?”

“Because I watched a DVD of a Mission Impossible movie.”

“You cried because of a Mission Impossible movie?”

“It’s the kind of movie I always got for Bernie because he liked those action flicks. He’d be sitting on his wheelchair by the edge of the couch. I’d usually be sitting on the couch pretty close to him; sometimes we’d hold hands, sometimes not. And usually in the middle of some totally insane escapade by Tom Cruise I’d glance over towards him and find him looking right back at me, as if to say, You believe that! It was a look we exchanged, see.”

“So why were you crying?”

“Because this evening I looked the same way towards the right and just met a white wall.”

“Poor thing.”

“I’m in the middle of this grief and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going,” I said. “My brain doesn’t work, I get exhausted early, I feel like a zombie. Also, my hair looks terrible.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to do any work.”

“I don’t?”

“Of course you cry, get sad, confused, lonely, and all that, but I’m the one who does the real work.”

“You? Who are you?” I asked.

“I am your system, the whole thing. I am The Entire Kit and Caboodle.”

“You mean, there is such a thing as the whole thing?”

“Would I lie to you, girlfriend?”

“And what do you do, Entire Kit and Caboodle?”

“I take care of you. I take care of everybody, but most people don’t get that they’re being taken care of day in day out. When do you notice it? When you’re grieving.”

“Really?”

“Do you know how much work has to take place when you lose your husband? Your entire being is restructured even as we speak. Billions of cells are reforming, synapses massively transformed, the entire body-mind has to be reconfigured.”

“Scientists don’t talk about this.”

“What do they know? Let me tell you, the person Eve Marko has to go through a complete overhaul; the entire operating system has to change.”

“My emotions, maybe, but my body, too?”

“You, a Zen teacher, are asking such a silly question?”

“Now you sound like my old dog Stanley.”

“The emotions and the body are all the same thing. The shock of Bernie dying as fast as he did, did that disappear?”

“I wonder if that’s why my entire left side has been hurting since his death. But I’m too tired to do anything about it.”

“That’s the beauty of it, you don’t have to. Leave it to me, The Entire Kit and Caboodle. Unbeknownst to you, while you’ve been sleepwalking around the house and bumping into things, barely remembering to take out the recyclables and go to your annual eye check-up, I’ve been overhauling you. You have to die and get reborn—“

“Now you’re scaring me!”

“—but you can’t do any of that, at least not now, so I’m doing it for you. All you have to do is not get in the way.”

“How do I get in the way?”

“By thinking you have to do this or have to do that. By jumping hard into work or reading too many books on Zen, spirituality, or death. Don’t do any of those things, go take a bath. Have yourself a good cry. Don’t talk too much to people. Nuzzle with Aussie and tell her how glad you are that Bernie insisted on going to a shelter to pick her out. Speaking of which, why did he name a dog from Texas Aussie?”

“It’s a mystery.”

“Mystery is another one of my names, but I prefer The Entire Kit and Caboodle. See some movies Bernie would have liked and cry some more. Have a lonely dinner but also remember that at least now you don’t have to eat all that red meat. You just keep on doing all those silly things, and leave the rest to me.”

“I had no idea you were working so hard.”

“I’m always working hard. The Entire Kit and Caboodle never rests even when it’s resting. People always think they’re the ones doing everything, but they’re not. It’s always me, The Entire Kit and Caboodle.”

WHAT ABOUT A RICOLA LEMON DROP?

“This meeting will come to order.”

“Why have I been summoned from the land of the dead?”

“And why am I here when I’m busy chasing squirrels and generally creating havoc?”

“Quiet, both of you. I need your help. Now, Stanley and Aussie, there is a possibility that the Smithsonian Museum will want something of Bernie’s for their religious collection. This is not yet decided, certainly not final, but it’s crucial to think ahead. What could we offer the Smithsonian that would most represent Bernie?”

“What’s a Smithsonian?”

“Awesome, you are an embarrassment to this family.”

“The Smithsonian, Delinquent, is a national museum that collects many things that people in this country hold dear, from fine arts to the earliest airplane to exhibits of the history of Native peoples, African-Americans and others who arrived here, the natural life that abounds here, everything.”

“Are they going to stuff him?”

“Stuff him, Stanley?”

“You know, like they do with the animals they show.”

“Stanley, he was cremated. There’s nothing to stuff. Anyway, they also collect religious articles.”

“Like marrow bones?”

“No, Delinquent, I mean things like historic Bibles, communion cups, even Wampum beads. So the question is: What should we offer the Smithsonian representing Bernie?”

“Lamb chops. He loved lamb chops.”

“Stanley, they want something religious, something that symbolizes his work or his life.”

“A cigar?”

“Tobacco is sacred for Native Americans, but that’s not the reason Bernie smoked cigars.”

“I know, I know. The beret he liked to wear.”

“Unfortunately you tore it into pieces, Delinquent.”

“Wow, I chewed up a religious artifact.”

“You got to know him for only one or two months of his life, Awesome. You didn’t know him when he wore jeans, Hawaiian shirts, suspenders, and smoked a cigar. He couldn’t do any of that after his stroke. Those were the days!”

“Come on, canines, what else can we offer the Smithsonian?”

“I know. The bathtub where he did zazen every morning.”

“A bathtub. Hmmm, I guess it’s a possibility, Stanley.”

“His Best of Leonard Cohen CD. He listened to that so much in the car that one day I jumped out the window from the back seat.”

“He really loved Leonard Cohen after his stroke, Stanley.”

“I know. A Greyston brownie. I loved those brownies!”

“Stanley, you stole and ate so much chocolate it’s a wonder you lived to your ripe old age. I’m thinking about the old clothes he wore whenever he went on the streets. You don’t know this about Bernie, Delinquent, but Bernie liked to go on the streets with just the clothes on his back and nothing else, and he’d stay there for a number of days.”

“An outdoorsman, wow!”

“In fact, years ago, whenever he’d get weighed down by all the different projects he was doing, he dreamed of just going on the streets and disappearing forever.”

“What did you say to that?”

“That it was a hard thing to do while carrying a big 50-inch television screen.”

“Maybe we could give the big screen to the Smithsonian. That’s one way to get rid of it!”

“Stanley, you’re full of good ideas.”

“What about a Ricola lemon drop? He loved those. Aren’t there about a million of them in the drawer next to his bed?”

“I don’t think the Smithsonian will take a million lemon drops. There are all his Buddhist articles.”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t the Man.”

“It was and it wasn’t, Stan.”

“Still say we should have stuffed him.”

 

INTO THE LIGHT OF A DARK BLACK NIGHT

We did our winter retreat last week. My mind had been frazzled, slow, and very tired. I wasn’t sure about giving talks, doing face-to-face with students, feeling the pulse of things, just making it through the day. But I did, thanks to those who were there, visible and invisible.

There were so many crazy things about being both Bernie’s successor and his wife, it felt like incest. There were always two relationships to work out simultaneously: the teacher-student relationship, which is very hierarchical in Zen, and the husband-wife, which, at least in the West, is based on equality.

I was aware that in some people’s minds, this dual relationship compromised my legitimacy as a teacher, though our getting together as a couple preceded my dharma transmission by only 3 months, and if you know anything about dharma transmission you know it’s usually planned long in advance. I remember that at that time he and I were still finishing up our last studies, and in one dokusan, or formal face-to-face study, he told me: “If you want to end this now because it may affect the transmission, we’ll do that. I don’t want our coming together to stop you from finishing your studies.”

How interesting that he emphasized our study rather than our couplehood that early morning in Santa Fe, an omen of things to come. For in the world of engaged Zen practice, out of which you act in the world based on an ever-deepening sense of the oneness of life, there was never any argument. I had a lot of trust in him and the incredible breadth of his vision.

“Who’s the greater teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha or Bodhidharma?” he told me he once asked Koryu Osaka Roshi, one of Japan’s pre-eminent 20th century Zen masters.

“Shakyamuni,” answered Koryu Roshi. “Bodhidharma went deep, but Shakyamuni went broad. He talked to everyone, from beggars to kings.”

Bernie took after Shakyamuni. He saw practice everywhere—in businesses, in non-profits, in meditation halls, in child care centers, in the kitchen, even on Mars.

“What do you mean, he worked on manned missions to Mars back in the ‘60s?” asked the New York Times writer who did Bernie’s obituary. Of all the facts she’d gathered about him, that seemed the most strange. “You mean unmanned missions, don’t you?”

“No,” I told her, “at McDonnell-Douglas he worked on developing trajectories for manned missions to Mars. They were sure they’d put an astronaut on Mars in 20 years’ time.” And there, too, I thought to myself, would be the place for practice.

Long past retirement age he was still stretching out—let’s do work in Springfield, there’s a big building in which we could build some businesses and hire people off the street, the sheriff wants us to go into the prisons. He wanted to go everywhere and develop new tools so that everyone—not just Zen practitioners—could experience no separation.

But oh, two people living under the same roof, that’s a whole other thing. We did what other couples do—laughed, cried, sulked, talked, went mute. Argued about his lack of feelings.

“He lost his mother when he was so young,” his older sisters told me over and over again. “And he went to live with his uncaring father and new wife. So of course things happened.”

We loved Italian coffee and movies. We loved Zen Peacemakers.

“May you remember him with all his lights and all his shadows,” someone wrote me, and I thought of Paul McCartney’s song:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Black-bird fly
Black-bird fly, into the light of a dark black night

WIDOW

“Aussie, where is my other gray wool sock?”

“I can’t talk right now.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m busy chewing on it.”

“Aussie, for heaven’s sake, you have made the empty space right in front of Bernie’s picture into your personal junkyard. Where’s the respect?”

“I’m a juvenile delinquent, I don’t respect nobody.”

“The Man didn’t ask for respect. He didn’t care about that, certainly not in the last years of his life.”

“Who asked you, Stanley? And why am I talking to a dead dog anyway? Talk to the Delinquent, Stanley. She’s tearing up not only his shoes but also the orange bag he used to carry his iPad in when he only had the use of one arm.”

“Aren’t you doing the same thing?”

“What’s that, Stan?”

“Tearing things apart.”

“I guess so, maybe. I have to break apart bank accounts, credit cards, title to a car, title to a house. I even have to break apart the sense of being half of one whole.”

“You’re doing what Aussie’s doing.”

“Only she’s having more fun, Stanley. Tearing things apart isn’t fun for me.”

“Of course not. You’re the widow.”

“I am not! I hate that word.”

Widow? What’s wrong with it?”

“Oh Stanley, when you say widow I think of someone wearing all black and hiding herself inside a veil. Or else she throws herself onto the funeral pyre. I’m not a widow, Stanley, just a little less than I was.”

“You’re a widow, Eve. Hear it, listen to it. Your husband died, you’re a widow. Say the word after me: Widow.”

“The man from Social Security called me that when he talked to me of widow’s benefits. I could hardly hear what he had to say, Stanley.”

“That’s because you’re a widow.”

“I’m not.”

“You’re confused.”

“You’re right about that, Stan.”

“You’ll get it in time.”

“You know what’s hard for me, Stanley? When I talk to people who were close to him. We tell the same stories, we laugh about the same things. And then I hear the person on the other end of the line say something to someone behind her, maybe even laugh. But there’s no one behind me. No one to laugh at, no one to say to: Just a minute I’ll be right there.”

“You do have Awesome making a racket in her junk yard.”

“That’s true, there’s always the Juvenile Delinquent destroying things right in front of Bernie’s picture like some wrathful dakini, enjoying every minute of it. I guess I have that.”

THE MYSTERY OF THINGS

Aussie and I started going up the hill yesterday, and she paused. Ahead was heavy mist, the light of the sun struggling to come through.

My life, too, feels like a fog right now. Not even what’s ahead, more like: What’s now? How does it feel? How do I feel? Going through motions. Swimming in fog.

Not-knowing is not fog. It’s clarity unobscured by fear, pretension, and the endless chasing of our tail through words. But fog is also about not knowing. When I drive through the mists at night I squint trying to make out the road. Walking in the fog is more restful. I don’t strain, I’m satisfied with the mystery of things.

Retreat starts tomorrow, celebrating the awakening of a man many years ago who went deeper into not-knowing than anyone, and called it enlightenment. I wish to follow in his footsteps and dedicate the merits of the retreat, whatever good effects it brings, to my husband Bernie.

The blog will be silent till Monday.

BERNIE AND SARASVATI

Bernie’s first gift to me when we came together as a couple was this statue of the Hindu goddess, Sarasvati. Her name refers mostly to certain rivers, at times standing for healing water, but Sarasvati can also refer to speech, the goddess of eloquence.

I gave Sarasvati away some years ago, and now she came back. She sits next to a drawing of Bernie done by our neighbor, the artist Jack Coughlin. That drawing is now at the center of my altar and receives incense and candlelight each morning, while Sarasvati is at his side. But one day—perhaps after Bernie’s 49th day, perhaps after the New Year—she’ll take her place at the center of the altar.

I think of my Bernie. I think of his Sarasvati. The two loved their work together. Sarasvati never had a doubt in her mind about the breadth and clarity of Bernie’s vision. All of life was his practice, and as he grew older he seemed to give up more and more attachment to this form vs. that form, this way of practice rather than that way, certainly this spiritual tradition vs. another. The very vocabulary became foreign to him. Everything became bigger, nothing was excluded. He was more aware of areas where he hadn’t engaged much, things he apologized for and wished he’d done differently. But this went with a radical acceptance of life as it is, a radical acceptance of himself as he was.

It was in our personal life that our differences arose. We were so different from one another, and we lived together. Which brings me to love.

For Bernie and me, love never implied two matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that came together. We didn’t match; sometimes these two strong personalities, 11 years apart in age, barely fit. We loved to laugh and watch movies together, we loved to talk about Zen Peacemakers, projects, and what different folks were doing. And sometimes we were very quiet, especially in the last years after his stroke.

The most intimate moments that I remember from that time were spent sitting over the dining table by the kitchen and admitting to each other that we didn’t fit perfectly, or even near perfectly, that between us lots of needs remained unmet. I admitted that I couldn’t be there for him all the time, he admitted there were things he wanted to do for me now that he would never be able to do. We knew we often didn’t even talk the same language.

The gap was there over those dinners; it was probably always going to be there. We’d sit in silent acknowledgment of it, no blame or anger, not even disappointment, just seeing that this was our life together, unified and relentlessly imperfect, till he’d say, “I’m tired, I have to go up.”

“Okay,” I’d say. And it wasn’t just an okay to his going upstairs, it was an okay to the gap, and to letting that gap be.

We certainly had that love that came out of seeing eye-to-eye, the excitement of being parts of something unified and whole. It’s great when you’re going great guns and you love each other because you fit each other hand in glove. That’s when your energy is so contagious that it spills out into the world.

After his stroke we had much less of that, many more of the moments when we could see our streams diverging, when contrasts stood out in sad honesty. That, too, was love. A different kind of love, more private, aching, when you get to the heart of things and there isn’t much more to say. We would contemplate those moments not in silence but in a tender kind of quiet, the sun setting just beyond the right-most window, Stanley settling down from his restless pacing after food. And it always ended the same way: “I’m tired,” he’d say, “I need to go upstairs.”