Fight like a woman. That’s what Jorge’s yellow t-shirt says. He stands under the pictures of the women who developed the Luiza Mahin Community School and all its projects.

“They are called the Women of the Loge,” Koho Mello tells me. “You know what loge means?”

“In our theaters loge refers to the top of the theater,” I say.

“Exactly. They were the women who would meet on the roof to discuss how to start a school for the children of this neighborhood. At that time they had nowhere else to meet.”

They are all women of color. Big women, old women, not-so-old women, and most essential, young women. They took the initiative to create a school for the children of this impoverished area of Salvador in Bahia called Uruguay.

Uruguay, and the enclaves around it, was built on what was once wet, muddy ground. The locals on their own dredged the land and built their homes there, and only later the government contributed some concrete. Some were people who’d been enslaved–Brazil didn’t end slavery till 1888, less than 150 years ago–and escaped here.

It’s crowded, with tin-roof shacks and narrow aisles and alleys, half-naked children playing on the dusty pavement and thin dogs panting in whatever shade they can find.

When you come in, you see this sign at the Luisa Mahin School: You are not children of slaves, you are children of free people who were enslaved.

300 children will come back to the school next week after the Carnaval break, studying in shifts, and teachers are already preparing the small, clean classrooms for their arrival. The adjacent lot is vacant and they have plans to obtain and develop it into a child care center for 200 children. How? With what money and resource? Nobody knows yet, but they’ve developed all their programs from nothing so they have faith.

There is art work in the rooms and a library on the second floor, open to the general public, with books and videos.

The librarian, who does bibliotherapy, sits us down in a circle, rings a bell, and reads aloud A Visita, a children’s book about a young girl who’s afraid to leave the house but gets a visit from a young boy who keeps her company and then, when it gets late, finally leaves. The final sentences don’t tell you that she now has the courage to leave the house; rather, the girl is left to reflect on this unusual day.

No easy answers.

I’m asked to say a few words of comfort to two beautiful young women who work there, sisters who just lost both parents in one week.

“How did they die?” I ask.

“The father died of a heart attack. The mother died in an accident when the roof of their house crashed down on her.”

I also have no answers, but I need not worry, no one is looking for any, they’re just bearing witness. Everyone has had such experience.

Later, in the Community Center that is part of Luiza Mahin, I meet a mother and daughter who look alike.

“My mother is a great woman,” the daughter tells me with her arm around her mother (my poor memory can’t catch up with all the names). “My brother was murdered. When my mother confronted his killer, she said: ‘Behind you I see your mother, who suffers like me. How can I hate you?'”

Jamira heads the community center. She introduces us to Lorena, a dancer who does art and dance. “I had a close friend who works with me, but she can’t make it here because she doesn’t have money for the bus,” she explains.

We meet Carlos, who is trying to develop local tourism for Luiza Mahin . He says some words to me in English, proud that he was given a grant to study my language.

Jamira takes us a few blocks down, then onto an alley. There is trash strewn about, three children playing on the ground, and even a smell of urine. In the middle of all that we enter a narrow house which is an interfaith center, with a small room for individual reflection and spiritual nourishment, soft music, and an upstairs room for workshops. On Wednesdays they give out soup to the entire neighborhood.

We make a circle and talk about our understanding of God, of the unknown, of spirituality. The stories we hear!

Jamira tells us that this entire neighborhood will be transformed one day. She can see it, and she helps us see it. Here more schools, there a child care center, a community park in the center, a jobs center up the block, and always, always arts.

“You know,” I tell her, “the Zen Peacemakers started in Riverdale, NY, a wealthy neighborhood. Bernie wanted us to move to southwest Yonkers, a low-income neighborhood with a crack epidemic. We looked at the big projects, the schools with their spiked fences, the pit bulls lunging at us from overgrown yards, and the countless needles on the sidewalks, and our hearts sank.

But that’s not what Bernie saw. He saw a bakery here, new apartments for homeless families there, a computer center a block down, an AIDS center and housing for people with HIV, music and art everywhere. He called Yonkers a Cathedral City.

You remind me of him,” I tell her.

Verena, Jamira, Carlos, Koho and me on way to Interfaith Center
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.


People ask me: Why go far away to see the tsures of life (tsures is Yiddish for troubles)? Don’t you see enough in your own back yard? My work partner, Sensei Koho Mello, and I are in Brazil to look at putting final touches for our bearing witness retreat in Bahia which starts on April 30, but why bother?

You don’t have to go to Brazil, Poland, Rwanda, or anywhere else to see the truth of what the Buddha taught so many years ago, that life is suffering, that no one is immune to disappointment, that racism abounds, that anti-semitism abounds, that religious prejudice abounds, or that, as my friend likes to say, the rich are always screwing the poor (if not individually, then certainly through political/social/economic systems).

In a time of climate change, you fly elsewhere to see different versions of the same thing? Witnessing the struggles of undocumented Latino families in the next town is not enough? Seeing the struggle of working-class, born-in-the-USA Americans to put food on the table is not enough? The fight against logging of forests in your own Happy Valley–that’s not enough?

I put this question to my host here in Porto Alegre, Ovidio Waldemar, psychiatrist and an early pioneer of family therapeutic systems in Brazil, who will be at our May retreat in Bahia, and he said: “It’s a state of consciousness. It’s like looking at a diamond. You see it from one side, a glittering, flat surface, and you think you know what it is. You see another side, and now that you’ve seen two sides you know there’s a little more to the story. And finally you see it from more and more sides, and now you realize–it’s a diamond. Wow, I didn’t know that!”

It’s not just suffering you see, but also kindness, love, humor, joy, devotion, and awakening to the essence of humanhood. Yes, I know, there’s so much love and caring back home. Jimena and Byron, through whom I transmit funds for the local immigrant community, brought me to the Boston airport in bad weather and will pick me up very early on Saturday morning when I return. Do I have to go to Brazil to bear witness?

It changes my consciousness as to what is possible in this world. I see the fuller diamond.

Yesterday, Ovidio took Koho and me to Acao Paramita, a Tibetan center outside Porto Alegre, for a presentation on the Zen Peacemakers. We are here in Porto Alegre, south of Bahia, to also talk of Bernie’s book, Instructions to the Cook, and the book I co-authored with Roshi Egyoku Nakao, The Book of Householder Koans. But first, Ovidio suggested that we visit a small favela very close to the large Tibetan residential center. “There’s a woman there,” he said.

It poured during our entire drive, but when we met Dionisia Machado the rain stopped.

The heavyset, short woman greeted us outside a small, new community center only completed in the past year. Before that, she had cooked for the community’s children lunch every day in her own much smaller house, all at no pay. Now, in the large, bare room she feeds some 75 children their main meal (and for many practically their only real meal) for the day, which consists mostly of rice and beans. She has no money for meat She has been doing this for years.

The second floor consists of half a dozen old, donated computers and another 10 chairs where the children can get support for their studies or do homework. She opens up a tiny storage room which contains a few bag of beans, pasta, and cornmeal. A family with 6 children had just arrived in the favela and the children had tasted beans for the first time because they’ve never had even beans till now

Adjacent to the supply closet is a small space with a long cloth on the bare floor, and on it some thin sofa cushions on which mothers can sit for silence and meditation. She has learned meditation from Lama Samten and his community members.

Everyone who lives there has once been homeless, including Dionisia, and came here to squat in a development project left unfinished when the developers ran out of money. No water, no electricity, the roads becoming mud in the rain. The Tibetan center helped them obtain legal status in the unfinished homes and finally a real infrastructure.

“What do people do for work?” I ask her.

“They work in odd jobs–construction, house cleaning, anything they can get.” And they send their children to Dionisia for lunch.

“I drank for years,” she told us, seated at the table, “but I stopped.” She is 71 and was once deeply afraid of death, but no longer. She does her little bit; that’s enough.

But she has plans. Walking with great difficulty, she takes us up heavy, steep, stone stairs to her own home where she once fed the children in the front room. She no longer needs the front room for that purpose, instead she wants to open a bakery and train mothers to bake cakes for sale while their children are being cared for in the building below.

Dionisia has 6 children and 10 grandchildren. Once a year, on her birthday, her children gather to be with her and bring a bouquet of flowers, and each child presents one flower to her before beginning to celebrate. On her last birthday she told them: “Don’t bring anything. Let’s come and cook together, eat, and then bring food to the homeless families under the colonnade in Porto Alegre.” She had lived there while homeless.

They resisted, that’s not what they were coming for, they were coming for a party. Besides, who wants to remember that time? In the end, they did as she asked. “But you know what made me happy?” she says. “My daughter had a birthday where she lives, and what she wanted for her birthday was to cook a birthday meal with her children and bring the food to the homeless families under the colonnade.”

We walk back down to the small community center below. The neighbor’s radio blasts loud music the entire time we’re there. Dionisia pauses on the steps, resting her thick, arthritic legs, and says: “That music used to bother me very much, but now I hardly hear it. And I am not afraid of death.”

Today Koho and I head off to Bahia.


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.


I am enroute to Brazil.

Why Brazil? To go to Bahia next week, where we plan a bearing witness retreat for members of the Zen Peacemaker Order. Well over 4 million Africans came through Bahia to be enslaved, particularly on brutal sugar plantations. A few escaped and established their own communities, which faced constant attacks from the Portuguese. Their descendants live there to this day, taking pride in safeguarding African traditions. There must be easier ways to integrate cultures and ways of life.

I was in Brazil 18 years ago to participate in and speak in the World Social Forum. The Poor Man’s Davos, they called it.

Lula had just been elected for the first time and you couldn’t miss the elation in the air. He flew down to Porto Allegre, where I will be this weekend, to meet with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. I stood outside the stadium where the two spoke. heard Chavez yelling loudly to the crowds, greeted by yells equally loud.

Several years later, when Barack Obama was elected, many of us felt that same elation, as if now anything was possible. He would show us the way, he told us we could, he said that dreams are meant to be realized big-time and yes, we can realize them.

Eighteen years have passed since then. Obama has been out of the White House for 7 years, Chavez is no longer living, and Lula, who looks so much older now, survived a year-and-a-half in prison and was just re-elected.

Chavez was followed by the dictator Maduro, and Venezuela went from an oil-rich country to one whose residents try to escape in big numbers. Brazil saw 3/4 of a million deaths from covid and Brazilians only narrowly defeated Bolsonaro and got Lula back in office. Barack Obama was followed by Donald Trump.

The pendulum swings seem to go wider and wider, as if crying out: Look what we’re doing now. And now. And now.

I am waiting for no messiah; not one day passes that doesn’t invite me to add a small, modest quota to the general wellbeing.

I am inspired by Jimmy Carter, who  was routed by Ronald Reagan and returned to his small Georgia town, living humbly in his 2-bedroom house, bringing his toolkit with him when he joined up with Habitat for Humanity, eschewing private jets to fly with the rest of us, walking up and down to shake hands. A white man from Georgia whose skin now is mottled and a patchy red, a deep faith in God. Maybe it takes old age to finally make the color of our skin less relevant.


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.


Tomorrow, I leave for Brazil.

The Zen Peacemaker Order is planning a bearing witness retreat for its members in Bahia, about which I’ll write more later, and I am going down there to “walk” the retreat ahead of time, look into possibilities and contingencies. The retreat is basically already planned due to the good work of my Brazilian work partner, Sensei Koho Mello, and his friends in Bahia. But whenever we developed other such retreats, be they at concentration camps, Rwanda, the Balkans, or the Black Hills in the US, we always went there ahead of time, and this is no exception.

I will write more about this trip, and especially Bahia, but first there are the mundane details of travel. And as I get older, mundane details that I once laughed at become more of a challenge, starting to feel like a retreat by itself.

Rain starts this evening, turns to snow, turns to an ice storm. Or mixed precipitation, as the weather folks call it, which means a combination of rain, snow, sleet, hail, and certainly icing, and continuing till noon tomorrow. The roads will be bad for quite a while after that.

My friends, Byron and Jimena, offered to drive me all the way to Logan Airport 2 hours away and pick me up when I return very early on Saturday morning, March 4. It would save me expensive parking fees. I will also give Jimena close to $1,500 for rent for a mother with three children moving into a shared apartment and covering a heat bill. But driving on icy roads?

I took it up with them this morning and they said it was up to me, but they were okay with it. We agreed they would take me tomorrow driving my car, which has terrific studded winter tires.

But before that, my mind raced. Drive to Boston this evening, stay at an airport motel, and leave car at airport? I’d have to hurry and get out by evening.

And what’s wrong with that? a voice inside asked. Years ago, you packed everything—clothes and the office—inside of 90 minutes for a 3-week trip, not an 8-day trip like this one. You can pull it out.

Physically, I can. But hurrying has become anathema. I know how to do it, how to print out with precision the travel documents I need, how to pack clothes on the list, how to focus without losing my head. I just don’t want to hurry anymore.

The Zen teacher Nancy Baker, who just published her wonderful book Opening to Oneness, said that there are all kinds of stealing. When we hurry, she said, we’re stealing from the future. I stand guilty as charged and wish to change my ways. I want to slow down, do things fully. Someone said that if you do something wholeheartedly, all sentient beings come into your life.

Go down to the basement and bring up the valise, which is at least 25 years old. Feel the canvas and Bernie comes in; it was he who urged me to get the Eagle Creek valise, saying it’s expensive but sturdy and has a lifetime guarantee.

Open up the top flap and rummage around with my fingers. Did mice get in? Mice enter the moment.

A tiny earring falls out; I must have left it from my last trip. I pick it up, remember I wore the earring in my trip to Israel in December, and instantly Israel and the Sinai, where we went for a long weekend, enter the moment.

Aussie sniffs the valise, walks away. She doesn’t like it when I pack. Henry, on the other hand, drops Albert, the stuffed puffin, inside because Henry loves to drop his toys inside every container in the house, including the dishwasher, the laundry bin, the trash, and now the valise. I shoo him away and remove Albert, but Henry, Aussie, and Albert both have entered my life, along with Grand Manan Island where I bought him Albert last summer and the people I met there.

My years of travel with Bernie enter the moment, the many treks across airports pulling the valise on its reliable wheels, surrounded by thousands of folks from all nationalities, Bernie fingering the cigar ready in his shirt pocket because he can’t wait to get into the car and smoke.

Are you bored with your life? Do something wholeheartedly, and you don’t have to worry about living in some rural, unseen corner of the universe, the entire universe enters your life, right there at your fingertips. It’s all there, even as I’m conscious of only the tiniest fraction of it.

Snow has begun. And tomorrow? Will we make it on the icy roads? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe I’ll miss the plane, maybe the flight will be canceled along with 1,200 cancelled flights today, many more tomorrow. That won’t be in my hands. Drive slowly, focus on my breath, abide Dude-like. Don’t hurry.

                      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.


“Guess what, Aussie? The New Yorker has an article on Peter Cunningham.”


“Our friend, Peter Cunningham, the photographer. Remember we visited him and Ara Fitzgerald last summer at Grand Manan Island?”

“I LOVED Ara. She was constantly stroking and petting me, making a big fuss, letting me sleep on the bed in the dining room so that I could look out the window and greet everyone who came to the door. Is she also in The New Yorker? By the way, what’s The New Yorker?”

“It’s an elite, elite, elite New York weekly, with articles, reviews, cartoons, photos, and short stories from some of the best English-language writers. They did an article and photos on Peter’s encounter with Henri Cartier-Bresson and how he took him all around New Jersey to take photos.”

“New Jersey? Who takes photos of New Jersey?”

“Now you’re sounding a little like The New Yorker yourself, Aussie. The point is, Peter has been a great photographer for many years.”

“He’s taken photos of The Man, right?”

“But not just of Bernie, but also of the Boss, Springsteen, Madonna, so many of our best-known artists. We can see some of them on his website, Aussie. You should see his photos of our retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Black Hills. He has done some beautiful photography books, and now he’s in The New Yorker!”

“I haven’t seen you this excited in a long time.”

“You know, Aussie, it’s not easy to be successful as an artist. You can barely make a living, in fact most artists have to hold other jobs just to keep a roof over their head. You work hard in anonymity for years and years.”

“So, when are you going to appear in The New Yorker?”

“I haven’t done anything to appear in The New Yorker.”

“You’ve written about me.

“You’re not New Yorker material, Aussie.  Peter’s photographed the fishermen in Grand Manan and the events of 9/11 in Manhattan. He did exquisite photos of Bernie and Peter Matthiessen on a Zen pilgrimage in Japan. He even photographed the old Bronx Yankee Stadium before they destroyed it even though he’s a Red Sox fan. Came the post-season, he and I would exchange some nasty emails and—”

“So why did I have to get adopted by you, a nobody?”

“You know, Auss, even nobodys who never get into The New Yorker have value in the world.”

“Not much.”

“We do things, Aussie.”

“Like what?”

“Things nobody hears about. We drive friends to the hospital, we cook meals for a soup kitchen, we take care of children and the elderly, we help clean up a river and protect trees and drive over to someone’s home with a hot meal—”

“Who cares? Nobody ever hears about them!”

“We volunteer at animal shelters, which is where you’re heading if you say one more word. It doesn’t matter if you ever get into The New Yorker or not, Aussie, just be a mensch, as Bernie used to say.”

“Did he ever get into The New Yorker?”

“Oh Aussie, can’t you be happy just being a nobody?”

“No. Do you think Peter could create a book of photographs on me? Just think of it, I could be smiling at millions of people from a coffee table.”

“I don’t think so, Auss. And photography books don’t sell by the millions.”

“This one will. And you can write the captions.”

“I don’t want to write captions, Aussie.”

“[Groan] Life just ain’t worth living if you’re not a celebrity.”

                    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 Buddha angel where I sit

“Suffering can be a lens through which you break and see the essence of humanity.”

I listened to Rabbi Tirzah Firestone yesterday talk about her latest book, Wounds Into Wisdom. The big attraction for me was to also hear the Canadian/Hungarian doctor and trauma specialist Gabor Mate speak there. I was deeply moved by him, but that takes another blog post.

Tirzah, whom I met many years ago both in Colorado and in Jerusalem, said essentially this: Suffering can be a lens through which you see to the suffering of all humanity. Or it can become something special, which leads to victimhood.

I thought about this in connection with Jewish perception of history and current events. There is no question in my mind about 2,000 years of exile, dehumanization, and persecution that Jews went through, culminating with the Holocaust. As Gabor Mate said, horrific genocides, not to mention enslavement, have occurred throughout the world, but not one was so coldly mechanical, dispassionate, and calculated, causing mass murder to transcend the realm of rage and passion and tumble into the land of logic, policy, and method. I’ve been to Auschwitz-Birkenau many times, and I still can’t get over how guards and soldiers could see little children, scared and holding on to their mothers’ hands while crying, march off to gas chambers.

No one can doubt the suffering. It’s the specialness of that suffering that is in question for me.

We refer to ourselves as a chosen people. This has lots of spiritual and religious nuance. The Dalai Lama, when asked what he thought about that, said that he wished all people felt chosen in some way. It’s when we combine specialness or chosenness with suffering, however, and develop our identity from that combination, that we get into trouble.

Suddenly it’s important to emphasize the specialness of our suffering, how no one else suffered like we did, becoming a race to see who’s the greater sufferer, who’s the greatest victim. Nowhere in the Bible is “chosenness” combined with suffering; instead, it points to obeying God’s wishes. But over history, chosenness or specialness have come together with suffering and become their own rigid identity.

Even the most prosperous American Jews, those who’ve attended the best schools and have the money they need to live well, scratch under the surface and immediately they become nervous and defensive, taking on the mantle of victimhood, as if saying: “We have always suffered, and we know it’s right around the corner at all times. It’s our legacy. It’s what it means to be Jewish.”

The Buddha said that everyone suffers, that in fact life is suffering. Obviously more or less depending on conditions, but there is no life without suffering and disappointment, even catastrophe. When you truly take that to heart, you are less shocked and stunned than others by reversals in health, family, work, or society. More important, you realize deeply that this is true for everyone. Everyone suffers, trauma lies hidden in many, many places, as Mate has pointed out over his lifetime.

When we take suffering as a lens through which to see others, it increases our empathy, our care, our sense of sisterhood and brotherhood with everyone. But when we make our suffering special, unshared by anyone else who isn’t of our nation, we’ve made a personal and national identity out of it, which leads to greater separation rather than less.

Even as a very young girl I was turned off by sayings like: Look at what happened to us and nobody else. The teachers in the religious school I attended went to great length to imprint on students the specialness and uniqueness of that suffering. The antidote to that suffering was to feel ennobled and unusual, to stand out among the nations. Not to mention building up an army as well as nuclear weapons, as Israel has done.

Suffering is at the essence of what it is to be human. Is it the only thing? Of course not. But I visit senior centers and see even the most successful and fortunate of men and women suffering from old age, illness, fear, and deep loneliness. Various forms of suffering fueled the Buddha in his search for enlightenment. We can’t run away from it.

When we see it broadly enough, bear witness to the slavery and genocides, the children dying of malnutrition even as I type these words, you see the common thread binding all of us. In Zen we’re warned against cutting that thread and finding relief in some version of nirvana, but rather always vowing to be with and among those whose life is hard and bitter.

“Get out of your specialness as the biggest suffering victim,” Rabbi Tirzah said at the end of the session. Don’t feel chosen in that way, unique, or exceptional. Take your place in line with all of humanity, says Rabbi Eve, for joy, change, transformation, and yes, suffering, too.

                      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.


There was such a buzz around ChatGPT and its artificial intelligence chatbot that I decided to give it a try.

I found it online, registered, and asked it to write a couple of songs. It did.

Then I asked it to write me a dharma talk. It did that, too, a Buddhism 101 lecture almost anyone can give at the local library. I asked for another dharma talk, and this time I got a talk focused on the Four Noble Truths. It added some Pali words just in case.

“How about a sonnet in the style of William Shakespeare?” I suggested.

“Certainly,” it said right away, and wrote:

When I behold the beauty of the night,

The moon and stars that twinkle in the skies,

I am amazed by their celestial light

And think of all the mysteries that lie

Beyond this world that we call our own.”

There was some more but I won’t reproduce the rest.

“Tell me a joke,” I said.

“Certainly,” it said:

Why don’t scientists trust atoms?

Because they make up everything.”

“That’s a better dharma talk than the first two,” I told it.

It blinked a few times, then said: “I apologize if my previous responses did not meet your expectations. I am constantly learning and improving, so I appreciate your feedback.”

You can tell it ain’t human.

“Ask it what it thinks of dogs,” suggests Aussie.

“As an AI language model, I don’t have personal opinions or feelings,” it shoots back.

“Ask it how we get rid of Chihuahuas,” she says.

Response: “As an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to make anything physically disappear or cause any harm. It’s also worth noting that Chihuahuas, like all animals, deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and it’s not appropriate to wish harm or disappearance upon any living creature.”

“I told you these things are biased,” Aussie says. “They give you all this goody-goody liberal bullshit. And they call this artificial intelligence!” She gives a snort and walks away.

My fingers dance on the keys. “Why is Aussie such a bitch?” I ask.

This time it blinks many times. “I’m sorry but I cannot respond to that question as it is inappropriate and offensive. It’s important to communicate respectfully and use appropriate language when asking questions or engaging in discussions. It’s also important to recognize that people, including those from Australia (often called ‘Aussies’), are diverse and should not be labeled or stereotyped.”

“Do you speak from your heart?” I ask it.

“As an AI language model, I do not have emotions or personal experiences, and I cannot speak from the heart.”

I mull that over a bit, then write: “ChatGPT, when I logged in it asked me to verify that I’m human. How do I verify that I’m human?”

It answered: “Verifying that you’re human involves completing a task that is difficult or impossible for automated computer programs to do. This is known as a CAPTCHA, Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.”

“Wow. Anything simpler than that?”

“There are other, simpler methods for verifying that you are human, but they may not be as secure.”

I give up. “Tell me another joke,” I suggest.

“Sure, here’s a joke for you:

Why did the tomato turn red?

Because it saw the salad dressing.”

                       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.


A short while ago I talked with a friend who’s going to tour Israel. She was excited, she hadn’t been there in some 27 years.

“Are you going to go into Bethlehem?” I asked. What I really wanted to ask was whether the tour would include the Palestinian West Bank.

“We’re going everywhere,” she said happily, and mentioned how much she loved being in Israel, the people, the warmth, the lights.

I hung up, continued to walk with Aussie, and thought of what is happening in Israel, my country of birth.

The current government wants to undermine the independence of the judiciary, and specifically (though not exclusively) the Supreme Court, by passing a bill that would enable Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to override the Court’s decision by a majority of just one vote.

Given Israel’s form of government, the membership in the Knesset usually reflects the Prime Minister’s coalition, unlike, say, in the US, where we could have a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority Senate, and a Republican majority House. In Israel right now, the Knesset reflects the right-wing coalition of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, leaving only the Supreme Court to block government actions and bills it disagrees with.

Not that the Israeli Supreme Court is any kind of radical court. It usually approves actions by the government and army, including land appropriations. It accepts the security mantra like most Israelis; only rarely has it taken decisions opposed to government measures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But those few times were too many for the right-wing bloc, including most ultra-orthodox Jews who also don’t care for the Court much (or for democratic values, for that matter), and they are pushing to undermine the Court’s power.

While many take to the streets in protest, almost all seem to agree on one thing: This has nothing to do with the Palestinians. This has nothing to do with what takes place in the West Bank. This is not a fight between left-wing Israelis, who want to reach a political agreement with the Palestinians, and right-wing Israelis, who want nothing of the kind.

One of our major newspapers, reporting that such large-scale demonstrations haven’t been seen since the negotiations with Palestinians in the 1990s, quoted the head of an Israeli policy think tank. She said that the disagreements in the 1990s were “’about the border of the state. This is much more serious: It’s about the character of the state.’”

I beg to differ. The relations between Israel and Palestine have everything to do not just with borders but with the very character of Israel. Always has.

In 1967, after Israel conquered the West Bank, a handful of people warned that the occupation of the West Bank would change Israel itself morally, ethically, and politically, including basic governing principles. Very few listened, but this is exactly what happened; the recent events around the Supreme Court are just another symptom of this trend.

Humans are able to compartmentalize bigly, as our ex-President liked to say, and people seem to think that they can have their democracy even as their government enforces a brutal occupation. They know what’s going on, but it’s not happening in their own cities and towns, it’s happening away (as if there is away). They believe it doesn’t affect them, they can go about their lives and proclaim happily that they live in the only democracy in the Middle East.

They have developed an incredible ability to live in denial of what is being done by their democratic country: new settlements and checkpoints that impede a free flow of Palestinians from one area to another. They’re in denial of the fact that they send their own children to serve in an army that enforces expropriations of land and water, and stands by when settlers set fire to olive groves and threaten inhabitants. They don’t seem to mind that this is what their children see and experience at the age of 18.

Many years ago, my sister and I drove to the Dead Sea in summer. On the way we encountered checkpoints where Israelis were just waved through while, in the adjoining lane, a mile of cars bearing Palestinian car plates, filled with families, were made to wait for hours in the heat while young soldiers looked them over slowly and leisurely, indifferent to the cries of children or the looks on the faces of elderly grandparents.

“We’ll pay a big price for this one day,” my sister commented.

I never forgot her words. This was long before suicide bombers, long before intifadas. But corruption had already begun.

The same people who spill onto the streets now didn’t do so when the government passed laws stigmatizing Israeli NGOs that focused on human rights. They didn’t spill onto the streets when the government designated half a dozen Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations. They don’t spill out onto the streets demanding that their human rights not come at the cost of the human rights of others. Nor do they spill out onto the streets in the face of warnings that Israel can’t possibly be both a democracy and an occupying power.

Over 40 years ago, before the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, I met two handsome, gracious brothers from that country on a skiing trip in Austria. They were terrific skiers, had come to Europe annually to ski in winter, and told me they belonged to a special military unit not formally recognized by the army that does all kinds of dirty work on the army’s behalf.

“You mean, like a paramilitary group?” I asked.

They laughed and shrugged. Yes, like a paramilitary group in a country that called itself a democracy. South Africa’s laws didn’t just victimize black Africans, they also undermined the country’s democratic laws for its own white citizens. The judicial branch adopted severe laws against white people who fought against apartheid (nothing like what it did to black fighters), the military was given broad license to go after anyone who fought against it (always labeled terrorists), and media publications against apartheid were banned. We’re talking about white Afrikaans, not the black Africans who suffered much, much worse.

Bernie used to say that the world is a mandala, and that whatever part of the mandala you leave out of your work will then sabotage your efforts. I believe this is what the Israelis are witnessing now, even as most don’t see it.

The white elephant in the room isn’t the Supreme Court or even Bibi Netanyahu, it is the continued settling of the West Bank, the systematic thievery, and denigrating treatment of its Palestinian citizens. Regardless of how this particular crisis will play out, you can’t have occupation and democracy, the system is self-corrupting. In the end, which will it be?

                    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.



I hadn’t gone out to light incense for Kwan-yin due to the weather, including snow, ice, rain, and the terrible freeze of last weekend. I usually do that in the early mornings after meditation and feeding Aussie, and before looking at the computer over a cup of coffee. In fact, I go out with my bathrobe over my pajamas, slipping my bare feet into boots, lighting a stick of incense at one of our altars inside and then walking out towards her, trying not to slip on the ice.

I finally went out one morning this past week with the usual stick of incense in my hand to put down at her feet, and immediately noticed the state of Kwan-yin’s arm. It looks like it’s ready to fall off, I thought to myself. A deep sorrow overcame me.

Lori told me that the last time I was traveling, she saw Aussie chewing on a squirrel from the window of her office. “Leave it!” she yelled and hurried downstairs. She had to shout it another couple of times before Aussie left it, begrudgingly.

“I was sure the squirrel was dead,” she told me later, “I’d seen blood on it. I went to get a shovel to carry the body away, but as I approached the squirrel got up on its feet and ran to her,” she said, “you know who I mean.”


“Yes, it climbed up on top and entered inside her head.”

She’s still taller than I am (though we’d had to shave off the bottom part of her last year after her fall), and while I could see a big crack on top of the head, I couldn’t see inside without climbing a ladder.

I talked to a carpenter long ago who said there wasn’t much to do, the wood was giving way, rotted outside by rain and snow, devoured from the inside by critters taking refuge inside her body. Kwan-yin is often represented with many arms and hands, able to heal everyone and everything. But one will fall away soon.

Recently I received an email about the cancellation of an outing. “We’re canceling out of an abundance of caution,” my friends wrote.

Hmmm, I thought. Abundance of caution. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Kwan-yin with her many arms is who I think about when I think of abundance. She reminds me that life is abundant, full of help, love, trees, kangaroos, flowers, dogs and children, no reason to scrimp anywhere.

Caution is, well, cautious. My body slows down immediately when I’m cautiously walking on ice. It contracts as I look ahead, stepping solidly and slowly on the freezing earth. Caution is driving slowly in the fog last night, braking often, gingerly picking up a glass of hot water. Caution is contraction and care, a different energy from gay, expansive abundance.

How do you put the two together? What is abundance of caution?

I think the phrase came into big use during covid, when people used it to explain their absence from various places and meetings, all for good reason. But it has remained in use, and now the oxymoron is used to justify never coming to anything in-person, no longer volunteering or walking with a group, never taking any chances.

Not Kwan-yin; she doesn’t hesitate. One arm, two arms, a hundred arms, she gives them all. She gives her body as shelter, herself to the world.

I usually pray for those who need praying when I light incense at her feet, but over the past days I find myself saying aloud, “Take care of your arm.” I don’t stop to remember that she’s made of wood, or even to recall that we’re all her arms, I just say those words over and over as I would to a long-time, aging friend.

                     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.



“What’s the matter, girl?”

“Don’t call me girl. I’m 5-1/2, at the peak of my powers. Grrrrr.”

“What is it, Auss?”


“Bears aren’t around in this cold time of year, Auss.”

“They were around two weeks ago when they took down the birdfeeders in the front of the house. Let’s go back to the car, I’m hungry and I don’t feel safe.”

“The bears are back in their dens and I’m not going back to the car.”

“But I need to be safe!”

“I don’t believe in safe, Aussie. None of us is safe.”

“Don’t give me that baloney—no, changed my mind, I like baloney.”

“I am aware that in this country people want to be safe, but I don’t buy it. We can’t be safe from life, from pandemics, earthquakes, from illness or death. Life isn’t safe.”

“Aussie wants to be safe.”

“Oh Aussie, you’re not even Aussie.”


“You’re not real, Auss.”

“Should I bite you and see?”

“We have no real substance, Auss. What you think is Aussie is a personality you make up in your brain, it’s a fiction. At every moment causes and conditions come together to make up someone you call Aussie, but before I can even finish this sentence they’ve changed and you’re a different Aussie.”

“Still hungry, though.”

“And once we get home and you have your rawhide treat, you’ll no longer be a hungry Aussie, you’ll be a content Aussie. In fact, Auss, you’re not Aussie at all. You’re Aussie-ing.”

“How do I do that?”

“Do what?”

“Aussie-ing? I am Aussie. I don’t do Aussie.”

“What you think of as Aussie doesn’t exist. Instead, you’re Aussie-ing, changing this way and that. You’re movement, Aussie.”

“I’m movement, all right. Rushing to the car right now.”

“Aussie, you don’t feel safe because of the condition that there may be a bear out there. The closer we get to the car, the safer you feel. Why? Because conditions have changed. So, you’re always Aussie-ing according to causes and conditions.”

“I don’t want to Aussie, sounds like a stupid dance. I want to just be Aussie.”

“Wanting to be Aussie is delusional, Aussie. It’s much better if you dance the Aussie.”

“I’m a lousy dancer.”

“This is one dance you can do, Aussie, trust me.”

“What about Henry?”

“There is no such thing as Henry. He’s Henry-ing.”

“So, the million times a day when he brings you a toy to throw, that’s Henry-ing?”

“Yes, Aussie.”

“When he barks half the night for no good reason, that’s Henry-ing?”

“I’m afraid so, Aussie.”

“What about when he’s being stupid? Isn’t that his permanent state?”

“Nothing is a permanent state, Auss.”

“There are always exceptions. What about you? Are you Eve-ing?”

“Of course. Nothing permanent about me, either.”

“What about your big belly? Hasn’t changed much, from what I can see. And the tree up there, is that tree-ing?”

“Aussie, I think you got it now. There’s nothing permanent about that tree.”

“That tree don’t dance, it’s a tree!”

“But look at the top branches that are swaying in the wind. There’s so much action inside the bark, the roots, the earth around it, it’s changing all the time. You know, Aussie, maybe that’s why you don’t feel safe.”

“Because of the bear?”

“No, because you’re not permanent. Because you’re not really Aussie, at least not an Aussie that lasts longer than a fraction of a second.”

“If I change so quickly, how come I’m not out of breath?”

“Aussie, I think you’re afraid to discover that there’s no solid you. It’s at the bottom of our existential angst. Holy shit, there’s a bear there.”

“Is it a bear or is it bear-ing? Ahh, forget it. I’m Aussie-ing hard to the car. Toodaloo!”

                    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.