OLD EGYPT ROAD

Sometimes I take the dogs to a nearby large lake and we take the path that goes all around. And somewhere on the western side of the lake there are two signs, one that points the way to going all around, and the other pointing you in the direction of Old Egypt Road. I always pause there and ask myself which way I’m going.

Long ago, Egypt was the land of slavery. Generation upon generation of Israelites were forced to build pyramids and tombs till a man called Moses led them out of Egypt and into freedom. God broke the will of the Pharoah, split the Red Sea, drowned the bad guys, gathered everybody at Sinai, and gave them the Ten Commandments.

That was followed by a Golden Calf and lots of moaning and groaning about how life wasn’t so bad in good old Egypt, the food was better for one thing, so God figured that people needed to wander for a bit in the desert to really get what he was offering. He gave up on the older generation and let them die, hoping for better things from the young ones.

Whenever I come by this intersection of paths I stand and look at the sign towards Old Egypt Road. Do I want to go back, or do I want to finish the loop around the lake?

Old Egypt is not necessarily about hard labor or a cruel taskmaster. How many of us spend our lives working really hard? True, we probably have more comfy homes and a car, wide-screen TV, video games, and Alexa. By the accounts of many sociologists, we pay for that by working much longer hours than people did long ago. We also don’t like our bosses, don’t like our presidents. Maybe Old Egypt wasn’t so bad after all.

I stand there and consider it. I met a man recently—

“Not another date!”

“Relax, Aussie, not another date. They come once every 10 years or so—”

“Good, then I’ll probably be dead when the next one comes around.”

–and he told me that he elected not to lead a conventional life. So, he got into his car and traveled all around the country, down to Latin America, then into Europe—

“Did he take the bridge or the tunnel?”

–and all around, including Africa and Asia, and he did many different things. I told him that I also decided not to live a conventional life, so I sat.

“In the same place?”

“Yup, Aussie, in the same place. I’ve visited different places, met different people, but in some way I never got up from that sitting, know what I mean?”

“No.”

Sometimes I want to go in the direction of Old Egypt Road. I want to get out of my skin, get out of my life. Go to the kitchen and scrabble around for chocolate.  Look at photos of Bernie and get nostalgic. Don’t talk to me about the One Body, it’s just Eve the little red blood cell racing around here and there, reaching fingers and toes, bringing blood and taking it away, full of her own self-importance.

“Sounds good to me.”

“It’s just half of it, Aussie, that’s the trouble.”

“Half is better than nothing.”

“Not necessarily, Auss. Go play with Henry.”

Or else I follow the path that goes around the lake and will bring me back to my car. We’ll pass a tiny beach with a circle of rocks marking where people have made a fire. We’ll examine how clear the water is, I’ll put a hand in to feel the cold and then spill the water across my face. Aussie will go in up to her belly; she could stay in all day.

Eventually we’ll make it all the way around and head out to the small parking lot that holds 7 cars max, I’ll open the back door and then the windows, check I have everything (including two dogs) and head back home. Text Jimena that the list of school supplies is not complete, a few questions about backpacks.

Like I said, I never got up.

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.
 

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A DATE

“Aussie, I have to leave you for the evening.”

“Where are you going?”

“I have a date.”

“A what?”

“A date, Aussie.”

“What’s that?”

“A date is when I meet a man and we spend a little time together.”

“A man? But you had a man! You had Bernie!”

“That’s true, Auss, but in case you haven’t noticed, he hasn’t been around much lately.”

“So you want to meet a new man? How many men do you need in your life?”

“A couple.”

“Together or one at a time?”

“Aussie, don’t be cheeky. You know how a good friend of mine refers to you now? Cheeks.”

“Because I have a cute butt?”

“I’m talking about one man, Aussie. November will be three years since Bernie died. For most of that time, at least till Lori and Henry joined us, it was just you and me.”

“Poor girl, was that too much suffering for you?”

“No, Auss, you’re good company, for a dog. I miss someone to talk to—”

“You talk to me lots. And I talk back!”

“But you don’t listen, Aussie. I mean, listen deeply. And I miss being part of a couple.”

“You were a couple—with Bernie. How could you even think of being a couple with anybody else? I’m ashamed of you.”

“Aussie, I can’t feel guilty about not wanting to wake up alone in the morning. About talking to somebody over a cup of Italian coffee.”

“What do you want to talk about that you can’t talk over with me?”

“My internal life.”

“Oh, that.”

“You know, feelings, ideas, insights, questions.”

“Boring! With Bernie you traveled. You did things, you built things!”

“We had a great time, but Aussie, things change. There’s death and there’s rebirth. I want to find new meaning for my life, a new way of being in the world, a new way of caring—and also being cared for.”

“You’ll never find anybody like Bernie.”

“I’m not looking for anybody like Bernie, one Bernie is enough for one lifetime. But endings can be new beginnings.”

“You can have your new beginning alone, or just with me.”

“I’ve thought about that, Aussie. To tell you the truth, I have no idea if I can have a new beginning with someone else. Living like this for almost three years, I’ve learned to appreciate the freedom and independence. It takes a lot of effort to be with someone. But I miss having fun. I miss laughter and sharing.”

“You have fun, laughter, and sharing with me, and look what a pain in the neck I am. Besides, what’s everybody going to say?”

Good luck, I hope. I don’t recall jumping into the flames when we put Bernie’s body into the crematorium.”

“You know what you are? You’re greedy. You’re 71, time to relax, time to stop, but not you. You always want more in your life. More! More! More!”

“There’s some truth in what you say, Auss. But it’s not just more and more, I try to be more discerning about what I want in my life. For example, do I really want to live with a dog forever?”

“Are you kidding me? I’m the best thing you got! You’ll never meet a man like me: Funny, loves water, loves to run, lots of chutzpa and in-your-face bullshit, never sleeps in your bed—the perfect companion!”

“Don’t forget cheeky, Auss.”

“Yes, got a cute butt, too.”

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.

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BUT THE PROBLEM IS

I drove to the dentist yesterday to get a fancy x-ray of my teeth, a preamble to root canal work.

On the way I called Jimena Pareja to ask about Hilaria. She told me Hilaria is still in the hospital and diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. The seizures have been brought under control, but the aneurysm is exacerbated by her deafness. Surgery has been recommended—

“But the problem is she doesn’t have real medical insurance, Eve,” says Jimena. “She has some coverage through the farms but very little, so we have to find a hospital and doctors that will do the surgery, I think maybe in Worcester.”

There is another medical program she could have qualified for—“But the problem is she doesn’t have a social security card, which is the minimum she needs.”

She is looking for other sources of help here in the Valley, “But the problem is they require her to work and she won’t be able to work for three months, according to the doctors.”

“Three months! What about her sons?”

“They are with the sister and a few others, we buy them food with the money you gave us, but the problem is there isn’t much room for them because people squeeze into apartments, you know.”

But the problem is . . . But the problem is . . . I am so used to this refrain from Jimena I could plug it in myself several times in our conversations. Nothing is ever simple. A child needs help, but the problem is his English is deficient. A family needs to move, but the problem is the father was deported and it’s just the mother with her children.

Bernie taught me a lot about living with But the problem is. Nothing was ever quick or simple. It often seemed as though every single thing about Greyston and the Zen Peacemakers was complex, with twists, turns, and meanderings nobody anticipated. I no longer get discouraged by But the problem is the way I used to be, a clear signal that my expectations have changed.

You do something, the results aren’t what you’d hoped for because something else came up, so you do something else, more karma is generated, more unknown factors suddenly come up, so you make new plans and do something else, and something else comes up: But the problem is . . .

Others say that they get overwhelmed.  I used to feel that way often. When Bernie died I felt overcome by shock, so I just did what was right in front of me. I could identify those things: sit, clean, make food, eat, walk Aussie, prepare a talk. And in some ways, I continue to do that. If I think too much further down the road (Climate change! Covid! Death!) I won’t function well at all.

We agreed that given all this, I’ll pause the food cards for a few weeks and help Hilaria as much as possible.

“Could you get the kids some school supplies?” Jimena asked me. She’s counting on an Amazon list of school supplies for kids going back to school, and yes, I said, of course I’ll post it. What they need is not expensive.

I got to the dentist and for the first time went through a 3D x-ray. I didn’t know they had something like that. When the nurse had told me how much it cost, I blanched. Insurance was covering none of it. “Are you sure it’s necessary?” I asked.

She hesitated: “You can say no, of course, but the dentist will know the state of the tooth and nerve better if he can see that ahead of time.”

I don’t usually question the competence of professionals I depend on, they have experience and education that I don’t, so I agreed.

She took me into a room I’d never been in before and had me step close to a machine with my chin on a chinrest. The machine whirred and different panels moved around my head, brushing my hair, the top of my head,and shoulders, catching a three-dimensional picture of my teeth on the lower right side of my mouth.

“Don’t move!” she warned me.

I didn’t move. But as the machine whirred around my head, I thought of how sophisticated this machine was, how other-worldly it would seem to most of the people on our planet, how extraordinary that I had access to such technology and expertise while not too far away lay a woman in the hospital who struggles to lip-read, hopes to find doctors and a hospital who will operate on her and finally return her home to her sons. Hopes to be able to return to work hard on the farms in three months’ time to support those sons. But there is a problem . . .

Yes and no. I don’t live in a world of problems, I live in a world of taking care.

I used to take to heart the difference between my life situation and others’, and I still think it’s good to remember that. But sometimes it leads to guilt and paralysis, and I don’t go there anymore. Instead, I live in a world of taking care, including myself.

This afternoon a couple I knew from our life in Santa Barbara, CA came for lunch. They’re a handsome couple and brought much needed sunlight to this cloudy Valley. They were traveling cross-country in a gorgeous RV which I peered into, ooohing and ahhhing, and we proceeded to talk, laugh and reminisce, evoking names of beautiful people we’d known. I cooked some corn (approaching its end this season) and made a terrific bean salad; even the dogs seemed full of joy.

They had more leisure than me, more laughter and light. I was so happy they’d returned to my life if only for a few hours, and I’m happy Hilaria is in my life, and even the expensive 3-D x-ray machine. All of us–excluding none– have our roles to play.

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.

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HURRICANES

What Aussie does when it rains

“Boy, Aussie, did our Hurricane Henri fizzle out! After all the hurricane and storm mongering, after bringing up the two battery-powered lamps, filling up the bathtub and big pans with water, and generally hunkering down, we got no winds at all (so no danger of fallen trees, wires and loss of power), just a lot of rain. Big deal, we’ve had lots of rain all summer!”

“That might be nice for you, but I still have our private hurricane: Hurricane Henry. How come Henry doesn’t fizzle out like Henri? They have the same goddamn name, only Henry runs around from morning to night, never leaves me alone, barks endlessly, and worst of all, always brings his friends.”

“What friends, Auss?”

“Pinky the Elephant, Al the green Gator, Wabbit the yellow rabbit, and Turtle. What happened to us? We used to be calm around here, we were on our own, self-contained, and peaceful. Now we’re a menagerie!”

“You know, Aussie, it’s easy to be peaceful when you’re alone. I just finished our summer retreat, and most of that time was peaceful. Saturday night at 10 pm I left the zendo and saw light on the driveway. I looked behind me and there was the full moon climbing out of the clouds that seem to have been with us all summer, and it was glorious. Retreat ends and we go out to face Hurricane Henri.”

“Then you come home to face Hurricane Henry.”

“I come home to hear news about the family, other people, money, the house, my teeth, it doesn’t end. So yes, it’s not easy to be peaceful when we’re with people. But I discover far more about myself from interacting with people and the world than I do when I’m sitting on my own. I’m constantly challenged, constantly make mistakes, constantly learn from those mistakes. Everything feels alive, full of change!”

“I hate change! And why is it that the things you love just as they are are the ones that change, and the ones you wish would change—like Hurricane Henry—don’t?”

“Good question, Aussie.”

I’m tired today. It used to be that I’d get up from retreats and go right to work, but no longer. I needed to rest today, not run around.

I want to thank you from deep in my heart  for the donations that streamed in for Hilaria, the deaf mother from the Dominican Republic raising three sons on her own out of a salary she makes working in a local farm. Hilaria had many seizures even in the Springfield hospital where they took her. I didn’t have a chance to hear anything about her till last night, when I saw that $2,000 had come in to help her pay her rent and utilities and buy food for her boys while she’s ill.

This morning I got a message from Jimena that Hilaria has finally been diagnosed with a serious brain aneurysm that’s causing the seizures and is still in the hospital. I texted back asking for details about her situation and needs and haven’t yet gotten an answer. I probably will get more details tomorrow, but meantime, I was so happy to see what came in for that gentle, always cheerful and warm human being, it just made my day. Thank you.

I came home and caught up with the news, especially developments in Afghanistan, and then drove to our favorite pizza shop to pick up pizza for the evening. Bernie used to go there all the time. When I arrived, the Greek pizza ( feta, olives, and spinach) wasn’t ready so I waited. Bernie couldn’t imagine ordering Greek pizza,  but it is my housemate’s favorite.

In front were two young white men, students from the local Five Colleges, taking phone calls and interacting very courteously with customers. I looked towards the back and saw that the ones who actually made the pizzas were all Latinos and Latinas, a few maybe from the community we try to support. I watched a young man (to me he looked like a boy) toss the pizza dough up and down, manipulating the dough for the crust, while behind him others slid the pizzas out of the hot ovens and put them into the white boxes. A lively banter was going on even as they worked hard.

I thought of the Afghans coming to the States, those lucky enough to get here. The media focuses on how hard it is for them to get to Kabul airport and whether or not they will be able to fly out. What we still don’t hear much about is what awaits them here in their status as refugees: split families because they had to leave parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, even spouses and children behind, a very strange new culture and language, the challenge of building new communities and new lives—and finding work. I wondered if they, too, will learn to make pizza behind the American college boys, even pizzas with feta cheese, olives and spinach like the one I finally picked up and brought home.

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.
 

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HILARIA

Fernando holding up a food gift card

I thought that I wouldn’t be posting anymore this week since our summer retreat begins tomorrow. Take a small step back from the usual mishigas of life, appreciate morning sitting, afternoon sitting, evening sitting. Feel floor under my feet (I sit in a chair), meditate with the birds (they do theirs in song).

But last night Jimena got in touch with me to tell me that one of our friends, Hilaria, was in the hospital because of seizures. I’ve always admired Hilaria, with her red hair worn in a big floppy bun on top of her head and lots of freckles on her face. I met her last summer when Tim and I brought her some furniture for the apartment she had to rent quickly when she was forced to leave after squeezing with other families for a while.

She’s from the Dominican Republic and deaf from birth. She was married and raising three sons, but when her husband started abusing her she managed to get across the border with all three sons (now 15, 13, and 8) and came here ,where she has a sister. She works in a farm to support her boys, and when she landed in the hospital her first concern was what will happen to the rent, the phone bill, food for the boys, etc.

Jimena wrote me last night: “Hi Eve, do you think we could help Hilaria instead of  doing the [food] cards because she is at hospital with seizures?”

Jimena came today with her husband, Byron, to give an update and also for coffee. She loves my coffee. They’d gone to visit Hilaria and the seizures don’t stop for long.  When she walks to the bathroom or even sits on the toilet, she loses control of her body and begins to flail. They are still doing tests but so far have been unable to diagnose what is causing the seizures (Hilaria has no history of seizures) and are therefore considering sending her to one of the Boston hospitals.

I know the hospital she’s in right now, Bernie spent a long time there when he had his stroke, they took excellent care of him. In Hilaria’s case there are more challenges. She is completely deaf but can lipread. They bring in a Spanish-speaking translator, Jimena explained, but regular translators don’t know how to work with her. They talk quickly without making sure she could see their lips and give lots of information instead of slowing down.

“She needs information in small chunks because it takes her much more time to understand what they’re saying,” Jimena said. “She keeps on nodding as if she understands, but she really doesn’t. She can’t go home because she has no one to take care of her there, they need to get to the bottom of these seizures so she must stay in the hospital and get good care. But because she can’t follow what they’re saying, she says yes to everything.”

I gave Jimena some cash I already had, but we’ll need more for rent, utilities, food, etc. Jimena will help with the boys. It’s that kind of community here; they may be illegal, but they are there for each other. Money isn’t everything, but it can really help.

If you, too, can help this lovely, always smiling, deaf mother at this time of deep trouble, please do so by following the link below Support Immigrant Families. Many, many thanks.

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.

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BRING THEM ALL IN!

Our annual summer retreat begins on Wednesday so this will probably be my last post of the week. I have been talking to Jimena about helping to get school supplies for needy children going back to school (probably masked), and if I get that list I’ll try to post it soon, otherwise the blog will retreat till Monday.

The blog will retreat because it has a life, it has energy. The house has its energy, as do the dogs, the yard, the food, my mind. Everything has energy. When my mind quiets down, everything quiets down, if only because so much of it is created by my mind.

And even as I say that, I cry. Why? Because of events in Afghanistan.

“It’s deja vu all over again,” I said to a friend on the phone. I had a hard time containing myself.

If you’re old enough to remember how we left Vietnam, the photos we see now are eerie. Then it was folks hanging on to helicopters taking off from the Embassy, here it’s planes leaving the airfield. Then it was US Marines blocking entrance to the Embassy in Saigon, pulling down folks trying to climb up the bare walls. Here it’s US soldiers aiming guns at women and children on an airport tarmac.

Let them in! I cry. They helped us. They drove us, translated for us, cleaned and cooked for us, served in offices and fought for us—let them in! What’s with the excuses—the bureaucracy, the visas, lists, third countries and special status—why don’t we just bring in plane after plane, let them all board, and take them in?

The country that sent folks to the moon and beat even the rosiest of timeframes to come up with a coronavirus vaccine, the country that did all can surely do this. It doesn’t have enough planes? We have thousands of soldiers already at the airport or flying in, and they can’t manage an orderly exodus out of the airport, onto the planes, and then into this country?

I harbor generational memories of Jews trying to escape the Nazis, ships arriving on these shores and then turned back to a certain death because people didn’t have the right papers. Since the Nazis had robbed them of German citizenship (including those families whose members had served valiantly in World War I fighting for the Kaiser), they ostensibly had no citizenship and for that reason alone couldn’t qualify for refuge. Talk of Catch 22! As Heller put it, it’s the best catch there is. In at least one case everybody had gone home to celebrate a holiday, there was nobody around to process their applications. All returned to Europe and were killed; in one case a ship was torpedoed and went down with all aboard.

You need volunteers to process papers? I’ll do it as long as it takes. I’ll drop anything—including the retreat—if I can in some way help bring them here.

Is it that they’re dark-skinned, I start wondering? Would it be different if those people on the tarmac were white, blue-eyed Europeans? I read that some government officials defend their procedures out of fear that otherwise, a few terrorists will infiltrate the big group.  We have lots of home-grown terrorists right here, we don’t need to fear a few Taliban coming here in disguise.

Our government told us stories, the Pentagon and Army once again assured everyone they got it all in hand, delayed and delayed with the quagmire of paperwork, bureaucratic rules, congressional approvals—and who pays the price?

I can’t bear to look at the papers. Not in the worst of Trump times did I ever shut my eyes with grief over what is happening as I do now. The shame and pain of being an American citizen and watching the government act out of zero integrity, lose all shred of credibility and self-respect!

This is indefensible—and cowardly. As for Secretary of State Blincken’s assertion that our hands are tied by Trump’s agreement with the Taliban, we’ve broken agreements before for much lesser reasons than this, the saving of lives, discharging our obligations to people who took care of us.

I, for one, did not wish for us to stay in Afghanistan even as I am aware of what women suffered under the Taliban. A friend was part of a delegation that traveled to Afghanistan years ago with the intention of bringing American troops home. After meetings with Afghan women she changed her mind, returned home, and began to advocate for staying in Afghanistan rather than leaving.

I think that would be an endless task. If it’s your son and daughter shipped to Afghanistan for military service, are you ready for him or her to die to safeguard women’s freedom there? I don’t see any mob on an airport tarmac rushing to take that route.

A withdrawal was overdue—but this? Leaving people in the lurch after all the promises we made them in 2014? Seven years of warning and waiting, seven years to process applications and bring them here—and it winds down like this?

Let them all in, I say. Bring them all here!

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.

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GRRRR!

“Boy, that’s some water bowl!”

“That’s not a water bowl, Aussie, that’s the kiddie pool I got so that you could spend these hot, humid days lying belly-down in cool water just as you do when we go on walks.”

“I say it’s a water bowl. Watch me drink and drink and drink. Sure comes in handy on hot days like today.”

“Aussie, your water bowl is inside. This is a pool.”

“It’s a water bowl.”

“It’s a pool.”

“It’s a water bowl.”

“You know, Aussie, there are koans like this.”

“You’re telling me! I’ve lived here for almost three years.”

“So what is this, Aussie?”

“Glub glub glub glub. Yum!”

“You know, Aussie, I watched you join Leeann and her group of dogs the other day. I saw Derek the Lab puppy try to give you a puppy lick, and what did you do?”

“Grrrr!”

“Then I watched Forrest the Terrier try to sniff you, and what did you do?”

“Grrrr!”

“Then I saw Jamie the whatever-it-is wag his tail hard because he wanted to play with you, and what did you do?”

“Grrrr!”

“What kind of behavior is that?”

“Grrrr!”

“Is Grrrr! equivalent to being silent?”

“Grrrr!”

“You know, Aussie, a wonderful reader of this blog emailed me to say that ‘silence can be heard in sharing songs, cooking, walking and interacting in life, silence is just this spacious “thing” which exists inside and outside of us’. Do you think the same can be said about Grrrr!?”

“Grrrr!”

“Aussie, you don’t have to play with other dogs if you don’t want to, but hear this: Working with koans is like working with life. Life gives you different challenges and situations and asks you to respond. If you always respond the same way, that’s not a good answer to a koan and it’s not a good answer to life, see?”

“Grrrr!”

“For instance, in this country we rely on money so much. If one of our children has a problem, we throw money at it: more stuff, a therapist, a more expensive school, a great trip. As if money is an answer to everything.”

“Grrrr!”

“It’s important for a Zen canine to cultivate not-knowing, Aussie, which means that you loosen up a bit, try to see things differently, be more open to new ways of relating. For example, this yellow pool—”

“Water bowl!”

“—is clearly something you haven’t experienced before. When Henry first saw it in the back yard he barked at it for a few minutes.”

“What a dummy, barking at a water bowl!”

“Whenever Henry sees something unfamiliar, he barks. But you go back to past experiences, and since you’re not used to pools you think it’s a big water bowl. But if you can let go of your usual ideas about water bowls, Aussie, you might see the potential of stepping inside and lying down inside rather than drinking the water, see? That’s what a true Zen canine would do.”

“Grrrr!”

“And if you keep on responding all the time with Grrrr!, first to Derek, then Forrest, then Jamie, now me, you’re not giving a live answer, right? You’re just saying the same thing all the time. That’s not good koan practice and it’s not a good way to live, Auss.”

“I don’t say the same thing all the time.”

“You do.”

“I don’t. Grrrr! Water bowl! Grrrr! Water bowl! Grrrr! Water bowl! Grrrr! Water bowl!”

 

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.
 

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AUSSIE IN MUD

“Aussie, look what I got for you. A kiddie pool! It was all Lori’s idea. She said that given how much you love to lie belly-down in water, I should get you your very own pool for the back yard. This one was on end-of-summer sale for $30.”

“End of summer? You know how hot it is?”

“It’s very hot, Aussie, so go into the pool.”

“No way Jose.”

“You love getting wet, Auss. You never pass a puddle without stepping in and lying down in it.”

“Puddles ain’t pools. Neither are poodles, for that matter.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Puddles are dirty and poodles are dumb.”

“No, no, Aussie, I mean the difference between puddles and pools. And poodles aren’t dumb at all.”

“So let me ask you a question, smartie. Where’s the mud?”

“There isn’t any, Aussie. You can lie in clear, cool water.”

“I’ll drink it, but I ain’t a-lying in it. I want mud!”

“Why, Auss?”

“Because I’m Aussie in mud.”

“You mean, like a lotus in mud?”

“Voila.”

“Aussie, a lotus is an exquisite flower that only blooms in mud. It’s a symbol for purity and enlightenment.”

“Like moi.”

“Aussie, you’re a dog from Texas.”

“Texas pooches can’t be symbols of purity and enlightenment? WE’RE BEING CANCELED!”

“Pretend it’s mud, Aussie.”

“Pour the water out on the ground over there, give it five minutes, and I’ll pretend it’s mud.”

“Aussie, get into the pool!”

“Pools ain’t mud. Pools are lounge chairs with Tom Collins and sunscreen. Pools are privilege, pools are middle-class. Send Henry to the pool, he’ll love it—before he drowns. I want my mud!”

“Why do you like mud so much?”

“It’s soft, soothing, and stinks, my favorite qualities. It’s why I like you so much.”

“Thanks, Aussie, but I don’t think you understand. When we say that a lotus blooms in mud, we mean that the most beautiful things can arise out of dirt, upset, messes, even calamity.”

“That’s me. Look at me, I have to live with a rabid, illegal chihuahua who runs all over the house holding a pink elephant or a green crocodile in his mouth. It’s amazing how heavenly I’ve stayed in the middle of all this. I’m an example for the canine world.”

“A tzaddik!”

“Whatever. “

 

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JUST ONE OF THE GANG

My niece and her boyfriend arrived for the weekend, and one of the things we did was visit the town of Shelbourne Falls and its hot spot, the Bridge of Flowers, which spans the Deerfield River and connects the towns of Shelburne and Buckland.

Beautiful summer flowers curlicue their way alongside as you cross the bridge, and you could hear these sounds from other passers-by as we walked across. ”We have those lilies back home,” “We have a rose just like that only ours isn’t white,” or “Our columbines are purple.” I caught myself thinking those thoughts, too, and then laughed at how I find so many different ways of referring to myself, my home and my life even when I’m just visiting a garden.

When is connection connection, and when is it just another circle that begins and ends with me? I’m sick of terms like the Hero’s Journey and other Joseph Campbellisms, if only because I’m sick of me.

On the way to the car, I saw a refrigerator adjacent to a small supermarket. It was a community fridge consisting mostly of fresh produce as well as breads. At right angles to it was an upright cupboard with nonperishable items: cereals of various kinds, canned goods, nuts, pasta. We were invited to take anything we needed from both without payment. Instructions were written in English, Spanish, and Arabic. Food donations and volunteer help were requested.

“What did you do about language?” I asked my dharma sister, Barbara Wegmueller, the Swiss Zen teacher who for years hosted circle meetings in her home, not just with Swiss students but also with women refugees from Syria and Tibet.

“Nothing,” Barbara said. “We cooked together. At first I wanted to do council with them, to have them talk about what they’d gone through, the traumas of losing family members, the things they’d witnessed. But they didn’t want to do that. They said they didn’t want to be sad anymore. Instead, they showed me how to cook Middle Eastern food. They would bring their own home-made desserts and show us how to make them.”

I remembered what happened to us at our time in Greyston, in Yonkers, New York, when we hired folks from the local neighborhood to bake at the bakery or else do childcare at the center or administrative tasks in various offices.

“That’s nice,” Zen people used to say, “but how many of them come to sit?”

“Almost none,” was our answer.

The people we worked with weren’t interested in silence. Many of them were members of big churches in Mt. Vernon, New Rochelle, and Yonkers; they sang in the choir, organized picnics and community drives, cooked for baptismal ceremonies, or just hung out together. Community was what they wanted, and not a silent one but one of laughter, song, food, gossip, worship, and much Hallelujah.

No one need tell me the value of silence. I often say that I started meditating in 1984 and haven’t gotten up since. I knew I’d found home. At the same time, I always had an overactive brain, knew how to talk, gabbed mentally from morning to night, and was proud of my verbal and intellectual skills. Silence was the perfect antidote for someone like me.

But it’s not for everybody. I think of another friend of mine, an ex-con who spent many of his early years in juvenile prison. I’d take him to the zendo to join in meditation, talks, etc., till once I was driving him back home and he said: “You know what they used to do to us in juvie? They’d make us sit on a chair silently and not move for hours. Not one bloody muscle, not a finger, not a toe, just not move. We were boys then, you know how hard it was for us to do that? If you moved an inch they beat you, and then told you to sit motionlessly even longer.”

He never came back to sit with us again.

I think of the refugees Barbara and her husband, Roland, worked with. What fears did silence hold for them? They were busy taking care of families, raising children in a foreign land whose language they didn’t speak, starting new lives while trying to forget all they’d left behind, both living and dead.

“Silence just makes us sad, and we’ve had so much sadness,” the women told them. “We don’t come here to be sad again.”

So, they cooked. They shared games. They brought their children. They showed how they made and wore burkas. They taught each other their languages.

Tell me, did they awaken or not?

I’m beginning to think of how I can do this with the mothers of undocumented families in this area, the people who walked for so long, who were hurt and abused on their way across the border. At first I also thought of meditation or silence. Then I thought of asking them to tell their stories, but is that really what they want to do? I don’t want to be perpetually the gringa who brings them money and food cards, no great Hero’s Journey for me, just one of the gang.

 

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BREAKTHROUGH

Rushing water, and then a quiet pond

“What’s new?” my mother asks in my daily call to her, desperate for distraction.

I want to tell her that very exciting things are happening (she’ll forget them five minutes later), but short of making something up (now there’s an idea!), I have little to say. “Nothing, mom. It’s going to be a hot weekend up here, but not as hot as it is by you in the Middle East. I’m thinking of getting Aussie some kind of dog or kiddie pool because she loves soaking in the water in the summer.”

“Huh,” she says.

“Not an Olympic-size pool,” I assure her in case she’s watching the Olympics. “I feel good, I’m busy, nothing’s new.” At that point she wants to get off the phone quickly, having lost interest.

Nothing’s new.

Everything’s new.

We were at the beaver dam a week ago. Whenever I’m there I feel like I’m walking in an ever-changing ecological zone. The beavers are building more dams, bringing down more trees, gnawing at more bark, crunching up the moss and dragging it over to the water. They’re building themselves another lodge.

The record July rains brought us so much water that what had once been two gurgling streams creating one big gushing fall have multiplied into half a dozen swirling, rushing streams. At one point, Aussie, who’s fearless in the water, was dragged by the current in the direction of the falls. I watched her carried past me, threw off my crocs, but she managed to get her footing and staggered to shore.

“Look,” my friend said, “it’s stormy and swirling here, and over there it becomes a quiet pond. But the swirling water continues underneath, we just can’t see it. What’s that phrase, still waters run deep?”

Yes, that’s what it was. On the exterior things look calm and placid, completely undisturbed. But underneath!

Covid here, in our part of New England, reminds me of that still pond. The numbers of people taken ill or hospitalized continue to be very low. My life is quiet and mostly undisturbed. I look out at the same picture of maples surrounded by droopy moss, laundry lines, a red hummingbird feeder, the now-bare branches of a lilac bush, dark shadows under the trees. Nothing like the street scene in New York City, from which my niece and partner arrived for the weekend.

“It’s so restful here,” they say.

Yes and no.

Things are changing as they speak, but changing towards what? Is there ever any final transformation?

In Israel I hear there’s talk of another lockdown due to Delta. Israel is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to covid, already administering a third vaccine to anyone over 60, and I wonder if this presages a big deterioration in our country, too.

Perhaps to cover this uncertainty, I watch the words being used to describe our situation. A student pointed out the word breakthrough. “Why do they call it a breakthrough infection?” she asked. We were told from the beginning that the vaccines, especially Pfizer and Moderna, had a success rate of 93%-96%, so from the get-go we knew that an average of 5% of vaccinated people are bound to be infected. It was said transparently and clearly, yet now, whenever a vaccinated person gets infected, we call it a breakthrough infection, as though somehow this wasn’t supposed to happen. As though we’d erected a barrier that was supposed to be 100% impermeable, and the virus broke through anyway.

It raises our temperature, increases stress, and reduces our trust in science and medicine.

What happens around us is way more subtle than such dramatics.

I feel good, I feel healthy, hosting family this weekend. And at the same time, I’m way more porous than before, allowing deeper and deeper uncertainty to come in.

 

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.

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