AND NO QUINOA!

“Aussie, I’m so moved by how well you and Henry  communicate!”

“Henry don’t communicate.”

“For instance, this morning you didn’t finish your food—”

“Kibble, ughgh!”

“You left your food bowl and came out just as Henry passed by my chair. Instantly you curled your lips and snapped at him, making it perfectly clear: Stay away from the laundry room! Stay away from my food! But you weren’t aggressive.”

“Aggressive towards a chihuahua? Moi?”

“He understood right away, Aussie. He walked all the way around to show you he had no interest in your food—”

“Who would?”

“—and then approached your rug where you keep your bones,  rolled on his back to show you he knows he’s trespassing on your territory—”

“Like all chihuahuas!”

“You did a fabulous downward dog and wagged your tail, hovered over him, and the two of you licked each other’s lips. I can’t believe how relational you are! You’ve become good friends even as you enforce boundaries.”

“We need strong borders with chihuahuas.”

“Many families don’t have such healthy relationships, Auss.”

“That’s because they don’t communicate. All they care about is things! Look at Henry. He has his yellow duckie, Pinky the Elephant, Red the hippo, a dozen yellow tennis balls, a blue beach ball and half a dozen little plaid monkeys! It’s like a rainbow house.”

“What’s wrong with that, Aussie?”

“Do you know how much energy it takes to take care of these things? He’s as bad as you are.”

“Me, Aussie?”

“You want so many things! You want your books—”

“I borrow them from the library!”

“You want your clothes, your computer, your phone, your plants, your pictures, those guys who’re always sitting and whose face never changes—”

“Buddhas?”

“They’re not much into facial communication, notice? You want your blankets and your ice cream—”

“And what do you want, Aussie?”

“I want my marrow bones and a squirrel to kill in my spare time—is that too much to ask? Humans are consumers. All you know is wanting, having, taking, keeping!”

“Aussie, we arrived at the Farmers Co-op and going in. Let’s see, first thing we need to get is lamp oil. Where are you going, Auss?”

“Wilderness Trail Duck Biscuits for Dogs is over there. Grain free!”

“Sorry, we’re heading off to Aisle 3. Aussie! Aussie?”

“Sniffing out Blue Buffalo health bars baked with bacon, egg and cheese.”

“Put the box down, Aussie.”

“They’re health bars!”

“And don’t sniff at those Milk Bones!”

“As if I would bother with something like Milk Bones! Though an open box of them at lip level—silly humans are just asking for it.”

“Aussie, I have to get a 40-lb. bag of black sunflower seeds for the birdfeeders, so please—Now what?”

“Crunch-‘n-Munch chicken-free pumpkin, apple, and potato dog treats. Who ever heard of chicken-free?”

“Maybe for vegetarians, Aussie.”

“Vegetarian dogs? Treats should be free of pumpkin and apples, not chicken! Culinary colonialism!”

“Okay, I’m done. We’ll get one thing for you and then we’ll go to the cashier. What do you think of these treats, Aussie?”

“Baked-Lite? Do I look fat to you?”

“Uhhh—“

“Nothing lite, low-fat, or wholesome. Nothing for Seniors or for overweight dogs. And no quinoa!”

“Apple mint biscuits for bad breath, Aussie?”

“Fuggedaboudit! I like this: Wag More gourmet chicken and bacon wraps with liver and cheddar.”

“Aussie, that’s too rich!”

“Canine bagels with smokehouse turkey, salmon, and lamb crunchies?”

“Choose one already, Aussie.”

“Okay, here’s one. Cow ears filled with gourmet peanut butter, roast chick-n-chips, and charred bison tongue with cheddar puffs.”

“And what do we get Henry?”

“Something vegan.”

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

SMALL THINGS AND BIG

“Aussie, I didn’t manage to write a post on Wednesday. That adds up to only two posts this week, not my usual three.”

“Lazy bum!”

“I ran out of time.”

“You’re no good.”

“Don’t be so hard on me, Auss, I feel bad enough already. You know what a dear friend told me? He said it’s the saints who feel bad about their inadequacies. The more they see themselves in action, the more persuaded they become of their lapses.”

“You’re no saint!”

“Of course not, but he said that ordinarily people resist examining their behavior too much, so they don’t feel as bad about their failures as saints do.”

“If he was Jewish he’d know it’s a broader phenomenon.”

“The thing about getting older is that you have to learn not to sweat the small stuff, Auss. You don’t have that much time ahead of you, so make sure you give your attention and energy to important things.”

“So when do we go walking?”

“My walks with you are definitely among the important things, Auss.”

“Our walks are the only important thing you do all day.”

“Not true, Aussie.”

“How do you know?”

How do I know? I can get so much into my head about what the world needs, what the future demands of us, my own importance,  etc. I can get inspired by a book, a talk, certain teachings. But how do I know what’s truly valuable?

Lately, when the dogs come over for attention, I pause what I am doing, stroke and talk to them, give them what they want. Aussie makes a mewling sound, and when I swing the chair around towards her she brushes against my leg, first giving me her brow to circle with one finger, then her silky ears, and finally her back.

Henry will come under the desk and tap my leg with his paw, but he can’t get up on my lap till I again swing the chair sideways away from the desk so that he has room to climb up and sit in contemplation. I’ve decided to put aside the hurrying voices in my head (You gotta finish this!) and pay attention, look into his eyes, watch him staring out the door at the wind shaking the trees and the squirrels he loves to chase.

I’m  amazed by how much is contained in his 13 pounds. I marvel that his small body contains a brain, lungs, kidneys, muscles, ligaments, joints,  and millions of cells just like Aussie, who’s almost five times bigger. Just like me. How do all those things fit in there? He’s clever and full of spunk. How does so much energy emanate from a being so small?

For some odd reason my mind meanders to a story Jimena Pareja told me about one of the mothers who gets food cards with her little boy. She always refers to them as mothers. We were sitting on her porch on Wednesday, front door open to wait for the next people coming (she always asks them to come one by one, not in a crowd). She was exhausted, which is another story. But she told me this:

A mother tried to cross the border with her 5-year-old boy. They had no papers of their own, nothing even from their country of origin. A “coyote” gave her papers for herself and for the boy, so that once they got caught after crossing over they could apply for a form of refugee status, or hardship cases. The agents would then open a file for them and let them stay till the case was adjudicated.

What she hadn’t realized, due to illiteracy, was that the coyote gave her papers in different names. The border agent looked at what she presented and growled that the names are different, that the boy wasn’t hers and she  must have just taken him across the border to raise the odds of getting permission to stay. He was going to separate them.

“No, no,” she cries, “he’s my son, he’s my son!”

“So why are the names different?” the man asks.

She has no answer. Instead, she offers to show him photos of herself and her son from her cellphone, but the agent has already confiscated that and won’t return it to her. “Anyway, it’s locked,” he says, looking at the screen.

“I can open it, I’ll show you,” she says, and still the refuses to hand over the phone.

And then her little 5-year-old pipes up: “I can do it!”

The agent looks at him, hands him the phone, and to his mother’s amazement he punches in the code that unlocks the phone, scrolls through photos and shows the agent photos of his mother and him. The agent relents and lets them stay together. Eventually, they land in my neck of the woods

“If not for my little boy punching that code, they would have taken him away from me at the border,” she told Jimena. “I had no idea he knew what it was, he must have just seen me doing it enough times and he remembered.”

Contrary to the laws of physics, it’s the smallest things that sometimes carry the big.

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

YOU CAN’T BE THEM

My mother hasn’t been well. She’s in no great danger but is very uncomfortable and sometimes in physical pain. Today I did a visual WhatsApp with her and my siblings, both of whom were with her, and at some point I heard her cry out. A deep sense of impotence threatened to take over. Her doctor believes it will pass soon, but that didn’t temper anyone’s feelings when we heard the cry.

It’s hard to witness people in pain. Bernie was a master of stoicism and would rarely admit to any discomfort. He took pride in a high pain threshold, as he described to others. But I remember a few times when he did cry out, and I felt my stomach collapsing to the ground. My mind would start zipping around to what to do—Painkillers? Ibuprofen? Tea? Chicken soup? What could I do do do?

What is it to actually be with someone in pain? All the empathy in the world won’t help you feel his or her pain. You join them up to a certain point, letting your very nerves shiver in response, but there’s a place you can’t go. You can’t feel their pain.

I remember the first Friday night after Bernie returned from the hospital. I’d been looking forward to it so much. Weekend evenings were our “date nights,” which usually consisted of getting some take-out or eating whatever there was in the refrigerator (never cooking!) and watching a  film on TV together. He’d wash the dishes first thing Saturday morning because he woke up earlier than I did. Finally, we were going to have our first “date night” since before his stroke.

The one thing I was afraid of, that kept me awake half the nights preceding his return from the 6-week hospital stay, was the prospect that he might fall. He had no strength in his legs, always had to hold on. He would get to walk later with a cane, but when he came home he relied on wheelchairs.

Sure enough, that first Friday night he fell. I was exhausted by evening time, I’d brought over some food on his tray, he was returning from the bathroom, I didn’t have an arm free, he got up from the wheelchair to get into bed, put his weight on it, the wheelchair moved, and down he crashed.

He couldn’t get up. I couldn’t get him up.

Months later he’d be stronger and we’d both learn how to get him up in case he fell, but this was his third day home. I tried and tried, and finally had to leave him on the floor and call 911. The first responders were there in less than 10 minutes, but I still think of those 10 minutes as some of the longest in my life.

He was so strong, I was so strong, how could this happen? I sat on the bed looking at him on the floor. He didn’t cry out, he was quiet. I knew he had pain. I also knew there was nothing I could do till they came. There wasn’t space in that downstairs room for me to lie next to him.

I contemplated my uselessness, what it was not to be able to do anything.

We were together, and at the same time we weren’t. I felt our aloneness, I felt our separation. We loved each other, we were going to go through things together, but he was him and I was me. No matter how much you want to, no matter how much you try, you’ll get to that place where you feel like two islands with an ocean between you. It’s not for lack of trying, it’s not for lack of love, it’s how it is.

The first responders came, cheerfully helped him up and into bed. Rami Efal arrived from his home in Northampton. He actually called from the outside wondering if he should come in, and we laughed and said Sure! He entered to find Bernie in restored spirits. Soon after that, Bernie fell asleep.

I never forgot Rami coming down to help, and then calling from outside to make sure it was okay to come in.

So, Bernie got his falling out of the way, which was good because it stopped looming in my mind as a nightmare to be avoided at all costs. He was going to fall, that was part of the deal, and indeed he did fall, and learned to get up.

But I never did forget what it means to be together, and not. It’s like that word cleave, which goes both ways. You can’t have one without the other.

This is not just true for pain or falling. Things happen. You cry for people, help them, raise money for them, talk to and support them. Always, always ask them how they are, what are they feeling and experiencing, witness their life as much as possible. But you can’t live their life. You can’t be them.

 

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.
 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

BREAKING THE HEART

I no longer like to say that my  heart breaks. That phrase is used so widely now, it’s as if all of us are walking around with hearts broken daily. People’s hearts break for Harry and Meghan, for losers in a contest or a reality show, for a TV show that’s been canceled or a movie that didn’t win an Oscar.

For me, heartbreak carries immensity. The heart isn’t just any organ; any organ breaking inside our body would be trouble enough, but a heart breaking? There’s power there, there’s depth there. It’s not just another way to be sorry.

And that’s what I felt when I read a New York Times article about Yazidi mothers reunited with their children. It’s about Yazidi women, kidnapped when they were girls by ISIS fighters (many after watching their fathers and brothers killed), then raped, given away, or sold by one ISIS fighter to another, and giving birth. When they were rescued, their children were taken away from them, put into a Syrian orphanage while the mothers returned to their Yazidi community in Iraq, which had barely begun to recover from its own genocide by ISIS. There they were given a choice: stay with their family and community without the children, or go back to Syria to reclaim their children and never return to their family again.

The article is about the mothers who chose to  leave their Yazidi loved ones, the parents and siblings who survived, cross the border into Syria, claim children who don’t even remember their mothers, stay with them in a refugee camp, and hope and pray that a third country—not Syria or Iraq—will permit them entry where they could build a new life with the children of the ISIS fighters who so horribly abused them, even killing their families of origin.

The trauma of the Yazidi community is so great that no family wants those children there; some have threatened to kill the children if the mothers ever brought them back.

What women, I thought to myself. What mothers! Who can explain this? A young woman barely past puberty is raped and tortured, giving birth to a baby whose father may have killed the rest of her family, clings to that baby so deeply that she’ll leave the only place she’s ever called home, facing their outrage and suffering, hoping against hope that she’ll get a visa to a Western country where she’ll struggle to make a decent living for herself and that child in the midst of strangers.

The story seemed to cut through all the bullshit of day-to-day life, all the petty concerns, fears and antagonisms, the hyper vigilance and control, to say: Look what is possible in a human being. Look at what we’re made of!

At times, the desire to nurture life is even greater than the desire for life itself. These girls may well be illiterate; the only shelter and haven they know is their family and community, the bounds of their old, safe world, and they give that up to care for children conceived in rape and violence.

We’re made of stars, they say, but what can possibly compare with this? I couldn’t come up with a word to do it justice: Love? Sacrifice?

I have an aunt who wouldn’t surrender a tiny boy to Dr. Mengele and elected to go with the baby to the gas chamber at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Had they lived, I have no idea what kind of mother she would have been, I simply  know that that story—and of so many who chose like her—has been deeply embedded inside me since I was a young child.

Motherhood is available in this very flawed species; not just ours, I’m not so arrogant to believe that. Nevertheless, my heart broke, not because the article was sad but because it pointed to something deep and immense, to a group of young women, terrorized to the edge of their lives, who manage to be so human at such a cost.

One of the women who gets food cards from us has a prolapsed uterus, which means that the uterus has collapsed, torn through the cervix and now juts out of the vagina. The terrible thing is, she had no idea what it was or what was happening to her. A single mother with three children, the pain started four months ago and got worse and worse, and soon she was terrified by what was emerging from her vagina, which got bigger and bigger, making it so difficult to pee.

She works as a dishwasher in a restaurant and could barely lift the heavy pots and pans to wash them. She had no medical insurance so, of course, she didn’t go to any doctor.

Finally, she took a photo of herself, legs splayed, and sent it to Jimena, who showed it to me on Wednesday. I talked to a close doctor friend, who diagnosed her with a prolapsed uterus and said that at this point, after four months, she must go to Emergency. She did that today, I was told, and will undergo surgery. She’s scared about her three children, she’s scared for her job.

At times I want to ask Jimena stupid questions: Why is she a single mother? Why did she have three children? Smart questions on the level of social and welfare policy, but stupid questions at the same time. Why? Because she’s a mother raising her children alone. Because often uteruses collapse due to difficult and painful childbirths. Because she works her chops off to sustain life and nourish it at all costs even after the father’s gone, either on his own volition or because he was deported–I never did ask Jimena about that. It didn’t matter, she’s a mother, like the Yazidi mothers, like my aunt, like so many you know and I know.

If you could help this woman, please use the button below to help immigrant families. Jimena thinks that very soon she could get her insurance to cover medical procedures, but there will be other costs while she can’t work.

I am very grateful.

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

THERE’S NO CHIHUAHUA IN THE WAY

“That’s the stupidest mask I’ve ever seen.”

“Someone gave it to me as a gift, Aussie. It’s quite pretty, reminds me of Hawaii.”

“On top it’s pressing into your eyes while the sides are wide open. Anyone can catch anything. Don’t come any closer! I have to protect my health. In fact, why don’t you go work upstairs?”

“Aussie, I’ve noticed lately how territorial you’ve become. You fight Henry every morning so that he doesn’t dare come downstairs.”

“Only when I get my breakfast. I have to protect my food!”

“Aussie, you eat in the small laundry room, so if you think you want to protect that, be my guest. But you end up patrolling the entire first floor!”

“I used to just guard the laundry room. Henry would sneak into the hallway, and as soon as my back was turned he’d make a break for my bowl, steal some food, and rush upstairs. So, I started patrolling the hallway, too. Then he’d sit and wait in the kitchen, and as soon as I turned my back he’d rush to get a bit of food, then escape upstairs. I started patrolling the kitchen, too, so he’d sit and wait in the living room—”

“Basically, Auss, you widened your territory to include the entire ground floor of the house.”

“Then he sat on the bottom-most step of the stairway, and as soon as my back was turned he’d run into the laundry room to steal—”

“So, you widened your territory into the staircase, too, Aussie, so that now poor Henry finds himself imprisoned in an upstairs room till you’re finished eating—which, I remind you, is taking longer and longer since you’ve gotten so picky with your food!”

“I’ve expanded my area of concern. Once all I cared about was what happened in a small laundry room, see? Now I’m concerned about the entire ground floor—”

“And staircase, Aussie.”

“And staircase. That’s what I call enlightenment!”

“What?”

“You start caring only about your little corner of the world, and then you realize you’re not just a little corner, you’re everything!”

“But Aussie—”

“You’re not just a little laundry room, you’re a kitchen, a living room, a hallway, a bathroom, even your office!”

“You’re not my office, Aussie.”

“If I’m everything, I’m your office, too! Everything is me! I like this enlightenment business.”

“You’ve got it wrong, Aussie, and you got it dangerous. It’s true, we’re as infinite as stars. Our basic nature is life itself, that’s why we take care of the whole, because we are the whole.”

“I don’t want to be the whole, I don’t want to be life or stars. I just want to be the downstairs. Is that too much to ask?“

“It sounds like you want to own it all, Aussie—”

“Just the ground floor and the staircase—”

“That’s not enlightenment, Aussie. We don’t own life, we serve life.”

“Can I own my food bowl?”

“You’ve extended your area of concern to be the entire ground floor, Aussie, that’s very dangerous. It’s what every narcissist does. Narcissists think they’re everything, and therefore it’s all about them. Enlightened people think they’re everything, and therefore nothing’s about them. See?”

“No.”

“Nothing is yours, Aussie. When you are the world, you don’t need to own the world, get it?”

“I don’t want the world, I just want the—”

“And when you’re fully the ground floor, you’re everything, see? And that includes Henry, who’s right there by the lamp.”

“I don’t want to be a Chihuahua.”

“Aussie, the Way is not about picking and choosing.”

“I know the Way: living room, hallway, bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, and the staircase. I patrol the Way every single morning. There’s no Chihuahua in my Way, no way.”

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

WINTER AND COVID

I love to put color on toenails and fingernails. It’s one of my mishigas from many years ago, continuing well into my early Zen years. I still remember the sneer of a student at the Zen Community of New York when she saw me taking orders at the Greyston Bakery, everyone else in black or brown, perfect images of sparse living, while I had bright red varnish on fingernails and toenails: “This is the wrong place for you,” she said, walking out of the office disgustedly.

Boy, was she ever right!

But this winter I have let go of bright polish. It’ll come back, I have no doubt, matching pace with that of the buds on the trees.

Here’s a secret: I love winter. I mean the New England winter. Not for me Florida or California, not even as I feel the chill first thing in the morning and fuel bills climb. Not even as I relentlessly walk with Aussie daily, treading gingerly on the ice. Not even as I sit down to pull up the heavy boots with Yak-Trax, then the ancient burgundy jacket that’s only kept for winter dog-walking and the heavy black gloves, all while she’s walking back and forth mewling: “Why are you taking so long!”

“I don’t have your double coat of fur,” I mutter. I’ll watch her sliding over an ice-covered pond and even splashing in frigid water while I hunch up my collar and cover my mouth with a woolen scarf.

But I love winter. Even while others point to the sun that’s closer now and say: “Look, spring is coming!” there’s a part of me that mourns the beginning of the end of winter.

Here’s the thing: Follow the trees in winter. By late fall trees have to fend for themselves. It’s bare-barked survival out there, and the sun isn’t helping the manufacture of chlorophyll, so they let go of the leaves.

I, too, am tempted by a barebones life. Take the opportunity to let go of anything extraneous or secondary. If nothing comes to mind, ask yourself: If I had to live such a life, what would I let go of? You’ll find things.

Winter is the time for Zen intensives, for more meditation, for feeling the deep center of things. The snow and ice in back make it a challenge to walk, there’s no temptation to go out in short sleeves and get the sun.

There’s a seasonality to all this. In summer you do outdoors activities; in winter stay in, maybe review the year. Maybe listen over and over to the guitar of Marcel Dadi, maybe catch up with feelings you’d tried to banish over the year. Maybe look at the results of past thoughts and actions and remember the long run of things.

Appreciate the gorgeous gray of winter afternoons, the example of hardy birds that made it through another frigid night, and remind yourself how precious, how superb, this life is. How so few people have seen squirrels hanging upside down against feeders and a dog lying in ambush in the shadow of the house. That you were given one more undeniable chance at winter, at long dark nights discouraging you from going out and encouraging introspection.

So many big and small gifts: a closed garage for the car so you don’t have to wipe it clean from snow and frost each morning, the yellow lights of plows sweeping along the snowy roads so that the roads are clear when you get up in the morning—people did this for you! People worked all night to clean for you, to make life and transport possible.

And so much gets done without human hands. The earth swallows up the leaves from last year, the snow changes into water that flows into the Connecticut River and out to sea, the trees breathe sap and pray with upturned limbs towards the blue sky above them.

We lost people these past months, or else they lie in hospital beds and look out, knowing it’s their last winter.

Covid  feels like winter. I got my fist vaccine in early March and my spirits soared—a light at the end of the tunnel. But what this tunnel has this been?  It wasn’t just a dark tunnel; no tunnel is just dark. It has texture and spirit, just like the New York city subways I used to take as a kid, looking out front from the front car and watching the tunnel speeding by, electric flashes along the tracks, the rushing noise, other tracks coming alongside then parting. Those weren’t just tunnels; even as a girl I knew without understanding that they were an important part of my life.

Covid, too, though I still don’t get it, have no story about its seasons. The doctors promise spring and renewal, in fact I felt it when I had that vaccine. But I’m already looking back: What has this tunnel been really about? I understand some of the human part, the mistakes, the uncertainty, the fear, the loss. But step back for a moment, give the camera a wider angle, and now ask: What is it about?

Zen is paradox. So even as we still try to shelter from the covid storm, get the right vaccines, follow guidelines, see it as the pandemic it was defined, there’s another face to it, and what is that? What am I bearing witness to day in day out? And why do I secretly feel that I will look back on this sequestered time and wonder if I made the most of it, if I felt what had to be felt and reflected on what should be reflected on. If I realized that under all the loss and illness and loneliness, there was something sharp and bright, like the ice, that flashed in the sunlight asking to be seen, felt, and intimately known.

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

DEPARTMENT OF NONHUMAN AFFAIRS

 

“Aussie, how come you’re turning back to the car? We just started our walk.”

“I don’t like the noise.”

“You mean the gunshots from the shooting range? They’re pretty far away, Auss, they can’t hurt you.”

“I’m heading back.”

“I’m surprised at you, Aussie. You, a Proud Poocher! You didn’t used to be afraid of gunshots.”

“The world isn’t as safe as it used to be. It’s becoming downright dangerous! That’s why Joe needs me in his cabinet.”

“You, Auss?”

“I’m from Texas, they’ll confirm me in no time.”

“I can think of a big reason why they won’t, Aussie.”

“I’d be great at Homeland Security, you know what a good watchdog I am. I walk the perimeter every night!”

“Aussie, you’re a dog!”

“So? What about his other nominees? They’re from every race, culture, and religion in this country. Why not a dog?”

“I never thought of that, Aussie.”

“Joe says he loves diversity, so when are nonhumans going to be represented in government?”

“That’s a good question, Auss.”

“I can represent all nonhumans. In fact, I can create a Department of Nonhuman Affairs.”

“What a great idea. Who will you put on staff?”

“Everybody. No specie will be excluded in the Department of Nonhuman Affairs except for Henry the Chihuahua.”

“I’m not sure Republicans want another cabinet office, Auss. They wanted to eliminate the Department of Education.”

“That’s a good one for me, too. I’m great with treats.”

“I’m not sure treats—”

“Or else I can take over the Department of Agriculture.  I’m a terror on chipmunks, squirrels, mice, moles, voles, and other dangerous varmints. Head of Transportation? I love car rides!”

“Aussie, get a hold of yourself.”

“He could put me in charge of the FBI. I’m mostly black, think of the great message that would send!”

“Aussie—”

“Director of National Intelligence, for obvious reasons. “

“I love a Department of Nonhuman Affairs, Aussie. It will be called DNA and its job will be to represent all nonhumans.”

“I have the best ideas! Does Major the German Shepherd have–”

“Aussie, my sister wrote me that I have an amazing alter-ego in you.”

“What’s that? Something you put on your altar? Don’t even think of lifting me up and putting me on that—”

“No no, Aussie, you don’t understand. She thinks that in you I’ve created a different version of me. Even an opposite version of me.”

“Of you? How come she doesn’t think that you are an opposite version of me?”

“Maybe because we haven’t found evidence of dogs having alter egos, Aussie.”

“How much evidence do you have of alter egos?”

“Aussie, my sister is convinced that I write your voice.”

“Ha! Ha! Ha! You’re not clever enough, creative enough, or bitchy enough!”

“We have this argument often. She says I write your voice, while I tell her: No, this is Aussie’s voice.

“I’m registering my words with the US Copyright Office. I need to claim my voice! I need to stand for my separate identity!”

“She says that your identity is my secret identity, too.”

“Sounds like a Zennie to me. And here I hoped that somebody in your family was a little normal.”

 

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

LIVING WITH GOYIM

When I turned 18 and started driving my mother’s red Dodge, she asked me one day to drive my aunt Sarah to Brooklyn. Sarah had come from Israel to see her sister and needed a ride.

I asked her how it felt to come to New York for the first time, and she said: “I can hardly wait to get back home.”

“Really? Why?”

“I don’t like to live with goyim.”

I thought she was being ridiculous but said nothing. Okay, she’d come from Holocaust Europe like the rest of my family, but this wasn’t Germany, this was America. She’s too sheltered in the small enclave she lives in, I thought.  I was proud of being 18, proud of driving, proud of the red car. My whole life was ahead of me, and I certainly didn’t want to stay with my family and neighborhood. Get me out of here, I thought endlessly. Take me to Manhattan, with its jazz clubs, its bars, its unkosher Italian and Chinese restaurants, its 60s demonstrations.

I’m dying to live with goyim, I thought to myself.

I figured my parents were different, but they actually weren’t. Just three years later they were back in Israel, from where they’d originally arrived in the US. And while I never once heard a word from them that they didn’t feel safe here—if anything, they looked back on their life here as one of struggle that ended with a successful entry into middle class—they were glad to go back and be with their own kind. They had fun visiting, but they didn’t want to live here.

For me, the more kinds the better.

I think about my parents when I hear how many people of color also feel best among their own kind. “I talk differently, I don’t look over my shoulder to see what anybody thinks of me,” an African American friend recently told me. She liked my part of New England and its progressive values but had no interest in living here or in mixing with whites generally, she felt best in her own community.

When I go to schools or universities, I see very few mixed groups. In Queens College in the 1960s there was a lot more mixing; by the time I was in Columbia University’s graduate school, bordering on Harlem, students stayed apart a lot more.

We have our lives and experiences. Some cling to people like them, and some love to mingle with others who’re different. It’s way too complex for guilt or blame, right or wrong. Nevertheless, I often think about how segregated we are becoming. We always had challenges integrating races and cultures; now we also have the challenge of integrating across economic classes. Most white, well-to-do families wish to be with others of their kind, live only in certain (suburban) neighborhoods, and send their children only to certain schools so that they could get into certain money-making professions.

Maybe we’re not meant to mix easily here in America, which lacks one hugely dominant culture in the way European countries have.

Zen Peacemaker International hosted a program on racism this past weekend, and what moved me most was the presentation by Mark Eckhardt, Founder of One Million Truths, on the universal effects of racism. Usually, we talk about who does what to whom, and Eckhardt spoke movingly about what he’d personally suffered. But he challenged a mostly white audience to examine the question of how racism had affected each and every one of us.

This time I seriously thought about it. I realized that I grew up in a home where the question of having a friend of color couldn’t even come up, and where I would have been kicked out of home and told never to come back had I dated a man of color. I thought of the lack of diversity in my early places of work.

I remembered a large publishing company, one of the first places I worked in, with an African American researcher, the only person of color there. He was quiet, thoughtful, and always with a book in his hands when not working. The book was the opening we’d use to strike a conversation, but he ate lunches alone. There was an invisible line neither of us crossed, though I remember him vividly to this very day.

Reflecting on Eckhardt’s question, I realized that relationships could have been so much richer, so much more interesting, so much deeper and more fun, had I been able to break through the strictures of racism. Had I been able to live with goyim

We’re one body and each part yearns for the other part. It’s often not conscious; at times it may even feel quite the opposite. But that’s just in our own small, mechanical minds. Outside that minion mind there’s a call to connect with each piece of the whole, inside and out, see ourselves as one community of humankind trying to live together, claiming its identity as family. It doesn’t mean you don’t have preferences; you like to talk to one cousin and not to another. Ultimately, it’s still one family.

Love comes up for me when I think of this family, when I think of this one country.

Earlier today I went to Jimena’s house to meet immigrant families with food cards and cash. Jimena had bags of food—mostly processed or canned—given out by schools for pupils still staying at home, along with lots of milk.

And even as I was told by a few how much they appreciated the food cards and used them for fresh meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables, I was deeply moved by how we, as Americans, feed people. Perhaps it’s not highly nutritious, and yes, we could always do more and better, but we feed children. Listen to that: We feed children. It doesn’t happen everywhere. And for that time in Jimena’s unheated closed porch, I felt humbled by and grateful for how much we keep on doing for people, whether they’re like us or not.

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

MAKING A MOVE

My mother moved this morning. She had to leave her old apartment of some 20 years and rent a new apartment.

My sister, brother, and brother-in-law found her a bigger, sunnier place in the same neighborhood, ground floor (she had to negotiate two flights of stairs till now), arranged payment of the rental, went through everything she owned and packed them up, moved the boxes and furniture on Sunday, and this Monday morning brought my mother to her new home, where she found a clean, bright apartment with furniture in place, books in a bookcase, kitchen installed, even pictures hanging on the wall (deep appreciation to my brother-in-law for that special effort).

Yesterday I called her in her old apartment and she answered. “How’s the move?” I ask her.

“I’m already here,” she said.

“Are you sure you’re there,  mom?”

“Of course. I moved, didn’t I?” She continued: “All my friends congratulate me on how, at my age (almost 93), I could do the entire move, with all the things and the furniture. They can’t believe I could do it, but I tell them: ‘Do you know who you’re talking to?’”

I listened, thinking about how that very day her children had hauled things onto a truck, unloaded, and then put away, sweeping and cleaning. She has dementia, I know. At the same time, I wondered about what happens to our minds in dementia, and whether and how our habitual patterns persist even into very old age.

A friend of mine a long time ago related how a friend of his had ended her life at 75. She wrote a letter to her friends, of which he was one, saying that even though she was in very good physical and mental health, she was putting an end to her life because she wanted to die as she had lived, on her terms. Not for her the deterioration of body and mind that happens to those who age, she was putting a stop before any of that happened.

We both agreed that this is an individual decision, there’s no principle that applies to all. But, I added, what your friend may have missed is that getting older is as much of a growth process as when you’re young. When you decide to shut off the lights at a particular time, you may be doing this even when there’s still a lot to  learn and discern.

What I think we most have to learn, I told my friend, is to empty our hand of things we clutched at much of our life, including our self-image, identity, and even work. None of that will last. It’s a big reason why Buddhism recommends that you prepare for death even when you’re young. Not that you shouldn’t have idealism, energy, and passion, not that you shouldn’t fall in love and raise your children, but even as you acquire, conquer, and enjoy, you learn not to cling to them too much. In the end, it will all go.

We open our hands loosely, I’ve told students. We have our opinions, stories, ideas, all of which are fine. But can we loosen up those fingers and hold things lightly?

My mother prided herself on her independence and drive for life. This is true for many people, but in her case I think much came from the Holocaust. The lesson she derived was that you had to survive at all costs, on your own.

Over the years, as she got older, her Buddhist daughter tried to talk to her about decisions she should make about end-of-life care, medical proxies, how she would like to live and die, and failed miserably. I think she heard that conversation as a betrayal of her deepest beliefs. She knew she couldn’t go on forever, but investigating what that meant, how she needed to consider a time when she couldn’t control her life, was anathema.

In her dementia she’s sure she’s the one who moved her home, she’s the one who packed everything and even helped load the furniture. Not very different from her confidence that she’s the one who organized my brother’s wedding last summer, that it wasn’t catered but that she’d cooked the food night and day (she hasn’t made a cup of coffee for herself for the last four years).

She doesn’t let go of old thinking patterns, won’t acknowledge much what folks do for her nor express appreciation. I’m not sure that’s just her dementia, I think it’s also old assertions getting stronger and even a little contentious. “Humph,” she snorts, “when they ask me how someone my age could do all this, I say: ‘Of course! Why not?’”

This is not easy on those working hard to take care of her. She has grown much softer and tenderer towards me, the one who lives far and can’t do much at all. Sometimes I think that it’s precisely because she knows I’m not there and that she can’t depend on me that she cherishes me so much.

I think of my mental and emotional habits, and how now’s the time to practice letting go.

I also think of Bernie, and especially how yielding he became towards the end of life. He was second only to my mother when it came to being independent, hating to rely on people. But after the stroke he just let it all go. He insisted on exercising every day and doing as much as he could for himself, but when he couldn’t, he let others take over and said thank you. He let others serve him, feed him, buy his clothes, and look out for all he needed. He, who loved to drive and play with computers, let others drive him, work out the hardware and the apps, help him to bathrooms, clean up, help him get up when he fell. Not once did he betray the slightest twinge off resentment or frustration.

You can say his brain had changed due to the stroke, but I don’t think that accounted for it all. He had practiced for this period of his life all his life, even as he couldn’t see the stroke coming. And when it came, he was readier than anyone I’d ever seen.

I always envisage him when he got up at 10 in the morning. I would hear him move around and would go to the bedroom to see him sitting up and looking out the window before laboriously putting on the heavy black shoes that, winter and summer, took him to the bathroom. I’d sit alongside and look out the window, too.

“How are you? How was the night?”

He answered truthfully. Okay to the first, and the nights were often not so good. What was he thinking, what was he feeling, I’d wonder about this most uncommunicative of men. He would look out the window, the beginning of another day with only half his body operating, and open his hand.

 

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families

THE PARTICLE OF DUST

In 1987 I came down with terrible abdominal pain on the eve of Thanksgiving, and on Thanksgiving morning a good physician friend came to where I lived, in the Zen Community of New York and diagnosed appendicitis. He called the local Yonkers hospital and brought me himself to Emergency to have my appendix removed. It was done quickly that same day, but I had an anaphylactic reaction to the antibiotic the surgeon had given me.

Thanksgiving weekend is not the best time to get sick and lie in a hospital. It took them 24 hours to realize what was happening, and that realization only happened due to a good friend who came to visit, realized what was going on, and raised the alarm. By then I was fading fast, so they put me in the ICU for a several days till I recovered. They also gave me large doses of steroids, which produced hallucinations. One of them involved friends, blood, and enlightenment, leading me to believe I’d just had the most significant  insight of the century. After all, I’d been practicing for some three years!

While in ICU, Bernie, or Sensei as I called him then, came to visit. This was long before we came together as a couple and I  was moved, knowing  how busy he was. I babbled to him about my enlightenment episode and what I had seen (surely as a result of massive drugs), giving him a blow-by-blow description. He stood at the bedside listening quietly, a small, strained smile on his face, and said nothing.

When he left I was a little disappointed. Wasn’t he going to confirm that I had seen something significant? Wasn’t he going to say Wow! or That’s great!? Here I’d been granted a glimpse into the essence of the essence and he had no response other than that small smile, not even a grunt to show he was listening.

And yet, he had listened; he just never said a thing.

I love spiritual drama. I love studying, reading texts and passages, and thinking Yes! Yes! Yes! with marquee lights blinking. I love reading profiles of leaders, accounts of their dreams, their prayers to God and how God or some inner voice spoke and told them to go ahead, risk all. I love to read of their successes, of how they transformed not just their own life but helped others transform theirs.

Transform. What a big and splashy word that is, full of promise of metamorphosis and, even better, improvement. I was a caterpillar, slow and lumbering, easily stopped and even trampled upon, and now I’m a butterfly, gorgeous and free, asked for dates by cute flowers.

Oy, has that word gotten me into trouble! So many people want that: insights, revelations, at least a corner turned. And if we work towards social or environmental change we want results. We want to see great work done, smiles on people’s faces. We want to blog about successes.

Successes happen all the time, but they’re not the big headlines we dream of: No children starving anywhere! Covid gone! No more suffering in the city of Greenfield!

It’s hard at times to accept my smallness. I have big emotions, great passions—I don’t feel small. I want to give big hugs, even if now they encounter only space.

“I’m giving you a space hug!” cried Violet Catches to me on Zoom the other night from Pierre, South Dakota. And her face smiled as if I was actually there, in the flesh.

I feel warmth and excitement, the sense of always being on a journey—and you’re telling me I’m just a particle of dust? Even the realization that I’m just a particle of dust comes with no bells or whistles, only a kind of yielding and surrender: I see, I’m just a particle of dust.

Reader, there’s beauty in that smallness.

On Wednesday I went to give out food cards and carried $700 in cash to pay rent for the woman whose daughter with child had come from Atlanta. I’d written about her last week, a girl who’d arrived in the US pregnant, gave birth and raised an infant while finishing high school, and now all three generations needed a place to live. People responded, making me happy as I handed out the cards and the cash.

“Thank you so much, Eve, and thank everybody for us,” says Jimena, “and OMG, Eve, somebody really needs help!”

The story comes out. A woman gave birth but her placenta didn’t come out. They operated on her and she began to hemorrhage and almost died (I start slinking down in my seat). They helicoptered her over to Boston where she’s been in ICU for 2 weeks (I slink down even more). Husband left work to take care of two children plus new infant, wants to visit his sick wife in Boston but has no transportation and must do covid test before any visit, etc., etc. Also, has no money.

By then I’m practically sitting on the ground. “I’ll check the bank account and let you know,” I murmur.

The particle of dust drives home. We’ll do something, she’s thinking, but not a lot. The particle of dust reminds herself that the money given out so far has made a big difference in people’s lives. She thinks it was Thomas Merton who said: Leave something to God. The particle of dust knows the ballgame with balls and strikes goes on forever, but luckily she loves baseball and will keep on playing.

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.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families