CROCUSES EVERYWHERE

“I hate Biden, the Great Interloper, more than anyone in the entire world.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“Because Lori is in the hospital. Because she went to the ER late yesterday and they found more things wrong—”

“They’re not wrong, Auss, they’re just not functioning right.”

“They checked her in and now the Illegal Chihuahua is crazier, more obsessive, and more illegal than ever before, and even Llama Louie doesn’t cheer him up. And it’s all Biden’s fault. In fact, everything is his fault.”

“Aussie, life is very complex. To blame any one person for anything makes little sense.”

“I blame Biden for everything. It makes me feel good.”

“You know why, Auss?”

“Are you getting ready to give me a dharma talk?”

“When we blame somebody, it gives us a semblance of control. If he didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have this. But suffering has been with us since before Cain and Abel.”

“The two Great Danes that live around the corner?”

“Not quite, Sweetie-Pie.”

“Ugggh, I hate it when you call me that.”

“Ready to hear your song?”

“No no no no no no—”

Aussie Moss, Aussie Moss.

Aus-sie, Moss Moss.

Aussie Moss Moss Moss, Aussie Moss.

Aussie Moss Moss Moss, Aussie Moss.

Aussie Moss!”

“Never let anybody hear this!”

“I love singing that song, Pretty Girl.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“Okay, Smartie-Party.”

“I’m going to vomit.”

“Princess Aussie?”

“I am not a Jewish American princess! I am a Trump-loving, flag-waving, immigrant-hating, true blooded American.”

“Aussie, you know why I call you these things?”

“Because you’re sentimental. I hate sentimental humans.”

“Not quite. As Leonard put it: I’m sentimental if you know what I mean,

I love the country but I hate the scene …”

“That’s way better than Aussie Moss Moss Moss.”

“You know how Leonard’s stanza ends? Despite everything, I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet.

“Now I know where this is going. Yes, there are crocuses growing in this early spring, there’s beauty even in the darkest of places. Could we cut all that out?”

“I’m not talking about beauty, Aussie, I’m talking about love.”

“Same thing.”

“You’re right. Aussie, what do you think all those Aussie names and songs are about?”

“Making me sick?”

“They’re about love. They’re always about love. Pretty Girl, Smarty-Party, Princess Aussie—they’re all about love. I think you can’t stand to hear it in the middle of all this life and death, including the ambulance—”

“The siren scares me to death!”

“—the emergency personnel, ER, all that stuff. But this is how I remind you that love goes on.”

“Consider me reminded. I don’t need to hear it anymore.”

“Are you sure? Maybe you don’t want to hear it because it makes you sad. Maybe it opens things up and you want to cry.”

“Maybe it’s Henry’s turn to cry—what can you expect from an Illegal Chihuahua—but I’m from Texas. Texans never cry. Just ask Governor Abbott.”

“Aussie, when I call you by those endearments and sing those songs, or pet you last thing at night before going to sleep and saying Good-night, Pretty Girl—”

“After that I can’t sleep.”

“—it’s to remind me that I love someone, and that she’s around every day. When I feed the gold finches, who have their own March Madness—”

“They’re eating us out of house and home!”

“—I remember that I love them. Nothing mechanical here, it’s love being expressed again and again, in so many different ways. That’s what that song is about, and the names I call you and the names I call Henry—”

Meshigene dog?”

“—All for love, Auss. All for love.”

“I hate it.”

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I SNOOZE LESS

“Oh Aussie, the news is so terrible I can’t bear to read it anymore.”

“Luckily, I don’t read.”

“Over 100 people killed by terrorists in Russia; missiles raining down over Kiev; starvation in Gaza; gang warfare in Ecuador and Guatemala; and total anarchy in Haiti. Not to mention species going extinct.”

“Wake me up when it’s over.”

“You may not wake up when it’s over, Aussie. What’ll happen to dogs when humans go extinct? The way you depend on us, you might go extinct as well.”

“Don’t be stupid, we’ll double back and become more like our cousins, wolves and coyotes. Pass the Dandy Lamb Dinner Patties, and don’t forget to add the Freeze-Dried Salmon Topper, the Skin & Bones Grass-Fed Goat Mixer, and the Bare Beef Booster.”

“Is food all you can think of right now?”

“Self-care is very important in these perilous times.”

“Are you doing anything to take care of others, Aussie?”

“I snooze less.”

“Lori, our housemate, lies downstairs in pain and discomfort after a life-changing accident, and while her sister and I run around to take care of her, what are you doing?”

“A lot! Who has to come upstairs in order to get you downstairs to feed me? And who can’t sleep on the futon anymore because you-know-who is occupying it? Who has to deal with a topsy-turvy house and dangerous people coming in at all hours?”

“Nurses and therapists?”

“Who has to screen all the cars coming down the driveway in the snow, barking and running outside? Do you sniff perfect strangers?”

“No, Auss.”

“I’m losing sleep, I’m losing my peace of mind. The Illegal Chihuahua and I are working round-the-clock to keep the house safe. A dangerous terrorist came by today.”

“The physical therapist?”

“What’s she doing coming here on Saturday?”

“People’s pain doesn’t stop on Saturdays, Aussie.”

“Do I get double portions for working on weekends?”

“I don’t want you to get fat, Aussie.”

“Eating on weekends never makes you fat. And that’s another thing, weekends. It used to be this was a Judeo-Christian country. Saturday and Sunday were the weekend. Now, with Muslims and Natives and Africans and Illegals bringing their own Sabbaths with them, who knows what’s a weekend anymore? I’m considering the worst step of all.”

“What’s that, Auss?”

“Unionizing. If Starbucks can do it, I can do it.”

“What an interesting idea, Aussie!”

“Only what’s the good of a one-dog union?”

“What about Henry?”

“I don’t unionize with illegal Chihuahuas. And we haven’t even mentioned two nights of bear visits. I am EXHAUSTED!”

“Poor sweetie. I get so overwhelmed by headlines and news, I forget about your travails.”

“The trouble with you is, you read the wrong things. Whatever you do—don’t read the top headlines.”

“But that’s what’s most impactful, Aussie.”

“It’s not. The really important stuff appears halfway down.”

“Let me see: Intermittent Fasting May Pose Hazard to Heart.”

“OMG! The hazards of fasting! Forget Russia, Gaza, and Somalia. Forget climate change. DON’T FAST, WHATEVER YOU DO! What’s next?”

What’s the Secret to Tender Meatballs?”

“You see? There’s always good news in the middle of bad news, you just have to find it. I love tender meatballs. Next?”

What’s the Best Go-To Weekender Bag? I Never Cared About Pepper Until I Got This Century-Old French Pepper Mill?

“That’s what I call good, clean, healthy headlines. What’s a pepper mill?”

“Aussie, all that’s for folks who are out to buy things.”

“Who cares? They bring you back to the essence: Tender meatballs, an antique pepper mill—and most important, The Man’s Never Surrender Gold Sneakers. If they make them my size, get me a pair. I guess I’ll need two.”

“Oh Aussie, the grave and the frivolous have mixed for many, many years.”

“Right. And don’t forget, you never know which is which.”

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HERE WE GO AGAIN

 

My new temporary office

“Where have you been?”

“What do you mean, where have I been, Aussie? You know perfectly well. Our housemate, Lori, was in a horrific accident on Thursday and was taken to a hospital in Springfield. I spent time with her down there every day, and when she came home on Monday, we switched rooms. She took my downstairs office as her bedroom since she can’t go upstairs, and I took her upstairs office–you know, my old one before Bernie died. All this takes time.”

“You’re feeding me half an hour later than usual!”

“Aussie, when someone sustains life-changing injuries like Lori, with broken ribs and hurt vertebra, not to mention a smashed foot and ankle, there’s a lot of work to be done. I couldn’t do my usual work routine, couldn’t blog, there was simply no time. And that included feeding you and Henry on time.”

“What about my walks? My two hours of walks every day?”

“Things may have to go by the wayside for a while, Auss.”

“How long is a while?”

“Some 12 weeks, easily.”

“That long? Do you know how skinny I’ll be?”

By now I know the routine when something critical happens close to home, as it did last Thursday, when my housemate sustained severe injuries after someone driving “under the influence,” as we say it, crossed a double yellow line and smashed into her car in a head-on collision. To this very day, she can’t remember what happened, and she didn’t gain consciousness till she was in the ER.

“Which ER?” I asked her when she finally called that evening, mumbling into the phone that she was in an accident. “Greenfield hospital? Springfield? Northampton?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled back.

I was gone for days down to the hospital, and now, too, she needs a great deal of care since she’s barely mobile, with lots of pain. Her sister is here and does the nursing for now, have no idea for how long.

By now, I know what happens. You know all the things you thought you had to do, that the world wouldn’t go on unless you finished each and every one of them day after day? Fuggedaboudit, as Bernie used to say. Almost all of the to-dos on the computer calendar mysteriously move down to Overdue, or else disappear completely.

Life changes for some so suddenly and radically; she will not be the same after this.

And I have slipped back to a caregiver’s role, the role I played more or less adequately after Bernie’s stroke. I suddenly remember what caregivers face, and I refer to the small things, not the shopping, cooking, dog-feeding and walking, etc.

You know how we wake up in the morning, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, use the toilet, wash, get dressed before getting that coffee? Small things, before we really do anything? Before we start working or get on the phone or on Zoom?

My housemate can’t do any of those. She has to cut up her pants, otherwise she can’t get a thickly, heavily padded, bandaged foot and ankle into them. Pivoting off the futon in my office is painful, sitting up even more so because of the broken ribs. She puts on her one shoe and winces. One of us is always there when she gets up and uses her walker, including in the middle of the night, always walking behind her as she goes heavily to the bathroom in case her one functioning leg totters while the other is left in the air. Forget showers. Forget walking or driving to work.

It’s when you start working with the small things—we need straws because sipping from a cup means she has to sit up, which causes severe rib pain—that you see how much we take for granted in day-to-day life, how we don’t need help to get up, feel the floor under our feet, swivel and use the walker correctly. We don’t have to pay attention to which foot goes on the floor and which does not, which hand can turn on the bathroom light and which stays on the walker handles. We don’t hesitate before we turn in bed because the pain in our chest is so bad.

I remembered this from Bernie after his stroke, and I see it now once more.

This is what I say to myself: You were good back then, but there are things you wish you’d done differently. Spend more time talking face-to-face, hanging out, watching TV together. Smile with genuine encouragement without denying the shock and pain. And make sure to touch and hug, reminding the other person that their body is still worthy of embrace, still beautiful. Don’t scrimp on that just because you have to empty the dishwasher or do the laundry.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Even if a formerly healthy, strong woman is now in bed, weak and defenseless, still trying to absorb the enormity of what happened to her and how her life will change. She was God’s creature then and she’s God’s creature now. I love and embrace both.

Meantime, the world goes on. Cherry blossoms flower in DC, bombings continue in Gaza, and Boris the bear may have paid his first spring visit to the house last night. As Bernie used to say: “Everything’s critical; nothing’s serious.”

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VISIONS AND MYTHS

The other day I wrote about a fantasy I had: 10,000 people and more carrying food and water, walking through the border with Gaza and meeting up with hungry men, women and children on the other side.

I also wrote that immediately, practical voices spoke up: Do you know how much killing can take place, how much violence? Do you understand that Hamas will immediately take over all that food and water and store it for its own fighters (videos have been taken of tons and tons of food and unbelievable quantities of water being found in tunnels, all part of the aid that has flowed into Gaza since October 7).

Yes, I say, yes, I understand all that. So, what am I looking for?

I look for the mythic. I look for the magical, the gesture that stuns and amazes, that grabs us and restores faith, satisfies longing, the yearning to make peace among ourselves. I look for the equivalent of Gandhi’s 24-day salt march to the sea, for Mandela inviting his jailer to his inauguration, for King’s walk on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Sometimes these events didn’t yield much practical result, as historians love to remind us, but it’s not the point (much of the time, we don’t even know what the point is or will be). It’s about manifesting something that boggles the mind, trips up the dualistic, a revolutionary act of the imagination showing that we and them, our truth vs. their truth, isn’t at the essence of our existence. It’s the nondual, the not-knowing, or the Tree of Life rather than the Tree of Knowledge, in my brother’s words. We need both, but all too often the former is ignored in favor of the latter.

Which brings me to my next point, something my sister has repeated often to me.

What’s missing in the Middle East is a strong moral voice that will speak to the basic ethical code most humans subscribe to, such as refraining from bloodshed as much as possible, safeguarding the safety and health of civilians, and especially women and children, eliminating hunger, illness, torture or abuse, and all other roots of suffering. Reminding people of the ideals that once guided their lives, what we have in common, the values and principles we care about, reflecting not just what we want for ourselves but what all people, including our opponents, want, too.

That strong moral leader can come from anywhere: from Islam, from Judaism or Christianity, from the secular world. I wonder if it’s any coincidence that the people we think of as great moral voices were religious, e.g.: HH the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, Gandhi, King. Even Malala Yousafzai, the woman who, as a girl, led the fight for women’s education and still wears a hijab.

Religious they may have been, but in some way, they transcended the language and strictures of their own traditions to speak to a much bigger audience, people looking to follow a vision that has little to do with sectarian choices and tribal rules (though many choose to live privately within them) and everything to do with meeting the challenge of being human.

Bernie’s articulation of the Three Tenets, Not-knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action, was his way of sharing a Zen Buddhist vision of compassionate action in non-Buddhist words, and over the years so many people have related to this who have no connection with Buddhism at all.

“Be the change,” Gandhi implored. We want to. Over and over again I hear, what can I do? And do I must, one way or another. But I miss the visionary voice and the trek down to Gaza, bringing food and drink, creating new myths and stories that point to timeless truths you won’t find in today’s newspapers.

Even as I let myself imagine all this, I’m called to different practicalities. My housemate, Lori, was involved in a bad accident last night and will need time to recover. I spent much of today in the hospital and I see the same ahead for me this weekend. Henry misses her, I comfort him as best as I am able. He’s now wearing a fully blue collar that lights up in the dark–how did you know, oh illegal chihuahua?

At bottom, we must take care of each other. There is no other way.

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FANTASY LIFE

Here is a fantasy I have about a beginning to the end of the war in Gaza:

Ten thousand Israelis gather lots and lots of foods, including portable water tanks, and slowly march south towards the Gaza border, currently a “closed military zone.” Internationals arrive in the Tel-Aviv airport and quickly join them.

As they approach checkpoints they are told to stop, but they continue on, overwhelming the barriers, because there are basically too many of them to stop. As they walk further south, they are joined by more and more people carrying more food. They include medics and journalists.

As they approach the border they’re met by masses of soldiers, including tanks, and ordered to go back. They refuse. The soldiers argue with them, they take a few aside and argue some more, warning of violence on the other side, invoking fear and demanding respect for military authority.

No one backs down and the soldiers are perplexed. What should they do? The marchers are Israeli like them; they may be from their own family, their own town or city; they may be their own friends. Israelis don’t normally disobey military commands, but the soldiers can’t shoot them.

As they wonder and puzzle it out, get in touch via cellphone with commanders back north, the masses of people go through the border and enter Gaza. And from the other side, masses of people meet them: Men looking to immediately unload the big crates of food that comprise flour, rice, beans, and oil, women carrying babies and filling up jugs with water, and hungry children carrying pots and pans and clanging them in delight as they’re given snacks, candies, biscuits, even chocolate. Medics attend to the ill or those showing signs of malnourishment. Tents and blankets are given out.

The Israeli/international group has memorized greetings in Arabic, and these are exchanged, including blessings for Ramadan. The giving out of food goes on for several hours because the quantities—and the needs—are so great. People communicate in words, hand gestures, facial expressions, and warm, open, unafraid bodies. Nobody is an enemy.

This arose for me as I sat in meditation this morning, perhaps because I read several days ago of a small convoy of Israelis bringing food, including a professor who said: “When children go hungry, you must bring food.” They were stopped at the first checkpoint.

But 10,000 people? 100,000? At some point, they break through. At some point, there is a breakthrough.

While I greatly admire Gandhi, I never quite bought into non-violence as so many others have. This time it feels different because the violence is so vile, so massive, arbitrary, and beyond all reason.

Dire warnings arise inside right away: They’ll kill them as soon as they cross the border, maybe take more hostages. Another voice: Really? What benefit would it bring Hamas to show the world that it kills civilians saving Gazans from hunger?

But what about Islamic Jihad? What about others who have weapons?

Inside I hear the jeers and the verbal darts so many are ready to throw: The police will stop them using the big water cannons used on anti-government demonstrations in Tel-Aviv. Nobody will go because it’ll be seen as a betrayal of their soldier sons. The government will stop internationals as soon as the land in the Tel-Aviv airport and put them back on the plane; it’s happened before, they’ll do it again.

 Worst of all is this: What do you know about threats, fear, and violence, living in a springlike western Massachusetts? What can anyone like you do? Go back to reading the papers and maybe sending out a few small checks.

The Gorgon rears its many heads. What are their names? Cynicism, Disapproval, Passivity. The biggest one is called Be Realistic.

What would I do if we ignore the monster and do it anyway? I’d hop on a plane and join them. A plane ticket is only money, and if I die in the venture, well, I’ve lived a terrific 74 years. The only thing I fear is the future, if someone ever looks at me, locks eyes, and says: So where were you when thousands of innocent people died of bombings, hunger, illness, and exposure? What did you do, other than writing?

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TREES IN THE WIND

The winds blew all night. I could hear them through the slightly open window, sounding like a spaceship landing. This morning they’re blowing that much harder, predicted to become 50 mph gusts.

I took Aussie into the woods because they provide some shelter from those cold blasts, only to be surrounded by spruce and pine creaking and bending. Heavy branches crashed on the ground from a long way up. Often, I’d look up at one particular tree that seemed to tilt more precipitously than others and wonder what I’d do if it fell. I’d have an instant to move, or not.

The leaves haven’t come out yet, making the trees more naked but also lighter, better able to bow and bend, minimizing their chances of dropping. But sometimes, they do drop, often taking down utility lines in the process.

And what happens to me when I’m buffeted by thoughts and emotions? Do I also bend this way and that, or do I drop to the ground?

This morning, I remembered that in a long-time-ago NYC writing group, we talked about something explosive in the world. Was it Kosovo? Bosnia? Hindu-Muslim massacres in India? I can’t remember now, only that a friend of mine who was there declared that Buddhists don’t murder, massacre, and generally cause widespread carnage. They don’t do those things.

A political science professor, also in the group, said: “Yes, they do.” He evoked the warring armies of monks in Tibetan monasteries many years ago, and the Japanese kamikaze pilots crashing purposely into ships during World War II, some of whom came from Zen temples and monasteries.

My friend got upset. How dare this man attack Buddhists? He couldn’t hear it, and repeated once again: Buddhists don’t do such things.

Since then, of course, there have been the monks of Myanmar who advocated and demonstrated in favor of kicking out the Muslim Rohingya.

I remembered that exchange this morning after reading a collection of various papers about Gaza. It’s not the Buddhist side of me that’s shaken, it’s the Jewish side. As a Jew who grew up in an orthodox Jewish home and went for years to Jewish schools studying the Torah, prophets, and ethics, I am revolted and horrified by what I hear and read. I gave up the practice of Judaism long ago, and still this feeling sometimes overwhelms me. Other people do this and have done this, including Americans of which I am one, but this? Since when do Jews do this? Did the events of October 7 justify this?

I feel like the trees, buffeted hard by winds great and small, threatening to fall over. Are their roots strong enough to keep them grounded? If they wear too many leaves, they become too heavy and fall to the ground.

How do I make myself lighter on my feet? What do I need to let go of? How am I nailed down to belief systems and doctrines handed down over generations? If I let go of those, will anything keep me grounded?

Is there anything to depend on?

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ENDLESS RIVER

I spent 35 years as Bernie’s student, including the 20 we were a couple.

In that last stage, I had two different relationships to engage in, two different roles. Our biggest challenges came out of our life as a couple, two human beings working out how to live together under the same roof, with different opinions, wants, and needs. In that connection I think of what my friend Jeff Bridges, who’s looking forward to 50 years of marriage to his wife, Sue, said to me the other day: “Eve, you can be right, or you can be married.”

As usual, I nodded to myself and thought: Now why did it take me so long to learn that?

But there was no question about the teacher/student relationship. While I knew that there were things Bernie learned from me, in our day-to-day life together I never forgot that he was a Zen master. I watched him, listened to him (even while occasionally disagreeing), and reflected on his actions. It was an opportunity I didn’t squander.

There was always so much to learn from how he lived day to day: his jauntiness (reflected in the insouciance with which he wore his beret), his wild-eyed optimism, the way he blinked and moved his eyebrows up and down a la Groucho, all the while puffing on his cigar, the way he’d suddenly grow quiet and go to a place only he could see, though he left plenty of crumbs, big and small, for others to follow. In those last years, his radical acceptance of everything life threw his way.

I think of his morning routine for so many years, up at 3 or 4 in the morning, working till 6, taking a bath for an hour punctually at 6 (which included meditation), and by 7:30 he’d be dressed and going downstairs for that first car ride with cigar and Stanley the dog. The day-to-day discipline, sharp, undeterred focus, combined with his love of jokes.

After his bath, he’d come back to the bedroom, his hair like the Bride of Frankenstein’s, and say: “Eve, what do you think of my hair?” I’d give an appreciative scream.

But what I find myself remembering most of all is his deep faith. In what? In life, in dharma, the oneness of everything. I think of it especially now, when many of us get gloomy and pessimistic though we’re not in danger of life, limb, or lack of resources. Maybe it’s the cloudy skies or the bare tree branches, an ache around the left shoulder or too many headlines screaming Trump’s vision for this country, which to me evokes death more and more.

 It’s not that Bernie talked about faith, his entire demeanor expressed it. If you got too serious about something, he’d make a joke (Israel-Palestine being the only exception). If you were down he’d sing Bill Withers’ Moanin’ and Groanin’, or he’d turn Jewish and say oy! oy! oy!, but with such cheer it sounded more like the Australian cheer: Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi! when their teams play.

It’s like he knew something, though he’d qualify everything in his later years with: That’s just my opinion, man. Of course, he was completely at home in the present moment, but he also seemed to be seeing and hearing something else. Naturally, he loved the theory of multiple universes. Everything had a reason, and everything became a reason for something else, and it was the way the world worked. There was nothing wrong with it, even when great harm was done and suffered by various beings.

If he’d been a theist, he might have said that God doesn’t make mistakes, that nothing and no one is a mistake—and now, he’d add in his practical engineer’s voice, what do you do? How do you work with it skillfully?

Bemoaning life was not wrong, it was just a waste of energy. Over 35 years I’ve absorbed some of that, though without his natural buoyancy. He had his really dark moments, but he was not a depressive.

Some people wish they could see around the corner to the future; to Bernie, the future was right here. He loved computers, he was sure the Internet would help everyone experience our interconnectedness, and at the same time, when asked, he’d refer to the old sage: Nothing’s new under the sun.

Among all the grimy details and headlines that pile up, he discerned something (some may call it no-thing) that he knew intimately, with every ounce of his being (even as he’d say it was just an opinion), life vast and changing. Not the life as opposed to old age, illness, or death, much bigger than that. He was in joyful service to it all the time, even after half his body was paralyzed.

Drop off the body; the river of the world will never end.

Stately and grand: Nothing to show but the inner master.

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WHAT THEY WANT FROM ME

It’s been warmer than usual—we repeat this frequently nowadays—and today our gardener, who comes several times each summer to keep things going, pruned the apple tree in front of the house. I liked the shape she gave it.

When we first moved here, the tree gave no fruit. After we took down the oak that towered over it, small, hard, green apples arrived, and they’ve been arriving every summer, less hard and less sour every year. Last summer was the first time we actually ate them. They were still on the sour side, and delicious.

Let’s see what this summer brings.

Every once in a while, I feel a big doubt come up.  What is all this writing for, I wonder. Does anything change? Just how important is the expression of one woman’s thoughts, conundrums, feelings?

I also worry that a blog can be self-serving. It’s an expression of me, and even if you’re careful not to make it always about you (or your dog, or your housemate’s dog), it can still be my thoughts about our political situation, my upset over the Middle East, my sense of life and how to navigate it. I could be tempted to make of something small something very big, magnify my actions, promote an image.

This morning, I railed silently at Joe Biden: It’s not that they dislike your policies, Joe, people just feel you’re too old! Four years ago, you gave us a sense that you’re asking for one term, not two, that you’d be a bridge to a new generation of leaders. What happened to that? Have you turned greedy? Have you, too surrounded yourself with people who won’t tell you the truth? The older you get, the less truth they’ll tell you.

I’m beginning to think that we should let AI choose our government. But I don’t think that another voice of indignation and disappointment is what the universe needs right now.

And maybe you’re one of the problems, says another voice. Too many of this Baby Boomer generation (I’m 74) is holding on, filling up the airwaves and bandwidths and making their opinions known.

And yet … And yet … Is there something more creative I can do here? More thought-provoking? More heart-opening? I inhabit certain interactions that may provide different perspectives. I’m Jewish and Buddhist, American and Israeli, writer and activist.

I’d like there to be an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, a release of hostages, and massive distribution of medical supplies, infrastructure, and especially food to the civilian population.

At the same time, my brother was in Dubai several weeks ago, where he’s always greeted warmly and graciously. But one Muslim leader said to him: “The Middle East is all Islamic; it always was, since the  beginning of the Ottoman Empire. You Jews are not Muslim, and one day you will be vomited off that land where you don’t belong.”

My brother said his piece, too, pointing out that Israelis are not colonizers, that they lived in that land long before Islam was born. But still, he sees his big job as listening, and it’s not easy. He flies back home and tells me what he hears, then goes back and does it again and again.

This time, spending a weekend in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he was able to tell his host about how afraid he was for the life and health of his son, who served in with the Israeli army in Gaza for a few months till his return home. And his host, a Muslim businessman, could listen and sympathize.

In Zen Buddhism we do interviews between teacher and student. Since I don’t care for the word interviews, I’ve adopted the term face-to-face that, as far as I know, was begun at the Zen Center of Los Angeles.

In my early years with Bernie, or Sensei as we called him then, I’d done lots of interviews with him that were very formal, calling for full bows, ritual, lots of choreography.

One day, long before I became a teacher, he said to me: “Eve, do you know what people want from me when they come in for an interview?”

“For you to pass them on their koan?”

“They want me to listen to them. And Eve, do you know what else they want from me?”

“To confirm their understanding?”

“They want me to listen to them. And do you know what else they want from me?”

“No, Bernie, what else do they want from you?”

“They want me to listen to them.”

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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.

JUST NOT MY MOTHER

The rainwater we had froze overnight, leaving small puddles of ice in the woods like the one above. I was captivated by the lines the ice made this morning. Within minutes, as it got warmer, the ice dissolved, but the step-by-step process was very pretty, before it all cracked and gave way.

Often, I wonder how to write about human suffering—losses, catastrophes, illnesses, heartbreaking disappointments—without invoking pity, without causing human beings to disappear indiscriminately into some big pit marked Unfortunates. Or Victims. Or Suffering Beings. Or Losers, as Donald Trump might call them.

I can blame the Buddha, whose First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. No such thing as gain without loss, hope without setback, joy without sorrow. When we do suffer, we suffer in different ways.

A couple from Guatemala came across the border, their town overrun by drug cartels. They managed to bring their two younger children with them, but the older ones didn’t want to come. Think of your own teenagers who have their friends, whom they don’t want to leave behind. Some months later a drug gang entered the family’s house in Guatemala and killed 18 people, including the two children who’d stayed behind and their grandparents.

Or the woman who cleans this house once a month. She’s here for over 20 years with her husband and son, and several years ago had another baby girl. But she left a grown-up daughter in Guatemala whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. She can’t fly down to see her because she has no legal documents, and the daughter can’t come up here. It’s not clear the two will ever see each other.

She always smiles when she comes here, but I believe that inside, the face is marked like the Ice above.

And smaller things. Like what? Sophia and her daughter, Elena, make it here after Elena gives birth enroute, in Mexico. Elena goes to high school and does well, has plans for a career, but the baby is not well so she leaves school to take care of her. They need a pediatrician but can’t get one without medical insurance, and the ER hasn’t been able to stabilize the baby.

And then the bureaucracy begins: If Sophia could work a certain number of hours at the local farms, she can get medical insurance. But the farms are closed right now, and once she does get the insurance, it’ll cover her and Elena, but not the grandbaby.

How do you tell these stories without exhausting yourself and your readers? People get tired and feel overwhelmed.

“Dogs, too,” says Aussie. “If Henry the Illegal Chihuahua tells me one more story of how he got here, I’ll kill myself. I hate suffering! What am I supposed to do about it?”

Lately, I’ve been thinking that it’s not up to me to end it all; I can do just a little bit—and that’s important. Last weekend I mentioned an unhoused woman who lived through a Tennessee winter in a tent, then came up here and spent a New England winter with her dog in a truck with a broken window. She’s begun working in a fast-food outlet, but still can’t afford much here. I have learned a great deal over the past years about working poor people, who work full shifts every day, also weekends, and can’t afford rents or medical bills.

I sent out some emails and posts. A nice man replied that he may have a place for her and the dog for a few months and asked that she call him. Two others wrote that while they don’t have a room for her, they can help in other ways, one by buying her the dogfood she needs, the other to help repair the truck window.

I find myself getting stuck on the big needs and overlooking the smaller ones that may be just as important, and more doable. Get some dogfood, fix he truck window, get some shelter from the cold and rains for a while. Later, something bigger maybe, like permanent housing and another chance at rebuilding a life. But small things are important.

On Saturday night I took out Jimena and Byron Pareja, not just to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary but also as gratitude for facilitating connection with our local immigrant families. Jimena told me that now, in her evening job supporting immigrant teens in their schoolwork, she brings in their parents. Why? Because since Massachusetts legalized driver’s licenses for immigrants (legal and not), their parents are taking road tests, but English remains a big roadblock. She has their kids testing them:

“What do you do if the tester asks you to turn right and park behind that white car? No no no, you don’t park right away, you first turn right and then park.”

“What do you do if he tells you to turn left? No, not right—left!”

“What lane do you drive on to turn left?”

“The kids get very frustrated,” Jimena chuckled. “You know what they say? ‘Get me another parent to work with, not my mother!’”

We laughed out loud as we shared a big strawberry margarita, toasting their work over many years. 180 people had come to celebrate their anniversary. Parties, laughter, food, a shared strawberry margarita, telling stories. Those, too, are responses to suffering.

Meantime, if you can, please donate to immigrant families using the button below. Do it in honor of Jimena and Byron Pareja. Thank you.

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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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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 BIGGEST ADDICTION

The Zen Peacemaker Order installed a second cohort yesterday at the end of a two-year program of study. The new members created their own personal plunges (sometimes known as bearing witness retreats), looking not only at the raw challenges of their own lives but those of other lives around them, and beginning or continuing the work that addresses those challenges and needs.

Folks from the US, England, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, Israel, Australia and New Zealand all met on Zoom, and the Rule of the Order was recited in English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, and German. Given our different countries, the installation had to be done on Zoom, and the ceremony was directed by the new members, which I so prefer over top-down planning. It’s like we’re telling them: Okay, you’ve graduated; now get to it.

Part of the ceremony showed Bernie sitting next to the chanter Krishna Das. I knew the scene not just through the video clip but because I had been there in person, so I used the opportunity to take a good look at Bernie, re-remember the clothes he was wearing (jeans, blue jeans shirt, black suspenders with pink piggies on them), saw the gestures of scratching his nose or the inner side of his eye that I knew so well. Most visible of all to me, the expression on his face when he hears things he’s heard many times before and still stands by them, always stands by them.

I know that feeling that comes up when you’re older, when you hear things you’ve heard lots of times before, old memories and expressions. Are they still new? Are they still vital and alive? I spent 35 years with and around this man, 20 as his wife, 35 as a student. Know the feel of the beard, the crazy eyebrows.

A few veterans spoke, one of them a friend and peace activist from Israel. She’s lost allies and friends in both Israel and Gaza. She remembered first meeting Bernie and how he explained that for him, making peace is making whole. In the Hasidic tradition, the vessel of creation is smashed to pieces and it’s the role of the Tzaddik, or Bodhisattva, to bring the pieces back together again.

I’ve heard this so often, since 1996, that it’s become a part of me; I’m no longer aware of it. But every once in a while, I hear it anew. Maybe because this friend was so broken by what has happened in the Middle East. After bitter disappointments you can feel your vows almost tearing you apart. What whole, you want to scream. And yet, she said, you don’t give up even in the face of the sudden urgency to objectify people, stay away, affirm separateness rather than wholeness.

You don’t need to start drinking or do drugs; the most basic addiction of all is the addiction to the self, as Bernie himself so often said, and when the world falls apart, when your world falls apart, staying inside a hard, fortress-like self feels natural. You look away, you feel good blaming the world and proclaiming: Not in my lifetime, it’s finished, I’m done. Our most basic addiction is to the stories and constructs of our life, to a skin that covers up terror, fragility and the gnawing admission that life cannot and will never be just how we want it.

Protecting myself in that way is the most powerful addiction of all.

And we go on.

This morning, I got a text from my brother in Saudi Arabia (Saudi and Israel have no diplomatic relations but he, as a dual American-Israeli citizen, flew there). He was there to continue his talks with Muslim leaders. He wrote that he shared the hotel elevator with a young 15-year-old Saudi boy wearing a Ronaldo t-shirt. He asked my brother where he was from, my brother said: “You’ll never guess!” The boy said: “Italy, US, Ukraine, France, Spain.” My brother finally whispered: “Israel.” The young Saudi’s eyes opened wide, and he hurried out of the elevator at the very next floor.

After that, my housemate told me of one of her clients, a woman from Tennessee who is unhoused and living in her truck through this cold winter with a broken window. She has a dog with her and therefore can’t go into shelters, and do I know someone who could rent her a room for $500 a month. Rents here are so off the wall that working singles simply can’t afford them. I’m looking into it.

At 7:30 am a 15-person crew, all Latino and Latina, came to take down our 35-year-old roof and put in a new one. They finished by 1:30 in the afternoon, leaving the yard, the gardens, and the apple tree just as they found them, pristine. The two dogs freaked out from the horrific noise, and I took all of us to two good friends who housed us for half the day, including preparing a terrific lunch.

So many threads run through us all the time, our lives nothing but a fabric of those threads. They bring needs and wants, as well as gifts of kindness, humor and generosity, culminating, at 4 pm, with new members installed into an order of whole-makers, connecting, bridging and bonding across vast distances, and not giving up.

How fortunate I am in this life!

“Are they gone?” Aussie asks, looking fearfully as we drive down to the house.

“Who, Aussie?”

“The racketeers.”

“Who?”

“The racket-makers.”

She’s sleeping now after a long day of scary noises, peace and quiet restored. For now.

Next week we begin with the third cohort of some 44 people from various countries, and two years from now I hope to attend their installation, 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.