DOG ON A NAIL

Waiting for Snow

In 1999 I joined Bernie for a teaching trip to Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. One evening I talked about the Zen Peacemaker retreat at Auschwitz. During the Q&A that followed, a woman raised her hand and declared that she feels responsible for the wellbeing of her mind, and for this reason has no interest in listening to stories of retreats in terrible places and, similarly, never reads newspapers.

This morning, after reading that Israel’s army targeted and hit three World Central Kitchen vehicles and killed 7 aid people I felt like doing the same. That’s it, I thought. Cancel all subscriptions, give the computer a rest, and go under the covers. See how long you can sleep.

 I felt like I was carrying a heavy stone in my chest all day. It was hard to walk, hard to hold my back up. I felt broken inside.

You may know this story:

A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.

A friend walks up to the porch to say hello and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.

“What’s that terrifying sound?” asks the friend.

“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”

“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.

The farmer deliberates on this and replies: “Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

Is it age that causes me to often think that the world is delusional? That we spend so much time and energy on not getting off it, not letting go, holding on relentlessly to drama after drama, story after story of who did us wrong and who is and isn’t a human being?

When the dog originally sat on a nail, maybe it didn’t go that deep back then. Maybe it was a soothing scratch on its butt. Maybe it helped its sitting posture, or maybe it was just too damned distracted to pay much attention. Maybe it just shrugged and thought: Nothing’s perfect, I’ll live with it.

But the nail went deeper and deeper, and finally it really hurt. Maybe it started festering, spreading an infection throughout the body, and finally the dog broke down and started yelping from pain. But even then, it wouldn’t sit up and get off it.

Right in my own house there is pain and soreness. Inside of 16 days of a terrible car accident, my housemate has gone through surgery, spent 5 days in one hospital and 4 in another, and made 3 visits to the ER. There is pain, which leads to pain-killers, which lead to other forms of physical dysfunction. There are doctors, therapists, and nurses. There is a discombobulated house and the look on Henry’s face because he can’t figure out why she’s downstairs and I’m upstairs, and whose bed is he supposed to sleep in now anyway.

People are killed, wounded, raped, starved, and shamed every single hour of every day. Some get help right where they live, some never get any.

The question is always the same: What do I do? It’s the same question here in this house as it is in connection with the suffering in other lands, though the scale is way different. What does care for self and other mean when I’m upstairs and she’s downstairs? What does it mean when the sufferer is starving in Haiti or Sudan while I am here, cutting daffodils to bring home before the arrival of snow late tomorrow night?

Here are some things I’ve learned to do:

I sit every single day, with practically no exception. I know, time goes by and work awaits (I tend to sleep long nowadays), and still I sit. Practice my version of kenosis, emptying of the self. It’s a Greek term often associated with Jesus, who is back with us again after Easter Sunday. Self emptied, I feel more ready to meet the day.

Serve life (part of the Rule of the Zen Peacemaker Order). It’s not just checking in with Lori and feeding the dogs or checking off the tasks on the computer calendar. It’s sniffing out the call. It’s hanging out by Lori’s bed and talking, giving her a kiss on the cheek before I go upstairs to bed though I’ve never done that before. It’s listening to the sun tell me that I should spend more time outdoors picking up the branches, limbs and twigs from a winter season, not as duty but as a response to light. Pausing by daffodils at the corner of the garage door. Letting go of shoulds and musts to sniff the air, like a dog, to detect how and where life calls.

Get clear on what’s my business and what’s not my business. This is a tough one, with the world going to pot. Lots of dramas going on around me, inviting me to return to old internal dialogues, to revisit the past and fear the future. Less and less of that is my business. I’ve learned not to give advice when it’s not asked for. I’ve learned to respect people’s lives and to appreciate that regardless of where empathy lies, I’ll never really know what it is to live in others’ shoes. Period.

Too much abstraction isn’t good for me. Ask what I can do, what I can’t do, and be satisfied with the answer.

Love family, friends, sangha. Don’t take anyone for granted.

A friend told me about the first tine His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to speak at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He was a big celebrity and the cathedral was thronged, people came from all over to listen to him. Various others spoke before him, paying tribute to him and describing the catastrophe unfolding in Tibet.

When it was his turn, he got up, approached the microphone, looked across at the thousands of people there, and said: “Let’s be good to one another.” Then he turned around and went back to his seat.

People murmured and muttered among themselves: That’s it?

But soon he got up again, approached the microphone, and added: “If we can’t be good to one another, let’s at least not harm one another.”

With that, he returned to his seat and stayed there.

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ATTENTION

“Aussie, come!”

“When?”

“Now. Aussie. For heaven’s sake, Aussie, when I say Come, you come!”

“I did come, only via Vermont.”

“You know, Auss, the world isn’t paying attention to me like it used to.“

“Of course not, you’re old!”

“Once, people paid more attention. They did what I asked them to do. You did what I asked you to do.”

“Never!”

“Ok, you didn’t, but many did. Now, it’s like nobody cares.”

“I told you, it’s because you’re old. Who cares what anybody old wants?”

“I pay attention to you, Senora.”

“The illegal Chihuahua has spoken! You don’t count, Illegal. That’s why she works with illegal families, they’re the only ones that pay attention to her.”

“Aussie, that’s a terrible thing to say.”

Unruffled, Aussie runs off for another circuit of Vermont.

There are times when the world just doesn’t seem to give a damn, I think to myself. It doesn’t matter what you want, what you feel, what you think. Nobody seems to give a hoot, aside from an illegal Chihuahua.

I look back and marvel at how many ambitions and wants I used to have, coupled with very little patience when they weren’t fulfilled right away (usually the case). So much arrogant confidence that if I tried hard enough or worked hard enough, the world would respond; it would pay attention.

I got into a practice that was all about paying attention, only I was the one who had to do it. To my great surprise, just as I was beginning to realize that the world owed me bupkis, I discovered that there was something that was listening after all. It wasn’t personal or identifiable. And it had been there all the time, only I never noticed because all my life I’d been so focused on complaining that nobody was listening to me. I squandered ten lifetimes’ worth of indignation on that, and when it finally ended, I noticed that something was, indeed, paying attention in a basic, impersonal way.

Had to let go of lots of background noise and all kinds of clever manipulations on how to get a bigger megaphone. There was no need for any of that, only who knew? Who knew that this late in the game, I’d get into a new relationship, and that I’d find attention everywhere I went (except for Aussie, of course, who decided to climb Mt. Washington)?

The morning after my housemate had her terrible accident, when someone driving “under the influence,” as we say it, smashed into her car head-on, I found her in the ER waiting for surgery. I sat on a chair by the bed. She was skin-and-bones, ashen, in lots of pain. We talked just a little, and she would doze off till pain woke her up.

Once she mumbled, “Eve, why don’t you go home? They’ll come get me when they’re ready, you don’t have to just sit there.”

“I’m a meditator, Lori,” I told her. “I like just sitting there.”

Four hours later, they came to get her ready for surgery and I went home.

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BONES ARE NOT CLUTTER

“Look at this house. I have never seen so much clutter in my life! That’s what comes out of bringing illegals in here. Everyone knows they’re messy and dirty.”

“That’s crazy even for you, Aussie, and you have a high bar for craziness. These are all Henry’s toys.”

“I saw you pick them up and put about fifty of them back in the box, and in two minutes he dropped 20 back all around, in your bedroom, your office, on my bed—”

“Beds. You have lots of beds, Auss.”

“On all my beds, kitchen, living room. It’s like he makes those messes on purpose.”

“Aussie, Henry’s human is in the hospital. It’s been almost 2 weeks since her terrible accident, and she’s now doing a second bout of hospitalization.”

“Isn’t she coming home today?”

“Maybe, maybe not. Things continue to screw up, given the extent of the damage to her body. Last night Green River Zen had its monthly council, and the question people addressed was: How do we meet the moment in times of high stress? It was a small, intimate and very moving council. The point is, Aussie, that Henry may be meeting this raw moment by sprinkling all his toys around the house.”

“Illegal meets the moment by creating a mess?”

“He needs to surround himself with things that comfort him. Don’t we all do that?”

“You mean, all the chocolate you eat whenever you go crazy”?

“I don’t go crazy, Aussie. Let’s be more precise with our language.”

“Okay. When your voice gets louder and higher, when you fold your hands under your chin and look despairingly at the computer screen, when you rush off to the kitchen for another cup of coffee or scramble in the cupboards to check what sugary things are there, when you yell: Aus-sie! because I ran far away from you, or: Henry, shut up! because Illegal is yapping like crazy. Precise enough for you?”

“And what do you do when you’re stressed, Aussie?”

“I go out to the back and lie there. I don’t scream at anyone, and I don’t mess up the house with stuff. That’s the trouble, isn’t it? The Illegal Chihuahua surrounds himself with stuff: Llamas and alligators and kangaroos and a dozen monkeys. That’s so materialistic! Obviously, he’s trying to prove he’s really American, but he don’t fool me. Why can’t he just meditate?”

“Material things are very important for wellbeing. Look at how you need marrow bones around you.”

“Bones are NOT clutter.”

“Humans like a cup of coffee or tea, some Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.”

“A whole pint?”

“We’re material beings, Aussie, not clouds in the air. Did it ever occur to you, Auss, that Henry’s toys are his furniture? They’re his way of making his home, like I have a bed and a desk and a nice chair with blankets. Look at the mohair covering I have for the rocking chair, I got it from a dear friend 20 years ago and it helps me feel at home. That’s what Pinky and Llama Louie do for Henry.”

“I’ve heard you give dharma talks about home. You say nothing about Pinky and Llama Louie, you speak about going inside. Why can’t Henry go inside and shut up?”https://www.evemarko.com/markokiskadeeeve/wp-admin/post-new.php

“Here’s a Mary Oliver poem for you, Aussie, and don’t groan:

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.”
“Does she say to bless the dozen monkeys and chipmunks in the bedroom?”

“All of us live in the same house, Aussie: two women, two dogs, Lori’s sister coming in, mice in the basement and in the garage. Soon the ladybugs will come, then the moths and spiders, then—”

“But they’re not stuffed animals, they’re real!”

“We’re all equally real, Aussie.”

“I’m realer.”

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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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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.

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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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.