I WANTED YOU TO MEET THEM

I walked with Harry and Aussie up a narrow canyon a week ago, hills sloping up on the right, tall gray cliffs on the left. It was still cold, and since the canyon doesn’t get much sun there were spots of snow and ice. No one else walked that morning, people are careful in my neck of the woods.

Suddenly the dogs huddled around a large rock, sniffing. I drew close, bent down, and heard a loud moan. Around me everything was frozen and still. I listened harder, and realized it was the sound of water—a lot of water—spilling and gushing down invisible beneath the hard earth and rocks. There was lots of  movement under all that immovability.

I feel like that in this season of coronavirus. We stay home, we don’t hang out and talk over coffee, we don’t walk or drive much on the streets, you don’t see movement. But that doesn’t mean movement is not there. It doesn’t mean people aren’t opening their eyes and changing their behavior. A lot is happening, even if for now it feels invisible and subterranean.

Zen always talks about life and death. Not the death that happens at the end of life, but the life and death of every moment: every moment a new birth, every moment a new death. If we could see the life and death of each moment then we lose our fear of death, but we have to really pay attention. The challenge is always how to pay attention in the middle of work, raising a family, taking care of self, children, partners, parents, community.

People are paying plenty of attention now. “The theme is right in front of us,” a friend told me today. We don’t have to pull at anybody and say: Hold on a minute, pay attention!, They’re paying attention, all right! They know whose life is on the line.

I went to pick up dog food today and noticed how carefully people walked around each other, masked, clearly understanding the impact they have on the life of strangers. We depend on one another, we need one another, we don’t exist without one another. It’s self-evident. What could be better?

Yesterday I hurried to Turners Falls to meet my friend. I had 10 $50 gift cards from two neighboring supermarkets with me, along with some cash of my own. The latter is to help a family that is losing their apartment and needs to move, which means raising first-month rent, last-month rent, and security (standard for this area), so I donated cash for that. But food is what counts, and food is what I plan to help the families get with these gift cards.

I could have brought more with the money readers have sent me, but I wanted to see how it would go this first time; I was also pretty sure I would be distributing more cards next week, and the week after.

My friend dialed some numbers on her phone, and in two minutes a young woman came, huddled in a jacket. Several minutes later another woman appeared, and then another. They live in small apartments nearby and came out quickly when called.

I started stammering in my Pimsleur Spanish. The conversation was almost always this way:

“Hola, me llamo Eva.”

Their name was Maria, Rosa, Rosita, Anna, Sandra, Marta, etc.

“Esta bien, y su familia?”

Yes, they’re well, and so is the family. They have 2 children, 3 children, 4 children. They are all home.

I tell them in my bad Spanish how my friends (that’s how I think of you, blog readers) have given money to help them get food.

They say gracias in so many ways, not just with words but with their eyes. One starts crying.

I feel self-conscious. They’re human beings, I’m a human being, who needs thanks?

“I want them to meet you,” my friend said. “And I want you to meet them.” The food was important, but so is the meeting.

We all need help right now, I assure them. It’s difficult now.

Yes, they agree, it’s very hard now. Some of the men can still work in farms, but many are cutting back and some farms won’t hire at all right now. Other jobs are nonexistent. Restaurants and cafes where they washed dishes are closed; schools are closed.

The schools continue to provide lunches for their children; for other meals they use food pantries. “Only the children don’t always like the food from food pantries,” one explains, “and we don’t get fruit.” She wants to use the food card to buy fruit for the children.

My friend explains that the families are getting tablets for the kids so they could do online learning, but most don’t have Internet connection, only now Comcast has agreed to provide 2 months’ service for free and then charge $10 a month. “That’s pretty good,” I tell them. Yes, they nod, it’s very important for the children to keep on learning.

I used to drive some of the women with their children to doctor appointments a while ago. “How are they now?” I ask. They shrug. Now is no time to bring anyone to a doctor or to a hospital.

“I’ll be here again next week,” I promise them. I have money for more food cards for about two weeks.  After that, I don’t know. Besides, my friend says she knows 32 families who could use this kind of help; we only helped 10 this time.

Dear reader, there is a challenge here we must meet. It’s easy to push to redistribute the money of multi-billionaires; we have to start with ourselves. People hide out not just because they’re illegal but also because they’re poor. In this country we are ashamed of being poor. I can’t photograph them, I can’t get their personal stories (at least, not yet), I don’t even ask them their last names.

There are terrible things going on down by the Mexican border, people turned back without a hearing, separation of families, etc. It has long been a thorn at my heart, but there’s not much I can do about it right now. What I can do is help put food on the table of families hiding out right here, trying to create a decent life for their children.

My parents were refugees. I look at those women who came out to thank me and I want to thank them, because I feel that I am helping out my own parents who were once in their place.

If you’d like to help me continue to do this, please donate and put on the notation: Food gift cards. I looked into whether one could buy gift cards online. One supermarket doesn’t do that. The other does, but when I tried to do it myself the page didn’t work. I will call them about it tomorrow.

 

 

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OF UNDERLINGS AND OVERLINGS

“Harry, why do you howl like that?”

“Like how, Aussie?”

“Each time a firetruck or a police car pass the car with the siren going, you sit back and howl.”

“I’m doing what my ancestors, the wolves, did long ago, Aussie. They howled, too.”

“Harry, you’re descended from wolves like I’m descended from elephants.”

“How come you’re so hoity-toity, Aussie?”

“Because I am top dog in this family. In case you didn’t notice, who gets served breakfast and dinner first?“

“You do, Auss.”

“Who’s the first one to get treats?”

“You do, Aussie.”

“Who’s the first to get the weekly marrow bone?”

“You do, Aussie.”

“Know why, Harry?”

“No. Why, Aussie?”

“Because you, Harry, are an underling.”

“What’s an underling?”

“The opposite of overling, Harry. I am an overling. Look at me and weep. An overling has everything going for her. She’s smart, enterprising, gets all the food she needs, and has your basically great life.”

“And an underling, Aussie?”

“Underlings are not as cute or good looking, and certainly not as smart. They often don’t get enough food and they can’t run around. The best they can do is follow overlings around and benefit from their generosity.”

“What about humans, Aussie? Do they have underlings?”

“You bet your cute white chest, Harry. Lots of them.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Fairness has nothing to do with it, Harry. There are always going to be underlings in this world.”

I listened to the dogs’ daily musings about life and wondered, as I do almost every day, how I ever got such a bossy, obnoxious dog like Aussie.

Yesterday I woke up and remembered that Peter Matthiessen had died 6 years earlier on yesterday’s date, April 5. I thought of how Bernie and I had decided to get up in the early morning to get out to Long Island, but neither of us could sleep that night so instead we were up at 2 and drove down to Connecticut, took the ferry across the Sound, and met up with his family and Zen group that morning. We saw his body in the funeral house before it was cremated.

I looked up what Wikipedia had to say about him: Peter Matthiessen was an American novelist, naturalist, wilderness writer, zen teacher and CIA officer. Zen teacher and CIA officer, I thought. How cool is that?

He worked for the CIA for only a short time when he was in Paris, quickly realizing that he felt more comfortable with those he was supposed to report on than with his peers in the Agency. But he led an extraordinary life, traveled to isolated tribes, searched for mythical animals, swam with great white sharks, bore witness to the tragic extinction of native cultures and species. In some way, he was bigger than life.

We traveled with him a little bit; he encouraged me to write, was generous with his praise.

I went downstairs and was about to light incense for him, as I do on memorial days, when I remembered someone else who’d died on April 5. Adam was the son of a dear, long-time friend. He died on April 5 around 2000 or 2001. He had been born with brain damage and at the age of 9, exhibiting daily fits and seizures, he was put in a residential home, where he stayed for the rest of his life.

I once went to visit him in Kentucky with my friend, his mother. We had Thanksgiving dinner at Denny’s, which was a big treat for him, and he stayed in a motel room with his mother and watched television till late at night. We tried to take him to a movie but he got antsy so we had to leave. We met his roommates and his counselors, saw the new basketball court, got good reports about him. He was on strong medications otherwise he would go into violent fits.

He told his mother that he decided to become a Born-Again Christian.

“But you’re Jewish,” she reminded him. “Should I not send you anymore Chanukah gifts?”

He thought long and hard about that.

He seemed basically happy till he died on the evening of April 5, almost going on 50. He’d been given a snack of crackers with peanut butter before bedtime and choked to death.

Standing in front of Kwan-Yin, I saw Adam in my mind from that Kentucky visit long ago. His mother, who told me she thought about him every day, is no longer living and I wondered who thought of him now; I was glad I still remembered.

Adam and Peter, I thought. I should light two sticks, one each. They were so different: one traveled all over the world, writing great books and articles, loved and admired by many, the other living his life in a Kentucky residential home, sedated, waiting all week for the Sunday morning call from his mother in New York.

Is one more valuable or important than the other?

Virginia Woolf wrote: “While fame impedes and constricts, obscurity wraps about a man like a mist; obscurity is dark, ample and free . . . Over the obscure man is poured the merciful suffusion of darkness. None knows where he goes or comes.”

I lit one stick of incense for both.

 

 

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THE KINDNESS VIRUS!

I’m surprised by the responses I get to my blog. Last time I wrote about the importance of giving money to those who have nothing right now, not even enough to buy food, and people wrote back asking how they could send money to them. I was very moved.

At the same time, I have to act responsibly. I made calls to Catholic Charities in Turners Falls because I know they serve the illegal community (a few years back we gave a little help to their summer children’s program). But the place is closed, of course, people are working from home and their availability is different.

I did connect with a woman I met in 2016 who is liaison for schools and local agencies with the undocumented community. She told me they lack social security numbers, of course, and therefore can’t get any government help at all. Some of the men work on farms; others have been laid off and can’t find work. All have little children.

We went over many different needs—I told her we couldn’t do so much, but we could do some. She agreed that gift cards from two nearby supermarkets meet a basic need for many.

We agreed to meet next Tuesday; she will introduce me to some of the families. I will bring food gift cards with me. If you wish to fund this, you could hit the Donate button on bottom and write: For Families in the Note, and I’ll know what it’s for. You could also send me a check to POB 174, Montague, MA 01351.

What I also plan to do is look into how folks can buy gift cards directly from the supermarkets and send me those gift cards, and I’ll get them to the families, thus avoiding Paypal payments, etc. But for now, given the inquiries I received, this is the best I can offer. If you’d prefer to wait till I clarify the latter approach (probably this weekend), that’s fine. I want to do this in a trustworthy way.

I tried to get the dogs onboard with this, maybe act as mascots, but they were most uncooperative. I overheard the following conversation:

“Who’re you sleeping with, Harry?”

“I’m sleeping with Rhino, Aussie.”

“You’re not sleeping with the Boss? You’re not sleeping with me?”

“If I don’t sleep with Rhino you’ll take him from me. I have to be watchful every moment.”

“It’s not me you have to worry about, it’s the Boss. She’ll give Rhino away, just watch. Some dog will give her a sob story about how she doesn’t have any toys to play with, and Rhino will be gone just-like-that.”

“We do have other toys, Aussie.”

“No one as big as Rhino. We had Bear, till we tore it to shreds. No, we have to watch Rhino on account of how sick the Boss is.”

“The Boss is sick, Auss? Does she have you-know-what?”

“She has worse things than you-know-what.”

“Like what?”

“There’s altruitis, caringitis, and generousitis. But there’s something that’s far, far worse, a disease there’s no cure for.”

“What’s that, Auss?”

“THE KINDNESS VIRUS!”

“That sounds very bad, Aussie.”

“It’ll kill her for sure, Harry. Meantime, you and I lead deprived lives. Do you have any idea how many wonderful treats pet stores now have? Things they didn’t have when I was a pup?”

“Like what, Aussie?”

“They have jerky from every kind of animal you can imagine—”

“Chicken, cows, turkey, pigs—”

“Deer, buffalo, yak-“

“Yak jerky is yucky. Say that fast many times.”

“And even llama jerky-“

“Jerky from Tibetan teachers?”

“Stop interrupting, Harry. You can get antlers, kabobs, liver, cheese, peanut butter—”

“I am so glad to be living in modern times!”

“Exactly, Harry. We are lucky to be living now, in the midst of so much abundance. I need it all to fulfill my life vow.”

“What’s your life vow, Aussie? To wake up in the land of attachments?”

“To be a balloon. How am I going to become a balloon if all I get is tennis balls? I use all my tricks, Harry, put on my best beseeching face, open wide my soulful, brown eyes, nuzzle at her leg, dreaming that she may awaken from her torpor and say: Aussie, today I’m buying out the treats department of the Greenfield Farmers Co-op and laying it at your paws. Instead, what does she do?”

“What, Aussie?”

“She throws me a tennis ball!”

“That’s sick, Aussie.”

“Kindness Virus. Starts with confusion about priorities and ends up with total dementia.”

“What happens with total dementia, Aussie?”

“You don’t want to know. Protect Rhino with your life, Harry!”

“Aussie, will she ever want to give  away?”

“I wish! Why do you suppose I run away so often?”

 

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NOW and LATER

“Where are we going, Aussie?”

“We’re hurrying back South, Harry. We’re Dixie dogs, remember?”

“But I’m getting to like it here in New England, Aussie, especially now that spring is arriving and I can lie under the sun in the back yard.”

“You call this lying under the sun? It’s freezing, Harry. Besides, do you know what the Boss is doing?”

“I can’t imagine, but the way you’re running it must be terrible. Is it because she’s not letting us off-leash? If you hadn’t lost your training collar, Auss—”

“Worse.”

“Is she shutting the dog door during the day like she does at night?”

“Worse than that, Harry.”

“OMG, is she stopping to feed us?”

“Much, much worse than that.”

“What could be worse than that, Aussie?”

“Socialism, that’s what!”

“Socialism? What’s that, Aussie? Is it a new disease, like you-know-what?”

“It’s much, much worse than you-know-what, Harry. It takes food away from the rich and gives to the poor.”

“That’s terrible, Aussie. We can’t give our food away!”

“That’s why we’re heading home, Harry, I to Texas, you back to Mississippi. They don’t do dumb things like that down there.”

“What’s happened to the Boss, Aussie? Do you think she got the you-know-what and it’s affected her mind?”

“Dementia, Harry. Instead of getting us more food, she gets gift certificates from food stores to give out to families without food. If that isn’t dementia I don’t know what is.”

“Maybe their dogs don’t have food, either, Aussie.”

“And is that any of our business, Harry? You-know-what is taking over, Harry. Out there it’s everyone for himself, dog-eat-dog.”

“We don’t eat dogs, Aussie.”

“At least, not yet. You’re lucky you have me around for protection.”

“Aussie, the Boss has a big bag of food for us, dog treats, and even marrow bones.”

“You’re so dumb sometimes, Harry, I wonder how you put four legs together. I’m not talking about NOW, I’m talking about LATER. Nobody knows what’ll happen LATER, so we have to keep for ourselves as much food as possible.”

“But isn’t NOW more important than LATER? I’ve always hated it when we’d ask the Boss to take us walking and she says LATER. I like NOW.”

“I forgive you, Harry. You’re young; you think you’ll live forever. Listen to your older sister: When the world feels like it’s coming to an end you have to think of yourself, and not just for NOW, but also for LATER.”

“What happens when LATER comes, Aussie?”

“LATER becomes NOW, and there’s a new LATER. We always have to save food for LATER.”

I lost Harry and Aussie, but I have a suggestion, folks. You know how often we think about those who have little or no safety net? How that safety net has gotten shredded over the past 40 years? How the top 1% has more wealth than the bottom 80? Here is an opportunity to do our very own redistribution of income.

Ask yourself how much money you have, and how much money you need now. Notice how much less you’re spending on entertainment, restaurants, travel, and vacations. Ask yourself if you truly and deeply need that check that’s coming from the government (if it comes). Add it all up—and give it to those who are out of work with no income, without the wherewithal to put food on their table or feed their children.

Once a month, a wonderful Colombian woman comes to clean the house I share with Tim and Emma. I’ve known her for many years and we start the morning over a cup of coffee. She’s the one who used to host illegal workers in the local Chinese restaurant for Thanksgiving, telling me how they live several to a room.

“What’s happened to them?” I asked her this morning.

“They left the area,” she told me. “They have nothing.”

“But where did they go? It’s like this everywhere.”

She didn’t know. But she knows local folks who’re illegal here, who work at gig jobs and are now laid off, who won’t see one penny from our government. She knows mothers with children and no jobs, wondering how they’ll feed their families. It’s now spring, when most of the men head to the fields, but even the farmers are afraid so there’s no work.

We talked it over, I took the dogs for a walk in the woods, drove up to the local supermarket and bought gift certificates. I gave her two $50 certificates right off the bat—“That’s plenty,” she assured me, “they know how to make that last a long time.” Tonight she’ll talk to two other people—“My contacts,” she called them—and she’ll call me tomorrow and tell me how many more need gift certificates. I won’t be able to take care of all, but I can do some.

I can’t wait for Trump to lose the election, I can’t wait till our political leaders come to their senses. I have to start redistributing income on my own, right now, starting from me. I know the refrain, I hear it from people: But you never know what’s going to happen. You never know how much you’ll need, especially with everything that’s going on. You have to think about LATER.

I don’t live in New York, I have no medical background, and can’t volunteer in hospitals. But I can do this.

Not to mention all the money I’m saving from not feeding runaway dogs.

“Aussie, I think I’m ready to go home now.”

“Harry, you have to think about LATER. You have to plan for your future.”

“Yes, Auss, but NOW it’s raining, NOW I’m hungry, NOW I’m cold. Do you suppose she left the garage doors open so that we could get back in?”

 

 

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NOBODY’S GOD

Now to stand still, to be here,

Feel my own weight and density! . . .

O, in this single hour I live

All of myself and do not move.

The poet May Sarton wrote the above words in a year of deep depression. Sometime during that year she found her voice again:

My need to be alone is balanced against my fear of what will happen when suddenly I enter the huge empty silence . . . I go up to Heaven and down to Hell in an hour, and keep alive only by imposing upon myself inexorable routines.

Settle down, I tell myself. Stop going places. Even at this time I drive to the bank, get a food item I’d forgotten, go to the farmers cooperative to get dog and bird food.

In my last post I wrote that I see this age of coronavirus as a gap. When I do (or used to do) yoga in the Greenfield YMCA, and my talented Iyengar teacher tells us to pause after our exhalation, if only for a few seconds, that, too, is a gap. I’m not inhaling, I’m not exhaling—what is this moment?  It’s a gap in our routine of breathing, just like the virus is a gap in our routine of working, eating, shopping, socializing.

Now I look back at all the things I took for granted before. I met my friends for dinner, we went to a movie, I hugged a student, I hugged a friend, I boarded a plane or a train, went to meetings. That’s when things were solid! That’s when everyone knew what they were doing! That’s when the world did what it was supposed to do!

Now everything feels fragile, tender, and uncertain. And I realize that this is what’s real—the fragility, the tenderness, and the powerful realization of how dependent I am on others and they on me. How much I appreciate the guard at the door to Trader Joe’s cleaning the carts as they came out (and letting only a few of us in at a time). The cashier at the bank who works inside to take care of me as I do my banking more safely outside at the drive-in stations. The person at the post office wearing gloves.

I’m older than all of them, I get the most benefit out of their care.

Everything is so permeable, only I don’t experience life like that when everything is cool. Now I experience it. This gap, as I call it, is nothing but the reality that I usually shut out. Now I can’t shut it out.

The day after we had snow was beautiful and cold. I took the dogs into wetlands in the woods. Harry saw a large heron fly high above us and chased and chased.

“Harry, you can’t catch a heron,” said Aussie.

Harry chased it and chased it, and plop! fell into the icy water. He came out, shivering, and shook himself.

“You think you’re God?” said Auss.

I usually think I’m God. There may be things missing in my life or things hurting in my body, but basically I’m important. My ideas are important. I’m Essential Personnel.

The practice is to de-Godify myself, and to de-Godify anything else I call God.

I Facetimed with my grandson Sunday morning and his mother said to him: “Tell Grandma Eve about what happened when we lost power.” The little boy starts, but the story he tells is what happened shortly after he was born and in the hospital, and the hospital momentarily lost power due to a storm (a story he probably heard from his parents).

Immediately his mother said, “No, not that story, the one about—” She hesitated, relented, and said, “That’s okay, tell your story.”

She let him tell his story. She was de-Godifying.

It’s the same with corporations, profitability and the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, they help create wealth. It’s when we make them God, the only thing that’s true or important, there’s a problem.

Right now we’re making Gods out of doctors and health professionals. There’s a lot we owe them, they put so much on the line every day and work tirelessly for our sake. They’re not God. Their job is to keep us healthy. Their job isn’t necessarily to think about those who lost their jobs and salaries, can’t pay rent, can’t pay for food.

Our restaurants here are completely closed. I know that some of them hire folks who may not be here legally, pay them under the table. I know that some of those employees live several to a room in local apartments. They’ve all lost their jobs and they won’t get any checks from the government.

Health professionals don’t think about them, it’s not their job. Somebody has to. Whoever does also won’t be God but rather one plant in a flowering garden that excludes no one.

We all count. Nobody’s God.

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GREAT GAPPIN’ WITH YOU

I feel desolate and lonely some mornings. All the encouraging spiritual truisms about being alone—e.g., all-One, etc.—aren’t cutting it for me right now.

I’m a little surprised to feel this way because I’m used to working out of my house. “The streets are so empty,” friends who live in cities or suburban areas tell me. My street is always empty because it’s a country road without too many cars or walkers. And still I sense the difference.

The novelty of it has worn off and I feel the loneliness settling deep inside me morning after morning, waking up to the fact that it’s  mostly me and the dogs. If it was me and someone else it might feel different. The house tends to be very, very quiet; I don’t usually put on the TV. So all the truisms about the positive aspects of being alone—it takes you inwards, you can retreat and reflect on your life, etc.—don’t feel very alive for me right now.

A few nights ago the dogs escaped through the fence. I’d forgotten to shut the dog door leading outside, I vaguely remember them barking in the dark, early hours, and my guess is that they ran out to the yard to bark at something, and in the process they discovered a looseness in the wires in the lowest part of the yard, a place they don’t usually frequent, and ran through it.

I didn’t know anything of this till I find Aussie gone when I went down in the morning. A short while later Harry was gone, not to be found anywhere, and then both reappeared in time for breakfast, looking very proud of themselves.

But—it had snowed. All I had to do was put my boots on and follow the tracks they’d made, and immediately I discovered the vulnerable spot in the fence, with their tracks clearly showing on the other side, too. I immediately blocked the hole (if you could call it that) with a big box, held tight by logs I took out of the garage. When Tim returns I’ll ask him if he could re-fence that small area.

I didn’t get angry, I enjoyed tracking how they’d gotten out. I enjoy tracks generally, reading of the people who undertook journeys and challenges, what they learned and left as a precious legacy to us. I follow their tracks, but I never forget that there’s a wide expanse of snow around them, and that expanse is what’s really happening, the big I-don’t-know.

I’ve learned to have confidence in my experience of things, even if it means facing fear, vulnerability, and deep sadness. Tracks are important, but they’re small in that vast field of snow.

It’s not a matter of transcending anything.

One more thing. I keep on thinking how this outbreak of the coronavirus reminds me of 9/11. It was as if everything came to a standstill for a period of time, as if a gap had opened up in what we think of as a continuum. Why? Because things had changed suddenly and we couldn’t trust our regular routines; life no longer made sense the way it had previously. I think of these things as gaps.

Of course, once they pass, life seems to return to familiar ways, but does it really? To my regular way of thinking, it’s a gap in the routine that will resume later on, but actually, life changes all the time, there is no real routine and there is no real gap.

For now, however, it’s fun to imagine I’m living in a gap, in a brief time period when nothing feels familiar, where I can’t trust the old routines of the past. I can’t trust that I won’t get sick; that if I do I’ll recover; that the stores will be open; that if they’re open they’ll stock what I need; when we could re-open the zendo. Sometimes I think that I have no idea what’s really happening outside my home.

Aren’t gaps interesting? We don’t pretend to know in the way we usually do, we don’t know what will be tomorrow never mind next week, which causes us to wonder, to feel vulnerable, fragile, and surprised. Who would have thought? we repeat to ourselves again and again. Who would have thought this could happen?

Two days after the snow spring is back. I bought a bunch of daffodils to put by the Buddha.  Lifeanddeathlifeanddeathlifeanddeathlifeanddeathlifeanddeath. We heard it, thought we knew it, but did we really? Do we know it better now?

“Great gappin’ with you,” a friend emailed me after we talked by Facetime together.

Great gappin’ with you, too.

 

I admit to feeling funny about asking you to continue to support my blog. I think of the uncertainty out there (and in here), the lack of work, the anxiety of many, and immediately I think that I should let it go and wait till a more propitious time.  From Bernie I learned that the most propitious time is always now. If at this time you have other priorities, please take care of yourself, my blog is free to all. If you can, a donation is much appreciated, either using the button below, or my address: Eve Marko, PO Box 174, Montague, MA 01351.

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BEING ESSENTIAL

Kirsten Levitt and trays of red beets with onions, garlic, lemongrass, and lots of other spices.

“Pssst, Harry! I found a way out of the fence.”

“You did, Aussie? Where?”

“Here, at the bottom of the yard. The wires got loose, see? Let’s go!”

“Wait a minute, Aussie. Are you essential personnel?”

“Am I what?”

“Essential personnel. Are you an essential dog? Only essential dogs are allowed out of quarantine.”

“Of course I’m essential, Harry.”

“What kind of essential work are you doing, Auss?”

“I’m teaching you how to bury marrow bones. I’m teaching you how to chase deer. I’m teaching you how to find your way home from the woods. Most important, I’m teaching you how to run away. What could be more essential than that?”

“You’re right, Aussie. You’re definitely essential.”

What’s the essential thing to do right now? All around me people say stay put, don’t increase the chances of contagion, don’t pass the virus to one person after another. But last Friday afternoon I drove to Greenfield and helped cut vegetables for the Stone Soup Café’s Saturday lunch. I was concerned that their usually large number of volunteers would stay away.

Stone Soup Café continues to serve its weekly pay-what-you-can multi-course hot luncheons. Saturday’s meal consisted of mushroom bisque (I love cutting up mushrooms), tomato and avocado salad, roast carrots (not too crazy about cutting up carrots), roast squash, rice, black beans and pepper steak, and coconut macaroons. If you subscribe to its newsletter, you’ll get the menu by Friday each week. Everyone is welcome to eat there regardless of ability to pay. You can’t eat there now, you can pick up food.

But to work there? Two of us each stood at each end of an 8-foot table wearing gloves, aprons, and hair nets. Two folks wore masks. There was music, talk, lots of laughter. Big boxes of peppers, beets, onions and carrots came out of the kitchen to be cut in the service area (crowding in the kitchen was verboten). The next day no one could come into the building; instead, meals were served in two Styrofoam containers placed in beautiful bags.

“Do you know how many folks will come?” I asked Kirsten Levitt, the chef and head of the Café. The streets of Greenfield had been lonely and empty the previous week.

“No idea. We’re going to set up in a tent outside with monitors making sure that people are standing 6 feet apart. I’m assuming that those who come for the meal will want to bring some home too. I told everybody—I don’t care if people ask for one meal or two or three or even four, they get as many as they ask for.”

I came home feeling tired but well. Five days later, I still feel well.

Was it the right thing to do? The wrong thing?

The poet Jane Hirschfield wrote:

The world asks of us

Only the strength we have and we give it.

Then it asks more, and we give it.

Do right and wrong have much to do with it? Give things your best, and if you fail, as a friend of mine said, fail wholeheartedly. Don’t second-guess your life.

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NO-SITTING CHAIR SAT UPON

Montague Reporter, 3/19: Highlights from the Montague Police Log: “Residents, Undaunted By Coming Pandemic, Continue to Bug the Heck Out of One Another.”

This morning I do my service before Kwan-Yin, she of many hands, asking for compassionate intercession on behalf of all of us and chanting the names of specific people who are afflicted right now. That’s when I notice how the petal of one of the tulips bought some 10 days ago has wrapped itself around Kwan-Yin’s neck. It’s either embracing her or choking her, or both.

The flower reaches forward towards Kwan-Yin’s companion, Maria of Guadaloupe, that we received many years ago from Sheikha Amina in Mexico City. A Muslim sheikha gave a Catholic icon to a pair of Buddhists. Welcome to our world.

The above headline actually reassures me. People are still behaving like people. They argue, they lose their dogs, they report finding another lost dog, they report a sick raccoon on the road, they call in drinking parties and kids congregating on the street and making lots of noise.

This headline is almost as good as the one that appeared above this item:

“Family Dollar employee reporting that a male party is sitting in a chair that is not supposed to be sat in out in front of the store.” Title: No-Sitting Chair Sat Upon.

We’re sitting on no-sitting chairs as well, on office chairs and sofas, connecting with each other by Zoom. I read that this is a good time to take things easy, go inside, rest, uncover a world you don’t usually pay attention to, enjoy the flowers. But today it snowed. I’ve been talking to other teachers and we all agree that we’re busier than ever figuring out how to do our schedules online: meditation, talks, services, face-to-face.

Suddenly people far away connect with us because when it comes to Zoom there is no near and no far, just you in your own little box. If you choose to keep your video turned off the box is black, looking a little ominous. But if you come out of the shadows and turn on the video, and if you did that with me at 7 this morning you’d have seen a bedraggled woman in a gray sweatshirt and glasses sitting quietly.

No more hiding under robes, put on the video and let the world see you.

The entire world opens up to me in my room. I sit with a group at 7 am—I have no idea where most are situated. I hurry to walk the dogs before the snow. A student comes into the house and we maintain a good distance from each other, washing hands before and after. A phone discussion with Roshi Egyoku Nakao in Los Angeles about how to teach out of our book, The Book of Householder Koans, given that a personal book tour is probably no longer possible. At the same time we’re being asked to do this online by folks in different countries.

Then a study by Facetime with someone in Switzerland, and a break reading Harry Potter with my grandson on Zoom, and another discussion about how to use various elements of Zoom to reach more people, followed by writing this blog, which will be followed by at least two phone calls to see how folks are doing.

Occasional breaks to fill the birdfeeders and fall in the snow when Aussie and Harry jump me. They’re from the South and both adore this light, feathery snow. Like kids, they spend most of the day jumping and chasing one another, and have now, at twilight, finally collapsed in happy exhaustion.

I had a discussion with Aussie standing on top of the big hole she made in the ground:

“Why are you working so hard, Auss? Everything is on pause.”

“I could have told you that.”

“That everything is on pause?”

“Of course everything is on paws. I’m on paws, Harry’s on paws. I don’t know about your paws since you cover them up.”

“You don’t get it, Aussie. Everything is on pause, meaning a break or a rest.”

Not Aussie.. She’s still digging her way to China. When she can’t lure Harry out into the snow again (he has less hair than her) she returns to her big excavations and will be at it for a while.

I return to my office. Today I was a good girl: didn’t go anywhere, stayed in.

“Matty: Here’s freedom,” Emily Dickinson wrote her friend about her corner bedroom in her home in Amherst, with its small table on which she wrote hundreds of poems, so few of which were published in her lifetime.

What trust she had in her talent, what trust she had in her ability to get at the very nub of life. Not for her the wandering outdoors in search of conversation, reassurances or recognition. She had her family, she had her friends, she had her room. She had the world.

 

 

 

“Matty: Here’s freedom,” wrote Emily Dickinson of her corner bedroom in her Amherst house, with its small table on which she wrote hundreds of poems, fewer than 10 of which were published in her lifetime. Yet she felt in that room that real freedom resided there.

Montague Reporter, 3/19: Highlights from the Montague Police Log:
“Residents, Undaunted By Coming Pandemic, Continue to Bug the Heck Out of One Another.”
This morning I do my service before Kwan-Yin, she of many hands, asking for compassionate intercession on behalf of all of us and chanting the names of specific people who are afflicted right now. That’s when I notice how the petal of one of the tulips bought some 10 days ago has wrapped itself around Kwan-Yin’s neck. It’s either embracing her or choking her, or both.
The flower reaches forward towards Kwan-Yin’s companion, Maria of Guadaloupe, that we received many years ago from Sheikha Amina in Mexico City. A Muslim sheikha gave a Catholic icon to a pair of Buddhists. Welcome to our world.
The above headline, posted under the Montague Police Log, actually reassures me. People are still behaving like people. They argue, they lose their dogs, they report finding another lost dog, they report a sick raccoon on the road, they call in drinking parties and kids congregating on the street and making lots of noise.
This headline is almost as good as the one that appeared above this item:
“Family Dollar employee reporting that a male party is sitting in a chair that is not supposed to be sat in out in front of the store.” Title: No-Sitting Chair Sat Upon.
We’re sitting on no-sitting chairs as well, on office chairs and sofas, connecting with each other by Zoom. I read that this is a good time to take things easy, go inside, rest, uncover a world you don’t usually pay attention to, enjoy the flowers. But today it snowed. I’ve been talking to other teachers and we all agree that we’re busier than ever figuring out how to do our schedules online: meditation, talks, services, face-to-face. Creating new structures.
Suddenly people far away connect with us because when it comes to Zoom there is no near and no far, just you in your own little box. If you choose to keep your video turned off the box is black, looking a little ominous. But if you come out of the shadows and turn on the video, and if you did that with me at 7 this morning you’d have seen a bedraggled woman in a gray sweatshirt and glasses sitting quietly.
No more hiding under robes, put on the video and let the world see you.
The entire world opens up to me in my room. I sit with a group at 7 am—I have no idea where most are situated. I hurry to walk the dogs before the snow. A student comes into the house and we maintain a good distance from each other, washing hands before and after. A phone discussion with Roshi Egyoku Nakao in Los Angeles about how to teach out of our book, The Book of Householder Koans, given that a personal book tour is probably no longer possible. At the same time we’re being asked to do this online by folks in different countries.
Then a study by Facetime with someone in Switzerland, and a break reading Harry Potter with my grandson on Zoom, and another discussion about how to use various elements of Zoom to reach more people, followed by writing this blog, which will be followed by at least two phone calls to see how folks are doing.
Occasional breaks to fill the birdfeeders and fall in the snow when Aussie and Harry jump me. They’re from the South and both adore this light, feathery snow. Like kids, they spend most of the day jumping and chasing one another, and have now, at twilight, finally collapsed in happy exhaustion.
I had a discussion with Aussie standing on top of the big hole she made in the ground:
“Why are you working so hard, Auss? Everything is on pause.”
“I could have told you that.”
“That everything is on pause?”
“Of course everything is on paws. I’m on paws, Harry’s on paws. I don’t know about your paws since you cover them up.”
“You don’t get it, Aussie. Everything is on pause, meaning a break or a rest.”
Not Aussie.. She’s still digging her way to China. When she can’t lure Harry out into the snow again (he has less hair than her) she returns to her big excavations and will be at it for a while.
I return to my office. Today I was a good girl: didn’t go anywhere, stayed in.
“Matty: Here’s freedom,” Emily Dickinson wrote her friend about her corner bedroom in her home in Amherst, with its small table on which she wrote hundreds of poems, so few of which were published in her lifetime.
What trust she had in her talent, what trust she had in her ability to get at the very nub of life. Not for her the wandering outdoors in search of conversation, reassurances or recognition. She had her family, she had her friends, she had her room. She had the world.

 

 

 

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WE’RE MUTATING!

We’re all being told to stay in place and communicate by Zoom, so I thought I’d give you a sense of my place right now.

Later this afternoon I plan to go to the Stone Soup Café and help in preparing tomorrow’s pick-up meal. Stone Soup isn’t changing its lunch into sandwiches; last I heard (we get the menu every Thursday or Friday) tomorrow’s meal is Mushroom Bisque, Avocado and Tomato Salad, Roast Spaghetti Squash, Rice, Black Beans and Pepper Steak,  and Coconut Macaroons.

Earlier this week I wondered if they’d get the same number of volunteers as usual (some 25-30 each week), so I emailed their leader Kirsten Levitt, and told her I’d come when she wanted me to. She asked me to come to prep today.

Some have already told me that it’s not a good idea, but I trust Kirsten to establish a firm protocol for how to do this as safely as possible. I’m curious how all this will be served as take-out tomorrow. I also notice that you can rsvp and tell them you need a delivery, and believe it or not, they’ll do it.

I’ll find out if they need help for that tomorrow. My 9-year-old red Prius is itching to go someplace. We have lots of low-income families that need food even in regular circumstances. They can’t be forgotten or overlooked at this time.

Yesterday I turned off a side street onto Rte. 47. Never heard a thing, but as I made the turn, I saw a small brown creature running down the road as fast as he could go. I hit the brakes. It was Harry, who’d just jumped out the window.

“Harry, where are you going?”

“Chick-en!” was all he yelled back as he rushed off towards a red-brown hen strutting in the back yard of a farmhouse.

“Harry!”

He chased the hen, who fluttered indignantly, and jumped her. I screamed his name once again, having meantime managed to turn around the car and sidle to the back yard. The hen lay on the ground, which was strewn with feathers, Harry’s jaws 2 inches away. But there must have been something in my voice (You’re a Dead Dog!)., because Harry turned towards me and pleasantly ambled over. Immediately the hen jumped up and disappeared. Harry looked like he’d grown a red beard with all the feathers around his mouth.

My local library called to tell me they have my volume of poetry by Barbara Hamby ready for pick up. “You can’t come in here,” they said, “but call ahead of time and we’ll take it out to you. We’ve cleaned it up and put it in a plastic envelope, so it should be okay.”

This is the kind of neighborhood I live in. Everybody asks how you’re doing; everybody wants to help. Except one.

“Aussie, why are you digging that big hole?”

“I’m off to China.”

“Why, Auss?”

“To learn how they ended the Coronavirus infection. It’s just a matter of time till I get it. Keep your distance, Miss Needy!”

“Stop calling me that, Aussie.”

“I don’t want to get sick from you.”

“Aussie, you can’t get sick from me, you’re a dog.”

“You don’t know nothing. This virus is really smart. Won’t take it much time to figure out how to climb the species ladder.”

“What does that mean, Aussie?”

“Go from an inferior species like you to a superior species like me.”

“Silliest thing I ever heard.”

“Corona knows; it’s building its way up to us. But don’t worry, Miss Needy, I know just what to do if I get it.”

“What’ll you do if you get it, Auss?”

“I’ll mutate.”

I realized then that that’s exactly what we humans are doing. We’re mutating in response to the virus. We’re taking more responsibility for each other, we’re careful about other people’s health and not just our own. We’re beginning to see that we’re one body—which is what the Corona seems to have grasped already. It goes from one to the other, as if skipping from one finger to another. It doesn’t discriminate between one ethnic group and another, Christians or Jews or Muslims or Hindus; it has no national preferences.

And in response, we’re mutating, too. We realize that each individual life depends on the whole, that the best way to protect our personal selves is for everyone to pull this thing together. It’s a beautiful thing to see us adjusting to our new reality, going online, helping others go online, buying food for those who can’t go to groceries or supermarkets, volunteering in droves for Meals on Wheels.

There are questions as to whether the virus can mutate, but people are beating Corona to it. We’re beginning to adapt and change our behavior—most of us without some huge enlightenment experience. That false sense of separation is dropping quicker than ever, and we know just what to do.

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THE BEST VACCINE WE GOT RIGHT NOW

Like many people, I’ve been thinking of toilet paper.

Not because I have tons of it, I haven’t bought any over the past two weeks. But big events have their symbols and icons, and for me the coronavirus and its effects may be forever symbolized by toilet paper. Here we are, in the richest country in the world, but go to any grocery store and there’s no toilet paper to be found. Lots of other things in overflowing shoppers’ carts, not toilet paper. People are ready to take risks, but not with toilet paper, not with running out of a tangible means for cleaning ourselves inside and out.

I’ve been speaking to a number of people and dogs. One, a friend in London, told me that representatives of supermarkets and grocery stores pleaded with the public to stop buying enormous quantities of things. Usually, at the end of the day they donate left-over food to homeless shelters and food kitchens, but now at the end of the day there’s no food to give away. “You are taking food out of the mouths of these families,” they said to the public, “not because you need to—we have enough and will continue to have enough.”

I did my weekly shopping last Friday—16 items, 4 more than what is permitted on the Express lines, unfortunately–and stood for hours on surrounded by overflowing shopping carts. We are a consumer culture, so of course, when in doubt, when in stress, when worried or anxious, what do we do? We shop.

Overfull carts stand for overfull bellies. Overfull bellies give the illusion that no matter what happens to the rest of the world, we’ll survive inside our belly cave, like end-of-the-worlders who maintain a huge inventory in some concealed, insulated cellar.

“Does it remind anyone of the Blitz?” I joked with my English friend.

“Darling,” she said, “nobody hoarded in the Blitz because there was no food to be had. No food, ergo no hoarding.”

“If you don’t care about what happens to you, that’s your business,” Aussie told me, “but don’t even think of running out of our premium dog food, turkey jerky and marrow bones.”

I’ve often wondered why I don’t feel any fear from the virus for myself. I am a 70 year-old asthmatic, after all, in The Risk Category. I think it’s because I was reared on stories of the Holocaust, when my 15 year-old mother, who looked less Jewish than the rest of her siblings, would be sent out into the theoretically Judenrein streets to see if she could get some food, try not to get stopped by thugs, police, or Nazis, not to be asked for ID. I heard a lot about hunger. It saturated my bones in those formative years and I’ve never forgotten them. Many second-generation Holocaust people report the same.

While I don’t fear for myself, I can’t forget the millions of people who’re getting laid off, who lose their homes and businesses, and the elderly neighbors left in isolation who don’t know how to get on Zoom. I usually prefer to cook for myself (for financial and health reasons) but I’m making an effort to buy take-out food at restaurants that would otherwise close.

I’m in touch with the head of Stone Soup Café in Greenfield. Ordinarily they feed some 130 people every weekend, along with seconds and take-out; starting this weekend it’ll be just take-out and I asked her if she’ll have enough volunteers.

“You better take your health seriously,” Aussie warns me. “If you get sick, who’ll walk us?”

I do take it seriously. At the same time, I find that the best antidote to fear is  thinking about other people who suffer so much more than me, who’ll come to Stone Soup because they’re counting on getting quantities of great food. Trying to put ourselves in their shoes and asking what they need, and what I can do—there’s no better medicine than that. For now, that’s the best vaccine we got.

I spoke to my brother in Jerusalem by phone and he started getting excited. “You know,” he said, “there are many people out there who are wealthy enough that the crisis is not affecting their lifestyle one bit. They don’t feel the impact like so many others do. Those people should announce that they’re giving 10% of their wealth to help everyone else that is far less fortunate. Why aren’t they doing that? This is an emergency for so many people, what are the wealthy waiting for?”

He got more and more upset as he talked about this. What are we waiting for?

“Bernie,” I said to my dead husband, “Tom Brady is leaving the New England Patriots. Thought you should know, given that you’re a fan.”

“Terrible thing,” he said. “But I’ve told you again and again: Everything changes.”

By all means, take care of yourself, but try to move that all-encasing border wall called me-me-me-me an inch or two out every day. Call people, tell them you care. If, like me, you’re in The Risk Category, never forget the tradeoffs that are being made here, that other people are paying a big, big price to keep you safe. What can you do for them?

In some way, it’s an exciting time. The system needs to change, and there’s nothing like a big kick in the butt for changing systems. The coronavirus is such a kick and the system will change from it. How it changes is up to us.

I would like them to come up with a vaccine. I would also like to have as much toilet paper as always in order to rid myself of the impurities that mark so much of my life. Only the dirt I’m talking about doesn’t always get wiped clean by toilet paper.

“I want everything to go back to how it was,” says Aussie.

“I don’t,” I tell her. “I want us to keep on waking up.”

One of the koans in our Book of Householder Koans is: “Martin asked: How do I stop the suffering of the world?” It’s not just Martin’s koan, it’s my koan, it may be your koan.

Which reminds me that tomorrow, Thursday, Roshi Egyoku Nakao and I will be interviewed on that book online by Geoff O’Keeffe, Executive Director of Zen Peacemakers International, followed by Q&A. You can listen to it by linking here at noon Eastern United States time (check the hours’ difference, especially if you’re calling in from outside the US): https://zoom.us/j/508770933. I hope someone asks the question of how do we stop the suffering of the world.

And speaking of stopping suffering, after I wrote of my friend who was trying to raise money to discharge debts to the funeral home that buried her daughter, people queried how they could help, and subsequently sent donations through PayPal for her benefit (memo saying: “For Friend’s Daughter’s Funeral”). We’ve raised around $1,000 for her so far, which came out of your initiative and generosity.

This is what we do as human beings realizing and practicing that we’re all one, all together. She was stunned and deeply grateful. She came over today to bring me paper cranes to send her benefactors, so if I can, I’ll try to get in touch with you to get your snail mail address.

May all beings be well.

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