Photo by Clemens Breitschaft

One realizes that even in harmonious families there is this double life: the group life, which is the one we can observe in our neighbor’s household, and, underneath, another — secret and passionate and intense — which is the real life that stamps the faces and gives character to the voices of our friends. Always in his mind each member of these social units is escaping, running away, trying to break the net which circumstances and his own affections have woven about him. One realizes that human relationships are the tragic necessity of human life; that they can never be wholly satisfactory, that every ego is half the time greedily seeking them, and half the time pulling away from them. Willa Cather

I went down to New York City yesterday to meet my niece, who was visiting New York for a few days. Like her three siblings, she lives outside of Jerusalem, across the Green Line, in what is still the West Bank, and there once was a time when I wouldn’t go to visit them. That changed because they were my family and I loved them.

We talked for a long time in a terrific Indian restaurant on Lexington Ave., eating chapatis and drinking lassis, I listening with great attention as she described to me how different our family—my two siblings and I—had seemed to them. Each in his/her own way rejected the conventional religious life and searched for something different. I hadn’t thought of us as being particularly adventurous, I knew so many others who’d done way more exploration than I did, but I could see how to others, ensconced in a religious, stable middle-class life, we looked weird.

How do you see yourself? What mirror do you use?

I thought of the smudged hand-mirror I use to help me put my contact lens into my eyes every morning. Buddhism has a lot of positive things to say about “mirror-like wisdom.” What mirror are they talking about? I don’t know too many mirrors that don’t carry blemishes from past mornings, mirrors you exhale on or those that catch a drop of water. Washing them leaves its own stains, or shades of cleanliness. Even the acts of cleaning and purifying have karma.

It was interesting to hear how we were seen even as I was aware that the mirror through which I see myself is just as smudged, only differently.

Cather is right, so many of us want relationships. We want to belong to someone or something bigger than us, but may be terrified of losing our individuality at the same time.

What does it mean, to belong to a happy family or be part of a happy couple? People used to send me photos of Bernie and me. I’d look at them, see two happy people, and ask myself: At that time, at that place, were we happy? The photo above shows us walking to the meditation hall at Felsentor in Switzerland. Was I talking to him about what we were going to do? Was I annoyed that he never liked to prepare, while I liked to plan? What was really going on? And how do our memories reinforce a story that someone has of us: that we helped each other, that we were happy together?

I don’t think that either of us cared much about pretending, if only because worrying about what others thought seemed an added, superficial burden we had no desire to carry. Still, that happy couple, like so many happy couples, contained a multitude of different relations, and at times it seemed a struggle to hold on to one’s self, to one’s soul.

But that struggle had been there for me from the get-go, practically from when I was born and wanted a different life from the “happy family” we all pretended to be. Getting older gives me the opportunity to be grateful for what I received even as I drew away, and reflect on the price I had paid, such as living so far away from family that I love to this very day.

Even as I loved Bernie, there were times I had to draw away to reclaim something of my own, and much as I miss him now, I don’t regret them. Each of us clung passionately, sometimes blindly, to our own self. The photo above notwithstanding, there was always some distance there, always three of us in that relationship: he, me, and space.

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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.


I read Aussie the Washington Post article about Tucker Carlson’s internal communication:

“In the message, he described himself watching a video of Donald Trump supporters beating up someone he referred to as ‘an Antifa kid.’ Carlson wrote of his conflicting emotions, hinting at his dismay that he had found himself ‘rooting for the mob against the man, hoping they’d hit him harder, kill him.’

“But in the most startling passage, Carlson asserted flatly that ‘jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight.’”

“I know just how he feels,” says Aussie. “It’s how I feel about Henry, the illegal Chihuahua.”

“Henry never fights,” I tell her.

“But he sure does bark a lot. He’s a big coward. When Boris came to our home for so many nights, guess who didn’t run outside to scare him off?”

“Neither did you, Auss, which was smart, given what a big bear Boris is.”

“But do I bark like a meshugena? No. My barks are fierce and well-aimed, and of course I growl. That’s how you and Lori know Boris is back and you run downstairs and start banging a pan. Henry barks because he barks, no reason at all. If a leaf falls, he barks. If a crow crows, he barks. When it rains, he barks.”

“He’s a small dog, Aussie. Small dogs bark.”

“White dogs don’t bark.”

“You’re almost all black, Aussie.”

“Yes, but when I fight, I fight white.”

My thoughts went back to my time in the city of Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil, when we visited Luiza Mahin, an umbrella of organizations working to create a life for the children growing up in that impoverished neighborhood, dense habitations squeezed tightly between alleys where children played in the dirt and dogs panted in the hot dust. There we found a school, a community bank, a community center, and a spiritual interfaith center.

On the walls of the school, we encountered photos of the activists who’d built and were still building this urban oasis, all older black women, faces marked not just by age but by struggle and wisdom, who originally held meetings on the roof because they had nowhere else to meet, make plans, and start something beautiful out of nothing.

The young man who took us around wore a yellow T-shirt that said: Lute come una mulher. Fight like a woman.

They had plenty of things to fight. Homicide rates that went up to the roof and directly affected so many families, lack of room, lack of work, lack of schooling, lack of promise and a future. All the things that cause so many families to start a trek up to El Norte.

This morning I heard from one of the seniors in Green River Zen that he and his daughter are helping a family obtain refugee status from our government. The family consists of two parents, a one-year-old and a five-year-old, all of whom literally walked on foot from Ecuador to our border.

They’re not white. This is how they fight.

And what about the women who covered up their children as a killer was rampaging through their house, shooting his neighbors down because they’d asked him not to shoot guns in his back yard at 11 at night? We have folks in this town who like to do that, I read about those complaints very often on our local Police Log. Their Texas governor reminded everyone they were illegal immigrants. They could have been from Mars for all I care, only the women covered up the small children, preventing their death. They weren’t legal or illegal, they were Buddhas, the mother and child lying in pools of blood, one dead, one alive.

My mother stowed aboard a ship with a 3-year-old orphaned nephew to leave Europe after the Holocaust and arrive in Israel. But when they landed in Haifa, she had no choice but to face the big, beefy, British captain of the ship and tell him what she, at the age of 18, thin and penniless, had done.

“You came aboard my ship?” he bellowed, his face turning a bright red. “You came illegally aboard my ship!”

Fight like a woman.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


The above is a shutoff notice for electricity bills not paid by a family that immigrated here illegally. They owe some $2,500, some of which is coming from an interfaith organization and some of which needs to come from us.

“How did it get to be that high?” I ask Jimena.

“She got depressed,” was the answer. “Her husband was deported, and she is here alone with two small children. We kept on telling her she had to do something. She has children she must take care of, she must find more work, especially now that the farms are slowly opening. The children have to go to school, she has to pay the bills. We tell her that, I think he tells her that also on the phone. But for a long time, she can’t. So, the bills get bigger and bigger.”

$2500 worth for electricity, and now the shut-off. Our electricity rates have gone through the roof this past year, but $2500 is a lot of money. A lot of electricity. A lot of depression.

I can hear a voice inside, a voice I associate with my mother: “That’s a terrible thing to happen, to lose the husband so suddenly. But it doesn’t matter, she’s the mother, what choice does she have? She can’t just stop taking care of her children, she can’t just stop working. No matter what life does to you, you have to get up and do something.”

It’s my voice, too. If there’s hardship, so be it. If there are shocks to the system, that’s terrible and it’s also life. Now get back to it and take care of things.

That’s how I’ve operated for much of my life. If rough things happened, I’d let myself stand by the window and look out for half an hour, and then: That’s enough. Now go back and do what you have to do. I rarely allowed myself more than a peek at the darkness.

My body didn’t always cooperate, especially in the early mornings when I didn’t have it in me to get up on my feet. A lot like this woman, Elizabeth, who also couldn’t get out of bed. And then there was a weeping phone conversation with my sister (long before WhatsApp), and when it ended, I realized that I was sitting on the floor, unable to put the phone back in the wall unit. How did I get here? I wondered.

Still, those things rarely happened. It could be worse, I’d always remind myself. Life is good; life is important. Always, always go on.

I still think life is good. Important, maybe yes and maybe no. I took the dogs out for a walk on the road the other day and Henry, the 15-pound Chihuahua mix, wanted to turn back. Lately he’s freaked from people target-shooting and even from loud, sudden construction noises. There was nothing this time, but he still wanted to go back home.

“Come on, Henry, it’s okay, you can do it,” I said, laughing, and shook my head at the little dog. Hey, he’s small, so his apprehension is small too, right?

And then it hit me: What happens if there’s an intelligence out there that sees my fears, grief, and loss, and smiles and shakes its head, thinking: She’s so small. She thinks her thoughts and feelings are big and important, but she’s so small.

Trying to exile the darkness is no solution. It’s part of me, maybe even a friend. A friend in the sense that it pushes me to the very bottom of things, into depths I didn’t know existed, with no visible stairway out, as if to say: This is it. There’s no place to go from here.

My pain-in-the-ass Buddhist mind tells me: It’ll change; everything changes. I  know I know, not to mention that walks out in nature help a lot. But sometimes there’s no recourse but to feel that dusky gloom, smell the shade and shadows. I don’t embrace any of it except to acknowledge that it’s all me.

I also don’t confuse it with long-term depression, which diminishes substantially with the use of anti-depressants.

Rilke wrote:

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

I say it simpler, if less eloquently: Take one breath, then another. Is there anything the breath can’t contain?

Please help Elizabeth with her electricity bill. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for money on behalf of immigrant families. Their treks to the US are often unimaginable, but so are their treks after crossing the border. Try to imagine what it’s like to live in a foreign land with a language you don’t speak, raising two young children even as you pray to get a hard physical job in the local farms, with its long hours, no medical insurance, a husband deported, and an uncontainable sadness even as you know you have to get up on your feet no matter how tired or disconsolate you may feel. Not to mention the threatened loss of electricity.

We can’t deal with all those challenges, but we can help pay for her electricity to keep the lights on. You can help by using the button below that says: Donate to Immigrant Families.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


Yesterday was the first memorial for my mother. I lit the Jewish memorial candle for her the preceding night and it stayed lit for more than 24 hours. That’s the tradition.


Every time I hear that word I think of the song that introduces Fiddler On the Roof, the cast triumphantly proclaiming it to explain who they are and how they function: How do we keep our balance? Tevye asks, and answers: Tradition. He points out that the men cover their heads as a sign of devotion to God, then asks: How did this tradition start? And answers: I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But it’s a tradition! Everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do. The cast then presents the men, who know where their duty lies, as do the women (all wives), as do the sons and the daughters.

It’s tempting to live that way.

I loved Fiddler On the Roof, but I hated tradition. It felt like a prison, with its rules and  incantations, its definitions and prohibitions. As the song made clear, if you didn’t choose to live that way you were outside the pale, not just of the Jewish people but also the pale of normalcy, the pale of humanity.

Now in my 70s, I’m waiting to find more appreciation for tradition inside me, as I had been told would happen as I got older. It hasn’t; another maxim bites the dust. Not in Judaism, and not in Buddhism. I don’t dislike it, quite the contrary. When I’m in Israel I enjoy Shabbat lunches with my sister and brother-in-law. I love the yeast cakes made for Shabbat, I love how the streets quiet down. Back home, I enjoy our Zen liturgy and zendo protocols that came from Japan; I even appreciate the Japanese terms so many continue to use even as I encourage us to translate them into English.

But I have no nostalgia for tradition.

Looking back, I find myself feeling sorry for my parents. They were impoverished East European Jews who survived the Holocaust and came to the US, struggling to make a living and raise a family, with a daughter who seemed to question their reality almost as soon as she emerged from the womb. Who had questions about God and life and—yes, tradition—from the get-go.

They’d peer at their friends’ children who, even in the flamboyant Sixties, went to the right schools and chose the right careers, if not right away then after a slight delay during which they cavorted with their peers and demonstrated against the war in Vietnam, and then reached middle class and even upper middle class status, raising families of their own, all normal and never outside the pale. Even if they weren’t religious, they always appreciated the tribal tradition.

This is what my parents wanted from me—“Is it too much to ask?” they’d say plaintively—and I couldn’t give it to them. Dropped out of college, wanted to leave home (a no-no for an unmarried girl in my family). Years later, my mother would shake her head: “You were always like this,” she’d tell me. “Your brother, your sister, they were different [though each in their own way also rebelled]. You were the one who always wanted to go your own way, no one could talk any sense to you. Once you decided something, that was it.”

Throughout yesterday, in the midst of doing this and that, I’d pause in front of the altar, look at the photo of that pretty woman, and say: “My stubbornness, mom? That’s from you.”

In the last 20 years of her life, even as I clung to my stubbornness, she let go of hers and we lived in peace. But we’d both paid a price and that price was distance. I lived a rich life I hadn’t even dreamed of as a child, but there was a cost. There’s always a cost.

Every once in a while I’m struck by the many people who are riveted by the loss of parents. Facebook is replete with photos of parents who’ve gone, accompanied by posts of grief and loss that continue year after year. That isn’t the case for me. I don’t feel the sharp piercing I experienced when my husband died, as if the rip in my heart and body will never heal.

I wanted them to have a good life to the end—they both died in their 90s—and did whatever little I could do to help that from my end, across such long distances, including trips to see them and daily phone calls. For a number of years Bernie and I would take my mom for a weekend at the Dead Sea whenever we came to Jerusalem.

But they aren’t missing for me.

And what about the tradition they stood for? I still don’t miss it, though occasionally I look over my shoulder and check in. Do I miss Passover? The Jewish new year? The answer is always no, and then, stubborn me, asks herself: Why not? I repeat the frustrated question my parents voiced time and time again, like a cross-generational echo: How can someone be so divorced from her origins?

One voice says: Be careful, there’s something pathological here, you should examine it more closely. Another says: Because, like she said, you went your own way and never looked back, so don’t make a fuss about it now.

Don’t you want to belong?

Yes, to a sangha, to the Zen Peacemaker Order. Not to a synagogue.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


“Aussie, where are you rushing off to?”

“I’m rushing off to meet my destiny. It’s waiting for me out there, I can feel it, only I don’t know where it is and how to find it.”

“You can follow your destiny by walking alongside Henry and me.”

“No, I can’t. You’re too old.”

“Too old to meet up with my destiny, Auss?”

“At your age, if you haven’t found your destiny by now, you never will. Just look at you, you can’t even find our regular path in the woods. We’ve been walking this path since I first blessed you with my presence, and still you’re lost.”

“It’s not me that’s lost, Aussie, it’s the path. This winter has brought down so many trees and thick branches that I can’t find the path anymore. In previous years, come spring, I would re-recognize it after going around big rocks, hopping over tree trunks, or finding new routes around the brambles, only it’s harder this year.”

“Let’s find a whole new forest.”

“I have history here, Auss, more than 20 years of history in this forest. I don’t want to leave it all behind.”

“If you don’t leave things behind, how are you going to find your destiny?”

“Maybe you’re right, Aussie. Till now I’d modify the trail every spring, but maybe it’s time to go someplace completely new.”

“Preferably a trail with no bears.”

“Boris hasn’t visited us for a week, Aussie. No birdfeeders of any kind outside. I don’t think he’s coming back.”

“What happens if we run into him here, far away from the house? What do you do when you come face-to-face with a big bear in the woods?”

“You never run, Aussie. You never turn your back on it and run, because then you resemble prey and it’ll chase you. You back off slowly, and at the same time you bounce your arms up and down to remind it: I’m a person! I’m not your regular food, I’m a person!

“So what do I do? Wave my tail, hop around on my hind legs, bounce my front paws up and down, and yell: I’m a dog! I’m a dog!?”

“In your case, I think you better just run for it. You’re way faster than I am right now.”

“That’s because you’re old!”

“You said that already, Aussie.”

“I don’t want to spend my remaining years taking care of you.”

“Is taking care of someone so bad, Auss?”

“What about my dreams?”

“What dreams?”

“The ones I’ve had since I was a pup down South.”

“What were your dreams, Aussie? Peace in the world? Respect and dignity for all creations?”

“I wanted to be rich and famous.”

“What good are dreams like that, Aussie?”

“Are you kidding me? Filet mignon every night. I could run for President, only I’m too young. I have to find my destiny before I become old like you. I have to fulfill my dreams. Run, run, run!”

“Aussie, you know what the Korean writer Chiang-Sheng Kuo wrote? ”

“I don’t trust a word he says.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“Because Koreans used to eat dogs. Would you trust a cannibal?”

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


We finished our sesshin, or Zen retreat, yesterday, Sunday. I was tired till today, Monday, when I woke up from a nap at 3 in the afternoon and finally felt some blood coursing through my body, wide awake and ready to go.

But go where?

I know, I know, I shouldn’t compare present to past. I shouldn’t be thinking of how, in past years, I would do a consuming Zen retreat and the very next morning be on my feet and back to work. Or else, at the end of the retreat, hurrying to pack and leaving to the airport the very next morning. The thought pops up even as I know that comparisons of almost any kind are a waste of time.

Over the past few years, I’ve learned not to schedule things after sesshin but to do what Aussie is doing right now. I see her through my window lying on her belly on the dark, moist ground, head up, looking around, relaxed but alert, at peace. Soon she’ll come in and ask for food, and after that we’ll go for our second walk of the day.

This morning I took both her and Henry for the morning walk to the beaver dam. That’s what we call the stream over which beavers have cut down trees and built dams. I hadn’t been there in a long time and was stunned by the ferocity of the water. Yes, it is spring when the water levels are high from melting snow, but I think it was yesterday’s heavy rain that fed the tumult and spray. The waters sped past us with passionate intensity, as though knowing exactly where they wanted to end up, a cacophonous roar of certainty.

I worried a little about Henry, under 15 pounds, who was keeping up with Aussie. Both dogs were full of energy after a rainy day at home yesterday and Aussie ran everywhere, including along the gushing stream. Henry stayed with her, and I called to him often. He’s a clever little bugger but lacks her common sense, and had he fallen into the water it would have rushed him down mercilessly to our own miniature Niagara Falls a quarter of a mile away; he wouldn’t have had a chance.

But the beavers have been busy felling trees, causing small pools to form, quiet ponds that don’t foam and rush. In fact, they were so tranquil they formed skins of algae, remaining still even while, just ten feet away, the rest of the stream roared past.

At a certain spot I could see both the quiet, barely moving pools and the racing water. All my instincts were to be with that rush of passion and conviction, the urgency that knew just where it was going and couldn’t wait to get there, braving fallen trees, rocks and abrupt curves before the cataract that finally smashed down below. This is how I’ve liked to live my life, headstrong, certain, in a hurry to get where I was going.

Not now.

I completed my tenure as co-spiritual director of the Zen Peacemaker Order. It involved a lot of work and I didn’t ask to renew the term. I also took three months off from related administrative meetings, though as a veteran member, I plan to continue to attend online gatherings.

To make room for what? Haven’t a clue. I thought to myself that my life is now more like the placid pool created by the ever-busy, ambitious beavers, seemingly still, seemingly not going anywhere even as the events of the world continue their turbulence and spray.

A strong feeling built up over the months that it was time to turn the page and support the leadership of the next generation. Time to stop living life like that rush of white water and try something else, slower and more thoughtful. Time to reflect on the changing seasons outside and in my life and look more closely at the new flowers that are coming out of the ground. Time to live with question marks rather than destinations, inquiry rather than a finish line.

I still teach locally, but this week after sesshin we are off, and the computer calendar reveals days with no meetings or Zoom appointments, no structure other than the self-inflicted structure of day-to-day life: sit, feed dogs, walk dogs, answer emails, clean, go to post office and bank, make a meal, make some order.

It’s not enough; I am well aware of how mundane tasks can fill up the day, at the end of which you look around and ask: What did I do today? And why am I so tired?

No, that life is not for me. I need some other drive, I need to penetrate a new question. Maybe I’ll write more. Over dinner a friend casually mentioned something that gave me an idea for a short story. Maybe I’ll stop toying with it mentally and actually write something down.

And this blog, yes, this blog that I do three times a week.

I also want to reflect on my efforts on behalf of the local immigrant community. My contact with them has lessened significantly for the first time in three years (I began that work in April 2020, when covid began). What is that about, I wonder. Where am I being led?

“I don’t know what I am going to do when I grow up,” I wail to my sister on the phone.

“Something will come up,” she says patiently. “It always does.”

Whatever it will be, I doubt it will be like the turbulent streams of yesterday, the rush that work can give you, that deceptive feeling that you matter, that maybe, just maybe, you’re even important. No, perspective has reached even me. The woman who could barely do anything till mid-afternoon after sesshin is not about to conquer any worlds. It’s time to linger longer over tufts of new grass, name more birds, walk outside at night even when the moon is new and the sky is dark. Get closer and closer to the mystery of existence.

“Sit like a mountain,” we say in Zen. The retreat ended yesterday; a new one begins.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.


“Aussie, we start a Zen retreat this evening. You won’t see much of me till later on Sunday.”

“What’s a Zen retreat?”

“A Zen retreat includes a lot of meditation, but mostly, we follow a schedule.”

“What schedule?”

“We get up at a certain time and start to sit. Then we do a liturgical service, followed by work. Then we have coffee. After that there’s a formal talk and we return to sit. After that we eat lunch and rest, followed by more sitting. Then we have dinner, sit again, and go to bed. Then we repeat.”

“What’s different about that?”

“What do you mean, Aussie?”

“You’re always following a schedule, even on regular days. Here you get up and sit in the morning. Then you feed me. Then you look at emails and news, get dressed, have breakfast. Then you walk Henry and me. Then you get to work. Early afternoon you have lunch and then a short rest. Then you get back to work. Then you feed me and take me for another walk. Then you get back to work. You have dinner, work some more, and at around 9 in the evening you start closing things up. You go upstairs, do different things up there, and then you fall asleep.”

“It’s not quite as boring as you say, Aussie. The work changes a lot.”

“But you’re always following a schedule. You do the same things at almost the same times every day. Sometimes you change things a bit, like you take me to Leeann instead of walking me. But you don’t improvise, you don’t do things spontaneously, you run by the clock!”

“You know, Auss, in older sesshins, you never looked at a clock. You didn’t wear watches. Certain bells and whistles told you what activity is next. There’s the kitchen bell that tells you it’s time to eat, and a service bell that tells you it’s time to do liturgy, and the strikes of the wooden han that tell you it’s time to sit, and drums that tell you it’s time for a formal talk.”

“But everything is done on time, right?”

“The idea is to simplify things, Auss. You don’t have to plan or think about what’s next, it’s always the same kind of activities and at the same time. Life is simpler that way, don’t you think?”

“No, I think it’s boring. I like to do what I want to do when I want to do it. You follow a schedule all the time, even when you’re not in retreat; only the activities change. In a retreat you sit on your butt. When the retreat ends, you sit on your butt on a chair at your desk, so what’s different? Is that a life?”

“What do you call a life, Aussie?”

“Recess. Life is recess. While you’re in retreat, I’ll have one long recess.”

“And what’ll you do during recess, Aussie?”

“I’ll probably just lie around and wait till you get home.”

The blog will be on retreat, or in recess, till Monday.

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You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

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Next week will be my mother’s first memorial, 365 days since that Saturday morning, Shabbat morning, when my sister’s phone rang at 6:30 am to let us know that she had passed away. Today I tuned in by Zoom to a gathering of the family, three generations’ worth, to talk about her in my mother’s favorite Jerusalem synagogue, Yakar. Other guests were there, too, and it was no coincidence that this was happening on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I’ve had her photo on my altar for this entire year. On one side, Bernie. On the other side, her. Others are there, too, hugging the corners, including my father, dead some 7-1/2 years, and a young man I went to high school with by the name of Bruce Mayrock who, in 1969, poured gasoline on himself and set himself afire in front of the United Nations to protest the starvation in Biafra.

We remember the Holocaust, but how many remember Biafra? Other genocides? In 1994 I wrote an article about my first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and brought it to a New York City writing group I was meeting with regularly. One of them, a talented and successful Filipina playwright, said: “I’m sick of articles and movies about the Holocaust. Why does no one remember what happened in the Phillipines under Japanese occupation in World War II?”

“How much is written about it?” I asked her.

She replied: “Nobody writes or does anything about it. I guess that’s the problem.”

So yes, Jews have documented the Holocaust till we’re blue in the face. If you don’t document it, if you don’t build memorials, repeat the stories and put them in the school curricula, people forget. Maybe that’s at the bottom of all the book banning and curriculum changes that are happening in certain states. People want to forget.

I watched the family, heard my sister speak, followed by my brother and two nieces. I had previously made and sent them a video of me talking about my mother. I could hear others speak in the background, too.

I’ve looked at the photo of her every day this past year, and I often ask: So who were you really?

The monologue goes on from there:

“Everybody has powerful memories of you because you were such a strong personality. A woman shared this evening that when people met Shoshana, no one could miss her strength and aliveness.

“So yes, we heard about how you survived the Holocaust and the Israel Independence War.

“We know how important food was to you your entire life, in part because of how little you had of it in your early years. You loved to cook and feed people. Only when you were very old did you learn to appreciate pizza, otherwise you looked down on anything that smacked of snacks or restaurants. Meals had to be healthy, meals had to have substance; meals had to be meals.

“You had strong opinions and didn’t care who you shared them with or how, and once you made up your mind, you wouldn’t change it.

“You loved to get respect and attention, you loved to sing, you loved a good time. You loved to travel with friends.

“You loved being Jewish, you loved your family and tradition and had no patience or understanding for those who didn’t.

“I saw many of those manifestations,” I tell her. “I was your oldest child, and in the early years we were as close as could be. I wore your clothes and people often mistook me for you. When I was 20 people said we looked like sisters. I think that’s because I looked older than my age and you looked younger than yours.

“And after all that, and listening to so much testimony about you and sharing so many recollections with many people over the years, tell me: Who were you really?

“You played role after role after role with intensity and determination, but there was a big piece of yourself that you kept private. In your older years, before the onset of physical ailment and dementia, I’d come over to your apartment after your afternoon nap and there you would be, still in bed surrounded by the Friday newspapers that you liked to read all week. We’d have coffee together and talk.

“Rather, you talked and I listened. You talked about your friends who loved you and savored your cooking, you talked about your grandchildren. I would look for a way in, something real and genuine. You kept doubts to yourself, especially self-doubts. No regrets, no reflections. If He Who Could Not Be Named, my father, came up in conversation you’d purse your lips tightly and mutter a few words, or else shrug as if to say there was nothing important there. Often I asked you about how you really felt about something, and didn’t get an answer. You’d look at the opposing wall and  say nothing.”

I don’t think we shared any kind of real intimacy since I was 20. I deeply longed for it, and mourned after it. Now I find myself wondering about how we, in the US, define intimacy and love. I think of the song from Fiddler On the Roof, when Tevye asks his wife if she loves him. She reminds him that she’s cooked and cleaned and had his children, and if that’s not love, what is?

Maybe love and intimacy are existential First World questions. For folks like my mother, if she cooked her European foods for you and helped you out money-wise on certain occasions, that was it. What more could you wish for?

But I wanted to touch her so much. I wanted to know her more deeply than anyone. After 35 years of knowing Bernie, it doesn’t occur to me to ask him who he really was. Does anyone know who another is really? Of course not, but do I have a good sense of him? Am I sure he had a good sense of me? Yes to both questions. And though I lived two oceans away from my father, the same distance as from my mother, I had a good sense of who my father was.

But the woman in the photo alongside Bernie, so young and pretty and happy, I don’t think I ever really knew her.

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Aussie watching out for Boris

“Aussie, Lori is not going to be here this weekend. That means we have to work together to deter Boris.”

“Boris Humongous?”

“I mean Boris the-biggest-bear-I’ve-ever-seen who has come to our home night after night, including the last three nights in a row.”

“Boris Humongous who went into the garage, threw down the barrel with the birdseed, opened it up and cleaned us out? Boris Humongous who destroyed five birdfeeders, ruined our fence, and left the biggest dump I ever saw in our back yard?”

“The very one. Where are you going, Aussie?”

“I’m going after Lori.”

“Oh Auss, don’t be like that. Boris is a big bear who’s just woken up from a deep sleep and, like you in the mornings, he’s hungry.”

“Not worry about a hungry 400-pound monster?”

“Now Aussie, black bears like Boris eat a lot of berries, roots, and plants.”

“Did you see how it looked at Henry a couple of nights ago? We offered him a Mexican tapa, and did he say: No thanks, I’m a vegetarian?

“Boy, was that scary!”

 “It would have served Henry right, rushing out the garage door and barking so insanely he didn’t even see Boris till he was practically on top of him. We almost got rid of Henry right then and there, no need to call ICE, only you yelled so hard that Boris turned towards you and Henry got away. He would have gone after you, too, if not for the glass office door that you slinked behind.”

“Are you accusing me of being a coward, Aussie?”

“Please point me in the direction Lori went. I’ll start chasing her after dinner.”

“Speaking of slinking, Aussie, who turned around and ran back into the living room when I asked you where Boris went?”

“Let’s get this straight. I’m the one who alerts you whenever Boris visits. You, Lori, and Henry are asleep upstairs in your rooms, leaving me downstairs to give the alert. I start barking like a maniac and you and Lori rush downstairs. You stand behind the glass door in your office, in your stupid pink pajamas, looking from right to left, trying to see Boris in the dark, which is like trying to see a crow in the nighttime.”

“A tunnel inside a tunnel.”

“Black ants on black beans”

“Black squirrels drinking Coca-Cola.”

“Greek olives amidst blackberries.”

“That’s why I asked you to go out onto the steps, Aussie. I knew you’d sniff Boris out right away, and that would tell me where he went. And what did you do?”

“What any self-respecting, intelligent dog would do. I made a sharp U-turn and went back into the living room.”

“A profile in courage.”

“And what did you do? You stood there behind the door while brave, defenseless Lori went out with the soup pot and banged on it with a wooden spoon. That’s what I call grit! That’s what I call courage! Boris climbed up a tree, jumped off, hopped over the fence and skedaddled. Too bad he took the fence down with him.”

“I don’t have good vision, Aussie, I can’t see Boris unless you point him out to me.”

“I don’t believe in obeying stupid orders.”

“I’m the human here, Aussie, you’re the dog. Do as you’re told.”

“You ever hear of Nuremberg?”

“Seriously, Aussie, Lori is not around this weekend, so it’s Boris against you and me.”

“We’re dead in the water. Or in Boris’s belly.”

“We can handle him, Auss.”

“I’d suggest throwing Henry at him, but he may not like Mexican.”

“This is what we’ll do, Aussie. I’ll prepare the soup pan and the wooden spoon by the back door and keep the motion-sensor light on in back. You watch for Boris all night, and the minute you start barking I’ll run down—”

“In your pink pajamas?”

“—grab the soup pot and spoon, rush out of the garage and bang bang bang. But you have to tell me where Boris is, I can’t see in the dark. Whatever you do, don’t run back to the living room.”

“Me? I’ll run upstairs.”

“Oh, Aussie.”

“Without Lori we’re bear cuisine tonight. Boris will eat us all. That’s why we have to support Ukraine with everything we got.”

“Ukraine, Aussie? What’s Ukraine got to do with anything?”

“Boris? Ukraine? Still don’t get it? Simple. After it eats us, it’ll eat Ukraine. After it eats Ukraine, it’ll eat the world.”

“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard, Aussie. In fact, it’s that kind of domino theory that got us into a losing war in Vietnam. And don’t slink away, we’ve got work to do.”

“World wars start somewhere. Tonight, it starts with us.”

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Leroy putting ashes in the ground

I returned to Greyston a few days ago, part of my trip to New York, to re-inter Bernie’s ashes on those grounds.

I say re-inter because his ashes had already lain in a Founders’ Room inside the Greyston AIDS center almost since his death, alongside the ashes of his partner in crime, Jishu Holmes. But Greyston is selling the landmark compound, once a nunnery, that has served as home to the AIDS Center, including housing for folks with AIDS, and the 19th century building housing their offices, by the end of the year and the buildings are being emptied out. No actual move is expected before end of year.

I retrieved the urn that held the ashes and first visited with Joe Kenner, CEO of the Greyston Foundation, in an office long familiar to me, with memories of meetings, reviewing grant applications, and even looking out the south-facing windows at the distant Manhattan skyline on a clear day. Monday, too, was super clear and warm; I’d arrived in New York so overdressed that I stripped down to my undershirt, onto which I hooked up a necklace.

Then we went outside with a few other staff members, lay the urn on a pedestal on which the nunnery had once placed a statue of Mary, unscrewed the urn, and all of us took handfuls of ashes and sprinkled them on the grounds. Mary was long gone; perhaps the nuns had taken her with them. We put ashes around the roots of Japanese maples and Jishu Holmes’ favorite true, the Polounia, that lay in the very back.

I thought of the elderly cloistered nuns who’d lived there, couldn’t speak or walk with us, but who had stretched their arms through the fencing to stroke my Golden Retriever, Wordsworth. How young we must have looked to them then, in the mid 1990s, full of energy, dreams, and vigor, taking over their long-held compound while they were headed to a much smaller place where their members, one by one, were aging, sickening, and dying off.

Why did I bother re-interring the ashes here, not in a formal urn, not covered by rocks and flowers, but just sprinkling those remnants into the earth itself?

Bernie loved Greyston. He loved watching it change the skyline of Yonkers, creating a big 130-staff bakery by the Hudson River, watching more low-income housing come up for families with no homes, more programs for children, more housing and healing services for those who were ill.

He loved the Zen Peacemakers, and especially the Order, but Greyston had been his young love, when he was starting out on his own as a Zen teacher, showing the world that Zen practice didn’t just mean sitting but rather everything, because Zen was everything, and in his case, it meant serving people and families falling into the cracks. He kept his eyes on the prize, steadily moving forward one side-step after another, way too creative to go only forward but always trying this new experiment, that new idea, connecting with new people and getting inspirations from them.

It’s hard to describe how much he loved it. Later, after he’d gone to put all his energy into Zen Peacemakers, traveling the world over, he would always come back—not to board or senior management meetings—but to hang out with the people. “I just want to hang out with the people,” he’d tell me back home.

He had enormous faith in the dynamism of life. People would complain about changes in Greyston, how the present wasn’t like the past, how we had to restore the old dream, etc. It’s so easy to get caught up in talk about how the new folks don’t know what they’re doing, how we were doing things right and at way less pay. He wasn’t buying any of it. He’d had his time with his vision; it was now their time for their vision.

He knew that something had been planted there. The space would finally be sold (AIDS programs get barely any funding nowadays), the people would change, but something fine had taken place there and, like everything else, it wasn’t going to disappear.

His ashes there will remind the earth that he’d walked there jauntily, coming up on foot from his home, pausing by other homes and building to wonder what more was available for purchase, how much more could be done. He was a man with stars in his eyes.

“The past is never dead; it’s not even past,” said the writer William Faulkner. And whatever happens should be honored. Of course, it will change in the future, what doesn’t? None of our work carries any guarantees with it, certainly not with regard to results. I’m not conditioning anything I do on whether it will be considered a great success or not or what the future will bring; we’ll never know. What we do know are the intentions we had, the joy and the love.

I left in mid-afternoon, went down the stairs but paused before turning left onto the path that would take me out of the compound. I looked down the grassy knoll that descended down a slope that took one to a parking lot at the very right, and thought to myself that I might never be up here again.

With Angela, Luke, President Joe Kenner, and Leroy

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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.