A NEW CAREER

“Aussie, do you see a difference in me now when I get up in the mornings?”

“Not really. You’ve always been slow about feeding me.”

“I’m not depressed or anxious like I used to be, remember?”

“Do I remember! It was hard to talk to you for half the day.”

“That’s somewhat exaggerated, Auss.”

“So, what happened?”

“I decided to take anti-depressants.”

“WHAT! You, a Zen teacher, are on anti-depressants?”

“Bear with me, Aussie. I have felt depression and anxiety first thing in the morning for almost my entire life. It’s been a chronic condition for decades.”

“A Zen teacher on anti-depressants?”

“What’s wrong with that, Auss? It’s always been a struggle, and I would quickly get up and push it out of my mind. That worked to some extent, but the condition in and of itself never changed. Some months ago, I talked about it with my sister, and she, bless her heart, said: ‘You’ve been struggling with that for so long. You’re now 72, maybe it’s time to stop struggling.’ I talked it over with my doctor, she thought it was a good idea, and now I’m on anti-depressants.”

“And you call yourself a Zen teacher!”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“A Zen teacher should be able to deal peacefully with anything that comes up without resorting to drugs.”

“Who said, Aussie?”

“Nobody has to say it, everybody knows it’s true. Seeing the emptiness of all things, you know there’s nothing to really get upset about.”

“I wasn’t getting upset, Aussie. I would just open my eyes and the room would look dark—”

“It’s 6 am, for God’s sake!”

“—and I would feel this fear and nervousness overwhelming me. It didn’t matter what the plans for the day were, morning after morning was like that.”

“I bet you wouldn’t feel like that if you woke up at Mar-A-Lago!”

“Jeff Bridges, with whom I’m going to have a conversation on getting older on the Zen Peacemakers website (check out their Events), calls it the morning dreads. I’ve had them practically since I was born.”

“You’ve been meditating since 1985. What good has it done you?”

“No good at all, Aussie. The point is, this is genetic, it’s in the family.”

“Who cares? A Zen teacher should always be calm and have things under control, never have to struggle—and never have to take anti-depressants.”

“I can’t tell you how different my mornings are now. I come down and pet you, tell you how pretty you are, what a great day we’ll have together.”

“Now I know it’s Prozac talking.”

“No, Aussie, it’s me talking. It’s me without the depression, without the morning dreads. And you mewl happily and turn onto your back so that I could rub your belly.”

“No more. Now I know that you’re not the real thing.”

“The real what, Aussie?”

“Enlightened! If you’re enlightened, you shouldn’t need any of that stuff.”

“Aussie, sometimes it’s a matter of not enough brain chemicals or faulty mood regulation. If it goes on and on for years regardless of life situations, it’s a good alternative. What about what I take to sleep?”

“Oh, no. What do you take to sleep?”

“Aussie, I take pot to sleep.”

“YOU WHAT?”

“I take half a gummy. I can’t smoke it on account of my asthma, but the gummies are wonderful. Don’t forget, pot is legal in Massachusetts, and my doctor recommended it. After I turned 70 my sleep regulation went out the window. I could be exhausted, unable to read or watch TV, but as soon as I lay down, I couldn’t sleep. She said that instead of taking sleeping pills, why don’t I try pot? It worked beautifully. Half a gummy causes me to fall asleep gently and wake up gently. Never exhausted, never sleepy, awake and healthy, and looking forward to a terrific day!”

“No Zen teacher should have to take pot to sleep, or anything for that matter. In fact, if you just put on recordings of your Zen talks, you’ll go to sleep right away.”

“Aussie, you know how many people I’ve told to get sleep gummies? You know how many people I’ve bought them for? And just between you and me, not all were in Massachusetts.”

“OMG, A DRUG DEALER!”

“No no, Aussie, I simply share what I’ve discovered works. Look Auss, I want to enjoy these years, I want to enjoy my humanness. When I sleep well and don’t wake up with depression or anxiety, I can act much better in the world, things don’t hang me up like they used to.”

“I’m leaving home.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“I was so proud of living with a Zen teacher. Instead, I’m a drug dealer’s companion. What’s it going to be next, the Mafia? I’m outta here.”

“But who’s going to be my companion now, Auss?”

“Get yourself a couple of Rottweilers.”

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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.

THINGS THAT MATTER

“Look Aussie, we’re right by Local Burger, which sells the best hamburger in our area. Would you like a cheeseburger?”

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

“So, what do you want?”

“Cheeseburger hold the roll, tomato, lettuce, and pickle.”

“Aussie, that just leaves the meat and cheese.”

“I know what counts.”

Someone from the Zen Peacemaker Order recently shared about her life and summed it up by saying: “It’s glorious to put the things that matter right in front of you.” It’s glorious not to get distracted or interrupted. And maybe most glorious of all is to know what things matter.

When Bernie got sick with his big stroke, there was never any question about what mattered; the day was framed by it. Every morning I’d review the schedule of priorities that I’d put together the evening before, go to him when he got up, keep an eye and ear out for when he showered and dressed, when he went downstairs, when the caregiver arrived. I’d review the priorities with her, his work schedule and exercises, the people he wished to talk to.

Other things also counted, including my teaching and finishing The Book of Householder Koans, but nothing was as immediate as taking care of someone, or raising a child, doing all the work that goes with dependence. Dependence isn’t a good word in this American culture. We are dependent when we’re young, are rushed into independence as soon as we’re able (some earlier than others), and if we’re lucky to live long enough, return to dependence when we’re old. That’s one of the biggest teachings we get in life.

After Bernie died, I wasn’t sure what mattered anymore. There were always too many priorities, I didn’t know what to put right in front of me day in, day out, as I’d  known back then.

After the drought we had this past summer, the worst in the 20 years I’ve lived here, I don’t take rain or water for granted. Options for walking the dogs shrank because everything dried up and it was hard to take them anywhere in the heat of summer with no available water for them to drink. We got a few big rainstorms this past month, but the thirsty earth absorbed all of it, leaving nothing in ponds or waterholes. Nevertheless, the earth got looser, even muddier, and we finally got warnings of possible flooding in the storm we had yesterday (we hadn’t gotten any of those since springtime).

I walked Aussie in late afternoon when the rain stopped and felt overjoyed to see water streaming out of culverts, ponds filling up, and Aussie splashing happily in the creek adjoining our road.  I remembered Standing Rock and the thousands of people, Native Americans and non-, who became Water Protectors in the summer and fall of 2016. It was as if the thing that mattered became visible to all of them, and they hurried to Standing Rock to stop that pipeline.

The water sparkled under the blue skies and afternoon sun, reaching our parched trees, plants and flowers, turning the grass finally green now, when fall is underway.

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WHY IS SHE LAUGHING?

“Look at Henry, Auss. Isn’t he cute with Moo the Red Cow and—and whatever the orange thing is?”

“Definitely not.”

“And look at him with Billy Bunny and Albert the Puffin that I brought him from Grand Manan. I’ve never met a dog who loves his stuffed toys as much as Henry does.”

“He’s almost 4 years old, all grown up. Time to put away puppyish things.”

“Aussie, you just turned 5 four days ago. I cooked you some steak.”

“And where is it now?”

“It’s not your birthday anymore.”

“I celebrate my birthday for a month. But you’re right, I’m no longer a pup. I have no interest in frivolous things or in being silly. It’s time to get serious.”

“You know, Aussie, I like to watch Henry play with his toys. He brings them over to me to throw, and once he finds them, he snarls, shakes them hard, tosses them high up and then catches them again even when they’re almost his size. It’s a heck of a show. Everyone who comes here loves to watch Henry.”

“Henry isn’t entertaining, he’s just foolish. Now me you can have a serious conversation with. We talk about relationships, current events, ethics, metaphysics, the lack of science in climate change, you name it. Nothing stupid. But Henry!”

“Aussie, did it ever occur to you that God may find all of us very entertaining?”

“I am not entertaining! Never was! I’m always, always serious.”

“Those are precisely the ones that God would find funny. From where God sits, we all look incredibly silly with our pretentious opinions, our ponderous sincerity, our dos and don’ts, the flag-waving, handwringing, world-worrying, lesson-learning and morality-mongering. She would probably say: Enough already! if not for the fact that She’s laughing so hard.”

“There’s probably a lot to laugh about you but there’s nothing funny about me. I have a very important role in life.”

“What’s that, Auss?”

“To teach you about right and wrong, the correct political viewpoint which is to take back the election of 2020—”

“Forget it, Auss.”

“To teach you about good food, like steak, about healthy habits like terrorizing rabbits, rules of hygiene—”

“Hygiene?”

“Like not washing my blanket too often, it’s best when it stinks. Like supporting local economies by shopping at the food co-op where they sell the biggest and freshest marrow bones. Karma brought me to this house so that I could teach you things. Why are you laughing?”

“Because you take yourself so seriously, Aussie.”

“Have you ever watched yourself talking to students on Zoom? I can hear the Buddha laughing all the way from India, or wherever he is right now.”

“But that’s the point, Auss. We get pissed at Fox News—”

“I don’t get pissed at Fox News!”

“We worry about many things, most of which won’t happen and instead other things will happen we never thought of. We argue about who’s right and who’s wrong, we speechify and pontificate—”

“Like you’re doing right now.”

“—and up there or out there, someone is laughing at all our earnestness, our intensity and serious-mindedness because we know so little about this world, Aussie. You know how I laugh at Henry snarling at me over Pinky the Elephant (She’s mine!) or at you when you pounce on a squirrel that is already halfway up the tree?”

“You laugh when I pounce on a squirrel?”

“God laughs at all of us, Aussie, in the same way.”

“That’s the saddest thing I ever heard.”

“It’s not out of mockery or spite, Auss, but for Her, we’re Saturday Night Live! every minute of the day.”

“Really? Who plays me?”

“You play you, Aussie. No one can play you like you.”

“Rin Tin Tin can play me. Or Laika, the Russian space dog. Why are you laughing? WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?”

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WHAT A DANCE

I had coffee with Jimena and Byron Pareja yesterday. Jimena is the woman I work with in reaching immigrant families who need help.

I’d been looking for a carpenter to repair the outdoors stoop of wooden stairs behind my office where the boards were loose and rotting, and they both volunteered to do this. I’m prepared to pay, I told them; I’d already gone through 4 different carpenters who didn’t have the time to do the job. But no, they insisted on doing this free of charge as long as I covered materials. They came yesterday to take measurements.

It’s always been hard for me to accept gifts. I had the erroneous impression that to be truly independent, I had to meet all my needs and always, always pay.

“I don’t want people to do me any favors,” my mother would declare. She lived till 94 and needed lots of financial assistance, but refused to acknowledge this fact and insisted that she was covering everything.

My father was of similar mind. His was a fear that if he accepted a gift from someone, it trapped him in a relationship with that person, whereas money was straightforward. If he paid for something, no one could have any expectations or make any demands back.

So, they leave you with no expectations and no demands, and you’re free. But free for what? To do what?

The same earnest answers come up: Free to write. Free to create. Free to teach. Free to walk in the woods unhindered by a wristwatch or a telephone.

But is that what life wants from me? Thomas Merton wrote: “What is serious to men is often very trivial in the eyes of the universe. What might appear to us as ‘play’ is perhaps what is most serious. If we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear the call and follow along in the mysterious, cosmic dance.”

Maybe a complex relationship is exactly what the universe wants for me. Maybe there’s a specific need I can fill, a yearning that will teach me more than any books I read or study. Not because I’m important or special but because I’m the right partner in this particular dance this minute.

Many years ago, I did ballroom dancing in New York City. My instructor, young and incredibly handsome, took me through tangos, only for me to once step on his feet hard. He winced, tried to bravely go on, but then paused for a moment’s rest.

“I’m so sorry,” I gasped. I knew that he often participated in competitions with gorgeous young dancers whom he could lift, twirl, and even slide on the floor before launching them back up on their feet, both as graceful as can be.

He put his arms out for us to dance again and I said self-consciously, “You should get a different partner.”

He laughed and said: “Right now you are the perfect partner.”

Where does the universe want me to go? What does it want me to do?

It was Bernie who got me off the habit of saying no to offers and gifts, reminding me again and again that giving and receiving was the basic stream of life, not unlike the bloodstream in our own bodies, and that if I kept on saying no I would be blocking this basic energy. I’ve gotten better, but even now I can see that often my first reflex is to say no. Instead, I pause, take a breath or two, or three or four, and say thank you.

Over coffee, Jimena asked me if we could cover some 16 families who didn’t get a special $75 allowance for winter coats, boots, gloves, and hats distributed by a local social service agency. To collect the allowance, they had to come in the hours of 12-2 pm, first come first served.

“But that’s when people work,” I said.

“That’s exactly what I told them,” Jimena said, getting excited. “Both parents work in the farms now and this is the last big month. In October their hours will be cut, and some won’t be able to work at all, and that’s when it starts getting very hard; the entire winter is hard because there isn’t work in the farms. But now they are working the maximum hours they can, they can’t just walk off the job to stand on line to get this money.”

In the end, she estimated that some 16 families on her list hadn’t gotten anything, and I told her I’d get Walmart cards for them in that amount to make up the difference.

So, I needed to get the stoop rebuilt. Byron offered, I finally said yes, he came here to take measurements, which provided the perfect opportunity to make them coffee and for Jimena to tell me about 16 families who need money to dress their children warmly for winter, and “Yes” came up again. What a dance!

If you’d like to dance and say Yes, too, feel free to donate by using the button below.

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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.

SOMETIMES I’M THERE AND SOMETIMES I’M THERE

It poured Tuesday evening, and by the next morning things had changed. I knew right away that fall had started despite the warm temperatures and the green leaves. The air was different, the light was different. I don’t have to search for leaves coloring or even falling on the ground, I know it in my body. We’ll have more hot days, the windows will remain open for a while—and everything’s different.

I took the dogs back to farm country. We hadn’t walked on farm roads during much of the summer because the water holes had all dried up and they need water on those hot treks. A week ago, we had two days of torrential rain, and still there was no water because the earth just sucked it in, leaving nothing on top for animals. But after last Tuesday’s storms I could hear the sounds of streams and culverts gurgling happily, as if saying: We’re back.

The dogs chased each other up and down rows of pumpkin plants, a tractor tilling them up ahead. Corn season is over, pumpkin season has begun. Everybody was working, no cars or cyclists causing you to hug the sides as will probably happen this weekend, quiet and peaceful all around.

So, what’s that scratching inside? Why the restless scan of the horizon even as I laugh at the sporting dogs and give them treats? Could it be that I miss some drama? Excitement? Even mild dissatisfaction from sheer habit and the long-familiar feeling of: Life’s tough? I start wondering if I’m really up to living a life with little drama or struggle, whether I’m really up to—get this—living a life of peace.

There are people close to me who can’t understand why I don’t live in the city. They remind me how much I used to love living in New York: There are a lot more people there, a lot more potential and opportunities for friendships and maybe even a new romance, lots of interesting things going on.

Sometimes I even feel a little guilty, as if I’m hiding, taking the easy way out, not participating in the world as much as I can. It’s almost impossible for me to fully express what it is like to live in the country, with its slower rhythms, the waving hand of drivers that pass you on the road or of the tractor driver as he neared us, rounded the rows, and continued on his way, the easy way we talk to neighbors, the intimate laughter we share with each other as if we can’t believe our luck living here in the Valley, the nights outdoors when I step out to listen to the fading sounds of summer just before I turn off lights and close up the house. How healing it all is.

With it comes a capacity for boredom, loneliness, and isolation, and sometimes I’m there. With it comes a capacity for peace, and sometimes I’m there.

This morning we emerged from a lake of shadow formed by trees along the road into warm and golden sunlight, and it hit me that if all I had in my 72 years was this one day, this one morning walk with the dogs, it would be glorious.

I know of the many people who wake up morning after morning uncertain about feeding and sheltering their children, whether to stay home or hurry to a refugee camp, fearing the lack of milk, water, food, and safety. But they also struggle for life, and I wonder if that’s because at some time, perhaps when they were children, they kicked around an old hat stuffed with newspapers and called it a ball, aiming for a distance between two tents they called goalposts, or else carried in their arms a doll made of twigs bound together and covered by cloth, and they laughed because the sun came out and all they needed for play was time and imagination.

In their own way, they too had this one day, this one spectacular morning, and they could not forget it.

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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.

IS THE UNIVERSE FRIENDLY?

Maybe our drought is coming to an end. It rained hard yesterday, and finally, at night, various thunderstorms converged overhead, sending sheets of rain down to our parched earth.

The weather bureau sent a number of Storm Warnings: Severe thunderstorm detected in Plainfield, traveling Northeast, 60 mph, specifying the prospective size of hail. Or else: Severe thunderstorm detected in Colrain, traveling East at 40 mph, etc. One even mentioned the possibility of a tornado. They were all traveling east (they fly out towards the ocean) and all seemed to congregate above us within one hour.

I’m afraid of big thunderstorms and take shelter in the downstairs bathroom, which has no windows. Aussie goes into the garage, I open the back door, and she jumps onto her blanket on her seat, glad to lie there even for a few hours (I leave the door open). Last night she didn’t jump down till I came out around 9 pm and told her it was all over, we were safe, she could come out now.

But it wasn’t safe for everyone. In the middle of the night I woke up to a great, tortuous tearing sound, like a crack slowed down over 5 seconds.

I held my breath, waiting for the big bang, but none came. It fell on other trees, I thought to myself. A tree had torn off its roots, and instead of smashing down on the ground it fell on other trees. I said a quick blessing that it hadn’t smashed down on the house, a serious danger given the tall beeches and sycamores that surround our home.

But it was hard to get back to sleep. Like many people, I’ve read about trees’ incredible protective and adaptive skills, not to mention methods of communication. But storms can still bring them down. And when it’s nearby I can hear the elongated crack, like something slowly and loudly tearing away from a nurturing mother, the roots that gave it life, holding it steady as it joined an adjoining community of trees. A serrated sound of goodbye.

Where did it fall? Probably below the house, where a long slope drops down into the Saw Mill River. In fact, I reminded myself, there are too many trees there now and lots of young ones can’t grow, so perhaps it’s good that the tree tore apart, giving space for something else to reach up for the yellow summer light. But that tearing sound!

Is the universe friendly? Einstein asked.

What do the trees say to that, I wondered this morning. Are they in mourning? Are they terrified? Are they traumatized by the collapse of one of their fellows? Are they counting up their leaves and branches, inventorying their resources, declaring war on wind? Are they apprehensive towards fall and winter, which brings the Nor’easters? Are they taking out insurance?

None of the above, from what I see (though tree experts may discover differently at some point). It felt like the first day of fall, but the sun still sparkled through their leaves, sending out shafts of life between their branches. The grass seemed happier than it has all summer and there were new blooms of Brown-eyed Susans.

This is not the case elsewhere. The news informs me of impending famine in Somalia and the massive setbacks in the fight against poverty, child malnutrition, and maternal mortality due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. One organism’s fight to survive and thrive can come at a cost to unimaginable others. When Vladimir Putin considered all the weapons in his arsenal for his fight to create a second Soviet Union, did he consider that those who would pay the most may not be Europeans or even Ukrainians, but citizens of African countries?

Fall is breezing through here, causing the chimes to play their music on my right. On my left I see Aussie squirming on her back, getting a nice back rub from the compliant grass, probably wishing that I would hurry over and give her a belly rub, too.

Is the universe friendly?

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DOPPELGANGER

“Aussie, look!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“Look at the dog, Aussie.”

“I’m looking at the ice cream.”

We’re standing by the departure pier of the ferry that took us back and forth between mainland Canada and the island of Grand Manan. There’s an ice cream and donut booth with a young man who just sold me a mound of strawberry ice cream in a cup. But I’ve forgotten all about it because I’m looking at his dog.

“Aussie, that dog is your doppelganger.”

“You shouldn’t call a dog a dope.”

“I said a doppelganger. A doppelganger is someone who looks just like you. He could be your double.”

“He does not look like me.”

“Yes, he does, Aussie.”

“Doesn’t look anything like me. I look like Rin Tin Tin.”

“You mean the pooch who helps the US Cavalry fight Indians? Come on, Auss, you don’t look anything like Rin Tin Tin.”

“Okay. What about Lassie?”

“Lassie’s a collie; you’re no collie.”

“Scooby-Doo?”

“Aussie, you don’t look anything like those dogs. Do you even know what you really look like?”

“Of course. I’m big, I’m fluffy, I’m very beautiful, with a noble, aristocratic snout, mournful, expressive eyes, and a body you could die for.”

“You’re not any of those things, Aussie. You can’t see yourself as you are.”

“I can’t?”

“Don’t feel so bad about it, Auss. Most of us can’t see what we really look like. For instance, I’m aware of my age, but I still think I look way younger. Even when I look in the mirror, I fool myself into thinking: You look pretty good. The gray hair looks a little blonde, the stomach is flatter. I tell myself that, like my mother, I don’t have that many lines around my eyes or mouth, still good-looking even if no trucker whistles at me any longer.”

“Why should a trucker whistle at you? You’re not a dog.”

“Right, Auss. But the main point is that we don’t see ourselves as we really are.”

“That’s certainly true for you. The gray is turning into white, not blonde, the stomach is like a third boob only bigger, and you’re as wrinkled as an onion.”

“Am not. And onions aren’t wrinkled.”

“You’re jealous that I’m going to be five years old next weekend and you’re ancient.”

“That’s not the point. It’s amazing to me how even when we look at the mirror, we see some younger, earlier version of ourselves.”

“I don’t see a younger version of myself. I see Rin Tin Tin.”

“Aussie, Rin Tin Tin wasn’t afraid of guns shooting and Cavalry riding and Indians attacking with war whoops. You hide in the back seat of the car the minute you see crowds or hear music. Much good you’d have been on the frontier.”

“I’m a good detective, just like Scooby-Doo.”

“You’re too afraid of men to track down anybody. You see, Auss, you imagine yourself as some heroic figure, someone who will save the world, or else as someone loyal and brave.”

“Like Lassie. Lassie is my dopey gangster.”

“Doppelganger, Auss.”

“I’m also a little like Cujo. Henry is scared shitless of me.”

“Nobody is scared shitless of you, Aussie. You’re plain Aussie, nobody else. And that’s good enough.”

“I know! Snoopy is my dopey gangster.! He loves to talk to God from the roof of his doghouse.”

“You don’t have a doghouse.”

“Astro? Toto?”

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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 LAST MOTH

Birds hatching inside the mailbox

The moth was clinging to the bathroom ceiling.

At first it attached itself to the ceiling right over the shower. I looked up at it, big and dark brown, clutching tightly to the white drywall, and shook my head. For years I’ve liked to take moths out of the house and release them outside. Usually, unless they’re too weak to take flight, I catch them in a glass, put a top on (a postcard or even a tissue), take them out, remove the top and shake the glass free. Love to watch them flying out. But I’d need to bring the step ladder upstairs and put it on the shower floor, which I didn’t trust.

It felt like that whole day I checked the whereabouts of that moth, wishing it would move someplace lower. When I woke up the next morning, I found that it had moved out of the shower but was still attached to the bathroom ceiling. This was an opportunity to mentally review the things I used to do easily and without thought just a short time ago, and how I hesitate to do them now. Get up on the step ladder, strain up towards the ceiling with the glass, try not to hurt the moth as I slide something on top, keeping my balance throughout, and come down safely, covered glass still intact.

I didn’t do it.

The next day I couldn’t find it. I looked everywhere, behind towels and faucets, and on the floor in case it had finally collapsed. Wondered if it had gotten out of the bathroom, but then, where did it go?

We always keep an oil candle burning on the Kwan-yin altar, which shows the Goddess of Compassion, a gift from Vietnam, alongside Maria of Guadalupe, which we had gotten as a gift from Shaykha Amina Teslima al-Jerrahi in Mexico City. The altar contains ashes of those who died as well as photos. But in the summer moths get into the house and get immolated by the candle so I don’t let it burn during those months. Instead, the moths fly into the house and attach themselves to different walls and counters, and I retrieve them.

The moth in the bathroom reminded me that summer is passing, fewer moths in the house, soon I could light the candle again and let it burn till next May. Please come down so that I could get you, I asked it silently for a couple of days. Instead, it’s gone, probably dead.

I was surprised by the sudden surge of sadness. So many die every day, but this one I kept careful track of. It was big, clinging fearfully to the ceiling, not approaching the light bulbs over the mirror. Infinite beings die all the time, why did this one touch me so deeply? I would check its whereabouts even in middle-of-the-night peeing visits, blinking sleepily as I looked up.

In fact, why did I feel any concern at all? Henry and Aussie don’t worry about moths, or about anyone’s wellbeing other than their own. How is it that humans do? We criticize ourselves so much for caring too little, but it’s quite miraculous how much we do care about nonhuman beings. How we look down nervously at the brown grass and the thirsty earth in this summer’s drought, how relieved we feel as the leaves tremble under the first raindrops, how we feed birds and chipmunks, watching carefully for deer as we navigate the roads at night. Our sense of family, of clan, of home is remarkably wider than that of other species. We care a lot about beings that don’t look anything like us.

That’s a great thing, given our other propensity to build fortresses. When I visit my sister in Jerusalem, I can hear the doves coo from the outside ledge that’s off her bathroom window overlooking a building shaft. The birds liked to use the ledges inside the shaft for rest or shelter, but she tells me that her neighbors installed spinning deterrence rods to scare them away because of their fleas and the  shit they leave on the ledges. She can’t bring herself to do this, so all these years I come to stay with her and enjoy the gentle cooing that’s the background music to her home.

How have we, humans concerned most of all with our own survival and flourishing, cultivated this need to take care of nonhumans that don’t seek our companionship?

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GOING TO PRISON

“Aussie, when I brought you to Leeann this morning, Bruno’s human asked me if your name was Lyric.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I said, ‘Does she look like a Lyric to you?’”

“You ain’t kidding, though it would have made a good code name in Golden Trump Age 1.”

“Speaking of which, Aussie, did you hear that they’ve found a document relating to another country’s nuclear capabilities in your god’s Florida house?”

“He probably left it in a shoebox or something. Look at what Henry leaves in your shoeboxes.”

“They retrieved document after document marked Top Secret, with very few people cleared to read them.”

“Probably in his underwear drawer, or maybe with his socks. Look at what you find in your—”

“Aussie, I don’t hide top secret documents among my things.”

“You think these are top secret? What about the list of code names I used all those years?”

“You had code names, Aussie?”

“You think Aussie would have fooled anyone? Everybody in the world knows who I am. Code names depended on the circumstances. I was Havoc when they needed someone to spy on the Black Lives Matter encampment in front of the White House, perfect on account of my color. I was Wash & Dry when I laundered money.”

“How did you launder money, Wash & Dry?”

“You know the cash you give Leeann for taking me on outings every week? Where do you think that came from? But my favorite code name was Henry.”

“Henry? Like our Henry?”

“Who else? That way, every time I bit a liberal they could blame it on an illegal chihuahua, who we know is responsible for everything that goes wrong in this country. My brilliant idea, naturally.”

“I don’t like this code name business, Aussie.”

“Hey, you have a code name, too.”

“I do?”

“Sure, it’s Myonen, only it’s a stupid code name because no one can remember it.”

“Aussie, that’s a dharma name, not a code name.”

“What’s the difference?”

“A dharma name is given to one who practices the dharma and takes vows to serve all beings. A code name is given to someone to hide their actual identity.”

“So Myonen is your dharma name? What’s it mean?”

“Subtle Mind of This Present Moment.”

“You’re right, it would never make it as a code name. You can’t remember it, never mind say it, and by the time you’ve said it the operation is over anyway. Speaking of which, what operation were you leading, Subtle Mind This Moment? Subtle Moment This? Mind So So?”

“The operation continues to be waking up, Aussie.”

“It’s a long operation, isn’t it, Mind This Moment?”

“The longest, Wash & Dry.”

“Get your money ready, Mind So-So, I’ll need a good lawyer.”

“I don’t have money for a lawyer. Call Trump, he’s got plenty.”

“Won’t part with it, that’s why he’s still got so much. Can’t you ask your readers for money?”

“I ask for money to support my blog only a few times a year, Auss, everything else is for immigrant families. And the Back-to-School Supplies List sold out in 36 hours except for 2 backpacks that aren’t on stock.”

“Okay, I’ll do it. Aussie fans, we have to keep Mind So-So’s blog going. Eve just spent a whole bunch of premium kibble on paying someone to develop a new subscription tool and rebuilding the subscription database. That don’t come cheap. Most important, we need money to get me a good lawyer. Think of it this way: What happens if they put me in prison? What would the blog be without moi? I’ll tell you what it would be: pretentious monologues on life and Zen. Who needs that? You got to save me, the blog will be a lot more fun that way. Who else will give you the scoop on Golden Trump Age 1 and on Golden Trump Age 2?”

“Thanks for asking for donations on the blog’s behalf, Auss, but there isn’t going to be any Golden Trump Age 2.”

“I’m inspired to go into my rap: Ready?

Don’t let Subtle Mind of This—oh, forget it.

She don’t feed me and I can’t bear it.

She thinks waking up is the real deal

But she don’t give me a decent meal.

I ask her to lawyer up, pay those fees,

If they put me in prison I’ll get fleas.

We gotta raise money, not too much but not too little,

Otherwise I won’t get my acquittal.

They’ll put me away and keep the key,

Day by day give me the Third Degree.

Don’t let them do this to Wash & Dry and Havoc—

Oh oh, what rhymes with Havoc?”

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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.

HIS SPACE, MY SPACE

Happy Labor Day. Huh?

I open my Labor Day celebration by sitting this morning, stationary on the corner chair of the bedroom, my favorite room in the house, the room that had been Bernie’s and my bedroom till he died. After his stoke we had to make some changes, eventually letting go of the enormous king-size bed we’d shared. The stroke brought him a lack of control over his limbs as well as a lack of proprioception, and he’d often roll into me during the night without even feeling it.

Where does your body end and mine begin? An interesting Zen koan, one we practiced with over and over again. You love the person next to you, but you’re deeply asleep (exhaustion marked those three years) and you’re suddenly awakened by something crashing into your body, often pushing you to the edge of the bed (a couple of times over the edge). At first you make a joke of it:

“Bernie,” I’d say. I had to repeat his name, it took a while to wake him up.

“What’s the matter?”

“Look at where you are,” I’d say.

“Oh,” he’d say, feeling my shoulder, my arm, my head. “How did I get here?”

“You rolled into me,” I’d tell him. “I think you lost your sense of proprioception.”

“What’s that?” he’d ask for the hundredth time.

“I think it’s a sense of where your body ends and mine begins,” I’d say.

“And that’s bad?” A Zen master, after all. “Let’s sleep like this all the time.”

“I can’t,” I’d tell him. “I need space.”

And sometimes I’d say, “I need my space,” which is a little different.

Space. Bernie could fill every inch of it with words, ideas, suggestions, presence. Even when he was quiet the vibes in the room would be so powerful that I would hurry to find refuge in my own small office, or in our bedroom when he wasn’t there.

The following memory embarrasses me every time. I picked him up at Boston’s Logan Airport after he’d gone to Europe for 6 days. In the car, he bent over to give me a kiss. “What’s wrong?” he asked when I didn’t reciprocate.

“I could have used 3 more days of your being away,” I told him.

He got a little upset, but there it was, I needed space. Space away from that intense focus, the protruding, stubborn chin, the demanding presence, the beingness that enveloped the room.

We finally let go of that big king-size bed and got 2 beds for the room, one of which I sleep on to this very day. I, as usual, drowned in the practicalities of post-stroke life—finding the beds in a local store, negotiating price and access—leaving him to mark with sadness this big change in physical relations. We both knew it. He wouldn’t roll into me anymore or drive me to the edge of the bed, I’d have my space, I’d have my sleep.

One day he said: “It’s different now, isn’t it?”

And I said sadly, “Yes, Bernie, it is.”

His last words to me from the bed, struggling with sepsis and pain before the ambulance drivers took him downstairs to the hospital, where he would die quicker than anyone guessed, with only me in attendance, were: “I’m too much for you.”

He wanted to give me the space I’d always fought for. My space.

For a long time it didn’t do me much good, those words haunted me for three years. Did I really need that much space, I wondered. What would have happened if he’d constantly banged into my exhausted body or sent me to the edge of the bed? That’s his job as a Zen master, I’d remind myself, but not as a husband.

“I’m too much for you.” I can never get that last act of generosity out of my mind. Not I love you, which I would have preferred, but: Here’s your space again. I give it back.

My brother stayed with me the past days and slept in the bedroom. “What a beautiful room,” he said. “A wonderful space in which to rest.”

“It’s healing,” I said without much thought.

Now, 24 hours later, I think to myself that maybe that is the purpose of the room. Not just to serve as a reminder of what once was, but to be fully occupied as I enjoy the space that he so generously finally gave me.

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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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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