THE BUTCHERING OF DEER

Walt Whitman wrote: “After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains.”

I feel the truth of this almost every day, but especially with the turn of the seasons, and especially the turn from fall to winter and winter to spring. I filled our five birdfeeders for the first time before leaving for Thanksgiving—I couldn’t believe how expensive two 40-pound bags of sunflower seeds are now!—and within minutes the sparrows and chickadees were on it, not to mention juncos and woodpeckers. The squirrels will find them, too.

The fallen leaves are all gone, swept away by a 2-man crew Jimena recommended to me who worked very hard for the money. The outdoors table, chairs, and mats are in the shed at the mercy of mice that will keep them company all winter. And as soon as I returned home from the holiday, up from the basement came bright green and orange hunting vests which the dogs and I will put on in all walks till the end of the year. Not to hunt, but to keep from getting hunted.

This is the first week of shooting season. When Lori and I walked the dogs yesterday, there were so many gunshots that if I hadn’t put Aussie on leash, she’d have run back to the car (this despite the fact that, in theory, there isn’t supposed to be any hunting on Sundays in our state, or the Commonwealth, as it’s known by its more grandiose appellation).

Today I took the dogs to the Plains, a long north-south stretch of woods known for its old pine-scrub oaks. No shooting at all on Monday, but as we walked to the car 6 hunters in camo shirts and pants, wearing bright orange hats and vests, emerged one by one, big guns in their hands and a look of disappointment on their faces.

“Any luck?” I ask one, heavy-set with moustache and beard the color of his hunting vest.

“None,” he says.

“Aussie clearly sniffed a deer and rocketed after it, but I don’t think she found anything because she didn’t give her Me-Aussie-Big-Game-Hunter bark,” I told him.

I like talking to local hunters. They usually hunt for the meat, which is needed by many families around here.

On the weekend before I left for the holiday, I was invited to a community gathering around the butchering of two deer. Before I’d arrived, I was told, they had stretched the two deer carcasses on the grass, covering them with fall vegetation, and hunters and their families, including children and dogs, stood around them to thank them. The hunters spoke of what it is to hunt deer and their appreciation for this great gift. They hung the bodies and skinned them, then began to cut swabs of meat.

The children were completely into it. Teenagers learned how to comb layers of fat from the skins in order to prepare the skins for tanning. One young girl—couldn’t have been older than 10—was bending over the head of a deer on her lap.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“I’m cleaning out the fat behind the ears,” she told me matter-of-factly, so focused on her work she hardly bothered to look up.

Older kids were given sharp knives to cut the slabs of red meat into smaller portions, to be wrapped up and shared among a number of families. My mind went to the meat department of a supermarket, with its clean-cut fillets in white packaging, not a hint of the work that goes into those supermarket cuts.

The dogs and I didn’t stay long, but I was immensely grateful to the deer, the hunters, and their families. The deer hadn’t made a gift of their bodies, their lives had been taken from them without request or permission. But they were recognized and acknowledged, and their butchering became a ceremony and prayer of thanks.

Thoreau wrote: “The price of anything is the amount of life you pay for it.” The deer had paid the biggest price, their lives. The families around them were paying with cheerful labor, skinning, defatting, cutting, and cleaning. There was respect there: This is what it takes to have meat on our table.

The rest of us pick up packaged meats from the refrigerator or freezer sections of supermarkets and toss down our credit cards with the same alacrity as taking a hamburger out of its packaging and tossing it into a frying pan. But we, too, have used up a piece of our life in that transaction, only with far less awareness than the families who gathered around and thanked the two deer carcasses.

And that’s why I love living in nature so much. The arrival of winter makes the dance of life and death sharper and more visible. The hooting owls looking for prey, deer coming closer to habitations in March out of hunger, mice in our basement seeking warmth, the bare trees creaking in the merciless winds. So much going on undetected, underground; always, always the hard work to live, to survive. We may not be living on that edge ourselves, but we pay for everything we consume with pieces of our life, whether by growing and hunting for our own food or by filling a shopping cart in Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods or the local co-ops.

Rolling the fat off the deer skins

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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.

LEAVING COMPUTER BEHIND

On Monday I prepared to travel to NYC to spend the night with friends, and then proceed the following morning to Takoma Park, Maryland, to spend the holiday with Bernie’s daughter, Alisa, and her wonderful family.

Long ago Bernie created a Travel List, one for him and one for me, an Excel sheet listing everything we need to take with us when we travel. First on the list was office items—computer, cable, hard disk, different phones, electrical adapters, etc.—followed by clothes and drugstore items—cosmetics, creams, shampoos, contact lens accessories, medications—and finally, at the end, study materials, teaching files, maps (eventually dropped in favor of GPS), gifts, you get the picture.

Over the years I’ve heard jokes about these lists, insinuations that only overly compulsive workers like us needed them. I don’t care. There isn’t a trip I’ve taken when I didn’t bless this list and am happy to share it with any overly compulsive reader who asks.

So, on Monday afternoon I packed a small valise with my clothes and a small backpack with computer, cable, and books. In New York I discovered that I left the backpack at home.

My first response was chagrin. Five days without a computer! That hadn’t happened since Genesis.

In the early 80s, my first computer had been a Compaq, a mobile version of their desktop which weighed about 40 pounds and which I actually took with me on various trips, including one long bus trip to Virginia. I couldn’t imagine being without one even then. And here I was, heading out for 5 days of digital desert.

The next thing I thought was: My blog! I’m limited in what I can do on my phone because my vision isn’t very good. How am I going to blog on Wednesday and Friday?

How am I going to report on cooking for Thanksgiving with my family, bringing a whole pile of Thanksgiving recipes I have been using for some 25 years? On seeing The Wizard of Oz in a special showing on a huge movie theater screen in Silver Springs? On warm walks with Aussie at Sligo Creek, bounding over fallen tree trunks or bending under half-fallen ones, Aussie beside herself with unfamiliar smells? On watching the movie Wonder with my grandson and doing some heavy talks with him on walks, e.g., what do you want for Chanukah?

On all the serious conferences and family meetings we had about what we’re going to eat (turkey and turkey and turkey) and what we’re going to snack on (apple pie and pumpkin pie and coconut cream pie and chocolate cream pie)? On the serious question that all 10-year-olds ask every single day away from school: What are we doing today?

I gritted my teeth. This is your practice, I told myself. If you were important enough, you might say that Heaven intervened in this way so that you wouldn’t check a few newspapers every day, monitor emails, or worry about what will happen to the world if it doesn’t hear from you.

Give thanks.

I did. I drove down to Maryland listening to a book-on-CD, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which wowed me. Found myself waking up in the mornings without the rush for reading newspapers (Argentina fell to Saudi Arabia in the World Cup!), without the need to get up to speed, know everything that’s meant to be known, learn everything needed to be learned. And while I’d have liked to blog about what it is to be with family in Thanksgiving, the nuances, the expectations rising and falling like tides, dynamics way more dynamic than I knew, the complex complexity of love—I couldn’t. Not for lack of time or will or energy, but for lack of computer.

“Did you do it on purpose?” my grandson asked me when I told him I left my computer at home.

“I didn’t,” I replied, “but maybe God did.”

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CONNECTING THE DOTS

My father and me when he turned 80.

Today I mark seven years since my father died. Last night I lit a Jewish memorial candle for him.

Bernie and I had been at the Auschwitz-Birkenau bearing witness retreat that year. Bernie himself would have a major stroke two months later, but who knew? The retreat ended Friday night and we were back in Krakow on Saturday afternoon. We had reservations to return home on the following day, but Lufthansa employees had gone on strike and we had to make alternative travel arrangements. I recall how several of us sat on the floor in the Saski Hotel corridor, computers open, trying out different routes and airlines. It took a few hours before we were finally able to reroute using two different airlines.

Exhausted, we went to bed. At midnight my brother called to tell me that my father, watching a soccer game on TV, had had a heart attack and died.

“Because the Israelis won?” I almost said. But I was shocked. My father had been 90 and still healthy; no one expected this.

More rerouting was needed. My brother made plane arrangements from Warsaw to Tel Aviv while I went downstairs, woke up the redoubtable Andrzej Krajewski, who has coordinated all our retreats in Poland, and asked for his help in making train arrangements to the Warsaw airport. At 4 am Bernie and I were on our way to Israel. My father was buried that very night in pouring rain in Jerusalem; we were there.

His body had already been shrouded, but before they took him up to the grave, they opened the shroud to show me his face. I looked and nodded, and they closed up the shroud once again.

It’s no coincidence, I mused last night, that his memorial takes place at the opening games of the World Cup. He wouldn’t miss a game. He loved football, as soccer is referred to the world over except in the US, but was prevented from playing it as a boy by his father, the village rabbi, who had very different ideas about what a rabbi’s son should do with his spare time.

This year my brother sent me a recording of my father singing a nigun, a religious melody, in his old, soft voice. Different communities of Jews, both Hasidic and non, developed their own nigunim and melodies over hundreds of years in East Europe, and if you went to visit a family on Friday evening you could often tell where they originally came from according to the melodies they used for singing Sabbath or holiday songs.

Shortly before he died, my father had a surprise visit from a Hasid he didn’t know. The Hasid lived far away and came to him because he saw my father, one of the last survivors of his village in northern Rumania, Stefanest, as a repository for the nigunim sung by Jews who’d lived in Stefanest for generations before being exiled by the Nazis.

He recorded my father singing them and that’s what my brother sent me by WhatsApp. I could hear my father’s voice, weaker than it had been but still clear and mellifluous, the Hasid joining in every once in a while in joyful fervor.

I listened and listened. What was I listening for?

My sorrow isn’t connected to the loss of my father but rather to the lack of sorrow. I mourn the absence of strong feeling, the absence of strong connection. In a way, I’ve envied people who have deep emotional bonds with parents after their death, who often evoke them and what they meant in their lives even if it brings tears. That’s not been my case. We spoke such different languages, he and I.

But when I was young, there was one language we did share. My father loved to sit at the head of the table and lead our family in Sabbath songs at Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch, his left hand rising and falling like an orchestra conductor’s measuring out the beat, and we’d sing with him. I had an immature soprano voice at the time and could provide harmony.

Looking back now, I realize the connection we had over the dining room table in those early years was perhaps our strongest. I loved those songs till I turned rebel, and things went downhill from there.

“You’re a Sagittarian,” people have told me “Sagittarians tell things as they are.”

I don’t know what telling things as they are means. I liked to be in his and others’ faces, flaunting my difference from him and the rest of the family. He had little patience for that, and finally I felt alienated from the very songs I once loved. Our connection broke down for years.

Last night, as I listened to him singing, I bore witness to the big differences between us, to how hard it was for me to relate to a father who deeply loved me but spoke such a different language. Like so many men, he had a hard time with feelings, but towards the end of his life there was no mistaking how much he cared; you couldn’t miss his big heart.

In a few weeks I’ll start teaching a module on History and Lineage to a Zen Peacemaker Order cohort, and that includes my personal lineage. But I don’t feel connected to it. Interesting how much more I feel connected to the Buddhist masters than I do to my own father.

On the rare occasions when I talk about my family history, how my father was a rabbi and the scion of a line of rabbis, while my uncle, his brother, married into a Hasidic family and his son, my cousin, heads the Boyan Hasidic sect, people say: “Wow, and you’re one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and your husband was Bernie Glassman. What a rich family tapestry you have!”

And I think: That’s true, but what happens when you can’t connect the dots?

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HOW TO GET RICH

“Henry, get off her desk!”

“Why, Aussie? I love jumping on the chair and then onto her desk.”

“Because that’s where She works! I’ve told you over and over again not to—”

“What’s the big deal, Aussie? Look at what’s here: A glass of water, a computer, a screen, computer cleaner, phone, files, notebooks, covid masks, hundreds of paper clips—”

“Don’t you see, Henry? When She dies all those things will be worth a fortune!”

“Paper clips? A black three-hole punch? Bookmarks?”

“All of them, Henry. Some famous writer called Joan Deadion died a while ago. They auctioned off all the things in her office and made gobs of money.”

“What’s money, Aussie?”

“Just think of enough freeze-dried venison and turkey treats to last your lifetime, Henry.”

“They sold all her things for treats?”

“For instance, that big red rubber band—DON’T TOUCH IT, HENRY!”

“Is it good to eat?”

“It’s terrible, but that won’t stop certain humans for paying $50 for it.”

That thing? It smells funny.”

“And the yellow lipstick that makes her look like a mummy? Another mummy will pay about $100 for that, they see it as the height of fashion.”

“What’s fashion, Aussie?”

“Something to do with fish. And you see the turquoise mask in the corner, the one she puts on when she has to go anywhere indoors?”

“The one full of her germs?”

“It’ll get us a year’s worth of steak dinners, Henry. WATCH THAT GLASS, YOU ALMOST TIPPED IT!”

“I just wanted a sip of water, Aussie.”

“Drink from your water bowl. Her glass of water, with the lipstick mark on the edge that never goes away because She’s too lazy to wash the glass, that, Henry, is worth a small fortune. This is how She hydrated herself, they’ll say. It was an essential ingredient of her life!”

“Aussie, water’s essential in everybody’s life.”

“But don’t you see, Henry, it was as she lifted the glass to her lips that she suddenly would pause, struck by a new idea for a story, a bearing witness retreat, a blog post, remembering she has to pee. That glass was essential to her creative process! Like her glasses. DON’T LICK THEM!”

“I’m trying to clean them, Aussie.”

“The dustier they are, the more steak dinners they’ll sell for. Dust makes them look antique, like Gandhi’s glasses.”

“Who’s—”

“And don’t even think of chewing on her pens. In fact, get some more pens out of the drawer and toss them around her desk. Humans think it shows how productive you are.”

“Wouldn’t they think She was just messy?”

“And look! Some pages from Engaged Buddhism in the West with notes on them!”

“Good, I need to poop.”

“Are you crazy? With notes on them! Notes in her handwriting. Let’s just hope the Smithsonian doesn’t take them, but if they don’t, we’ll sell them for a fortune.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, here could be the star of the auction. A vibrator!”

“That’s a hand sanitizer, dummy. But look here, a purple desk lamp from Target!. I can hear the auctioneer now: What am I bid for this purple desk lamp to enlighten your soul and transform your spirit? Starting bid is $5,000. I tell you, Henry, we’ll be rich!”

“Humans really pay for this junk, Aussie?”

“They did for Joan Deadion. So be careful, Henry. If we sell everything—including the vase with flowers and the blue book called New England Birds on the windowsill—we’ll be as rich as Elon Musk.”

“Who’s Elon—”

“Never mind, Henry.”

“There’s only one problem, Aussie.”

“I know what you’re going to say, Henry. She’s not famous. But don’t worry about that, soon I’ll convince her to write only about me and nothing else. She’ll go viral!”

“There’s another problem, Aussie.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s not dead.”

“Hmmm. I’ll figure something out.”

To all Aussie and Henry fans, I’m raising $1,500 for rent for a family that was evicted just before Thanksgiving and holiday food cards for 10 families. I tried selling my three-hole punch but it didn’t bring much. Neither did 2 pencils, 1 scotch tape, 2 staple removers, and Walgreen’s Rewetting Drops for Soft Contact Lens. If you could contribute to the fund for Immigrant families, please do so. Thank you.

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

 

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

LONG DUSKS

A friend of mine commented yesterday on how long the dusk is getting now. Direct sunlight is getting shorter, but the dusks seem to stretch on and on.

“It’s a time of transition,” he said, “something I’m not crazy about.”

Who is crazy about transitions, with their accompanying sense of fuzziness and not knowing what’s going on? But perhaps the length of dusk at this time of year is an invitation to stay with it. A distant sun lingering at the horizon invites us to straddle the edge of light and darkness and accept how little we really understand, how little we know.

My Finnish friend, Mikko, who leads a Zen Peacemakers group in Finland, ordained to become a Zen priest last summer, and in the winter he asked me for a piece of fabric that he could include in his kesa. Kesas are robes sewn and worn by Zen priests or monks, based on the robes worn by Buddhist monks from time immemorial. In the Zen Peacemaker family, rather than making black kesas as is done in Japan, aspirants ask family, friends, teachers, and others with whom they have close relationships to give them a piece of fabric that they could sew as part of their kesa. It’s a way of honoring the big mandala of our practice, encompassing all relations.

The fabrics must be something we don’t use any longer, something we might throw away, much in the spirit of the old monks who, when they decided to follow the Buddha, went to the local dump in search of cloths that had been tossed away due to impurity.

People have asked me over the years for fabric belonging to Bernie as well as fabric belonging to me. I found a cotton duvet cover that didn’t fit any blanket here and that I had already cut up, so I cut a piece of that and sent it to Mikko.

He never got it. Months passed by, he emailed me, I emailed back and went to the post office with the tracking number, but the mail clerk couldn’t locate it. Mikko gave up and sewed his kesa without my fabric, telling me it’s probably on its way back to me.

He was right; I finally did get it back, but not till a few weeks ago. There was the familiar manila envelope in the mailbox, only completely taped across the surface, top to bottom, which certainly wasn’t how I sent it. It had all kinds of country stamps, too, including a Japanese customs stamp. It looked like it had gone everywhere in the world except Finland, and maybe off-planet as well. I didn’t open it—I usually don’t open mail till the weekend. After all, I recognized it, knew what it was, knew it was too late, there was no hurry.

In the weekend I finally opened the envelope. Out came the fabric I’d sent Mikko in its thin plastic bag, along with the card that accompanied it. But something else fell out, too, a small, light blue, velvet bag with drawstrings. I opened it up and out tumbled a gold wedding ring.

I stared at it, went upstairs. “Lori,” I said to my housemate, “Is this gold? It sure is heavy.”

Lori looked it over, weighed it in the palm of her hand. “Looks like gold to me,” she said.

But it wasn’t gold, the words tungsten carbide were scratched on the inside. Wiki immediately informed me that tungsten wedding rings, cheaper than gold, are very heavy.

I emailed Mikko. “Did we get married and I forgot?”

Mikko, who has a wife and son, emailed back: “Maybe the fabric you sent got married.”

Over the next few days, I stared at the wedding ring and the blue velvet bag. It certainly wasn’t my wedding ring, Bernie and I both wore double rings made of two linked stainless-steel circles that cost $25 per ring. What was this wedding ring doing in the manila envelope? Who put it there and then taped it all up?

I mused about the Japanese customs stamp affixed to the envelope. Bernie often told me that when he had trained in Zen in its early years in this country, his teacher had ambivalence towards marriage. His students wanted to ordain but they weren’t celibate, they weren’t monks. He wanted them to dedicate themselves to the dharma, but they were still getting married.

Here I’d sent fabric for someone’s ordination robe in Finland, which never arrived at its destination, seemed to go all over the world including Japan, and returned to my hands nine months later with a wedding ring inside a small velvet jewelry bag.

This happened close to Bernie’s 4th memorial, and I told his daughter what happened. “Maybe it’s from Dad,” she said on the phone. Then she added brightly: “Or maybe it means you’re going to get married again.”

So, what is it? Is it from the past? Is Bernie sending me jewelry, which he never did during his lifetime? But he might have changed, given that he’s currently in a different realm of existence.

Or is it from the future?

Slowly, slowly the sun sinks over the horizon. Long, long dusk connecting today with tomorrow.

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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.

KEEPING WINDOWS OPEN

I often think about this age of pandemic and what it has done to us, as individuals and as a society.

I talked to a friend today, who reminded me of our double wiring. On the one hand, we want to be in connection with another; on the other hand, we’re afraid of the other.

We’ve been afraid of others from the beginning; we see them as competitors for food, water, territory, and the opportunity to procreate. We’re most afraid of those who don’t look like us, who have different histories, come from different places, and don’t speak our language.

At the same time, we need to connect, to open the doors wide, let fresh air in, listen to people’s different takes on reality, new stories, new ideas. We need to be with other human beings; we are, more or less, social animals.

The pandemic brought on not just more isolation, but also more insulation. Zoom calls notwithstanding, if I am working at home rather than in the office or in the classroom with other people, it does different things to my brain. It may increase my sense of self-sufficiency: Wow, look at what I can do all by myself! Maybe I don’t need other people as much as I thought. I’m not disturbed as much, I don’t have to listen to stories about someone’s weekend, I’m much more productive.

But the pandemic has also increased that old fear of the other. At the height of covid, each encounter with another human being represented a serious health hazard. People looked at each other up and down: Is he wearing a mask? Does she look sick? Is he coughing? STAY SIX FEET APART! No, that’s not enough—TWELVE, EIGHTEEN!

I remember flying to South Dakota in February 2020 for our annual weekend with Lakota elders to prepare for the summer retreat at the Black Hills. News about the pandemic was filtering in slowly, but official government alarms were still low-key and even reassuring. On the small plane to Rapid City, a woman boarded and sat next to me. Immediately she took out a large package of wipes and wiped down the table, armrests, her seat, and even the window. She barely made eye contact with me, but when she did, she looked at me as if I was the enemy.

It reminds me a little of walking on the streets of Jerusalem when suicide bombings were a regular occurrence and staring at people’s torsos to see whether they might be wearing a suicide belt under their jackets. The fear was palpable, both in me and in others. Your entire system gets affected.

I feel the pandemic reinforced the old paranoia that is part of our evolution, the sense that others represented a threat to my wellbeing even as a deep yearning for connection remained unfulfilled. Our brains are malleable and change with our experience. I wonder whether the brain cells related to vigilance, danger, and threat have increased in number and strength, firing a lot quicker and stronger than the cells related to connection, trust, and empathy.

If that’s the case, how easily do we get afraid? How quickly do we feel victimized and threatened?

And if I work in the cracks of society, as Bernie wanted people to do, if my vow is to care for all beings and especially those who fall through the wide cracks of our social fabric, I am purposely placing myself in the realms of want, loss, and struggle. How do I prevent the brain cells related to fear and victimology from taking over my life? How do all of us, working under the strain of a pandemic and inflammatory media, stop blaming and labeling, stop seeing hate and enmity wherever we turn, and take care of our minds and heart?

The autumn leaves framing the blue arched trestle in front of the house are still gorgeous, but snow arrives tonight. A freezing winter has finally begun here in New England, but I must keep some windows open, if only a crack.

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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.

HOW TO TRAIN HUMANS

 

“Pssst, Henry, don’t look now, but guess what?”

“What?”

“She’s got freeze-dried beef liver treats in her bag today. That means pure liver, nothing else.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, what a walk this is going to be!”

“So, this is what we’re going to do, Henry. We take turns, see? Every three minutes one of us hangs back and gives her the I’m-starving pleading look.”

“I know how to do that, Aussie, chihuahuas have the biggest eyes. I’ll get those liver treats, I promise.”

“No, no, Henry, this is not about liver. It’s about training. We have to train our human.”

“It’s not about liver?”

“Liver is just a pretext, Henry, it’s not that important.”

“What’s more important than liver, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than liver, Henry, and humans must be trained. So, we take turns walking back and giving her the look. At first, she’ll say, ‘No, no, we’re walking now.’ So you take a few steps forward, then I go back. And she’ll say ‘No, no, let’s walk,’ and I move forward while you go back, see?”

“Not really. When do I walk, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than walking.”

“When do I start racing after chipmunks? When do I smell Priscilla’s Poodle pee under the forsythia?”

“Henry, training is way more important than those things. If we don’t train Eve, she’ll get herself into trouble. So you come back with The Look, move forward, then I come back with The Look, and finally she’ll give us liver treats. And we keep on coming back, see?”

“But I want to walk, Aussie.”

“These things take patience and practice, Henry, so you have to sacrifice. We have way more patience than humans. Pretty soon she’ll get disgusted and find it’s much easier to constantly give us the liver treats.”

“We win!”

“It’s not about winning, Henry, it’s always, always about training. It doesn’t matter who gets the liver, what matters is that the human gets trained. Same thing with the sofa.”

“What sofa, Aussie?”

“When I first arrived at the house, I right away jumped on the living room sofa. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again-“

“How long did it take till she stopped telling you to get off?”

“About two weeks. Did I like to go up and down and up and down day after day? Of course not, but now the sofa’s mine. You see, Henry, she thinks she has power, but inside she knows she’s a wimp. Whereas each time we win, we develop our power and our confidence. In the end, we control the day, Henry.”

“We do?”

“Just look at our day, Henry, it’s one big treat. We have breakfast, then our morning walk with lots of treats, come back to the car safely, treats, go to the bank, bank treats—”

“Those aren’t so good, Aussie.”

“We got to train her to change banks, Henry. Come back, more treats, take a little nap, walk, more treats, then dinner. Isn’t that the best? But it takes training. After all, Henry, humans live in our world and we can’t expect them to figure things out. For one thing, they can’t communicate.”

“Because they don’t have a tail, Aussie?”

“Precisely. They don’t understand each other, never mind us. This could result in danger, Henry. Humans could get hurt.”

“Don’t they know about porcupines?”

“It’s up to us to watch out for their safety and security. It’s up to us to take care of them. And how do we do that, Henry?”

“Training!”

“Pssst, Henry, don’t look now, but guess what?”

“What?”

“She’s got freeze-dried beef liver treats in her bag today. That means pure liver.”

“Oh boy, Aussie, what a walk this is going to be!”

“So this is what we’re going to do, Henry. We take turns, see? Every three minutes one of us hangs back and gives her the I’m-starving pleading look.”

“I know how to do that, Aussie, chihuahuas have the biggest eyes. I’ll get those liver treats, I promise.”

“No, no, Henry, this is not about liver. It’s about training. We have to train our human.”

“It’s not about liver?”

“Liver is just a pretext, Henry, it’s not that important.”

“What’s more important than liver, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than liver, Henry, and humans must be trained. So we take turns walking back and giving her The Look. At first, she’ll say, ‘No, no, we’re walking now.’ So you take a few steps forward, then I go back. And she’ll say ‘No, no, let’s walk,’ and I move forward while you go back, and we do that over and over again, see?”

“When do I walk, Aussie?”

“Training is more important than walking.”

“When do I start racing after chipmunks? When do I smell Priscilla’s Poodle pee under the forsythia?”

“Henry, training is way more important than those things. If we don’t train Eve, she’ll get herself into trouble. So you come back with The Look, move forward, then I come back with The Look, and finally she’ll give us liver treats. And we keep on coming back, see?”

“But I want to walk, Aussie.”

“These things take patience and practice, Henry. We have way more patience than humans. Pretty soon she’ll get disgusted and find it’s much easier to constantly give us the liver treats.”

“And we win!”

“It’s not about winning, Henry, it’s always, always about training. It doesn’t matter who gets the liver, what matters is that the human gets trained. Same thing with the sofa.”

“The sofa?”

“When I first arrived at the house, I right away jumped on the living room sofa. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again. Eve said to get off and I got off. Next day I jumped on the sofa again–“

“How long did it take till she stopped telling you to get off?”

“About two weeks. Did I like to go up and down and up and down day after day? Of course not, but now the sofa’s mine. You see, Henry, she thinks she has power, but inside she knows she’s a wimp. Whereas each time we win, we develop our power and our confidence. In the end, we control the day, Henry.”

“We do?”

“Just look at our day, Henry, it’s one big treat. We have breakfast, then our morning walk with lots of treats, come back to the car safely, treats, go to the bank, bank treats—”

“Those aren’t so good, Aussie.”

“We got to train her to change banks, Henry. Come back, more treats, take a little nap, walk, more treats, then dinner. Isn’t that the best? But it takes training. After all, Henry, humans live in our world and we can’t expect them to figure things out. For one thing, they can’t communicate.”

“Because they don’t have a tail, Aussie?”

“Precisely. They don’t understand each other, never mind us. This could result in danger, Henry. Humans could get hurt.”

“Don’t they know about porcupines?”

“It’s up to us to watch out for their safety and security. It’s up to us to take care of them. And how do we do that, Henry?”

“Training!”

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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.

BEARING WITNESS

 

Photo by Suzanne Webber

I my last post I wrote about last Saturday, which I spent bearing witness to the repatriation of artifacts belonging to those who were massacred at Wounded Knee, housed for so many years in a small private museum in Barre, MA, to their Lakota descendants. I also wanted to support Violet Catches, a Cheyenne River elder who has been an important part of the Zen Peacemakers’ retreats at the Black Hills and is also a descendant of survivors of Wounded Knee.

The day’s event in the local school was beautiful, but what happened that evening was unforgettable. A few of us returned to the museum after dinner to bear witness to the taking out of the artifacts and packing up the first van, driven from South Dakota by Cedric, a descendant of Chief Big Foot, who was starting home that very night.

We stood by the door and waited, speaking in low tones or staying quiet. Someone burned sage and smudged the van inside and out, and we were asked not to take photos. The first long, white, rectangular box was carefully brought out by two people. Violet alternated between weeping and singing; another Oglala elder prayed aloud. Tenderly, they pushed the box in as deep as it would go.

I knew as clear as daylight that the boxes did not contain things. They were not just articles of clothing or footwear or ceremony. We weren’t bearing witness to ancient artifacts but to presence, one big presence, deeply alive.

I think of the many times I’ve visited and revisited areas or situations of catastrophe. People back home don’t get it. Why go back there again and again? What is there for you? Those events happened long ago, people were murdered, they’re dead, it’s over.

It’s not over. If we’re all interdependent, then somewhere we carry the hurt that others feel whether we know it or not, regardless of whether that hurt happened to Lakota Indians or Jews or Gypsies or Tutsis. They are more directly hurt, but the pain is in all of us.

Only we have to be there in person. When they were taking the white boxes out that Saturday evening, I felt the same quandary I’ve felt after being in our retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau, in Rwanda, the Black Hills, on the streets. How do I explain to people back home about what I experienced there? How do I explain that there’s something vital and alive even in the middle of tragedy that you can’t locate in history books or newspaper articles? You lock eyes with those who hurt, listen to prayers and songs in a language you don’t understand, and share people’s deep sadness with respect—and also with humility, because you’re not them, it wasn’t your family, it wasn’t your nation, you’re just bearing witness, nothing more. And I don’t think you can do that reading something about it or watching a screen.

Some call this healing, but as I wrote earlier, one of my reservations about healing is that it sounds like some final, permanent state: I was broken, now I’m healed: I once was lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see. It’s a great song but I don’t believe it. My experience is that we break apart and come together, break again and come together again, opening ourselves to more and more of life. In the process we’re challenged to change and grow and let life use us at will.

Earlier today I was in Hadley, some 25 minutes away, and as I turned right to go east on Route 9, I saw an elderly woman carrying bags right at the corner. She had paused to put them down and I had but half a second to see her before I turned. Instantly I regretted not stopping, asking her if she needed a lift somewhere. I know, it was too fast and there was nowhere to stop, and this is not about being right or wrong, compassionate or not. This is about an opportunity that I missed to be face-to-face. She may have needed help or a lift or not, it doesn’t matter. In evading the encounter, I missed a piece of my life.

On Saturday people came together, Native Indians and non, elders and young, and acknowledged publicly that a great wrong had been committed many years ago. We can’t right that wrong, but the energy of public acknowledgment and confession, accompanied by grace and love, started changing things.

I drove home and thought of my 2 aunts, 1 uncle and a cousin—a baby—who died at Auschwitz-Birkenau so many years ago. They were more alive to me during that night drive home than they’d been in a very long time. Their bodies, too, were looted, their possessions put in warehouses the inmates called Canada because Canada represented ease and wealth. The Canada warehouses were bombed by the Nazis before the camps’ liberation to hide the evidence of their crimes, so those possessions won’t be coming home in any white, rectangular boxes.

Where are you now, I asked them while driving down the dark country roads. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about things I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

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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.

TRUE REPARATIONS

“Being humble, sinking my feet into the ground.” Violet Catches, an elder from Cheyenne River Reservation, wrote me these words this weekend.

Oh Violet, my heart goes out to you!

This past Saturday I went to the pretty New England town of Barre, MA, to witness and support the return of personal artifacts looted from the bodies of those killed at Wounded Knee over 130 years ago to their Lakota descendants. I specifically wanted to be there for Violet Catches, a woman I love and admire, whom we first met at the Zen Peacemakers’ bearing witness retreat in the Back Hills more than 7 years ago. She, too, is a descendant.

I thought I would be there for her; I didn’t have a clue.

How did a little private museum, small enough to fit into the town library, get a hold of moccasins, clothing, beads, and many other things that were taken off the bodies of so many men, women, and children murdered at Wounded Knee? The articles were looted and sold off to a trader, who in turn brought them for sale to New England, a Barre man bought them and, before he died, gave to this local museum. The Lakota have been trying to get them back and bring them home for the past 30 years. Thirty years of distrust, stubbornness, arrogance, miscommunication, anger, and frustration.

It ended this past Saturday.

At least 120 people crowded into the local elementary school. On one side sat the trustees of the library; on the other sat elders from Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations. Young people from Pine Ridge also arrived, accompanying their elders in song and prayer. There were also political and local leaders who welcomed the Native Americans from South Dakota.

Aware of the acrimony that had been there, I wondered if everyone would simply be on their best behavior, smile for the cameras, and wait for it all to be over.

That was not what happened. The Lakota elders were warmly welcomed in brief, to-the-point speeches. When prayers began, we all rose to our feet. Locals had brought their children to witness this.

“I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal,” Violet had said on the phone before flying here. “It’s a memorial; it’s sad.”

And yes, it was sad; everyone said that. They also said that what had happened, these artifacts looted from murdered bodies and sold off to someone in Massachusetts, was wrong, a stain on everyone. This repatriation didn’t right the wrong, but it was a step in the long process of atonement.

You might think that atonement is accompanied by misery and depression. Perhaps in certain cases; at the same time, we’re at-one with the harm we committed. We don’t fight it, we don’t explain it away or minimize it, we acknowledge it fully. And when we do that, magic can happen.

I felt that magic happened Saturday. I looked at the faces of the museum trustees and they were not just relieved, they looked joyous. The Native elders’ faces were serious, weighed by what they were here to do. They bent their heads in prayer, they told us of their family relationship to Chief Big Foot and others, at how the spirits of those killed could not be at peace till their possessions were restored to them.

But they also asked the trustees to line up in front of the hall, draped gifts of blankets around their shoulders, and then asked us all to line up at the very end and shake the hand of each and every trustee standing.

Many had tears in their eyes.

They hosted us for a generous and gracious dinner, and after everybody left some of us returned to the library to witness the loading of the first van with the long, white, rectangular boxes of 130-year-old personal artifacts that were finally going home, a list of items taped on top of each box. We were a small group by then, it was dark, and very quiet. The loading of the van took some 45 minutes, done slowly and ceremonially, accompanied by sage smudging, prayer, and song. More vans were going to be packed up the next morning.

There’s more for me to say about that evening, but I will leave that for my next post.

I never cared much for the word healing; it seemed to denote some final, permanent stage, as if life is messy till we become healed, and then we’re healed forever. So far, I have not been healed forever, nor do I expect to be. At the same time, I felt a mysterious energy inside the school and then outside the library when the first boxes came out, something that did not just arise from the actions of the people there but from a space and time beyond that, beyond us. It broke our hearts and also lifted us up. Those boxes did not contain things, they contained something very different. They were going home, and were taking us home, too, wherever our home is.

The Barre Museum did the right thing. As a private museum, they weren’t subject to federal regulations for relinquishing native artifacts, and this actually enabled them to do the repatriation relatively quicky (if you can call 30 years quickly). But as I was driving home that night, I thought of our big public museums and fancy university museums, all of whom have enormous resources to quickly repatriate the artifacts they have plundered from native peoples, and who instead use those resources to hire lawyers to explain why they can’t do this quickly, how challenging it is, the bureaucracy they face, etc.

I spoke with the curator who oversaw the identifying and cataloguing of the artifacts and talked about other institutions that only do minimal or no repatriation, hiding behind the notion of private donations made by individuals who claimed they bought the artifacts. He said that in his experience, even those institutions that show a bill of sale, the bill of sale means nothing. Most Native Americans had no sense of private ownership, so to transact a sale meant nothing to them. Bills of sale are meaningless in this context and the museums know it.

“So why do they do this?” I asked him.

“They just want to hold on to what they have,” he replied.

A culture with little understanding of private ownership came in contact with a transactional culture that knows only that, only me-mine-ours, and the second won out. Till now. Till now.

Imagine what would happen if these places returned everything to the descendants or tribes of those they stole from. Imagine the energy released by such an act, the apology, the acknowledgment, the breath of relief, and the giving back. Imagine what it would do for our nation.

Jimena Pareja, whom I work with on behalf of immigrant families, came for coffee yesterday and I told her about this. She said: “Eve, those are the true reparations.”

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FOUR YEARS

Just sit down and write, the voice has been repeating for a few hours. I delay and delay. Why? Because today marks 4 years since Bernie, my husband, died. Sitting to write a post demands that I look deeply into my heart, and I’m not sure I want to.

An online memorial for him is taking place as I write this, the last of four beautiful programs Zen Peacemakers organized this year, this last one connected to the retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau that ends tonight. I am grateful to friends like Ken Byalin, Chris Panos, and many others who organized this, but I’m not there. I find it hard to participate in public events commemorating Bernie, be they memorials or birthdays. Instead, I cling to a personal mourning space, something that belongs to us alone.

I shared him so much with others and I don’t feel like sharing him now. Many people continue to love and admire him, enjoy telling their stories about him. Today, here, I want him to stay mine.

A lot has come up for me in the last 4 years, things I understand deeper and better than before. Ahh, I see now, I think to myself, and look around for him to share it with. You know how you used to say so and so? or Remember when we had that situation and didn’t know what to do? I think I see now, and—only he’s not there.

He always quoted his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, saying that the most important teachings happen after someone dies, and I have experienced that for myself practically every day since November 4, 2018. Things that bit and stung and hurt, things that left me puzzled or else that I enjoyed only superficially, things I didn’t understand about life, love, friendship, and practice—they still have their place, but now in a far, far bigger context. The context of the hanging chimes outside whose music contains everything. If he’s anywhere, he’s in the chime of life they’re ringing day in, day out.

I wish he was around so that I could talk to him about loss, the sense of doing many things and at the same time not-doing, that it’s not really you who’s doing anything at all. I think of the many times we’d have these talks, he puffing on his cigar, nodding in the end. Is that all he did, I ask myself, nudging my memory. Didn’t he also say something? Certainly not That’s right, he never spoke in terms of right and wrong. I agree with that. A smile, a cigar puff, and maybe a Yup. Or maybe Bidiuk, one of the few Hebrew words he knew, meaning exactly. I worry now about how much I forget.

I saw the picture above at the gathering of Stone Soup Café last Sunday in Greenfield, the visioning process I described in a different post. Someone—I don’t know who—drew that picture of Bernie and added his Three Tenets: Not-knowing, Bearing Witness, Taking Loving Action. Few things thrilled Bernie ao much as when folks who were not Buddhist, the bakers in Greyston, the head of its Day Care, or the folks who eat and volunteer at the Café show they’ve absorbed certain of his teachings and made them their own, in their language. He spent years teaching Zen to Zen practitioners, but his big strength lay in spelling out his understanding of the dharma, of life, in simple language that anyone understands. I don’t know anyone who did that better.

People got the gist of it. The folks in the Greyston AIDS Center understood that “Not knowing” wasn’t anti-knowledge, but rather the act of letting go a little of all the knowing and the thinking that make up our sense of a self that’s separate from others, separate from life. The Greyston bakers substituted “Being open” to “bearing witness,” but they understood that you can only be open to the extent that you let go of that self-centered knowing, otherwise, as he’d say in Yiddish, gurnish helfen—nothing will help. No truly loving action will arise that addresses the situation itself; it may just make you feel good.

I walked around the Stone Soup space that Sunday, looking at various posters and numbers of people served, meals served, how many volunteers, etc., saw this picture, and thought to myself how thrilled he would have been to see that a Café run by non-Buddhists, no connection to Zen or any sangha, have absorbed this into their work. Greyston’s values, which included his Tenets, also came about as a result of a visioning process that included its employees, and he was ecstatic. No number of successors and Zen centers in his lineage made him as happy as that.

What do I do this weekend, other than walk the dogs? Drive to Barre tomorrow to witness the handing over of articles that belonged to the murdered men, women and children at Wounded Knee to their Lakota descendants, and greet the elder I admire and love so much, Violet Catches. That this is taking place on the weekend of Bernie’s memorial and the end of the annual retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau is not lost to me; I’ll probably write about that early next week.

After Bernie died—I don’t remember how many months– I went through his things. At some point I looked up his status as a Million Miler with United Airlines and tried to log in, and immediately was asked to supply answers to identifying questions. Luckily, he’d written down this information:

Favorite type movie. Huh? I looked down at the list: science fiction. Fool me, I thought.

Occupation: Scientist.

Favorite sport: Boxing. Again, I did a double take. Not Tom Brady’s football? Not the New York Giants?

Favorite pizza topping: That I knew. Pepperoni, of course.

Finally: Best Friend’s Birthday Month: I looked down and read: December. Best friend’s birthday occurs in December.

“You sure he didn’t write September?” said Aussie.

“No, Auss,” I said, tears in my eyes, “he wrote December.”

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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.