WRITING FROM FAR AWAY

I read a report by The New York Times on its investigation of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known, respected Palestinian-American TV journalist who covered the Middle East for Al-Jazeera. She was shot in the middle of a battle in the West Bank city of Jenin between the Israeli army and Palestinian fighters; she was clearly wearing PRESS identification, not to mention body armor.

At first the Israeli army said it was a Palestinian gunman who killed her, then amended to say that if its soldiers fired at her, it was because she was near Palestinian gunmen. But lots of videos were taken that don’t show any Palestinian gunmen nearby. The Palestinian Authority immediately accused the Israeli army of killing her on purpose, but The New York Times said there’s no proof of any such intention.

The Times used forensic analysis by American gun specialists: “Measuring the microseconds between the sound of each bullet leaving the gun barrel and the time it passed the cameras’ microphones, they were able to calculate the distance between the gun and the microphones. They also considered the air temperature that morning and the type of the bullet most commonly used by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The range of distance between the journalist and the soldiers were anywhere from 170 to 211 yards away.

The Times also showed a few of the videos taken, preambled by the message: This video includes scenes of graphic violence. Just in case, sitting outside in my yard, looking at hummingbirds circling the red feeder, I’ll feel disturbed.

I have a hard time with these articles. They give great information, but little sense of what things are like. I feel that especially in connection with the Middle East because I was born there, because the karma of the region is my karma, because it’s closer to me than blood.

Many Israelis think the world media discriminates against them; I disagree. If anything, Israel has very skillfully managed to conceal the effects of its occupation of the West Bank. There’s a very small group of peace activists who continue to fight against the occupation, and of course a large contingent that feels the West Bank belongs to them. And those in the middle?

“When Donald Trump was elected President, a large and vocal opposition came together to make sure he wouldn’t turn back the clock on too many areas: women’s rights, antiracism work, climate change, anti-poverty programs, etc.,” I often said to Israeli friends. “When it comes to the West Bank, where’s the opposition?”

There’s very little, and one can sit back and say, “Peace is dead, it will never come.” But those, too, are just words.

How do words convey the closeness of things? A city’s narrow alleys, the many children on its streets, potholes left by previous convoys of military vehicles? I write in the green back yard behind my house, sun pouring over the picnic table holding the computer, a dog waiting for me to throw a stick. Even as my heart aches, I can’t bear witness to what happened in Jenin.

The closest I came to the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh was leaving my mother’s shiva in May on Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath, and having lunch with friends of mine, peace activists both, in East Jerusalem.

“You won’t find parking,” the restaurant warned them, “the police have closed up the streets because of the funeral.” They were referring to Shireen Abu Akleh’s funeral.

We drove there anyway, seeing groups of young people walking down to join the funeral procession. He was right, there was no parking, so two of us stopped at the restaurant while a third went to park. We waited for him at least a half hour till he returned, pale and shaken. He had had to make his way through the crowd holding up the casket with pictures of the journalist while Israeli soldiers fired at them, ordering them to disperse. He said nothing.

Something else happened that same day. Later that afternoon I went with my brother into a Jerusalem supermarket. There were long lines at the cashiers, common on the eve of the Sabbath, and soon I heard a commotion on the line next to ours.

“Why aren’t you taking her ahead of everybody else? That’s what you’re supposed to do.”

I looked up and saw a long line of Israelis waiting, including a woman wearing hijab pushing another in a wheelchair. In front of them stood an African man. The cashier, a young girl, barely looked up.

“What’s it your business?” someone else yelled.

“It is my business,” the Israeli woman shot back. “She’s disabled,” and she pointed at the Arab woman in the wheelchair, “and the law says she should go first. She’s not sticking up for herself, that’s the problem, so I’m doing it.”

The African man was not sure what to do, people were impatient and angry, and muttered at the Israeli woman: “Why are you yelling?”

“I’m yelling because when people don’t get their rights somebody has to speak up, that’s all!”

The African man lets the two Arab women go in front of him to the cashier, who looked bored out of her mind.

I felt hope.

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NO MORE POTENTIAL

A friend of mine went to Harvard as an undergraduate. Actually, she went to Radcliffe College because at that time Harvard only accepted men, but that was an achievement because Radcliffe didn’t take too many Jewish students. She finished and went on with her life, and about ten years later applied for a job through a headhunting firm. They looked over her resume, unimpressed by her early years.

“But I went to Harvard,” she pointed out.

“Yes,” said the interviewer, “but then you had potential.”

Now, 10 years later, there was no more potential.

She and I met last night for dinner, years after she told me this story, many years after the job interview. Were there changes? Of course. Physical and mental constraints, the food so-so. But sparkle in the eyes and sparks of conversation leading nowhere and everywhere. No automatic moaning and groaning over January 6 hearings, no headshaking about what will happen in the midterms, what will happen in the elections. Instead, an exchange of looks that pose the same excited question: So what now?

Sometimes, in these gorgeous June days in New England, I feel that question all by my lonesome. Headlines blare that all Lower 48 states (what a funny phrase!) are baking, but that’s not true. Here it’s warm and breezy, hemlock and spruce leaves loving the sun, dancing with the breeze.

Do I feel at peace? Yeah, but not as some nice, superficial layer. The stirrings of the leaves invigorate the stirrings in the heart. It’s a subtle process, you don’t know what, if anything, comes out of this, maybe nothing at all, and you can’t be too ambitious. You have to just sit with it and harbor those stirrings much like the phoebe sits on the eggs in the mailbox. Does it know for certain that they’ll hatch? Does it have hopes or expectations? Maybe neither; all it really needs is patience.

Slowly I go through Bernie’s notes of his early koan study with his teacher, Maezumi Roshi. He wrote them out in handwritten notes in soft pencil (somewhat faded now) on lined paper:

“December 26 1970 5:30 am.

The koan: At the bottom of the deep ocean there is a stone. Bring it up without wetting your sleeve.

BAG [Bernard Alan Glassman]: I became a stone.

Roshi: Yasutani Roshi used to explain this koan by diving down quickly into the ocean, swimming fast to the bottom, bringing up the stone and presenting it to the student. The important thing is in the stone. Everything is one.

12/28/70 5:30 am.

Koan: The name of the maker of the stone is hidden in the stone. What is the name?

BAG: Examining the stone, I found the name: Tetsugen [Bernie’s dharma name.]

Roshi: That’s right.

12/30/70 5:30 am

On the stone is written the phrase, Not wet. What does this mean?

BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore it is not wet.

Roshi: That’s right. This is called the wisdom of equality. Everything is Dharmakaya and yet everything is different. To see this clearly is the goal of our training.

12/30 8:30 am

On the stone is written the phrase, Not dry. What does this mean?

BAG: Although the stone and water are one, there is stone and there is water. Therefore, the stone is not dry.

Roshi: You have the point, but you do not see it clearly. Look again, considering the wisdom.

1/4/71 5:30 am

BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore not wet and also not dry.

Roshi: Look at it from the standpoint of the functioning of wisdom.

1/6/71 5:30 am

BAG: The stone and water are one, therefore there is no wet or dry. Seeing the functioning of wisdom, there is a difference between stone and water. Therefore, not dry.

Roshi: What is the water? What makes the stone wet?

1/8/71 5:30 am

BAG: I am the water. I make the stone wet. Basically, the stone and water are me.

Roshi: This should be considered from the standing of compassion. The functioning of wisdom is compassion. The enlightened one feels the world’s pain as his child’s pain, as his own pain.”

I sit with this exchange for a long time.

What reverberates in my mind? You have the point, but you do not see it clearly. Also, I am the water, I make the stone wet.

Also, the hour of the day when so many of these exchanges took place. At that time Bernie lived an hour away from the Center. I imagine that meditation began at 5 am, interview with Maezumi Roshi at 5:30. He left his home every day at 4 not to miss one opportunity.

Also, the interplay of wisdom and compassion. Even as in later years,Bernie worked his head off (and worked our heads off) in works and projects benefiting homeless families and people with HIV, for him compassion was as basic as sweating when you’re hot, shivering when you’re cold.

I see the leaves outside waving in the wind, compassion at work, and think of him.

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EVE UP FOR ADOPTION

Photo by Jon Katz

“Henry, I’m putting Eve up for adoption.”

“What does that mean, Aussie?”

”I’m going to re-home her, as they say in local parlance.”

“Why, Aussie? Don’t you think she’s nice to have around?”

“She was once, Henry, but now she’s getting old. Can’t walk like she used to and costs too much.”

“She walks us a lot, Auss.”

“Slowly, Henry. And we can’t go far on the Robert Frost Trail anymore. I mean, what if she falls?”

“She gets up right away, Aussie.”

“Voice of Doom, Henry: One day she won’t.”

“What’ll you do if that happens, leave her in the woods?”

“Not a bad idea, Henry. Saves on re-homing her. She’s gaining weight, too. I need to cut down her food, put her on a Senior diet.”

“Is there such a thing for humans?”

“Yes, it’s called vegetables. And there are her medical costs. You and I could both go to the moon on what she spends on medical insurance.”

“But she looks so healthy!”

“She is healthy, Henry, but humans are funny that way. They spend a lot of money on what if I get sick? Instead of that, she could be spending money on premium food for us, like Ollie’s Raw Venison with Quail Patties or Hugo’s Fleeceless Sheep No Coloring or Preservatives. She’s also getting senile.”

“You mean she pees on the bathroom rug, Aussie?”

“Not yet, just a matter of time.”

“You mean, the way she sits outside and stares at nothing?”

“A lifelong illness, Henry. They used to put people away for doing that; now they call it religion. No, I mean how she yells at me for no good reason.”

“Like when you’re killing young chipmunks, Aussie?”

“It’s not my fault that they haven’t yet learned about fear, Henry. A faulty upbringing, is what it is. She’s also getting too cuddly for my taste.”

“That’s bad?”

“You betcha. I’m 26% Chow-Chow and Shar-pei. You know what that means?”

“You’re mixed up?”

“No, Henry, I’m Asian. Detached, self-contained, no attachments. If you’re the lovey-dovey type human, keep away. Henry, she invites me into bed with her! How sick is that?”

“I’d jump in a minute, Aussie.”

“There are laws against interspecies cohabitation, Henry. At least, there should be. I’m sick of being abused in this way. Tried to report her to MoiToo, but does anyone listen? Of course, if I want other dogs to adopt her, I can’t tell them about this. As it is, I don’t know who’d take her; she’s no deal.”

“Do you think Percy the Golden might? He’s kind of old, maybe they’ll be a good match.?

“Percy’s got it made. He’s adopted 2 restauranteurs. When I think of what he eats every night I start crying.”

“What about Bruno the whatever? He’s only got one human, maybe he wants two for more company.”

“Why would any normal dog want two humans? One’s enough trouble. I’ve been thinking about it, Henry, and I think I’ll post this on that pine tree over by the railroad tracks, where everybody pees:

Need new home for my long-haired human.

Age: Old. Weight: Excessive. Colors: Sick pink, no spots. Needs lots of grooming.

Answers to Eve but getting deaf. Recently vaccinated. OK with small children but no cats. Housetraining: So far, so good. Not fixed but don’t worry about it.

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2 DAYS IN NEW YORK

I went to New York for two days. Spent one day and night with an old friend, friendship close to 40 years old. We did what we always do—ate well, compared notes about our lives, spoiled dogs, went out for a reflexology session, ate well again, rested.

The next morning, after picking up Roshi Genro Gauntt, we proceeded to Morning Star Zendo in Jersey City where Roshi Fr. Robert Kennedy gave dharma transmission to John Kealy, a man who has practiced Zen meditation for almost 50 years and embodies dharma practice in his regular work life as a doctor. I know both Bob and John, as well as John’s wife, Sensei Sally Kealy, since 1985, old dharma mates.

It’s hard for younger people, who now see Buddhist centers all around them, to comprehend how new the dharma felt even back in 1985 (when it was already 20 years old in the US), how fresh and rare it seemed, with the sense that if we didn’t give it our all it might disappear, or not take root.

We needn’t have worried, but we all shared a passion and love for it from the get-go. We met Bernie in that love, we met each other, and almost 40 years later, at the sight of each other’s grayer hair or more wrinkled cheeks and brow, we connect with that love all over again. For the dharma, and for each other.

Last night I had dinner with Jeff Bridges. I met him over 20 years ago but really connected when we worked together on his book with Bernie, The Dude and the Zen Master. After Bernie’s death we continue to hang out by Facetime, only this time he was in New York promoting his new Hulu series, The Old Man, and we could meet face-to-face.

We met at the lobby of the Mandarin Hotel in the city. The lobby is on the 35th floor (only in NY) and looks down over Central Park and the tall buildings surrounding it. I wish I’d remembered to take a photo, but frankly, we were having such a good time that I forgot. Jeff had gone through cancer and a bad bout with coronavirus since we last met, and I was very happy to see him look so well.

Monday morning, I’m out the door by 6:30 to drive home, feeling warm all over. It’s important to me to see old friends. Once we lived and worked together; now, as everyone’s life proceeds in its own direction, we’re far and it takes special effort to travel and come together. I want to make that effort more often, I promise myself as I drive north to Massachusetts.

As I reach our driveway I pause carefully by the mailbox. Not to check the mail, Lori would have done that, but the bird nest in the newspaper mailbox. In the previous week I hadn’t caught either of the parents brooding on the 4 eggs and I was worried, but as I looked out the window there the bird was, sitting very still, not showing much alarm at the car that stopped alongside. I imagine a number of cars have stopped to check out the mailbox, alerted by the sign I posted.

I watch the phoebe deep inside the white mailbox, sitting so still on the eggs (both parents take turns doing this, it’s not like the male goes out hunting and the female stays home). Here it is, able to fly in blue, sun-dappled skies, hunt for worms, go out on dates with the boy/girlfriend buddy, and now, for several weeks, it just sits there incubating eggs. It does this knowing the entire enterprise is at risk, that one of these thoughtless humans could throw something inside or stretch an arm in to grab something. And still it sits there, quiet, still.

I do that, too, each morning (this morning with Henry on my lap, a rarity; we both didn’t move). You can say that I don’t produce new life, not busy incubating eggs so that life could eventually hatch and take off. (On the other hand, my sitting doesn’t require giving up the newspaper mailbox.)

But when I get up at the end, while there’s no new life, there may be a transmuted life, a new day that no longer arouses dread or anxiety, that doesn’t seem full of “homework” or an exhausting to-do list. A day that folds me gently into itself and reminds me: Yes, there are the routines. Light incense, feed the dog, make coffee, check emails, get ready for the 8 am meeting. But today someone will say something you hadn’t heard or thought of before. Today you may sink into a story you’ve wanted to tell and haven’t found your way to do yet. Today you’ll laugh out loud while on the phone. Today you’ll also cry, or save a chipmunk from Aussie’s jaws, or not.

Jeff reminded me that Einstein said that the most important question we could ask of ourselves is: Is the universe a friendly place? At the end of each sitting, I find myself breathing gratefully yes.

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GOD SNOOZES

WE’RE DOING OUR SHARE! YOU?

“Leave me alone, Aussie, I have work to do. And stop putting that dirty monkey on my lap, Henry, I don’t have time to throw it.”

“No time to throw a monkey? It’s not Pinky the Elephant, it’s not the green alligator, it’s my favorite monkey.”

“You have a dozen favorite monkeys, Henry.”

“Why are you stressed?”

“I’M NOT STRESSED! I have to attend this meeting, I have to post a blog, I have to make a bunch of phone calls and answer 100 emails. BUT I’M NOT STRESSED!”

“Aussie, what does she mean, she has to do all these things?”

“Oh Henry, these humans are crazy. They’re convinced that if they do enough, everything will go their way.”

Everything, Aussie? Is there such a thing?”

“Of course not, Henry, nobody gets everything they want. I love Big Macs keep the bun, so what do I get? Dogfood. But humans are idiots! They’ve talked themselves into believing they’re God.”

“What’s God, Aussie?”

“God is a dog, Henry.”

“You mean, like me?”

“Certainly not. God is everything but you, Henry.”

“Do you think Bailey the Bullmastiff, who was here a few days ago, is God? She’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, she must be God.”

“Here you go, Henry, sounding like a dumb human. Humans assume that God has to be big. That’s not just silly, it’s macho. God is like most of us, an average pooch. This average pooch is everywhere, but we don’t recognize Her because She looks average. Humans think that God looks like them.”

“How can God look like a human, Aussie?”

“More important, Henry, who’d want to? Just look at those ugly squiggly fingers and toes. Can they run?”

“No.”

“Smell? Hear? Kill chipmunks?”

“No.”

“They can’t do anything except get anxious that they can’t do anything, and still, they think they’re God. Or at least that they look like Her. Here’s a lesson for you, Henry. Anytime someone says that they look like God, you can bet they don’t.”

“But you just said that God is everywhere, so why can’t She be a Chihuahua?”

“Because God would look stupid if She was a Chihuahua. Besides, everyone knows that God is all American, like baseball, jazz, and the Man.”

“Bernie Glassman?”

“No, Donald. If God was a Chihuahua we might have to deport Her, and we can’t deport God.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“It’s not the American way.”

“So, you’re saying that God is just an average pooch?”

“Medium-size, I’d say. Multi-racial, you know, a little black, a little brown, a little white. Ears could be floppy or straight, but She prefers straight.”

“I think I know someone like that.”

“Likes a little curve in her tail, friendly-like. Unobtrusive snout, maybe a little extra weight because She likes her snoozes.”

“God snoozes? Doesn’t She have a lot of work to do?”

“Yes, but She’s not anxious about it, like humans get. In the middle of taking care of everything, She likes her nap. She knows that things take time, so why rush?”

“You make Her sound a lot like you, Aussie.”

“Don’t be silly. She’s God, I’m just Aussie. There might be a little resemblance.”

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JUST START

My favorite place in the woods

Maggie comes in and sits at the table. She will clean the house soon, which she does every four weeks, but first we have our coffee together and chat (she says I make the best coffee). Sometimes she takes me out to breakfast, but I prefer when she brings me “my rice,” as she refers to it, usually cooked with meat fresh that morning.

She tells me about her conversation with Pilar (not her real name). The 22-year-old mother has made quite a pilgrimage. Together with her husband and two young children, she started out of Ecuador, got across Colombia, Panama, and Costa Rica, till they got to Mexico. There, at the very southern border of Mexico, they were stopped.

Mexico has an agreement with the US to stop immigrants heading here right there, in Chiapas. Pilar weeps as she recounts their five-month long stay there, with almost no money, and what it was like to see her 2-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter cry for food. “We survived it,” she told Maggie, “but the things I saw there were—” Tears flood her face; she can’t go on other than to say: “It’s hard for me to remember all these horrible things.”

They walk to the US border—an immense trip, pay coyotes, cross, and meet up with border agents. “When we got to the border we got separated. My husband stayed with my daughter, and I stayed with my son. I didn’t know if I was going to see them again.”

I believe the agents often separate a family and interview them separately to hear if they have the same story. Pilar’s family applied for entry to the US under a family reunification program. That means that the border agents call Pilar’s husband’s sister, who lives here. The rule is that if you apply under that program, they call once. If the person called doesn’t answer—if s/he’d gone out, gone to the bathroom or to pick up a child from school—the migrants are turned away. In this case the sister answered, and they were permitted to go on to Massachusetts.

They’re lucky because they both got jobs at a local restaurant. The restaurant owner himself immigrated from an Eastern European country and told them that his story is almost like their story, and therefore he’s helping them, teaching Pilar’s husband everything he knows about the restaurant business. But rentals are high here, as they are everywhere, and they need help.

“They had a hard time with the Mexicans,” Maggie tells me. “Here, people are more helpful.”

“We’re also much richer,” I muse.

Maggie agrees. She herself arrived here from Colombia many years ago, married, and raised a family. She has a lovely home nearby with a back path to the river. She has cleaned our home for almost 18 years. “I live in Paradise,” she tells me.

I live in a house I share with Lori and two dogs. The laundry hangs outside under waving maple trees while the chimes ring endlessly from the breeze. In a newspaper mailbox a phoebe sits on her four eggs, and you can see lots of stars on clear nights. I, too, live in Paradise.

There’s lots of poverty here, but the poverty I’ve seen, both rurally and in urban areas, is very different from poverty in countries like Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, where I’ve visited. We usually get some government help, not to mention lots of food pantries and soup kitchens like Stone Soup Café, which serves delicious meals. Those things don’t exist there.

It’s Maggie who started me finding support for immigrant families, especially undocumented ones. In the early days of the pandemic, she mentioned a family she knew where no one was working, and they had trouble putting food on the table. I drove to a supermarket, bought two $100 food cards, and gave them to Maggie for that family. I wrote about it, readers responded with curiosity, checks and support, and that started everything. We—readers, Maggie and I—have now done this work for more than 2 years.

Maggie also connected me with Jimena Pareja, the liaison for schools and social agencies with that community, and I started meeting Jimena every week. It was very poignant then, when everything shut down and nobody was working.

The federal government showered its citizens and municipalities with money during the pandemic. Some say it was too much and figured in the current inflation. And indeed, our town is one of many that has a surplus fund from that time that it now applies to other projects. But undocumented families received none of that, they really struggled. We raised a lot of money for food cards and help with rent, utilities, medical care, winter clothes and school supplies.

We continue giving emergency funds to people like Pilar.

One more thing. Often people tell me that they’re aware the world is suffering but they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to get involved, how to even start. This morning Maggie told me that during the pandemic, her large family in Colombia was suffering because people had no work.

“But you know, Eve, my family doesn’t have much money, either. So what I did was, since I clean the houses for so many people, many drink sodas and things like that, and they have empty bottles and cans which they either throw away or recycle. So whenever I cleaned, I would take all their empty bottles and cans and bring them home with me. My husband would ask me why I brought so many home, but what I did was, I took them to the Big Y and got 5 cents for each. I did this till I got $100, and I would send that money to my family. To us, $100 isn’t very much, but over there it feeds a family for a month! I was so happy I could do that!”

Hardly a day passes without these words by Bernie echoing in my ear: “Just start. Don’t worry about the rest of it.”

Often where you start is right in front of your face. You see something, someone mentions something to you, and you see a certain possibility for acting. You don’t have to worry about whether it’ll be a lot or a little, important or a drop in the bucket, whether or not it solves the problems of the world. Forget all that. Just start.

And please continue to support immigrant families. 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.

SQUEAK ON, HENRY!

There are now four eggs in the newspaper mailbox on the road above our house, and a phoebe sitting on top, giving them much needed warmth. I don’t read my mail because the big news is in the adjacent box, where four eggs may soon hatch. Various people tell me they read the sign I posted and stop to look. I do that, too, each time I pass, though I hate to disturb the hard-working parent or cause it to fly away.

“What about chipmunks? What about squirrels?” I worry with Lori, my housemate. “Won’t they go after the eggs?”

We reminisce about the baby rabbit, more dead than alive, that she rescued from the cold, wet grass in the back yard last year, brought up to her office and created a warm and safe crate for it. She started it on milk from a baby dropper and ended up with greens and hay before letting it go outside after a month.

Ahh, new life.

Ahh, new death. Today marked 30 days since my mother died. In Jerusalem the family unveiled the gravestone, said prayers, and then retired to a nearby forest to share stories and talk about her. She wasn’t on my mind much of the day, but now, come evening, I light incense and contemplate a photo of her when she was younger.

Someone said that loving other people involves seeing them as separate from you and at the same time as fully alive as you are. A human being with her own yearnings, her own dreams. Not how we often love, treating the other person as an accessory in our life.

We ask so much from those we love. What does it take for us to finally leave them alone, let them be? Does it take a stroke? Does it take death?

I’ve written before that what characterized my mother most was that she was a survivor, and that is what she taught all of us. It’s a great lesson, but I often feel I need to learn other things, too: How to be less vigilant, less concerned about what will happen, less anxious to manipulate time and energy to get what I want or need. I don’t want to live my life as though I’m constantly at war with somebody, or as if devastation is right around the corner.

Walt Whitman wrote:

Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams,

Now I wash the gum from your eyes,

You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore,

Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,

To jump off in the midst of the sea, and rise again and nod to me and shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.

The headlines in the newspapers, the list of things to do each morning, the old routines, the way I fill my day—is that my holding a plank by the shore? And what happens if I let go?

It’s Sunday morning, 6 am, and I hear something squeaking outside my door. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak! In my sleep I think: Henry has a new toy.

Sure enough, I get up a little later, open the door, and Henry the Chihuahua rushes in holding a blue/gray stuffed animal with a long, thin body and short legs. A Dachshund?

Aussie comes up the stairs and rolls her eyes, as if saying: “We’ve been here before!” Every time Henry gets a new toy he waves it around in the air for hours, showing it off in front of everyone’s faces. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

This will go on all day.

Do I get annoyed? After a while, sure, especially when he jumps onto my lap and waves around the squeaky toy right in my face. Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

The following conversation takes place:

“I have things to do, Henry.”

Squeak!

“I have emails to reply to, Henry.”

Squeak!

“Bills to pay?”

Squeak!

“Mail to open and soup to cook?”

Squeak! Squeak! Squeak!

That little dog has left the shore way behind. He has lost his way in the ocean of joy, in the squeaky kingdom of stuffed toys. The birds chirp outside, Henry answers: Squeak! The woodpecker knocks on the tree hollow. Squeak! He has an ecstatic answer for everything, shaking his new toy at the world and throwing it up in the air, then chasing it down. War in Ukraine? Squeak! School shootings? Squeak! Suffering everywhere? Squeak!

Long ago it annoyed me. Enough already, I’d think, time to get serious. Not anymore. I learned from Bernie’s death that when someone dies, it’s the idiosyncrasies and weirdnesses you miss, not what made them normal.

So, squeak on, Henry! Swim boldly, and squeak on!

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JUST START!

“Can you tell what bird it is, Lori?” I asked.

Like many people here, I have not just a mailbox on the road but also a white open mailbox for newspapers. The only one I subscribe to is the local Montague Reporter, which arrives each Friday morning. Subscriptions are a measly $40 a year so it depends on volunteer labor and community effort to put together this weekly labor of love summarizing civic engagement, town hall meetings and police logs in 5 different towns, concerts, exhibits, school budgets and sports, and historical features on the Native American people that lived here and the old mills that were the backbone of the economy 100 years ago.

Only this time I was leery of picking up The Reporter because of the nest a bird had built inside.

Lori strode up the hill and texted back: “I think it’s a phoebe.” Then added: “Strange bird.”

At first, I thought it might be abandoned because I didn’t see a bird anywhere near there, but then an egg appeared. I wrote out a request to put the newspaper in the closed mailbox so as not to disturb things, and we’ll see what happens.

The whole thing still looks iffy to me, but one never knows. What will spring to life? What won’t?

A few weeks ago, I decided to visit the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield. Zen Peacemakers began those Saturday community lunches some 15 years ago at the Montague Farm, with organic food, activities for children, music, various healing therapies, and council. When we had to leave the Farm, the Café moved to Greenfield, under the tutelage of Ariel Pliskin, where it found a home in the basement floor of the Unitarian Church and will soon be celebrating 10 years there.

Trouble is, after 10 years, it’s outgrown its home in the Church. During the pandemic they couldn’t let people eat inside, so they bagged their multi-course meals either for pick-up or delivery. Now they still can’t let people eat inside because there are too many of them.

“We prepare at least 400 meals every week,” their new director and head chef, Kirsten Levitt, said. “We don’t have the space to feed everyone at the same time.”

Instead, volunteers stand in assembly lines where spring greens salad, garlic greens, vegetable medley, yellow rice, chickpea/fish curry, and lemon cookies and cheesecake (tomorrow’s meal) are put into boxes, which are then put into large paper bags and brought outside (see below). Outside there’s a line curving around the corner to pick up the bags, as well as a line of cars waiting to load up the bags for delivery to individuals in different local towns. There are also long tables with free food (much of it organic and fresh) to be given out.

Stone Soup has also begun a culinary institute to train people in cooking and serving food. In their words, “we especially are looking to grow a cohort of students who are currently in recovery, formerly incarcerated, people living in poverty who need a new career path, and all other community members who are interested in culinary arts.”

The Café is starting a capital campaign to buy and renovate a larger facility so that they could once again have hundreds of people eating together a gourmet hot meal, made from scratch and served with joy and dignity. And consider this: Each week they need some 35 volunteers to cook, set up, package, give out, deliver, and clean up. And—they get them.

Who would have thought it? Back around 2005 when the meal began, under the generous supervision of Karen Werner with cooking by Rosalind Jiko McIntosh, who would have thought it would flower like this? Since it took place in a rural farm, people had to come by car and we often had to pick up and bring folks who didn’t have cars, then take them back home. There was enough space, inside and out, to feed people and we had woods for the kids, but the place was clearly not very convenient. Even then, I don’t recall we fed more than 100 people on any given Saturday.

I remember talking about this with Bernie, but he didn’t care about whether it was the right fit or not. He wanted to do something to serve people.

Now the Stone Soup Café prepares 400 meals every week. And with their new facility, they hope to serve meals every single day. On June 12 they’re celebrating ten years since they began in Greenfield with great food, music, art-making, and other activities.

Who knows what takes on more life and what doesn’t? I hope a chick comes out of the egg. “Just start,” Bernie used to say. “The universe will take care of the rest.”

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THREE POUNDS AND COUNTING

“Aussie, congratulations. You lost three pounds.”

“Quick, where are they? I need to get them back. Three pounds are a lot for an itty-bitty thing like me.”

“57 pounds is not itty-bitty. If anything, you have to lose more weight.”

“This is in direct violation of my vow.”

“What vow is that, Aussie?”

“I vow to become a balloon. Binge or bust, that’s my motto.”

“Sounds more like binge and bust, Aussie. Balloons bust when they get too full of hot air.”

“I want to be a gourmand.”

“You’re a dog, Auss—”

“Let me ask you something. What do you say when somebody gorges herself? You say that she eats like a horse. You don’t say she eats like a dog.”

“That’s true.”

“And in similar circumstances, do you say he dogs out? No, you say he pigs out.”

“I never thought of that, Aussie.”

“I want to be a horse. I want to be a pig.”

“Aussie, there’s more to life than food.”

“Name one thing.”

“As you get older, your knees will thank me. Your hips will thank me.”

I won’t thank you. Besides, why are you humans so worried about old age?”

“It’s the end of potential, Aussie.”

“Is that bad?”

“As you get older, you’re usually finishing things, Auss, not beginning. You realize the world will go on without you. You’ll go on without me.”

“Of course, I’ll go on without you. All I have to do is find someone who’ll feed me every day, bring me to Leeann twice a week, marrow bone on Sunday—I’ll go on without you very well. Of course, if I don’t find those lost three pounds and get them back quick, I may not make it, either.”

“You know, Aussie, as we get older, we start ruling things out. I’ll never become proficient in Spanish. I’ll never become a naturalist. I’ll never get to be a great writer.”

“You’ll never be like me.”

“How do I live without regrets, Aussie? How do I not feel as if I’ve missed out?”

“It helps to eat as much as possible.”

“Actually, it’s the time between meals that’s important, Auss.”

“Huh?”

“We pay attention to things, Aussie. I pay attention when I get up, when I’m in the shower, when I sit, eat, walk, or work. But there’s so much space and time in between, know what I mean?”

“I try to sleep as much as I can between meals, that way I don’t suffer.”

“But time isn’t wasted just because it happens between the things we pay attention to, see?”

“No.”

“If we make life all about the things that are important and memorable to us, we miss out on so much! We’re the tiniest blip in the landscape, Aussie.”

“So don’t be a blip in the landscape, be a blimp. Hee hee!”

“You just got food on the brain, Aussie. Don’t you know how much can happen between your breakfast and your dinner?”

“Sure. Lunch can happen.”

“You’re not getting lunch, Aussie. And stop thinking along old, familiar lines. The nice thing about getting older is that you have more time to see things anew, to see the breaks between things as the real deal, not just the same old things we pay attention to again and again. Getting older is a time to contemplate empty time. Where are you going, Auss?”

“Off to chase squirrels.”

“You’re always chasing squirrels. Don’t you want to contemplate the time between chasing squirrels?”

“Not really.”

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ARCHES EVERYWHERE

“Innocence is the ability to be found by the world; it has nothing to do with naivete,” says the poet David Whyte.

I think of it a little differently, more like seeing the world open up before you again and again, as though every corner is an arch beckoning you forward. Here’s another thing to explore, and another thing to see, and another thing to pay attention to.

I feel there are arches everywhere in my life. The photo above is of the road above the house, the trees bending towards each other high up. Each time I go out into the world and each time I return home I pass under these arches and feel a taste of adventure, as though something is yet to be discovered right around the bend of a road I’ve traveled each day since 2004.

I’ve written before about a fantasy I’ve had all my life, of walking outside in the dark (I always step out before closing up the house for the night) and seeing lights descending from the heavens far out in the fields. I run through the forest, sure that a spaceship has just landed, visitors from outer space have arrived, and I will be the first to see and greet them. As I run, I’m equally sure that no one else has seen them but me, and I must gather up my courage for that meeting.

There isn’t a night when I don’t open the front door to look out west, in the direction of the mountains, without that picture coming to mind. I don’t go running outside in the dark, I go upstairs, but I remain optimistic that somewhere the curtain’s still going up, still revealing something new.

Or else going down the path from the old Montague Farm to where I parked my car after a long jaunt with the dogs in the morning of Memorial Day, wildflowers on both sides (see below). We had our walk, we’re going back home on a road we all know well to a red car we know even better, and still, there’s mystery lurking there, awaiting us at the bottom.

On our walk in the woods this morning we ran into a bear. It was the first I’d seen since the one who came into the yard in April, ate all the birdseed, broke three birdfeeders, then clambered over the fence and left. This hot morning the dogs ran down to the creek to drink, I followed slowly, turned around, and saw a black shape sidling past the bushes some 30 feet away.

Almost immediately I knew it wasn’t Aussie, not light-footed enough, the gait was sure and heavy. It walked up the slope smoothly and quickly. Hard to believe how fast they are, given how big they are. Henry ran over and I immediately leashed him. We both watched the bear, Henry’s eyes as big as the rest of his body, and he didn’t bark once. I’m sure the bear knew we were there, must have gone down to drink, registered our presence, and was scurrying up the hill in its own cumbersome way.

I decided not to go back but rather further into the woods, looking out carefully. Aussie joined us soon and we three made it to the pools that are the end of that walk. We stayed together, but the two dogs didn’t stop looking in the direction where the bear had disappeared.

I’ll admit that the thought flashed in my mind to fish out my telephone and try for a photo, but I didn’t. That’s the danger of blogs, you see. Something interesting happens and you right away think of the story you could write, the photo you could take. It’s the nature of the writer, but it takes you out of what’s happening. In your hurry to capture the moment in story or picture you forget the suspended breath, the wonder mixed with alarm at the realization that this moment, at least, you’re not on top of the food chain. Something way bigger, stronger, and wilder is in your vicinity!

Later on, when you get home, you tell Lori the story of what happened to you, and then you blog. But while it happens it’s not about you at all. It’s a meeting between you and the unexpected, the unknown, before civilizing human words ever enter the picture. You gasp, your heart beats rapidly and loudly even as everything else is still. You don’t think but you sense: Here it is! Here it is!

And you don’t mean the bear.

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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.