EVERY SPIRITUAL HOME NEEDS A FASCIST DOG!

Ignoring Winnie!

“I feel a lot better, Aussie, now that Joe Biden is in the White House.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s he doing? Anything important?”

“He’s governing, Aussie. Not spending half the day tweeting and the other half watching TV.”

“Joe Biden is anti-capitalist!”

“What makes you say that, Aussie?”

“The vaccine, for one thing.”

“Wait a minute, Auss. Joe Biden finally marshalled the federal resources to get more vaccine distributed to more people. We have hundreds of millions of doses more coming. Even yours truly is going to get the vaccine, my number is up.”

“What number is that?”

“65+. So why is Joe Biden anti-capitalist?”

“Because he’s losing the best opportunity he’ll ever have for promoting his brand.”

“Promoting what, Aussie?”

“His brand. Himself. He’s giving away hundreds of millions of vaccines and he’s not promoting himself. Remember what the Man did with the first stimulus check? At first he held up the checks because he wanted his signature to be on them, and when they couldn’t do that, each check came with a personal letter informing you that the check was from him, from Donald Trump.”

“It wasn’t from him, Aussie.”

“So? What’s truth got to do with capitalism? Here’s Biden handing out all these vaccines. Is his name there? That would have been the first thing on any true capitalist’s mind. There are weird names like Pfizer and Moderna; where’s Biden?”

“What do you suggest, Auss?”

“A true capitalist would have seen to it that when you get the vaccine in your top arm, a tattoo appears the next moment saying: This is from Joe!”

“Heavens, Aussie.”

Joe loves you?”

“Terrible!”

Joe cares? It’s genius, don’t you see? The tattoo comes out blue, get it? But in red states add an American flag.”

“Aussie, Biden doesn’t care about red and blue states.”

“Then he’s a dummy. Now, if only there was a way to add a Donate button that gets into your skin along with the shot, the Democrats would have it made! If not all the credit cards, Paypal at the very least.”

“You can’t do that to people’s bodies, Aussie.”

“The Man would have thought of that, but not socialist Joe. Here’s another idea—”

“I don’t want to hear it!”

“Every vaccine dose would come with its own band-aid, which would be blue with Joe’s face on it. Blue, get it? In certain states you have the same band-aid and underneath the words: I love getting shot!

“Aussie, we don’t do things like that anymore.”

“Don’t be silly. Now if you’re really concerned about elections, the best idea of all is to give the real vaccine to Democrats and a placebo to everyone else. Watch the other side’s numbers plummet!”

“You’re making me sick, Aussie.”

“Get your vaccine. Joe needs me in his brain trust. Does Major the German Shepherd come up with these ideas? How come he’s in the White House while I‘m wasted away in these snowy woods?  I was born to be part of the inner circle!”

“Look, Auss, here comes Winnie the Pointer.”

“Let’s go back to the car.”

“She loves playing with you, Aussie.”

“I’m not into playing, I’m into policy! You know what else Joe could do?”

“No, Aussie.”

“Don’t send the next stimulus check in an envelope, send it inside a cup with Biden’s face on it with the words: Have a cup of Joe!”

“That’s it! No more policy. You’re playing with Winnie!”

“You think the Man wouldn’t have done that? I guarantee you he’d have used all my great ideas, every single one! I’m wasted here. ”

“You’re wrong about that, Aussie. You belong right here.”

“Why?”

“Because every spiritual home needs a fascist dog.”

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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ANY GOOD NEWS?

It’s so satisfying to help people directly.

For much of my activist life I helped organize things. I did orders and sales for the Greyston Bakery, which subscribes to Open Hiring of its employees, meaning they’ll hire anyone on a list of applicants without asking for information re past jobs, a criminal record, prison time, etc.. I wrote and wrote and wrote: grants for our supportive housing projects, childcare center, and an AIDS center. I wrote profiles, articles, and books to tell the world about efforts by peacemakers around the world. I loved my Zen Peacemaker family and want to make sure it nurtures future generations.

I write checks, I tithe, I speak with people on Zoom. It’s easy to feel good about yourself.

What I’ve missed since my Greyston days is to actually see folks face-to-face.

Indirect service is crucial: sharing ideas, writing up text for web pages, all the endless, invisible planning and structure-building efforts that not only keep things going but also renew them and gives birth to new creations. At the same time, you can fall into the trap of seeing the people you serve as abstractions. Even as you write fancy mission statements about helping, when you stay far it’s easy to lose individuals in favor of stereotypes, to trust data and statistics over personal stories, to lose an authentic sense of connectedness that reminds me I have no monopoly on being a human being..

So, come Wednesday late afternoon, I stop what I’m doing. I match food cards with supermarket receipts and fold them together, bring my envelope of cash, and drive to meet Jimena in the cold, closed porch of her house, where we meet in winter. When it gets warmer we’ll get back to the streets outside.

Slowly people arrive. Women and also men, occasionally with their children. Since they’re undocumented it’s awkward for me to ask if I can take a photo. The adults are often carelessly dressed even when it’s very cold out, but the kids are invariably wrapped in warm coats and jackets.

Jimena reminds them that schools open next week for in-person learning. She often has forms for them to sign and has to explain them at great length in Spanish

“Eve,” she recently told me, “most have had only an elementary school education. No one finished high school. There are some who are not only illiterate in Spanish (forget English), they don’t speak Spanish well but only their own native dialect. They actually learn Spanish here.”

We’re careful with social distance and our masks hide all our smiles and good wishes. Thank God for the wrinkles around my eyes, I think to myself. They now give away not just my age but my heartfelt wishes.

I watch their faces and listen to Jimena, and if it’s been an especially cold and difficult day, or if covid makes me feel like an island lost somewhere in the Arctic Sea I can get discouraged. How are they going to make it? Will they always be working on the farms for wages no one with legal papers would accept?

And what about the macho culture they bring with them from a few countries (not all)? What about homes where birth control is seen as something sluttish when used by a woman and not masculine when used by the man? Where women can’t buy things for themselves even when they earn the money, but have to be accompanied by their husbands who give their okay and take out the cash to pay? Where men who can’t read and write won’t dream of letting their wives call for and pay for the check even when the women are the ones who’re working?

I can feel anger coming up when I hear these stories. And then I remember: My parents also had East European shtetl culture on the brain. They couldn’t imagine their daughter going off to live on her own after high school and told me if I did that I could never come home again. Their son was to be a judge and their daughters mothers, maybe teachers, too, to supplement the family income, nothing else.

For many years my father used to encourage me to move to Israel, telling me how many good secretarial jobs there were for women who were bilingual. I obtained two graduate degrees from Columbia University and he still couldn’t imagine my doing anything else.

But things changed. My brother wasn’t much into studies and never became a judge; his sisters had more advanced degrees than his. More important, we built very different lives for ourselves than those my parents envisaged for us.

“Any good news?” I ask Jimena.

“Things always change,” she says, turning suddenly into a Buddhist.  “And by the way, can we give someone $700 for rent?”

“Along with food cards for next week?” I say dubiously, trying to remember how much was in the account last time I checked.

“You see that woman who just left with the shopping card?”

“The one in the pink jacket with whom you talked for a long time?” I feel my lack of Spanish acutely, there isn’t a Wednesday when I don’t wish I could do more than hand out food cards and say: “Para usted y su familia. Con todo corazon.“ I wish I could babble away like Jimena.

“Her daughter came to join her from Atlanta with a baby. Valentina was already living with another family so when the daughter came the landlord said they have to move. The daughter made it to Atlanta when she was 16, I think she was already pregnant don’t ask me how she made it. Over there she gave birth and took care of the baby alone even as she went to high school, she got very good grades. Now she’s moved here and I am trying to help her transfer her high school records from Atlanta to here so that she could graduate in May. They found an apartment and I helped her get first and last month rents together, but in addition they still need to make a deposit.”

“So, what’s the good news?” I ask. Maybe she’ll say that $700 monthly rent is pretty good in this area.

“Aren’t you listening, Eve? She has very high grades. She can graduate with an excellent record and go to college. She really wants to build a life for herself. She raised a baby all alone in a strange new place from the time she was 16 and she kept up with her studies and she will finish here and will go on and learn. She will build something different, you will see.”

As I did, I think to myself. And I wasn’t pregnant and didn’t give birth all alone in a strange city and a strange language even while going to high school. And I’m the one getting discouraged?

“We’ll have the money for them,” I tell her.

Who am I to get discouraged? What do I know how much life there is even in this world’s very margins, how quickly things turn, and the power of deep faith and imagination?

It was a beautiful sunset when I finally left in the early evening (see above).

My job is just to ask for help in these posts and come Wednesday afternoon give to those who need face-to-face. You can’t join me face-to-face, but you can help here below. Thank you.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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EYES LOOKING INTO THE NIGHT

Violet Catches blesses Greta Thunberg. Photo taken at Takini School, Howes, SD

It was around 9:30 at night when I woke up Aussie. “Come on, Auss, let’s go fill up the bird feeders.”

“Now?”

“I know, but they’re pretty empty and I don’t like seeing them empty first thing in the morning and going out, so let’s do it now.”

“You go, I’m sleeping.”

The poet Laura Fargas wrote: “The heart wants something to be kind to, even if only a fish to sprinkle crumbs on the water for, once or twice a day.”

My once or twice a day happened last night, just a crescent moon waxing to the west. Five birdfeeders hang under the trees in back. The snow brightens things up considerably, but I’ve never been comfortable in the dark.

Some people love to walk at night. They’re not concerned by uneven terrain, by the frozen slush currently lining the driveway or the ice on the paved roads, they just lace up their boots and go. I, on the other hand, reach for my phone flashlight after just two steps.

Last night I, too, put boots and jacket on, and went out without the phone. Walked a little up the slope and picked up two empty feeders, back to the garage holding two cars and an aluminum barrel with black sunflower seeds, filled them up, and retraced my steps. Kwan-Yin stood off to the side, gazing impassively, wearing a small yarmulke of snow on her head.

The other three bird feeders hang on the other side of the house, in the shadows. I can’t walk over there without recalling the enormous black bear I saw contemplating me from the other side of the fence one day. Sleeping the winter off, I reminded myself last night, walking up in the snow to fetch two feeders, back down, and around to the last one which was in perfect darkness.

In Riddley Walker, novelist Russell Hoban relates his own Eden story: A long time ago there were a man and a woman. One day a black dog came. The man and woman watched how the dog looked at the night, and in doing so, got the First Teachings. They couldn’t get the First Teachings by staring into the night themselves; they couldn’t see it as the dog did. So they did the next best thing, looking at the dog’s eyes as the dog stared into the night, and thus obtained the First Teachings.

Zen is about doing things yourself. You can’t awaken to the oneness of life for anybody else and no one else can give you that realization, you can only realize the one body yourself. But I often think of how it has helped me to look at other beings’ eyes as they contemplate the world.

I always liked to look into the eyes of Violet Catches, a Lakota elder, whenever we were in South Dakota together. I think of her as the medicine woman of our retreats. It seemed to me that wherever she looked, deep intelligence stared out at deep intelligence, contemplating all aspects of itself, including pain and suffering.

Obstacles were everywhere—especially with her old station wagon. February was the month of our preparatory meetings, and several of us from the Northeast would fly out to Rapid City to meet with Lakota elders, and the phone calls would come in: “The muffler of my car fell on the highway so I’ll be a few hours late,” she’d say, or “The transmission went today and I have to find somebody to fix it.”

Don’t ask me why we’d gather in South Dakota in temperatures that at times were around -30, but we did, and Violet, either driving alone or with a few grandchildren in tow over hundreds of frigid miles, would call: “There’s a big noise coming out of the engine, I have to get the car fixed.”

When she finally arrived she’d laugh apologetically, look us in the eyes, and it was compassion looking out at compassion. I’ve never met anyone quite like her, and at the same time she’s the least obtrusive person I’ve ever known, part and parcel of things, no fighting anywhere, no resistance. At times she’d admit sheepishly to bad decisions or misdoings, certain regrets—“Now I think I shouldn’t have said that”—and then make wholehearted apologies. Life for her is full of things going right, wrong, and every which way sideways, and still so seamlessly intelligent.

Why did I think of Violet Catches from Cheyenne River Reservation as I fetched that last feeder in the dark? Brought all three back to the garage, filled them up, and went back out again for the last time in the cold. I knew the birds would be huddled around the feeders by the time I got up next morning, three and even four at each one.

I went round the bend to hang the last one and felt that I disappeared into the dark. It took a while to find the tiny protuberance on the branch from which the feeder hung. I turned back and saw two glints in that black yard, Aussie’s eyes. She had finally come out and followed me, eyes looking into the night.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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SO WHAT’S INSIDE YOU?

Henry got a new toy for Valentine’s Day yesterday: a pink elephant.

I didn’t know about it for some 24 hours, just heard squeaking upstairs all day. When I finally went up, there he was, holding Pinky proudly in his mouth, shaking her and throwing her around. If I was in the immediate vicinity he’d growl louder and more ferociously than ever before.

He and I have a playing routine in which I try to pull the toy out of his mouth and he growls and pulls it back. But not with Pinky. Pinky was only his, no one else’s. I couldn’t go after it even in joke or play. He was as proud as could be with Pinky in his mouth, swinging her up in the air, brandishing her like a weapon, bouncing and jouncing her, making her squeak.

Pinky, I was told, was one of those indestructible dog toys made from material that dogs couldn’t tear up quickly, and she survived yesterday’s gymnastics with Henry.

But of course, Henry couldn’t keep Pinky to himself, so today he came down with her in his mouth, swinging her around and shaking her right in front of Aussie.

Though Aussie is the president of the local chapter of the Proud Pooches, she still has some decorum. She watched him carefully, not making a play. But of course, Henry ran out to pee, leaving Pinky behind, and when he came back Aussie had Pinky with her, growling threateningly if Henry came anywhere nearby.

“Oh, Auss,” I told her, “you don’t care about toys. Henry loves that pink elephant. Why are you doing this to him?”

“Because I can,” she said.

So, she kept Pinky right by her in my office, giving Henry a look of pure wickedness over her shoulder as he sat outside the office, forlorn and helpless.

“What is she?” asked a neighbor I met in the conservancy late this morning, pointing at Aussie who was busy playing with his dog.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“She has a little German Shepherd in her,” he surmised. “Doberman?” I shook my head and he proceeded to tell me that he submitted his dog’s DNA and discovered she’s part Hound, part Lab, and part Pointer,. At that moment Aussie ran by him. “So, what’s inside you?” he asked her playfully.

Aussie had no time for him, wagging her tail madly as she chased his dog down the ravine to the freezing pond below.

What’s inside you? As if a DNA test could answer that. It’s like asking What’s love? and replying:: Valentine’s Day.

We had a Zoom meeting today of various Zen teachers and seniors associated with the Zen Peacemaker Order. We all recommitted ourselves to the Order and the practice of social and environmental justice based on the Dharma. Much of the time was used to reconnect with each other, recounting memories of how we got involved with this meshugena family, and especially, with its meshugena founder, Bernie Glassman.

It’s challenging for me to attend these. There’s the public dimension of work, practice, companionship, and love between Bernie and so many people, and there’s my own private realm with him as my husband. It’s difficult to express both together.

Asking me to share memories of Bernie is like someone asking me to carve out a joint or a finger and examine it under the light, share it with others. Bringing up a memory or anecdote feels like a DNA test that can’t describe the way the Aussie’s tail vibrates in circles when she sees another canine, or how she curls up on the black lounge chair in the living room with her head thrown sideways, or how I look down from my office chair and there she is, standing alongside, mewling softly, head nestled against my leg.

So, while the tales and the laughs we shared today among some 28 of us felt deep and tender, I couldn’t express what was inside. To do that, I’d have had to verbally operate on myself, say This is what he said and This is what I said, splitting the one into two. I’ve done that in the past, just not today. Today it felt like just the one looking at the screen, unable to speak.

 

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DOPPELGANGERS EVERYWHERE

“Aussie, you  haven’t been talking much since we got a new president.”

“I plan to sleep through the next four years. Wake me when the Man gets back to the White House.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Auss, but I’ve been wrong before.”

“Often.”

“You know what I think, Aussie? You’re my doppelganger.”

“You’ve called me dope lots of times.”

“Not dope, Aussie, doppelganger. Doppelgangers look like you—”

“I don’t look like you.”

“—but they’re the other side of you. So, if I’m the good Eve, you’re the bad Eve.”

“But I’m Aussie.”

“Of course you’re Aussie, Aussie. Doppelgangers look like you only they’re the opposite of you, like a good twin and a bad twin.”

“You don’t have my beautiful black hair.”

“The point is that somewhere in the world there is someone who may look like you but is the exact opposite.”

“I don’t look like—”

“You believe in everything I don’t believe in, Auss. You believe that Donald Trump actually won the election—”

“He did!”

“You believe Biden stole the election.”

“You mean, there’s a question?”

“Aussie, you believe Kamala Harris is the Antichrist—”

“I probably would if I knew what that was.”

“—and that come spring she’s going to kill Biden and take over the country.”

“May 13!”

“And that she’s going to make us all Communists and close up all the churches—”

“Zendos, too!”

“Make us put on a dozen masks at once, go to socialist doctors, and burn down California using Jewish lasers.”

“The last is happening already.”

“She’s going to make all illegal immigrants legal and all white people illegal.”

“Exactly. Only Donald Trump can save us now.”

“That’s what I mean, Aussie. You’re completely the opposite of me.”

“Not to mention that I’m a dog.”

“What’s interesting about all this, Aussie, is that such opposites can exist all in one world.”

“Not if Donald had his way. You know what would happen to dopes like you?”

“Doppelgangers, not dopes. The point I’m making, Aussie, is that this world is full of paradoxes, contradictions, and things that generally don’t make sense. We like to think that things make sense and therefore there’s no room for opposing views. But somewhere in this world I have a doppelganger, someone who’s the exact opposite of me, and I think that’s you, Aussie.”

“The only way I can be your doppelganger is that I’m gorgeous and you’re not.”

“Oh, Aussie!”

“I run like the wind and you can barely walk.”

“That’s not true, Auss. Who walks with you every day?”

“I’m smart and funny, and I have the most beautiful eyes. You’re—”

“Aussie, let’s forget it.”

“What’s the matter, can’t deal with opposites anymore?”

“Another thing about doppelgangers, Aussie, is that they can cause bad things to happen. For example, you can pretend to be me, take my credit card and buy yourself lots of steak. Or bite somebody and make it look like it was me.”

“Or attack the Capitol and pretend it’s you, just like you antifas terrorized the Capitol and pretended it was us.”

“Aussie, we weren’t at the Capitol.”

“If we all have doppelgangers that are the exact opposite but look like us, how do you know it wasn’t all Commie doppelgangers that day? Of course! That explains everything!”

“Aussie, let’s get down to earth here. There’s no way you could march on Washington and pretend it’s really me making all that trouble. Look at you and look at me, you think the FBI won’t see a difference?”

“Because I’m cute and you’re not?”

“Aussie, you’re a canine.”

“Remember Commie Comey?”

“James Comey? He hasn’t been in charge at the FBI in almost four years.”

“Heh! Heh! Heh! There are doppelgangers everywhere!”

 

 

 

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BUT WHAT ABOUT THE JOURNEY?

I thought of my friend, Margery, the other day, and specifically her 80th birthday when she threw a party in Naples, Florida. Some 40 people or so came, including me. She was the type of woman who loved to bring her friends together, so some of us knew each other from long ago and we greeted one another happily, knowing we’d come to celebrate the one big thing we had in common, and that was Margery.

On her 80th birthday she was still driving a roadster. You opened the door, slid in, and went horizontal. She did the same behind the wheel. It didn’t occur to her to give it up.

The dinner took place at her home on Saturday night. Champagne was poured, we milled around, and finally someone asked for a hush. Her grandson wished her a happy birthday, showed a brief family video on the TV, and told us to go eat.

“Wait, wait just a minute,” I said.

Everyone turned to look at me. Don’t we want to talk about this woman? I wanted to say. Don’t we want to talk to her, tell her how much she means to us, what has happened to us over the many years we’ve known her? Don’t we want to squeeze out of this moment all the love and appreciation we have for her?

Instead, I felt I’d done wrong. It’s not your party, a voice whispered inside, you’re not her family. You’re intruding into something not your own.

I said some lame words—the only public testament spoken aloud—and we went to eat.

It wasn’t the first or the last time that I saw people gathering to celebrate, with no understanding of how to create collective meaning out of the occasion (other than providing food and alcohol). We had flown from the Northeast, West Virginia, and Ohio to be there. There was so much to take in, so much to express to her and each other, so much to remember about the confluence of our lives.

Instead, there was no talk from the heart, no reaching out. A party like any one of many, many parties thrown regularly in that wealthy part of Florida.

There’s a lot I can say here about our lack of basic rituals to create a shared space of value and meaning. Instead, something else comes to mind.

In my rural area of Massachusetts, I run into many people by phone or Zoom who are my age (71), a little younger or a little older, many retired. When I ask them how they spend their days they answer vaguely: I go on walks, I see my kids or grandkids occasionally, watch YouTubes or TV. All agree on one thing: The day goes by before you know it. I don’t know what I spend my day on, only that it goes and now it’s time to go to sleep.

And then I imagine this dialogue:

“But what about your journey?”

“What journey?”

“Whatever journey you’ve been on. It isn’t done just because you’re over 65.”

“I’m not working anymore. Family all grown and gone away, they show up for Thanksgiving. I got my errands. I got my housework, I putter—”

“But aren’t you still on a journey? Don’t you want to help people? Don’t you want to master something, give back something, express something? What about your vows? Don’t you want to awaken?”

“I guess so,” they say hesitantly. Or: “Maybe.” And even: “Not really.”

For me, the journey has no finish line. Every day, regardless of the cold, I go out with Aussie to a new adventure. The snow sparkles more now than ever before. I confront a blank white page every day. Maybe there’ll come a time when I won’t have anything more to write, but for now I know how to deal: Let my fingers click the keys down, let the inner voice speak. Don’t doubt it and  don’t worry it to death.

Most important: Trust this path. Trust yourself. My life is like an unraveling ball of yarn, I see so many threads I never saw before, see them both apart and balled together. I can’t stop the voice in my head about what to write next, what to teach next, how to practice more. Newness is everywhere around me. I don’t get fazed by the state of the world, I simply want to leave something helpful for the next generation.

None of this stopped after 70. I sleep more than I used to and don’t work the long, long hours. But the great unknown is still there. Something’s coming, I think to myself just like I did every morning when I lived in Manhattan and walked out of the apartment building. Something’s here.

The simplest things in the world feel like a path right now; the potential to connect with more and more of life is greater than ever before. Stroking Aussie half a dozen times a day has become a wider and wider gate, my fingers plowing through the black fur, feeling her heart beating through her chest. Something beckons every single day, even when the left knee hurts a bit or I didn’t get a good night sleep.

How do you spend your days?

There’s always something to do.

But what about your journey? What about your journey?

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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NOT EVEN AN ANGEL

Some mornings when I come down, Aussie turns onto her back so that I could stroke her belly. But Henry also wants attention. He scampers up onto my knees, ball in his mouth, and leaves it in my lap to throw for him.

I have two hands, I could do both, stroke the belly of one dog and throw the ball for the other. But if I so much as once throw the ball for Henry, Aussie gets off the futon. It’s as if she can’t fathom how I can do two things at once. She wants all my attention, and if she can’t have it, she leaves the scene. And as always, I think of my grandfather’s warning to me when I was a young girl and sitting at the table for a Sabbath meal with him: “Chava,” he would say, “not even angels can do two things at once.”

He was a rabbi from a Russian family of rabbis who never adjusted to living in the United States, where he immigrated due to the kindness of cousins who applied for a visa on his and his family’s behalf through the family reunification process, financially vouching for everyone. I remember that whenever I am with immigrant families.

“How did you get here, of all places?” I ask them, thinking not just about how different the weather is here from what it is in their original country, but also about the long way they had to make from Latin America across the border and then diagonally up to the Northeast. And the answer is always the same: My brother got here a few years ago. A cousin. My uncle.

They arrive, move in with already-crowded families, look for work, send money back home to the older people who often have little food and no medical care. And they’re there for other family members who will come in the future, encourage them, help them find work, give them support till they make it on their own.

It’s how my family got to America and I see that continuing in front of my eyes.

I’m surprised at how often I think of my grandfather, with whom I felt almost nothing in common, or my grandmother, who used to say Oy! so often I would make an inner wager with myself as to how often I would hear it from start of visit to finish. I hated Oy! I hated complaining. I hated, as Jon Katz likes to put it in his blog, old people talk. I was young and full of expectations. I knew early on I wouldn’t be a member of good standing in their world. I wanted to put them behind me, get away from all confines, from complaints, from the history (If you understood what we went through!).

I’d heard it from such a young age that at some point I rebelled and said: “Enough already! I’m not living my life to make up for what you lost, I’m not living my life as a replacement for yours. I’m sorry about the Holocaust, I’m sorry about the Nazis, I’m sorry about what you lived through—but I’m living my life! My life!”

I put thousands of miles between my family and me, I saw no other way, there were many good reasons for doing so.

My mother will be moving by the end of this month after renting an apartment for many years. The landlords were very kind, giving her a special discount in her rent on account of her being a Holocaust survivor, which means a great deal in Israel. But they finally require the apartment for their own mother, who wishes to return to the home she once had, so my mother has to move at 92. She can’t keep this in her head.

My sister and brother finally found a nice apartment in her general (expensive) neighborhood, close to the synagogues she always liked (none have been open for a long time). They will finalize it this week and the rent will almost double.

But for now, I think of my sister packing up my mother’s things. It’s that first cycle of going through old papers, clothes, documents, photos, books, notebooks, etc. that I know so well from after Bernie died. My mother is still living, of course, but in some ways it’s the same thing, a journey into her, and therefore into me.

Which I can’t be a part of. Israeli airports are shut. Even if they reopen in time, current quarantine rules are that they put you away in their housing, not in yours. “It makes no sense for you to come,” my sister told me. “And it’s not going to be as tough as you think, we’ll be practical about it.”

I wanted to be part of that journey into the past, unearthing hints of things (Is that her and her nephew in the refugee camp in France? Is that the young man who led that camp and who she said adored her?), the letters from us (and especially from me, since I was the one who lived a long distance away) that she kept—what was there that caught her attention and convinced her to keep it? Perhaps her divorce papers, which mark one of the most painful times of her life, a photo of a holiday party, and most important, some reminder of her big family that stayed in Poland, didn’t go to Czechoslovakia with her parents, and were destroyed.

Hints and traces of family, so eagerly sought by a woman who did everything she could many years ago to put miles and miles between them. The doors between us were like barricades then. They were not the parents I wanted; I wasn’t the daughter they wanted.

Till we all got older. Now she tells me how happy she is with her children every time I call. And I imagine working alongside my sister on my mother’s past: Look at the date on this letter! Who do you think this is? Look at all these recipes!

It won’t happen.

Outside the New England snow has blanketed everything, reminding me that here I am, surrounded by hungry birds and squirrels whose feeders I need to fill, the skies finally, finally blue and sunny after many days of clouds.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DOG

“Aussie, would you like to be my emotional support dog?”

“No.”

“Other than lying on the futon in my office—”

“It’s snowing!”

“–do you plan to do anything of value this winter, Auss?”

“My productive life ended with the election. Besides, I still chase avaricious squirrels from the birdfeeders.”

“Aussie, I feel discouraged by the gray morning clouds I see first thing when I wake up in the morning. We haven’t had much sun lately, or blue skies. And Kwan-Yin is covered in snow.”

“When it’s blue skies here it means it’s freezing. Not that I mind, with my two coats of fur.”

“I’d love to have a meal out, Aussie.”

“Easy. Kill squirrels.”

“I’d like to sit down for a cup of coffee with a friend in a café. Right now, I do coffee via Zoom. I have mine on my desk, they have theirs on their desk, and we talk. But the computer screen is always between us.”

“If you can’t touch somebody, what’s the use?”

“Exactly, Aussie. What’s the first thing I do when I come down in the morning?”

“You bug me.”

“I come to the futon where you’re lying down, greet you, stroke you and say: ‘Another wonderful day with Aussie.’”

“Pretty corny, if you ask me.”

“You’re wrong about that, Auss. You watch people and dogs get older, you get older, and each day is so precious.”

“Precious enough to get me the humongous buffalo treats they sell in the store?”

“No, Aussie. I don’t want to spend money in the  name of love and longing, I just want to love.”

“Big deal!”

“A month ago, a friend brought me her sewing machine that she’s giving to one of the immigrant women. ‘I’ll put it in the trunk of your car,’ she said to me. She took it to my car, I must have turned away for a minute, and when  I turned back to her she was standing right there, in front of me, arms outstretched, remember, Aussie?”

“No.”

“I was stunned. She wanted to give me a big hug. I didn’t think twice, I just sank into her arms and almost wept! I think she’s coming back today to give me another sewing machine. I wonder if she’ll want to hug me.”

“Not again!”

“I have a friend in the hospital sick with covid and I want to give him a big hug, but I can’t. I try to express my love to my mother whenever we talk, but it’s not the same thing, Aussie.”

“Thank your lucky stars you have me to stroke and pet and murmur sweet little nothings to every morning. ‘You’re my pretty girl, Aussie.’ Uggh!”

“I guess you are my emotional support dog whether you like it or not, Auss.”

“So, when do I get to fly on a plane?”

“Planes don’t let emotional support dogs aboard anymore, Aussie.”

“When do I get my bandanna with my name on it and my office hours?”

“Office hours for what?”

“Submitting to needy humans! That’s what it should say on my bandanna: Aussie Marko: Available for touching, licking, love, and other bullshit. Fee for services: Ten big buffalo treats.”

“You’re no big cuddler, Aussie.”

“You want licks and kisses, go to that Chihuahua Henry. I’m a Yankee dog, I’m restrained. Also, not Jewish.”

“Aussie, let’s have an orgy.”

“Not into the inter-species thing,  either.”

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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GETTING OVER THE HUMP

We got well over 12 inches of snow several days ago; more is on the way.

I’m spoiled. The snowplow arrives in the morning to plow the long driveway while my housemate shovels the paths and steps, part of our housing agreement, leaving me to fill five birdfeeders and prance around on the snow with the dogs. In my 69th year I discovered studded snow tires (where have you been all my life?). You can’t drive on them once spring arrives because of the wear and tear on the roads, but having them on the car in snow and ice is a dream.

Before the Age of Studded Snow Tires, driving up an icy driveway with declivities on both sides was a nightmare. There was a hump towards the top where the driveway met the road, and if you were driving too slowly or cautiously the car wouldn’t get over that bulge and start sliding down instead.

Bernie was very good at getting uphill.

“Here is what you do,” he’d say, lighting up his cigar. “Start way back where it’s flat, by the garage, then drive as hard and fast as you can so that it takes you over the hump, and voila! Whatever you do, don’t slow down. Press the accelerator all the way down,” he’d urge, taking a puff.

I would, only two-thirds of the way up I’d lose my nerve, loosen the pressure on the accelerator, the car would chug up the hump just like the small fire engine that could (“Come on! Come on!” I’d urge under my breath), only it couldn’t. Its wheels would churn on the ice (“Come on! Come on!” I’d say a little louder), and then start sliding back, and I’d have to apply the brakes carefully so that it didn’t skid out of control.

There would be no choice but to carefully drive reverse all the way down and try again.

Bernie would shake his head, take another puff: “No, no, you gotta take it all the way back, all the way back!” I would go all the way back and he’d say: “Now press that accelerator all the way down and don’t let up!” I’d do that, trying to control the wheel as the car rushed up the icy slope, the yellow skidding light flashing harder and harder.

After a couple of tries, I’d make it. The car would glide over the hump and come to bank on the road. He’d nod happily, take another puff, and I’d let out a sigh of achievement.

Our roles were reversed when it came to driving reverse (except for the cigar). Bernie couldn’t do it for the life of him. He sure knew how to do other things backwards, just not driving.

Then, too, driveways were the problem. We lived in La Honda, California, and the driveway went up a short but steep hill. Going up wasn’t the problem, coming down in reverse was. He tried it a few times, ran off the driveway twice. One day he hit the brakes and put on the emergency brake. Didn’t say anything.

“Switch drivers?” I offered.

“Okay,” he groaned, and after that I was the one who always drove the car down and onto the road.

But he was great at never letting up on the accelerator and getting over the hump on the ice.

Last night I was with Jimena as we handed out food cards and a young man came on behalf of his family. Jimena greeted him joyously, then told me about him:

“I know Mateo (not his real name) since the age of 2. His parents were illiterate and came from Mexico; he was born here. I got to know him when I worked at the community health center, which helped immigrant families with medical help. When I went to work for the schools at first I taught Spanish and math, and he was one of my students. I saw him grow up the whole life. He finished high school and won one of the State prizes because he’s bilingual and his reading and writing in both languages are very good. His score was so high that they gave him an award with a scholarship to go to Greenfield Community College. He’s now in his second year there studying business and accounting. In his time off he helps his father in the farms.”

I thought of Mateo driving home. Of parents who risked so much to raise you here but can’t help out with school, you work hard hard hard for everything. They labor outdoors in freezing temperatures while you get top scores and go to college to get a business degree.

The American dream.

Last night we gave out food cards and cash assistance in a total amount of $925. We’ve been doing something in this range weekly. A wonderful friend sent me a check for $600 telling me this was her covid relief money and she wants to give it for food cards. Thank you for your help, it continues to take us over the icy hump!

You can also send a check for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line that this is for food cards. Thank you.

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NAKED

In 1995 or 1996 I attended a benefit concert in New York City’s Lincoln Center for Opus 1, Roberta Tzavaras’s organization which supported her teaching of violin in the city’s public schools. I had been involved with her work a couple of years earlier (no, I didn’t see the film) and had been given a ticket for the benefit.

Various performers appeared that night, but the best (excepting the children playing violin with Roberta conducting at the end) was the jazz duet of violinist Yitzhak Perlman and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

I had seen Perlman, crippled from early childhood by polio, in previous occasions and knew the drill. Most violinists came onstage holding their violin in one hand. Perlman couldn’t do that because he needed both hands for his crutches as he walked in, so his violin (a Stradivarius or one in that class) would be waiting for him in the hands of the orchestra’s First Violinist, who would hand it over once Perlman was seated on his chair at the front of the stage, ready to begin. After the performance and/or encores, Perlman would hand the violin back to the First Violinist, get up, reach for his crutches, and hobble off the stage.

When he was giving a solo recital with no orchestra or First Violinist present, an assistant would bring him his violin and also pick it up from him at the end of the recital.

That evening Perlman and Marsalis played beautifully together. Marsalis’s popularity had zoomed and people clapped enthusiastically for him. But for me, Perlman was the great treat because he was a classical musician, not jazz, but played with his unique combination of sensitivity and bravado. They finished their duets, the audience asked for more, and they planed an encore, all obviously arranged ahead of time.

At the end of the encore Marsalis got up on his feet, bowed to the joyful ovations, and walked offstage. Perlman, violin in hand, couldn’t get up to acknowledge the audience, never mind walk offstage. We waited for Marsalis to come out and take his violin from his hands, or at least a stagehand, but no one came.

Working with Roberta Tzavaras a couple of years earlier, I’d seen Perlman visiting young violinists at NYC schools. His office had strict guidelines: The building had to be accessible to crutches, which meant no stairs. He wasn’t going to get into a wheelchair and he certainly wasn’t going to be lifted upstairs. This wasn’t easy to navigate in old East Harlem schools and we had to  nix various spaces that didn’t fit the bill. Once he arrived, he was cheerful and extremely generous, but he clearly had his dignity. If you wanted him, you had to meet him on his terms.

That night it didn’t happen. He sat facing the sell-out audience as moments passed. There wasn’t a soul there that didn’t get it, that didn’t understand that he couldn’t move so long as that violin was in his hand. But there must have been some glitch backstage because no one came to take from him.

He stared out at us, this most famous of violinists, having played his heart out, and we stared back. He had achieved so much in his life, but almost all of us there could have done the one thing he couldn’t: stand up and walk off stage. Some lowered their eyes in embarrassment.

I felt I was looking at a man more naked than anyone I’d ever seen, as if I’d asked: What’s left when you no longer have your family, your immense talent, and your even more immense discipline? And he was showing me the answer as the moments crept by.

Eventually a young man came out and took the violin. Perlman got up and hobbled out on his crutches.

I never appreciated him more than I did that evening.

Two years earlier he was one of the guest performers at the first benefit for Roberta Tazavaras that took place in Carnegie Hall. The last show of the concert paired a child or teenager from the East Harlem schools with a world-renowned violinist—Isaac Stern, Midori, Perlman, etc.—and the 20 played together.

At the end I went backstage where the young people were assembled. Hundreds of their family members streamed to the back to congratulate their children. Going in the opposite direction was Perlman. He was making his way on crutches to one of the Hall’s large banquet rooms in the front where $1,000 ticket-holders were waiting to see him. He limped alone against a river of humanity, many of whom nodded and smiled towards him.

He plowed on, a big smile on his face: “Yes, they did very well. They played very, very well. Yes, it was terrific,” he told the proud parents.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

Make A Donation Donate To Immigrant Families