PUT TIME INTO YOUR DREAMS

Aussie looks out the window and dreams of being Genghis Dog, the greatest squirrel killer of all time.

So far she’s killed two, which is two more than any other dog I’ve had has killed. One reason is that she benefits from this cold, wintry March in New England, when animals are going hungry. The hungry squirrels have attacked the bird feeder on the side of my office and chewed up a couple of its tiny platforms. As a result, the sunflower seeds fall onto the ground rather than into the feeder, so the squirrels congregate on the white, icy ground at the bottom, looking for seeds, and Aussie, stalking them carefully, sneaks up on them around the corner and pounces.

But even Genghis Dog can’t get past the fence. They know this and cavort on the other side, chasing each other from branch to branch while she looks disconsolately from the door. She tried, oh yes, she did try, and Tim had to twice reinforce the fence as a result. But now she has recognized her limits. She sits inside and looks out longingly, and dreams of creating mayhem, havoc, and terror in the hearts of the local, diminishing squirrel population. Also, she dreams of running.

I take her into the woods for 60-90 minutes where she goes unrestricted by leash, and then return to work. In the afternoon she comes and scratches me on my leg, clamoring and chattering, the most voluble dog I’ve ever had: I have to run! I have to run!

“I can’t take you out again, Aussie. You have a big back yard to run in and lots of squirrels.”

“And a big fence, too.”

“You have to stop running away, Aussie.”

“You know what the trouble is? You’re too old for me! I need someone younger in my life.”

“Aussie!”

“You don’t scooter, you don’t skateboard, you don’t skate. You don’t even bike!”

“Aussie, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never biked in my life. Never learned how.”

“I’m probably the only dog stuck with a human who can’t bike, And do you go cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing?”

“I’m not comfortable in those things anymore, but I still take you into the woods in deep snow wearing plain boots.”

“My life is going by and I’m not living it!”

“You’re living it in a slower lane, Auss.”

“That’s not life for a hound like me. I need to follow the scent of deer and elk. I need to go to the woods and run, run, run! Why can’t we go camping?”

“Because it’s too damn cold outside, not everybody has your fur. Like Harry there. He’s glad to stay indoors. Look at him, cozy and warm on the sofa. Does he look like he wants to go camping?”

“Harry’s a wimp. Did you see how afraid he was to cross the plank bridge in the woods this morning? I came back across and nudged and nudged him, and he wouldn’t cross. I even grabbed the collar of his sweater and tried to pull him across, and he wouldn’t budge.”

“Harry will grow up and gain more confidence. Have some patience, Aussie. You know, Maezumi Roshi, one of the great Zen pioneers in this country, used to tell a friend of mine who studied with him: Put time into your dreams. That’s what I have to tell you, Aussie. Have patience. Put time into your dreams.”

“I gotta run, I gotta run, I gotta run!”

aHarrH

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I BREAK DOWN SAFELY

A friend told me about an exchange between a grandmother and a young grandson:

“Are you very old?”

“I guess I am.”

“Are you going to die?”

“I guess I am, but not yet.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll do it really good.”

Bernie always said that he had no fear of dying. I can confirm that when he died, I saw no signs of fear at all. But the three years before!

I used to tell him that I didn’t feel much fear of dying either. It’s what comes before—stroke, pain, illness, dependency, loneliness—that gives me pause.

I brought Harry the Cur to Elise McMahon, a highly regarded dog-trainer in these parts, for some help with training. Elise trained our last generation of dogs, Bubale the Pit Bull and Stanley the whatever, and remembered Bernie bringing Bubale to earn her Canine Good Citizenship papers and my bringing Stanley for the same purpose.

We had to do that after someone walked around our property when no one was home, saw a pit bull and a whatever with some tell-tale German Shepherd marks on him, and reported us. We were told that our home insurance was being canceled within the month.

“What do I do?” I asked the company.

“Get rid of those dogs,” was the answer.

“They’re peacemaker dogs,” I told them. “We’re Zen Peacemakers.”

That didn’t have the desired effect. Instead our agent found us another insurance company that was ready to insure us provided both dogs got Canine Good Citizenship papers. And they did.

“You look good,” Elise says this afternoon, 14-1/2 years later.

“Thank you, but I’m in the process of breaking down,” I tell her.

“That’s too bad,” she clucks.

Then we talk about how it’s déjà vu all over again because Harry’s learning how not to jump on food (after finishing half a blueberry pie on Sunday that was left on the table) and how not to jump on people coming through the front door, just like Stanley in a previous generation.

One generation follows another. Elise looks the same except for some very cute blue strands of hair covering her forehead.

When I’m not terribly anxious, I feel fine. My friend and blog mentor, Jon Katz, recently wrote that anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity. I am lately very spiritually insecure. My mind isn’t clear. In making arroz con pollo, I bought fresh olives and put them in back of the cabinet rather than in the refrigerator. I also left the pollo in the car. This morning I managed to lose my car keys, two handfuls of Brussell Sprouts, and Aussie, who loves to run away. I found everything except for the Sprouts.

This is the time of dismantling and being dismantled. It doesn’t feel so great. But I’m remembering our meetings in Rapid City, South Dakota, with our Native American hosts. One of them, Violet Catches, came late from Pine Ridge due to the funeral of her aunt and a malfunctioning car. When she arrived in dangerous, sub-zero weather someone said to her, “You arrived safely.”

“I broke down safely,” Violet said.

I wrote it down right away. That’s me in a nutshell. I break down safely.

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GETTING HIJACKED AGAIN

“You, the most organized human in the world, is making one mess after another.”

“I know, Stanley, I just can’t seem to help it.”

“Look at this room! And look at that basement!”

“It’s terrible, just terrible. Sometimes I get so mad at Bernie when I think of how often I asked him to clean up his stuff. Don’t leave it to me to do, I used to tell him, but did he listen, Stan?”

“No way. The Man wasn’t going to clean up if he could help it.”

“Well, now I’m doing that cleaning for him, the sorting of what stays (very little) and what goes (a lot). And in the process dismantling much of our life together. Not all, but some.”

“But what are you doing with your own life?”

“What I’m doing is my life, Stanley. Dismantling and recreating.”

Still, you feel like you should get your life together again. Around you people are doing beautiful things. You were once one of those people. You go to Rapid City to help plan the Native American retreat and spend time with people you love, people you have a history with. You go out to meals, make jokes about the under-zero degree weather. You do everything they do, talk and banter like they do.

If someone asks, you admit things are heavy, but you don’t make too much of it because everyone has their life, and you sense that folks are on a different trajectory from yours. It’s not that they don’t care—they care a lot—but they’re on a different wave length and you’re not sure, in fact you’re quite certain, that it’s difficult for them to understand why, four months after your husband died, you still can’t find the ground under your feet. Why you try to do the things you always loved to do, only they now seem distant, even meaningless, as if the Great Plains have come between you and them.

“You must think about him a lot,” people say. Actually no, you don’t think much about him at all. You don’t spend time recalling intimate scenes or talks, although when you watch TV you still look over to the right to where the wheelchair once stood, at the edge of the futon, to ask what he thought of the movie. You’re surrounded by absence. And that often feels like a lack of purpose, as if everything you do is followed by a question mark: What is this? I know I’m planning this retreat and that program, editing this book, but why? For what reason?

You don’t understand any of this. After all, you lived on your own for years in between marriages, you never needed a husband to have purpose and meaning, you were excited about life and knew how to live alone.

It doesn’t help that you’re constantly getting hijacked. You’re in the motel room in Rapid City, getting ready to go grab coffee and an English muffin on the way to your final meeting, when you find Bernie suddenly staring up at you from the desk. Instantly—and I mean instantly—you know that it’s a photo of him after his stroke. Not because of the red blotch on his hand and not even the red thing peeking out of the shirt pocket that everyone else thinks is his red clown nose but that you know is the red rubber roller he’d use to exercise his paralyzed right hand. No, you know from the expression on his face: sweet, vulnerable, childlike.

Who are you, you ask for the umpteenth time. How much you changed after that stroke! And what are you doing here in a motel room in Rapid City? And then you realize the photo is part of a Greyston write-up about Open Hiring, on the other side of the paper of the Delta ticket you printed before you left, the ticket taking you out of Rapid City later and, slowly in the snowstorm, returning you to New England.

Your eyes get warm. Somehow an hour goes by and you come late to the meeting. Where were you, people wonder. You don’t know. You haven’t a clue where you went.

 

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YOU CALL THIS COMPASSION?

I’m used to the fact that long before 6 am, when I get up, Aussie is already out the dog door and in the yard, ready for action. This morning I got up later than usual, went down to make coffee, put on boots over my pajamas and walked out. Didn’t see Aussie till I went round the corner of the house, and there she was, chomping away on a dead squirrel. The snow around her was dotted with bloodstains.

Not hard to work out what happened. Two bird feeders hang from our lilac trees and the squirrels like to hang upside-down there and feed. One was probably dawdling around the base of the trees, sprinkled with birdseed, Aussie went into hunting mode and got it. I later discovered that the squirrel got at the tip of her left ear and gave it a good scrunch.

I confess I didn’t call her off; my dogs eat all kinds of horrible things. After all, she did get the squirrel. After all, she is hungry before breakfast. Instead I went back upstairs, did meditation, went again outside to do service by the Kwan-Yin that stands cheerfully in back, and there was Aussie right in front of Ms. Compassion, and there was the dead squirrel, rigid from death and cold. Aussie had brought it over and laid it at Kwan-Yin’s feet, some hair and skin nibbled off.

By the time I took the photo below Aussie had picked it up, swung it around in her mouth, then put it back down on the ground, but when I first saw it, it lay on its back, eyes staring right at the smiling wooden face, as if asking: You call this compassion?

In Rapid City, South Dakota, you hear story after story of teens committing suicide. You call this compassion? Or of men beating up their women, people dying very early from effects of alcohol and drugs. You call this compassion?

Closer to home, hawks circle over our house, eyeing our birdfeeders for prey. The body of a male human was found on nearby Mt. Toby, frozen. You call this compassion? The principal of the neighboring Turners Falls High School quit her job among accusations of racism running rampant in the school, not to mention a long battle around the use of the Indian as a mascot for the school’s sports teams.

Turners Falls itself is named after Captain William Turner, who massacred the inhabitants of a nearby Indian village and subsequently was killed himself by avenging warriors. Nearby Amherst is named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, whose idea it was to supply smallpox-infected blankets to the local Indians. Yes, that same Amherst that gave refuge to its Maid, Emily Dickinson, hiding in her safe home and writing poetry.

For me, Emily Dickinson is part and parcel of Jeffrey Amherst and the thousands of Indians dead of smallpox, while Jeffrey Amherst will always be part and parcel with Emily, Maid of Amherst, the one who wrote: .“They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as something of a recluse.”

I returned from Rapid City in the middle of snowfall. But the next morning I went out to do service by Kwan-Yin and found that a long path had been shoveled in the snow and ice, going straight and then turning left towards the wooden statue.

“Tim,” I ask the man now living in the house, the quiet bodhisattva who fixes the ceiling where a leak appeared, patches up the holes where pictures once hung, moved 4 desks out and brought my office downstairs to what was once Bernie’s office, “did you shovel a path to Kwan-Yin?”

He nods while eating his breakfast cornflakes. “Yeah, I know you like to go there in the mornings.”

Aussie knew, too. I suspect that’s why she brought the dead squirrel and laid it at Kwan-Yin’s feet for me to see as I prayed for compassion.

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FLYING INTO RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA

From left: Violet Catches, Renee and Manny Iron Hawk, Genro Gauntt, Michel Dobbs, me, Rami Efal. Photo by Rami Efal.

I was in Rapid City, South Dakota, this past weekend to meet with Native American elders and plan the summer retreat with them. A lot happened there, not so easy to put into words. One is connection to land.

I got up at 3 am on Friday, by 4 I was out the door and driving to the airport. By 6 we’d begun our 2-hour delay waiting inside the plane before taking off for Denver, and by 1 pm I was in Rapid City, where the day’s highest temperature would be 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit. It would go down to -40 at night, including the wind chill factor.

Did I walk the land in this weather? Hell, no. I walked 25 steps from my Quality Inn motel to the adjoining Days Inn where we had our meetings, then 25 steps in the opposite direction to Millstone Family Restaurant where we had our lunches and dinners.

On Sunday I took off again, landing in New England in the middle of a snow storm. By 2 am this morning I was home.

My body resists this travel. It tells me that bodies are meant to be in one place, not hop in an out of airplanes, not jump time zones or bounce in and out of cultures. Place is meant to be known from the inside.

When it’s known from the outside, what do you see? You look out the window of the small descending plane and what you see is white, arctic wasteland, flat, frozen tundra so glacial it seems another planet.

And a voice whispers inside: Is this what all the fight is about? Is this the place people love so much they’ll stay here in uninsulated, poorly-heated homes, try to keep their children close, struggle for generation after generation to get the Black Hills back, regain autonomy in the reservations, and save and preserve their culture and different way of life?

I’m reminded of when my mother went to visit Switzerland for the only time in her life. “Now that’s a land of milk and honey,” she reported on the phone. “You should see their farms, their cows, their mountains! Why didn’t God give us Jews that land? Why did he have to give us Israel, where so much is desert, we never get enough rain, and we’re surrounded by enemies? Switzerland would have been a real gift.”

But that’s if you see things from the outside. If you see land from the inside, then only the Swiss want Switzerland. Because the connection you make with the land has nothing to do with temperature; it’s simply where you put your feet.

Jews put their feet on the road and made pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem three times a year to make sacrifices. The Lakota go up to Bear Butte for Inipi ceremonies for purification, to pray and make offerings.

Land is also where the routines of personal history lie. Like feeding the birds. This morning I picked up the bag of sunflower seeds and walked from feeder to feeder, contemplating my tracks in the snow while the dogs scampered around me. It’s always the same routine. My trail goes first towards the slope where 2 feeders hang, then right where another hangs above a mound, and then down to the side of the house where 2 feeders hang from lilac trees.

I’ve created that trail over 14 winters.

Land in winter doesn’t just mean snow, it means chickadees and hungry squirrels, it means paw prints and branches littering the snow because of the storm. It doesn’t just mean cold.

And for our friends in Rapid City, who came from Cheyenne River Reservation, it didn’t just mean cold either, even in that freeze. It used to mean buffalo, because the buffalo gave meat to satisfy hunger and skin for warm clothes and a warm teepee. The buffalo is now gone, but land is still the place where you plant your feet, your life, your home, your children. The sky you look up to when you pray, the wind that goes through you, drying out your face while drawing wrinkles of character all around your mouth and brow.

How can you understand any of that, flying in and out of Rapid City on the first weekend of March?

I drove home at 1 am on a Monday morning in a snowstorm. I was alone on the roads for much of the time, sleet and snow flying towards me as I drove on unplowed roads. There was no fear, just awe at how the pine trees took the brunt of the snow and left me clear roads on which to travel. Everything giving itself so fully.

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LEMON MERINGUE PIE AT PERKINS

Photo by Suzanne Webber of me at Greyston Job Training facility

I’m on a plane to Denver, then switching to another flight to Rapid City, South Dakota, for a weekend of meetings planning the Zen Peacemakers’ Native American retreat this coming summer.

Notwithstanding my 3 am wake-up, I haven’t made a good start. We waited by the gate and on the runway for 2 hours verifying that one of the generators is kaput, requiring more fuel, and finally de-icing since snow began to come down. Chances are very good that I’ll miss the flight from Denver to Rapid City.

My fellow passenger, a small, blonde woman in her 40s, immediately called the airline to curse out their agent. Then she walked out of the plane in search of better routing, a faster flight, and a generally more efficient and productive life. When this didn’t turn out so well she returned to the plane and, using her middle seat as her private office, yelled angrily into her phone for close to an hour, making asides like “This is insane,” or “How dare they?” or “I can’t believe this!” to the rest of us whenever she was put on hold.

Her diatribe kept her so busy she never noticed the pilot coming down our economy class aisle, inviting passengers to ask questions, offer suggestions and options, patiently explaining the problem again and again and promising to do whatever he could to get the plane into Denver as quickly as possible. Lucky for him she was content to just yell into her phone, not so lucky for the agent on the other end.

Aren’t our lives important?

In Rapid City we will start, as usual, with a dinner with Manny and Renee Iron Hawk and Violet Catches, together with some of their children, at Perkins. Opening dinner in one of the Perkins chain restaurants is almost a tradition for us now, along with coffee and a slice of lemon meringue pie.

We’’ll catch up on what happened since we last met in August, the progress in starting a Lakota language program, the challenge of getting through a ferocious winter (temperatures below zero every single night, 1 degree highest on Sunday day), births, deaths. Theirs and ours.

This is the only time I eat lemon meringue pie. Not because Perkins’ lemon meringue pie is so terrific but because I can’t imagine these meetings without it. By the end we’re tired, slightly jet-lagged. We’ll probably talk of Bergil Kills Straight, of the Oglala Lakota, whose funeral took place the day after Bernie’s memorial. Those two men watched each other warily and respectfully, often at loggerheads. We’ll have that slice of lemon meringue pie thoughtfully, having covered a lot of ground, ready to start the next morning more business-like.

Which reminds me of a story Bernie loved to tell. The Russian Tsar visits a hospital of wounded soldiers. He greets one in his bed and says to him, “You’ve fought long and hard, mon brave. What can I do for you in return?”

The soldier says, “Your Excellency, all I want is peace on earth.”

“Good man!” says the Tsar.

He visits the next soldier. “You are a credit to your unit,” he tells him. “ What can I do for you?”

“Love, Your Excellency,” says the soldier softly. “I want all people to love one another.”

“May it be so!” says the Tsar. “What good people these are.” He reaches the bed of a Jewish soldier. “And you, my fine man, what can I do for you?”

“I vant a corn beef sandvich,” says the soldier in Bernie’s best Brooklyn Yiddish voice.

I want to hear the news of people living in Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Reservations: Who got into college and who spoke on a radio show. Who has a new job and who is selling their horses because they’re too sick to care for them. I want to admire the gorgeous beaded earrings hanging from Renee’s ears. And finally, I want to share a slice of lemon meringue pie in Perkins on Rapid City’s North Lacrosse Street, practically on the corner of I-90, before finally getting into bed late tonight.

 

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DOLL AIN’T NO DOLL!

“Aussie, she’s taking the bed away. The bed we’re on!”

“But that’s the Man’s bed, Harry. She’s getting rid of the Man’s bed?”

“First she stripped it, and now they’re taking it away. What are we going to do? Without a bed to jump up on, how are we going to look out the window?”

“How are you going to go ballistic when the snowplow comes in the middle of the night and wake everybody up?”

“And did you hear our neighbor say that there’s a bobcat in the area? How are we going to guard the house?”

“We need to guard the house!”

“Just look at how she gave away his clothes, Aussie.”

“She did wash them first, Harry.”

“But did she iron them? That’s what I want to know. Did she straighten them with loving tears in her eyes? I didn’t see one tear in her eye, did you, Aussie?”

“I don’t think she’s ever been the ironing type, Harry. But what about the desk and chair she sent away? He worked at that desk for 20 years.”

“Where did she send them to, Auss, the Smithsonian?”

“No, to the Salvation Army, Harry. The very desk where he said hi to all his teachers week after week and played Solitaire. Emptied the files, recycled the papers. Sent away everything, Harry: berets, suspenders, Hawaiian shirts, his clowning stuff.”

“This is the worst send-off I’ve ever seen, Aussie.”

“It’s insensitive, uncaring, unloving. It’s, it’s—“

“I’ll tell you what it is, Aussie, it’s ruthless! Damnit, it’s ruthless!”

“You’re getting carried away, Harry.”

“How could she do this to the Man?”

“Actually, Harry, you never met him.”

“But I feel like I know him, Aussie. He was humble, sweet-natured, gentle, a real sweetie.”

“Like I said, you never met him.”

”Who would have thought the doll could be so undoll-like. Do you see her sunk in memories of the past?”

“I do not, Harry.”

“Do you see her looking out to the snow outside, sad and weepy?”

“I do not, Harry. Droopy, maybe. Weepy, nah.”

“Women are supposed to be sentimental! Women are supposed to be nostalgic! Did you see her throw out all those photo albums? And the gazillion photos? A real doll would have been poring over them, sorting them out, and sending them to all his students with mushy notes.”

“I don’t think she’s mushy, Harry. She said it would take her ten years to do that.”

“But is that a reason for chucking them all out?”

“Actually, yes, Harry.”

“I’ll tell you one thing, Aussie. She ain’t no doll. I misjudged her, gave her the benefit of the doubt. But now I know. Doll ain’t no doll.”

“The Man could have told you that, Harry.”

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THE WHY OF THINGS

The winds are blowing at 60 mph outside. Aussie is dangling the yellow elastic strap that Bernie used for his exercises in front of Harry, inviting him to a pulling contest. They’re a little like two kids stuck indoors wondering what to do with their time.

I don’t worry about that.

One reason I like making commitments is that it makes life very easy. For instance, on April 3-7 I will lead a Zen retreat in Switzerland. I hear that there are still a few places open, so if you’re interested in more information, please look here: https://www.peacemaker.ch/angebot/. Why am I going to teach in Switzerland? Because I made the commitment a while ago.

Tomorrow night I will go to the zendo. Why? Because I teach there–made that commitment 15 years ago—so when it’s Tuesday night I show up.

Earlier this morning I walked the dogs in very hefty winds. Why? Because I walk them, or have them walked, daily.

I don’t spend much time wondering what’s next, how do I live, or how should I spend my days. Commitments make all that unnecessary. That’s especially valuable when your brain has turned into oatmeal as you’re busy dismantling the physical evidence of a married life. Clothes gone, bed gone, bureau gone, office gone.

Beside, I have lost all interest in exploring the why of things.

“Not knowing is a no-brainer,” I once said to Bernie. He was taking something out of the refrigerator and not only smiled, there was a flash of something on his face. I laughed and said, “Don’t you wish you said that?” and he said, “Yes!”

Most of the things I do now are no-brainers. They have rational reasons, but the reasons occupy a different planet. Cleaning the bathroom so that my friend, Tim, can move in today, walking the dogs, calling about the malfunctioning coffee machine or Bernie’s medical insurance or social security, all present themselves as things to be done. Don’t ask why, don’t wonder if this is the best thing to do in the best of all worlds.

The why of things has disappeared.

My office, moved to Bernie’s old office downstairs and right now consisting mostly of boxes and piles of books and files, is chaos.

Chaos is where I feel at home.

 

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IS THIS THE TIME TO BLOG?

Tell me, is this the time to blog?

I’m not blogging. What I’m doing is taking Bernie’s clothes out of his dresser and closet, all part of a big inside-the-house move. People are coming in and I’m completely overhauling three and a half rooms, not to mention cleaning out the basement.

But you are blogging. You had a big memorial for your husband 5 days ago in New York, and before that several days of meetings. Now this move. Aren’t you tired?

Exhausted.

So why are you blogging?

Because I have to blog. I have to write. I have to let people know about all the stuff coming out of the closet. Like that good-looking bathing suit my mom bought him when we took her to Maui.

Looks like new.

Bernie wasn’t much of a swimmer. That tuxedo? He only wore it once, for his son’s wedding. And that one pair of dress slacks? Part of the outfit he bought for the pre-wedding weekend celebration, which included a good white shirt, his one and only sports jacket, one and only tie, and one and only pair of dress slacks, only when we got there he discovered he’d left the slacks behind and had to wear that dress-up stuff with his faded old blue jeans.

So give yourself time, relax, have a hot bath. Stop writing!

Carhardt flannel shirts that we got from the Greenfield outlet. The ragged lined jeans shirt he wore day in day out in winter. Hawaiian shirts of all colors that he wore the rest of the year.

Go downstairs and make yourself a cup of tea, play with the dogs. Don’t rush off to the computer to write things down, you’re too obsessive.

See the yellowing white shirts? He wouldn’t wear them, he hated white shirts. One belt, two ties, 334 pairs of suspenders. I bought the t-shirts after his stroke, spending all day in the hospital and then stopping at Holyoke Mall on the way home to pick up the pants and shirts he needed for rehab. He’d always bought his own clothes till then, I never had to wonder what size pants, what size shirts.

What’s that red plastic tub you put everything in?

A well-meaning friend told me to put the clothes in large garbage bags and bring them to the Salvation Army. Garbage bags? Forget that. Instead I put all his clothes in this great red tub that Bernie’s friend, Chuck Lief, once brought us, filled with Jewish deli food like pastrami, corn beef, rye, sour pickles, lots and lots of stuff. What better place in which to put his clothes?

So go and sit a bit. Take a walk. Go into the woods you love so much. Call up a friend and go out to—why are you blogging?

Because I have to. I have to write about this.

You think you’re the only one who’s ever lost someone? You think this hasn’t been written about before?

Lots of times, but not by me.

And what makes your experience so different? What makes it so important?

It’s not important at all. Only it sends my fingers flying on the keyboard, don’t know why.

Nothing as mundane as death. As mundane as that dead mouse in the bottom of your birdfeed bucket that you found this morning.

I’m dismantling a life. Shirt by shirt, sock by sock, pillow by pillow. I don’t have much control, life continues to go on, using me and trillions of others for its purpose. There’s just one thing I want, one thing I need: witnesses.

 

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HARRY, WHAT DID YOU DO WITH BERNIE’S ASHES?

“Okay, Harry, tell the truth: What did you do with Bernie’s ashes?”

“I ate ‘em.”

“You are them? Really?”

“Really.”

“What did they taste like?”

“Awful. What did you think they’d taste like, brownies?”

“Harry, Harry, Harry. How could you do this?”

“How could you leave them there, so enticing and available?”

“Only you would find someone’s ashes enticing. I left them on the memorial altar where we have Maria of Guadalupe and Kwan-Yin and photos of others who died.”

“You left them in a very small wooden canister right by the edge. All I had to do was jump up on my back legs and–voila!.”

“Harry, Harry, Harry!”

“Doll, doll, doll!”

“I opened up the urn carrying Bernie’s ashes just before going down to New York. I transferred some into another urn to bring to Auschwitz-Birkenau at our next retreat there, which is what he wished. I was about to lock up the big urn again to bring down to New York when I got tempted to take just a little for myself.”

“You gave in! You let Lucifer have his way!”

“This wasn’t sex, Harry, it was Bernie’ ashes!”

“I know just how you feel, doll, temptations come my way day and night.”

“I looked for something to put it in and there was a tiny wooden round canister, perfect for holding just a smidgeon. I put it on the memorial altar before going out the door to drive to New York. I come back 5 days later and see something  broken on the kitchen counter. I think it was around the 4th time I came in carrying stuff from the car and passing by the counter that I realized what it was. What kind of a crazy dog eats ashes?”

“I did it for you, doll. A lesson in impermanence. Gone, gone, everything’s gone, not even ashes left. And that reminds me. Who’s your next teacher?”

“What do you mean, Cur?”

“Aussie the Juvenile Delinquent told me that the Man used to say that you should always have a teacher, and that when his main teacher died he looked for someone new. So who’s going to be your next teacher?”

“I haven’t even thought about it, Harry.”

“I have an idea about who that should be. Moi.”

“Toi?”

“Moi. Harry the Cur.”

“Absolutely not!”

“Why not, doll?”

“I can’t have a dog as a spiritual teacher.”

“What is this, specieism?”

“I don’t think we talk the same language, Harry.”

“Look at the teaching you received from me on impermanence. Could anything have been more eloquent than eating up Bernie’s ashes? Could anything have been more transformative?”

“I don’t feel transformed, Harry.”

“The greatest transformation is the one you’re not aware of.”

“In fact, Harry, I feel pretty pissed.”

“Did the Man get you pissed sometimes?”

“Yes. During the 33 years I knew him, he sometimes got me pissed.”

“See? It’s working already. I rest my case.”

 

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