TRUE REPARATIONS

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

Oh Violet, my heart goes out to you!

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

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

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

It ended this past Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many had tears in their eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                     Donate 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.

 

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.

FOUR YEARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Occupation: Scientist.

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

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

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

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

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

                    Donate 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.

 

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.

IN THE HANDS OF THE MAKER

I woke up with a heavy heart this morning and one of King David’s psalms gave me comfort: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who created heaven and earth.”

Please indulge this fairly rare post on politics.

Monday morning, I felt some relief to see Bolsonaro voted out in Brazil, even when it wasn’t clear whether he’d accept this result or not. It reflected the popular majority’s will, and that made me glad.

I was in Brazil shortly after Lula was elected for the first time and still remember their exhilaration and excitement—Everything is possible now! It was a precursor to how many of us would feel when Barack Obama would be elected five years later when, for the first time since I began to vote, I felt like I was walking on air for several days. I remember running into people in the voting booths and later in the post office, and we were grinning at each other like idiots.

But Lula and his government were guilty of high-scale corruption, leading to Bolsonaro’s victory 16 years later. When I look now at his face, I don’t see the savior some see, I see a man who, I can only hope, may have learned a lesson about the limits of victory and a personality cult. Maybe.

I don’t hoot and holler at anyone’s victory right now. When Biden won in 2020 (Yes, Aussie, he did win!), I celebrated with a big breath of relief, not much more. I understand the whooping and hollering of people in the winner’s headquarters, the joy of their efforts being rewarded. But politics is not a matter of whooping and hollering one day and languishing in darkness and misery the next, it’s more like horse-trading and bargaining, covert negotiations, half-measures, and lots of small print most of us don’t bother to read. Basically, it’s about making deals. No idol is going to change that in this country, not unless s(he) is swept into office with big majorities in Congress, if then.

Nevertheless, I still got upset reading of the election results in Israel this morning. Last night it looked as if the right-wing bloc gained, and as of this morning it gained even more. Some in my family have a vitriolic hate for Bibi Netanyahu, who’s on trial for corruption even as he wins so many votes, but his return bothers me less than the surge in support for the political right wing, especially religious, whose views and platform are not only anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab, but also anti-democracy.

I hate it when religion and politics mix. Politics in and of itself is in the details, in small steps, in the bandying and bartering, but religion gives it an edge like nothing else. And, of course, I think of our own elections next week and the big changes they could bring to our Congress.

So this morning I thought of David’s verse because it addressed the question: Where does help come from? What can I trust? What do I depend on when it feels as though some existential darkness is descending?

I say existential because here, in New England, we’re enjoying delightful warm weather. This morning a breeze was blowing leaves down with such tenderness it felt like it was putting them into bed for their final sleep as gently as a hospice nurse. Yes, I thought to myself, watching this, this still happens. Things like this still happen. November didn’t come in gray, rainy and cold as it usually is, the one Melville talked about, it came in this way.

There isn’t just disappointment in the unpredictability of life, there is hope, too. On Monday my brother, a religious Jew, is flying to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to attend an interfaith conference on peace. He has become involved in faith-based efforts to bring peace to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, home to both Jewish and Muslim sacred places and often the linchpin for rock-throwing, riots, and police extremism. He has been studying Islamic texts and meeting with Islamic religious leaders, and will meet with more in Abu Dhabi.

If you had told me that my orthodox Jewish brother, who for years had so little interest in any religion outside his own, and who in his youth believed with all his heart that the West Bank belonged to Israel, will be meeting with Islamic leaders to work out a solution to the religious tensions surrounding the Temple Mount, I would have said: Not in my lifetime. But I’m still alive, he’s off to the UAE next week, and in a postscript to an email, he wrote: “I think Bernie would have appreciated what I do now.”

Hope springs from the unknown, the infinite space that mocks the little circles we draw around ourselves and others, whose unfathomable music never fails to play for those who can hear it. I don’t know the melody, can’t hum or sing it, but stirrings are everywhere. Maybe for this reason, even as I cleaned up the hanging plants and will soon take the outside table and chairs into the shed, I’ve left the chimes to hang from branches outside.  Keep on playing your melody as long as you can, I tell them.

And they do. Even as I write this, someone just sent me a link to the song The Maker by Dave Matthews. One of the verses:

My body is bent and broken
By long and dangerous seas
But i can’t work the fields of Abraham
And turn my head away
I’m not a stranger in the hands of the maker.

                     Donate 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.

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.

FREELY SHARING FOOD

“I never fed anyone in my life, and I never will,” said a white-bearded man with a ponytail. “What we do is freely share food, and that’s what I’ve done for many years, including in New York when we used to bring food to people on the streets. The police would ask us if we were feeding people and we’d say no, we’re no better than anybody else, we’re just freely sharing what we got.”

There I was, in the middle of a gathering of some 25-30 people, at the Pushkin Gallery in Greenfield’s Main Street, to review the vision of the Stone Soup Café and assess how it’s doing. At first, I joined a group that was honing its skills slicing carrots, with specific chef’s instructions on how to hold a knife, how to make a fist with the other hand holding the carrot to avoid cut-up fingers, how not to bend too much, etc. I failed at this completely and punished myself with coffee and brownies.

We started Stone Soup Café right by the Zen Peacemaker offices on the Montague Farm some 15 years ago. “I want people to eat with dignity,” Bernie said. “I want everyone to eat fresh, hot, well-cooked food regardless of who they are or how much money they make, so that you don’t know if the person sitting next to you is homeless or a millionaire.”

People cooked, farmers brought in fresh organic produce, children romped in the woods under supervision, a doctor came in for consultation, massages took place, and often there was live music. It was the perfect place except for one thing: The Farm was rural, among other farms, and if you didn’t have a car, it was hard to get to. We spent lots of time driving people back and forth from their homes to the Farm.

When we lost the Farm, we didn’t lose the Stone Soup Café. Instead, it moved to Greenfield, which was one of the best things that ever happened to it. It was adopted by All Souls Church, which gave it its basement, a separate entrance, and a small commercial kitchen. When it first opened we’d cook for 30 people, do a circle, introduce ourselves, do grace, and at the end of the meal have council.

Yesterday I heard that the Café cooked 560 meals the day before. Its capacity of feeding 150 people at a time, all sitting around tables with their neighbors, had been reached a long time ago and Kirsten Levitt, its entrepreneurial director and chef, was hustling seats and trying to figure how to feed so many people.

Then covid struck. As one long-time volunteer reported: “We met by Zoom and asked the questions: What should we do? Can we even continue? By the time we ended, we all knew that that second question was the wrong question. In the face of the pandemic, you don’t ask whether you can continue or not, you ask HOW!”

Gone was everyone seated together. Instead, long tables for food prep came out with rows of volunteers cutting and slicing on Fridays and Saturday mornings. At a time when other soup kitchens made sandwiches handed out in paper bags from a distance, Stone Soup made its usual multi-course meals with vegetarian and gluten-free options. Here’s its menu from Saturday, October 15:

Red Lentil Stew

Delicata Squash

Sauteed Greens

Pesto Penne

Lemon Caper Tofu

Lemon Caper Salmon

Double Fudge Brownies

People not just lined up to pick up these meals in bags, drivers arrived one after another in their cars to deliver the food to people who had or wished to stay indoors. Kirsten started a capital campaign to find a new building where everybody could sit together once again (even now, with less covid, they simply can’t fit into the old facility anymore):

“With our kitchen, maybe we could go up to 800 meals,” she said, “but I’d like not to. We have to find more space. We use 40 volunteers every weekend, and that doesn’t include the dozen drivers who line up to pick up food with names and addresses for where to deliver them.”

“How do you explain the surge in numbers?” somebody asked.

“Simple,” she answered instantly. “People put on the heat. The price of heating gas is 30% above what it was this month last year, and winter has barely begun. People are starting to make trade-offs between heat and food. We run a Free Store of food and fresh produce. Before, we’d have maybe 20-30 families coming to pick things up. Last weekend we had 110, all within 75 minutes.”

The need is rising, but what I hear most from people is about the value of and need for community, and how appreciative and appreciated they feel in their many hours of volunteering over the years. A number say that they’re fairly new to the area, and when they arrived, they were told that if they wanted to make friends and get to know the community and be known by it, go to Stone Soup.

And of course, there’s always tribute paid to Bernie and others who first began the Café. But more on that on Friday, the day of his 4th memorial.

                      Donate 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.

 

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.

HAM AND CHEESE

I just came home from walking the dogs. It’s time for lunch and I have my home-made split green pea soup in the refrigerator, but I pick up one of my housemate’s coconut cookies instead. We share sweet goodies because we both love sugar, chocolate, cake, and ice cream, especially when the slightest anxiety hits, or when I need more energy. The truth is, I originally picked up a mandarin and promptly misplaced it. Went around looking for it, and when I couldn’t find it, I reached for the cookie.

From an early age I used food to rebel against the rigors of orthodox Jewish tradition and authority of any kind.

On a school trip to Washington, DC, as the bus waited for my high school classmates to file in, I, already seated on the front seat, watched as the driver unpacked a cheeseburger he’d picked up for lunch. In our home we never mixed meat with dairy. I noticed how much bigger a cheeseburger looked compared to a hamburger. As he ate, juices from the meat and yellow cheese crept down his chin, which he didn’t bother to wipe away. He bit into the cheeseburger with gusto, clearly enjoying himself, and I thought to myself: Wow, that must taste good!

Back home, I said to my mother: “Mom, have you ever wondered what a cheeseburger tastes like?”

She looked at me in horror: “Never!”

“I’m not asking if you ate it, I know you wouldn’t, I’m just asking if you at least wondered what it tastes like.”

She stared at me as if I’d suggested dead caterpillars for an afternoon snack. “Never!” she repeated. “How could anybody even ask such a question?”

There it was. How could you even ask such a question? How could you be curious about things like that? You can ask how a book or movie ends, you can ask where your best friend bought that dress or even what color looks good on you. But a cheeseburger?

I couldn’t stop asking. Wanted desperately to find out what sex with a man felt like (masturbation gave some clues), curious about sex between two women or two men. Just asking these questions was unkosher. Since we kept kosher, you couldn’t get hot dogs in ball games no matter how much your mouth watered. You couldn’t get an ice cream soda after eating a meat sandwich. You couldn’t eat in an Italian restaurant, and don’t even THINK about Chinese food.

I noticed that my mother was right, nobody else seemed to ask those questions in the orthodox world, including my friends. They were special people voluntarily, even happily, living inside special boxes. Life outside those boxes meant as little to them as life on Jupiter. They couldn’t understand my curiosity and I couldn’t understand their lack of it.

How could you rebel like this? was met by my own amazement: How could you not?

One afternoon, when I was about 12, I went into a drug store and bought a fruit candy. It didn’t have the U on it to designate it was kosher and I didn’t care. It’s candy, for God’s sake, I thought to myself.

I leave the drug store, but someone is running after me. Jacob Stepansky, blonde, short, wearing glasses big as goggles, stops me in my tracks: “Eve, do you know that that’s not kosher?”

Caught by a pipsqueak spy. “It isn’t?” I ask in consternation.

He shakes his head emphatically. “I think it once had a U but then they removed it, I don’t know why.”

“Wow,” I say, “thanks for telling me. I’m gonna throw it away as soon as I get home.”

He remains standing, looking at the candy in my hands like it’s pig blood. I look around, as if searching for a trash can. Luckily, I don’t find one.

“Thanks for telling me,” I nod again, turn away, and keep on walking. But his eyes burn through my back to directly scrutinize my heart, where he’ll find that I’m a liar, sinner, and basically the worst kind of heathen imaginable.

In my senior year in a religious high school, I ate ham and cheese. Not because I was curious how they tasted, even I never wondered about that. You couldn’t even think about it, never mind imagine a sandwich like that in your hands. But by then, the box had gotten way too small for me, I was bursting through the seams.

The Six-Day War in the Middle East had just happened, Israel won mightily, the UN was busy issuing anti-Israel resolutions right and left, and the school principal, thin-faced Dr.  Eliach, came in and said: “Everyone’s going to demonstrate in front of the United Nations this coming Sunday.” He looked round the class. “Who’s not coming on Sunday to the demonstration?”

I raised my hand.

“Eve,” he said, “if you don’t join the march, you don’t graduate,” and he left the classroom.

“He can’t do that,” my friend Marty comforted me at the break, “it’s illegal!”

On Sunday morning I joined the class in the march by the United Nations. Dr. Eliach saw me, nodded, passed by, and instantly I left the demonstrators, joined by friends Marty and Jack.

“Where you going?” they asked.

“Lunch,” I replied. “At the Automat.”

Horn & Hardart had its Automat right across Grand Central Station, not far from the UN. We settled down at a table and went to get our food. Goody-goody cowards that they were, they inserted their coins and pressed the buttons by labels saying Egg Salad Sandwich and Tuna FishSsandwich. Jack, big and heavyset, also pressed the button by lemon meringue pie. The machine whirred and turned, the small transparent plastic screen rose, and they reached inside.

I swallowed hard, then pressed the button marked Ham and Cheese Sandwich. The plastic screen rose, inviting me to remove the sandwich and put it on my tray. I also wondered about lemon meringue pie but wasn’t sure I’d be alive to eat it.

When I brought my tray to the table the boys’ eyes popped out of their heads. They looked up at me with respect, at the same time squirming a short distance away so that if lightning struck, they wouldn’t be hit by accident. I bit into the sandwich, munching carefully. My first taste of ham. My first taste of meat and dairy together. My first taste of ham and cheese. Things couldn’t get much worse.

Nobody said anything; I can’t remember what we talked about. But we all knew I’d left, gone abroad to a different country, a Gobi-like desert where no Jew survived. They respected that, but had no plans to follow.

                       Donate 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.

 

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.

THE THIRD PAW

“Hello, Aussie, it’s good to meet you. I’m going to throw you a ball and see what you do.”

“Are you crazy? You think we’re paying you all this money so that you could throw me balls?”

“Oh, I see. You talk.”

“How else are we going to do therapy?”

“Aussie, you’d be surprised how much we can get done in canine therapy. I can throw you balls, watch you play with treats, look at you in different ways and see your reactions. There are lots of things we can do without talking.”

“Forget that.”

“Aussie, in my defense, I don’t know other dogs that talk like you. You’re a first for me.”

“That’s because I’m living with a very verbal person. She’s a writer and, worse, a talker. You’d never guess she’s a Zen meditation teacher from how much she talks. My verbal diarrhea is all her fault. I’ve practically forgotten how to retrieve balls, but retrieving balls was never much of an interest for me; I don’t waste time on trivialities. Now, if you had Henry the illegal chihuahua here, you could fill the hour with throwing balls and you’d have the happiest client in the world. Dumb, but happy.”

“Who’s Henry?”

“Henry’s the little Mexican dog who came into our perfectly ordered home and created havoc. The floor is littered with Pinky the Elephant, Purple Haze, Wally Alligator, BooBoo Bear, Albert Puffin, and half a dozen rainbow monkeys. You can’t walk anywhere! The only reason Big Frog is no longer around is that he got caught in a tree.”

“How did that happen?”

“Henry tossed it back and forth, up and down, and got it caught so high in a tree Big Frog can’t come down. If only that happened to the rest of them. If only that happened to him!”

“Aussie, it sounds as if you don’t like Henry very much.”

“You’re a genius, doc.”

“Why, Aussie? He’s your little brother.”

“Stop with the bullshit, he ain’t family. Do you talk down to all your patients or just the canines?”

“Aussie, I don’t usually have dogs for clients. For one thing, I’m a Freudian.”

“What do you afreud of?”

“No, no, Aussie, I’m a Freudian. That means that I am treating two Aussies, not just one.”

“There aren’t two Aussies in the whole world.”

“There are, and both are in this room. There’s Conscious Aussie and Unconscious Aussie.”

“I don’t see another Aussie here.”

“Conscious Aussie is the one who tries to be a good girl, wants to eat and be loved. Unconscious Aussie is full of anger and resentment, especially towards her little brother—”

“He ain’t my brother!”

“—and maybe towards her human, Eve.”

“You may have a point about Eve. But with me, Doc, I think it’s the other way around. Conscious Aussie is the angry one. Not just angry, snotty and bitchy, too.”

“And Unconscious Aussie wants to be good and loved?”

“I told you, there is no other Aussie in the room, and certainly not that one. Just Conscious Aussie, just me.”

“Aussie, from many years of experience I can tell you there’s also Unconscious Aussie who wants to be loved and cared for. It comes from the time when you were a pup. How did you feel towards your father?”

“Never knew him.”

“Left you, eh?”

“German Shepherd from Texas. Bam bam, thank you ma’am, you know the type.”

“That’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“That may be the root of your hostility towards Henry and your human. On the one paw, you wanted your father to love you, so deep inside, that’s what you want. On the other paw you’re full of anger and resentment that he left, and that’s what you show anybody who tries to get close to you.”

“And on the third paw?”

“The third paw?”

“I’m a dog. Got four paws.”

“The point is, Aussie, I’m afraid you’re one, big, confused mess.”

“I thought you said there were two of me.”

“Two, four, ten, you’re a very complicated dog. Not to mention that you talk. And the whole thing about your father explains your fascination with Donald Trump.”

“Huh?”

“You look at Donald Trump as the father you never had.”

“I want him to adopt me and take me to the White House.”

“It would make sense that you choose someone who doesn’t like dogs as your ideal father. It’s impossible, frustrating, and will never end well. Which means you’ll need to see me for the rest of your life. Meantime, I’ll give you some prescriptions.”

“I don’t take meds.”

“Liver-coated, venison infused gummies for depression. Gluten-free filet mignon tender bits to fight aggression, and Petticure calming chicken treats.”

“Hand them over.”

“Also, Slumbervest to give you a good night’s sleep.”

“You keep that one.”

                   Donate 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.

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.

CALLER WORRIED

It rained all night and this morning, as I looked out, I couldn’t suppress an internal groan. Fall is falling, the November grays arrive. I felt a little gray myself, somewhat lonely. No one’s caring for me, came the gloomy, self-pitying thought.

I purposely decide to walk the dogs on farmland, some of which is still dotted with pumpkins. The days are warm and I appreciate the bright green pastures framed by fog, aware of what will happen when the winter hits and the earth turns gray (and sometimes, happily, white). In the distance, a flock of wild turkeys frolic.

On the way there I’d stopped by our mailbox, and in the 5 seconds it took to put an envelope inside, Henry, scampering across the front seat, pressed the door lock button on the driver’s side, locking up the car (with the ignition on and the windows shut). Luckily, I was wearing my dog treats belt over my green autumn jacket with the car key inside. When the car is on and locked, an electronic key can’t unlock it. But this was the second time he’d done this and I knew what to do: I removed the mechanical key out of the small, black square (which is the electronic key) and used it to unlock the door, overriding the electronics.

Not that that prevented me from venting.

“Don’t do that!” I yelled at poor Henry. I say poor because Henry, wild, demanding Henry, collapsed on his belly shaking and trembling from fright. Instantly I felt terrible. He had no idea what he’d done or why I yelled. I apologized and stroke him, but his mood for the walk visibly changed, becoming nervous and somber.

We walk amidst the farms, dogs unleashed as usual, sniffing, running, and coming back for liver treats, few cars on the country roads. They rush after a squirrel—there are lots of them now doing last-minute prep for winter. Henry comes back, Aussie not. Not unnatural for her, given October’s overwhelming sounds and smells. She likes to rush here and there and always catches up with me, or else finds the car. She’s never gotten lost.

We walk and walk, still no Aussie. “Don’t worry,” I tell Henry, who always gets worried when his friend isn’t around.

We pass a man with a handsome border collie and exchange the usual dog people greetings: What a handsome dog! Is he friendly? A good day for a walk. As I finally pull Henry away I say: “If you see a black and brown dog, just tell her to come home.”

“She’s waiting for you by your car,” he says, “lying right next to it, in fact.”

I thank him. Sure enough, rounding the corner, there she is, sopping wet. She doesn’t hurry forward, always waits to watch me and see if she’s in trouble, but I just shake my head, say “Oh, Aussie!”, and she knows she’ll be fine.

We get into the car and I stop at the intersection because a man is walking two pitbulls. He yells something at me and I roll the window down. “What?” I ask.

“I called the police about you,” he says.

OMG, I think. He saw the dogs off-leash and didn’t like it, or else Aussie may have run in his back yard. Even here, in progressive Western Mass, a few people so insist on the sanctity of private property that they will actually shoot critters, including dogs, if they trespass. I bite my lips and prepare to hear the worst.

“Why?” I ask him through the open window.

“I was worried about you. I’d seen you walking here before and when I went out—I live just there,” pointing to a house diagonally across from us, “and suddenly I noticed your dog was back by the car but you weren’t. I was afraid something happened to you.”

I’m so busy setting up my defensive walls that I still don’t get it, and he repeats himself. “I thought that if you didn’t come back to the car and she did, something may have happened to you, maybe you fell or got hurt or something, so I called the police.”

Finally my thick skin softens and I smile. He meant well, I think. He meant so unbelievably well.

“Did your neighbor with the border collie  know this?” I ask.

“Yes, we’re a community here,” he says. “We look out for each other. I asked him if he’d seen you, told him I was worried about you.”

I thank him from the bottom of my heart. I’ve never met him before. “What’s your name?” I ask before pulling away.

“Michael. Yours?”

“Eve. Thanks a lot for thinking of me, Michael.”

“Of course.”

I wave and cross the intersection, and seconds later see a police car hurrying down the road in the opposite direction. It’s probably headed towards Michael because he called them, and he’ll explain, I think to myself. And then I’ll read in the police log of our local paper: Caller from Ferry St. reported a dog lying near a car, woman missing. Caller worried.

                    Donate 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.

 

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.

EVERYTHING AT OUR FINGERTIPS EXCEPT CONTROL

I’m getting the back steps of the house fixed. The wooden steps are buckling, probably because the wood originally used had not been treated for outdoors use. Seeing that it was just a matter of time before one of the boards would drop under my feet and send me sprawling, I looked for a carpenter.

It often occurs to me how many things I’m surrounded by or use that I have no competence in. When we had a major leak in the garage, water rushing everywhere, it was my housemate, Lori, who knew where and how to turn off the water in the basement. She rents rooms here, I own the title, but I had no idea. Lori knows lots more about cars than I do and does various fixes herself on her 20 year-old car while I depend on Mark’s Garage less than a mile away. We both have dogs but again, Lori knows more about them than I do; ditto the yard, the flowers and plants, and the billion leaves that are falling and will continue to fall for the next month.

When it comes to technology, it’s safe to say that we’re both ignoramuses. I’ve had great experience with Apple’s customer support and I clean both computer and phone religiously, but both are old and I can see a visit to the Apple Store in Holyoke on the horizon.

Lori and I love the DeLonghi expresso maker that’s been in the kitchen for 6-1/2 years and I take meticulous care of it, too, just like the manual advises, but there’s a leak inside and I haven’t even been able to unscrew the special screws that hold the back panel in place, so I can’t see where the leak comes from and what piece I need to re-order.

I feel as though my life has gotten big—lots of information at my fingertips, trips I can book myself rather than using an agent, lots of interesting people to meet in person or online—how else do I do a dialogue on aging with actor Jeff Bridges?—but my personal capabilities are nowhere near my life’s reach.

Think of it this way: It used to be that cavemen mastered all there was to learn about tracking and hunting animals, their way of putting food on the table. Cavewomen knew to cook the animals, make clothes and coverings out of the skins, give birth and raise children. Given the narrow dimensions of their lives, there wasn’t much more they had to know. There might have been certain individuals who, in their off time, tried to create fire, but there wasn’t much off time.

The same when agriculture took over. You knew how to plant and harvest, and eventually how to raise domestic animals for help and food, while the women had the skills to raise a family, sew, wash, and repair clothes, cook and clean. I think one reason for the nostalgia around old Westerns like Little House On the Prairie or even Bonanza has to do with how well the families seemed to take care, doing everything they needed all by themselves or with family and neighbors.

That’s not true now. If we depend on oil or gas furnaces for heat and the heat doesn’t come, we call the oil, gas, or electric company. We don’t know how to service the machinery we need to keep us comfortable, like ovens, refrigerators, cars, or homes. And that’s before we get into electronics. How many times have I watched someone shaking his head over a miscreant computer or a phone that suddenly wasn’t working?

With all the knowledge at our fingertips, we don’t feel in control. If something breaks down we don’t depend on our skills to fix it, nor do we usually go to neighbors to see if they know more than we do; we call the company. We call the specialists and things become transactional: You do the job and I pay you. Things we once either did ourselves or got help with from a close circle are now provided by a specialized service-provider who takes my credit card and processes my payment right on his/her phone.

Earlier today I was at our local co-op for food. The credit card machine wasn’t working well. The man behind the glasses repeated the transaction, and when the machine still didn’t work he banged on it, and when that didn’t work he stared at it as though it was an evil voyager from another planet come to the co-op to threaten his work and peace of mind.

Everything was at his fingertips, and he had no control.

                           Donate 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.

 

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.

ACONITE

Temperatures having dropped dramatically in the past few days, I was relieved this morning to see the truck coming down the driveway to deliver oil for heat. Henry, a secret climate activist, barked ferociously, but at 16 pounds, he’s also the first to shiver in the early morning when the house is cold.

This afternoon I went out and gathered what remained of basil and parsley to store in the freezer. A few summer flowers are still left, dwarfed by the number of yellow, orange, and red leaves that carpet the grass in back. Before the next rain I must check the culvert under the driveway that transports water from the rains down to the Sawmill River below. When the culvert gets covered with autumn leaves, a big rainstorm can destroy the driveway. It happened once already and cost $2,000. Now I sweep the leaves.

Just when everything is dying, the blue flowers above have begun to emerge right outside the garage door, behind the kitchen. As the days get colder—and we’ve had at least two frosts—more of them come out. What are they? Aconite, a Chinese medical herb. I don’t know who planted it, it preceded Bernie and me. It’s very dangerous if you ingest it raw, you want to boil or cook it in some fashion for at least an hour, and even then, you have to be careful how much you take.

But once cooked, it has amazing healing properties. Among various ailments, it’s used to treat very cold limbs and faint pulse, cold pain in the heart, stomach and abdomen, cold vomiting and diarrhea, cold edema, cold and damp pain, and all chronic severe cold diseases.

I found it fascinating that this herb does so well in the cold. It doesn’t bloom in spring or summer, it waits till mid-fall in New England and is almost the only flower left in the yard. It survives stormy winds and the crashing rainfall we had two nights ago, and temperatures well under freezing, showing tremendous resilience to cold.

It reminds me of how we use a very small dosage of a disease as an antibiotic to fight the very same disease. The secret isn’t to stay completely away from germs and illness, but to get just enough to train and energize our immune system to work against them.

My friend Magnolia, who has connected me with the local immigrant community, asked me to help a brother and sister, Mateo and Alma (not their real names), who just arrived from Colombia. They were traveling close to home when they were stopped by about 15 rebels called La FARC, shoulders draped with a Colombian flag and armed with rifles. They interrogated the brother and sister and took photos of them.

FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in theory disbanded following a peace accord with the government a few years ago, but many continue to terrorize certain parts of the country.  They took their belongings and their phones, looked at their postings on social media, and discovered that Mateo was going to a military college. They gave them a deadline of 24 hours to leave their hometown—and their mother— and never return.

They stayed with family members far away, but when even that wasn’t safe, their mother sold her home to raise money to fly her two children to Mexico. From there they crossed the border to this country. Detained by immigration, they were released after 20 days and made their way here to stay with family friends.

They live in a small apartment and began to work right away at low wages. They need help paying rent. They’ll also need to get a different apartment because where they live now is tiny for the number of people there. That means putting up first and last month’s rent, and security deposit. Our county, the poorest in the state, is one of many that suffers from a dearth of rental housing (forget affordable housing!); rentals are sky high. My housemate hasn’t had her own apartment in many years though she works devotedly full-time for a social work agency.

I thought of Mateo and Alma when I looked at the purple aconite blooming behind the house. You see, I think we need people like Mateo and Alma, who’ve faced death threats and whose mother sends them up north to save their lives, not knowing if and when she’ll see them again. They’ve sampled fear and terror, have looked straight into gun barrels, and have risked much to come up here and build a life. We take so much for granted; they take nothing for granted.

They know the value of family and community, they know the value of freedom that isn’t just about the freedom to own guns. They bring new blood, new herbs, new medicines to this country that often forgets what is still possible. We need their young, idealistic energy, the hope that rises out of despair, the ability to sacrifice shown by their mother.

So yes, I said we’d help Mateo and Alma with the money they need to start a new life. I believe they will pay it back many times over. You can join in this endeavor by making a donation to Immigrant Families below. They, and I, appreciate your help very much.

                         Donate 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.

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.

NOT READING THE NEW YORK TIMES

 

“Aussie, come on. I’m not taking all these walks just for my benefit. Stop sniffing and let’s go. Henry left that shrub several minutes ago.”

“You don’t understand, I’m gathering important information.”

“I’ve heard that when you dogs sniff under plants and trees it’s like you’re reading the New York Times.”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead reading the New York Times. Fake news!”

“I mean that you sniff all the pee and smells left by other animals in order to get information, Auss, like who visited that spot, are they male or female, what they ate, and so on. It’s like our reading the papers.”

“Papers? Who reads papers anymore? I’m sniffing a blog.”

“You’re sniffing a blog? Who leaves you a blog under a maple by the train tracks, Aussie?”

“Witty the Poodle.”

“Witty’s his name?”

“It’s actually Whittier but everybody calls him Witty. Witty leaves a blog several times a week right here.”

“Aussie, Witty leaves an entire blog in his pee? I wish I could do that. Easier than writing.”

“And much more advanced.”

“What does Witty say, Auss?”

“Several things. First, the freight trains that cross these tracks are longer than ever. He had to wait for hours the last time a train crossed, the cars went on forever. He loves wet, juicy grass and he hates, hates, HATES potatoes. Leah, the Fosters’ Black Angus, gave birth to a calf and mother and baby are doing well. He was awake all night because of owls.”

“Aussie, that entire blog appeared in one pee?”

“You see where Henry is sniffing right under the pine?”

“You mean, further down?”

“That’s Brigitte’s blog. I don’t sniff Brigitte’s blog.”

“Why?”

“We disagree politically. That’s why she pees on the other side of the tracks. Her blog is all about feelings, nothing practical: her early life in Mississippi, her days now in Massachusetts, sentimental heart-to-heart, questioning, doubting, wondering, grateful. Uggh! Just like your blog. At least I can’t sniff your blog.”

“Henry’s sniffing Brigitte’s blog, Auss. He looks really interested.”

“What do you expect from a Chihuahua?”

“I can’t believe all these stories are in dogs’ pee.”

“That’s nothing. You should see what the horses leave in their piles.”

“You mean, their piles of manure, Aussie?”

“Memoirs, actually.”

“Aussie, how can Gala the the white horse  leave an entire memoir in her pile of horse shit?”

“She’s a female living with two males, Tigger and T. It’s a Me, too memoir. You have to read between the turds. It’s not the thing itself, it’s the context, the space around it.”

“I don’t see much space there, Auss, just piles and piles of—”

“You call yourself a writer!”

“Aussie, I don’t believe that even you, with your phenomenal sense of smell, can sniff out a memoir in horse shit or a blog in Witty’s pee. Can we go now? Why are you peeing so much? You and Henry are marking like crazy.”

“We’re not marking, we’re doing social media.”

                 Donate 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.

 

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.