LISTEN TO THE LAND

I took the dogs back to the Montague Farm earlier yesterday. It’s an easy walk not too far from home.

The Zen Peacemakers once owned the Farm, and after living there communally for over two years, Bernie decided that enough was enough and we bought our/my present home because it was walking distance to the Farm. Since then, there have been two subsequent owners, and I approach each one of them, introduce myself, and ask for permission to walk my dogs up the hill and into the woods (which becomes state property).

They give it happily; I’m still the one who wanders there long after others stopped.

This time I came up the hill and saw the scene above. The spring this year is gorgeous, the sun shining through the light green leaves, in the afternoon creating auras of lime and gold, trees blossoming everywhere, including our own lilacs and apple tree.

I remembered how it was when we lived there. It was lovely, but not like this. Things bloomed all right, but we didn’t have the energy (read money) to get everything mowed, landscaped, pruned, and weed whacked as the present owners do. They have to, they host weddings here for a living. We were so busy then trying to build the Zen Peacemakers we often neglected the very ground under our feet or around the old 18th century farmhouse where we lived.

Yesterday, I looked around and thought to myself, This is how we’d hoped it would be. Not a wedding hall, but a place for peacemakers from around the world to gather. So many are tired and often discouraged. This would be a place for them to rest and hang out, get inspired by peers from around the world. Walk along perfectly cut paths and sheared hedges, sniff the fragrance of purple lilac; Bernie had designed a complete map of crisscrossing paths and even gave them names.

One of many things that didn’t happen, at least for us. Now it’s beautiful for bride, groom, families and friends, a happy result for sure.

How much disorder can we deal with in our life? Some can work with more, some with less. Right now, with Lori bedridden and not well, lots of things around the house that she used to take care of fall on my incompetent shoulders. One of the laundry lines in the basement is down. The hinges on one of the kitchen cabinets have collapsed. There are mice in the kitchen. The oven isn’t cleaning like it should. The back yard is still unkempt even after days of my picking up branches and pinecones.

I try to keep things in place and life simple, but I know that compulsiveness for neatness and order at all costs creates its own stress. Sometimes, the more space I could give the mess, the more space for life.

A friend told me about his brother, who died in his 60s. “What happened?” I asked.

His brother had worked in a factory, in charge of the electric lines during his day shift. He loved that work, I was told. He knew how to start the day and how to end it. But then they changed the terms; suddenly he was being told to work a day shift one week, an evening shift another, a night shift another.

“Suddenly, he couldn’t start his day the usual way, with coffee and breakfast. And he couldn’t end it how he loved, by going to Paddy Gill’s Tavern, having some food, drinking some beer, playing some shoes with the other guys, before going home, catching some TV and going to sleep. He got stressed out. He retired early, gained a lot of weight, and died suddenly from heart failure.”

I climbed up the hill towards the woods with the dogs and thought of a life curtailed, and how easy it is to get stressed out when things don’t go according to our sense of order. I like to make order of disorder like everybody else, it’s one of the reasons I write stories. I search for meaning as a way of doing that even as I know that there is no real meaning to anything. We humans have done that as long as we arrived on the scene.

Life doesn’t go that way.

I remembered when Gigi Coyle, who at that time co-led the Ojai Foundation and was a council trainer, visited us at the Farm. She and I walked up the hill just as I do now with two dogs, and she said: “Finally, you have your own place.”

“Is that good or bad?” I asked her.

“It’s good,” she answered right away, “because you will learn to listen to the land.”

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FREEDOM AND HOME

A beautiful path in the woods. Aussie runs.

Henry the Illegal Chihuahua dashes after her. I call him, he comes back. Aussie, fuggedaboudit.

When finally, after 15 minutes, she returns, she runs right past me and hops into a tiny pool formed by the strong rains we’ve recently had here, gets down on her belly, and smiles. She’s hot and thirsty, and there’s nothing she loves more than to cool down by standing or lying in water. So happy, so proud of herself, as if she’s saying: You give me my freedom to run, and I will find you. You give me freedom, and I’ll always find home.

I had a dream in the early hours before taking the dogs out. In the dream, I’m driving with my sister towards the Henry Hudson Parkway going north, and we get lost in the Bronx. I park the car and we go into a bodega to ask for directions. Luckily, a cop stands there helping people out. He asks us to wait, and when he’s finished he turns to me. I ask him for directions; he knows how we should go but starts bantering. I banter back, he laughs, shakes his head, tells me what this reminds him of, and suddenly my sister, who speaks English perfectly well, says to me in Hebrew: “He doesn’t know what we’re talking about.”

I give her a shocked look. How could she speak in a foreign language about a man standing right there trying to help us, and who knows she’s talking about him? He and I go on, and eventually we get the directions we need, but she again says to me in Hebrew: “He doesn’t know how to go.” Finally, we leave the bodega, and I feel terrible.

I woke up and sat up in bed. My sister, as considerate and sensitive a person as you’ll find anywhere, would never do that. What was that dream about?

I recalled episodes that took place when I’m in Israel. I would be with my brother or sister, we’d stop somewhere for some reason, they might ask a person for something, and do what I did with the Bronx cop: joke around, banter in a friendly way, refer to a new slang that came from a favorite TV program. And while I follow Hebrew, I can’t always follow the rapid-fire jokes, the new lingo, the teasing.

It’s not a matter of language but rather of culture, of comfort and intimacy with those who watch the news, have different ways of celebrating holidays or doing vacation, who unconsciously rely on a host of common history and values that someone from a different country doesn’t share. I can’t participate with them in such a scene, much as my sister, bewildered, couldn’t participate in my exchange with the Bronx cop in my dream.

I got somber. Just the previous day I’d blogged about how important it is to live with differences, how often the Whole reveals itself much clearer when we spend time with people not like us than when we just hang out with friends or like-minded peers. That morning, sitting up in bed, I wondered whether all these gaps that separate us, whoever and wherever we are, could ever be bridged. They loomed large and overwhelming. I remembered what we chant in a dedication at the end of one of our services:

Let us forever remember the causes of suffering.

Let us forever act to relieve suffering.

May we always have the courage to bear witness,

To see ourselves as Other and Other as ourselves.

Is that just dogma, I wondered.

Later that morning, I watched Aussie standing happily in the tiny pond after running. Leeann Warner, Aussie’s trainer who takes a group of dogs twice a week up and into the mountain behind her house, once said to me: “You know me for years, Eve, and I have never let any dog in my care just run. But I’ve made an exception of Aussie because she’s so smart and always makes her way home. And she needs to run.”

 I have deep faith that if I can make space for people as they are, wide open to the different life and reality that they experience, knowing I can never stand in their shoes and they can’t stand in mine, keeping in mind that, given our shared DNA, we have way more in common with others than we realize, and greet them with curiosity and benevolence, if I can make space for that, they’ll come home.

Home can never be on my terms. If I have always to adapt yourself to someone else or that person to me, neither of us is home. My family was split wide open for psychological and sectarian reasons, and I learned early on to go far away, and to mute myself, even hide, when I was close. I kept my family, but I wasn’t home.

I think of the many families who decided not to talk about the 2016 election of Donald Trump in order to keep the peace. Sometimes that seems to be the careful thing to do, or as a friend suggested, consider not talking about the Middle East war when you come together with your siblings. That might make for vanilla-flavored calm, but that’s not home.

If you’re always careful and watching your words, that’s not home.

If you have to hide behind veils of courtesy and denial, that’s not home. It may be nice, even tranquil. But it’s not home.

You might say, “You and Leeann will see, one day Aussie won’t make it home.”

That could happen, but I won’t forget her words to me: You give me freedom, and I’ll come home.

And what’s home?

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TELLING THEM ALIKE

The following quote is attributed to Carl Jung: “[T]he greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable.  They can never be solved.  They are only outgrown at deeper levels.”

My brother, sister, and I are planning to celebrate my sister’s 70th birthday somewhere in Europe, they flying from Israel and I from the US to spend 5 days together in a beautiful place. Plans were well underway when my sister asked if we three could be together for that long. She remembered my brother and I arguing loudly over the war when I was in Israel five months ago.

I didn’t give her question the consideration it deserved, but last night I did, lying awake for a couple of hours, and wrote them that perhaps we have to agree on some ground rules before spending all that money.

A friend suggested that we agree not to discuss the war at all when we’re together. I said no right away. I’d muted myself for years when visiting Israel, feeling that I was entering a bubble as soon as I landed where almost no one talked my language, no one listened. Detachment isn’t an alternative for engagement.

Serving the Whole means that you experience yourself as that. You feel your own boundaries stretch and stretch, listen to expressions, words, and feelings that find no resonance in your individual self, and still you stretch. Then you go out into the sun, have Italian coffee, laugh together, look at trees, mountains, seas, talk and stretch some more, go out on a drive, have lunch or dinner, shop around (I love shopping in local stores with my sister), go back, talk and stretch some more.

I don’t seek to persuade anyone. I certainly don’t seek to stay in that narrowest of spectrums called right and wrong. I just want to hear all the voices. When we three meet, I wrote them, there are more than just 3 voices in the room. There are parents’ voices (my mother’s memorial will be day after tomorrow), Bernie’s voice, our friends’, our teachers’, all of history. So whose voice is speaking at any one time? And to whom?

How easy it is to enjoy hanging out with folks you agree with. How challenging it is to stay just as alert, just as open, just as conscious, when you disagree.

Some vacation, you might say. Why do it then?

Two reasons: Life always self-reveals, but we experience most of it as noise. We connect with things we like and even with things we dislike (at least to the extent that we’re aware we dislike them). But most of life out there is like noise we barely register. Until—you ask a question.

For instance: What can I do here? And the slice of life that before was noise is now experienced in its amazing complexity and uniqueness, in a panoply of color and nuance I didn’t see before.

It was always there, only who paid attention? But now I ask the question: What is this really? Or: Why did no tulips grow in this fertile part of the front yard? Or: What is that long black animal climbing up the tree which Henry’s barking at from the ground? The answer is a Kingfisher, and what is that? Where does it live? What does it eat (aside from Henry)? Reality opens up like a curtain, and you see details and colorations that were lost on you before, all because you finally asked a question.

And there’s another reason I want us to have this gathering. First, a celebration of the 70th birthday of a sister I love and respect, appreciation of my luck in having her in my life for so long, though she’s geographically far away. And also, faith that beauty will emerge from this joint engagement of singularities.

Especially when we argue, when we speak different words and ideas, love different things, some kind of unity emerges. Naturally, unconsciously not because I seek it. When we could contain our differences and hold them carefully, delicately, like babies, we experience this oneness, what Bernie called One Body. Tendrils of a love so fragile they’re invisible twine their way among us as we help one another with luggage, make someone coffee, ask one another if they need a sweater or jacket.

The poet Steven Nightingale wrote: “Beauty illuminates the affinity, the inner relation, the resemblance, the kinship, the concord and identity of things. We are all trained to tell things apart. In the experience of beauty, we learn to tell things alike.”

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CHANGE IS NOT ON MY AGENDA

Under the forsythia tree

“Hey, Aussie, you’ll never guess what happened. Last night I came to my terrific Foundation Training exercise class with Kendra Renzoni a full three minutes early.”

“OMG!”

“I knew that after the class I’d have to pick up food items from two different stores, and my mind of course is trying to figure out how to hit one store before the class—”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you.”

“I thought maybe I could hurry to the co-op and get a loaf of bread—that’s all I needed there—and I might come to the class one minute late—”

“And saved an entire four minutes!”

“And then I said, The hell with it, and got to my class 3 minutes early.”

The hell with it! You could have saved all that time, not to mention the time you wouldn’t have had to spend going to the co-op after class! What a wastrel you are!”

“You’re right.”

“You have only a short life, why are you wasting it?”

“You’re right.”

“You’d have gotten home about 5 minutes earlier than otherwise, eaten dinner, and maybe even got to start your monthly bookkeeping that very night.”

“You’re right, Auss.”

“You know you’re crazy, right?”

“I’ve known that for a long time, Aussie. In fact, the longer I live and practice, the more aware I am of how crazy I am. I seem to discover more and more layers of craziness all the time.”

“So what good are all those years of meditation? What good are all those years of getting up early and studying and retreating, if you’re not changing?”

“First of all, I do change, Aussie, because everything changes all the time.”

“But what about the changes that matter!”

“Like what, Auss?”

“Like getting rid of your neuroses.”

“That may be something therapy can do, but not necessarily Zen practice.”

“So what good is it?”

“For one thing, I can see those neuroses better.”

“And that’s a good thing?”

“Not as neuroses, but as ways I’m separating from life moment by moment. The times when I close my eyes, when I tell someone Ah, forget it, let’s not talk about that anymore. All those times when I’m in my own dream.”

“I could have given you a list. You didn’t need to do all this sitting for so many years, you could have adopted me earlier.”

“The thing is, Auss, I get more comfortable with all those things you call neuroses. That, too, is my gift from practice.”

“You’re not trying to get rid of them? Drop them? You’re not trying to change?”

“Changing is not on my agenda anymore, Auss.”

“You gotta change.”

“Why?”

“Because—because—you gotta get better.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“How else can you live with yourself?”

“Do I have a choice? Only now I’m living more consciously. I’m at home inside, Aussie, not looking to ditch much furniture.”

“But you’re crazy also! You’re scared of thunderstorms. You’re a nut when it comes to time passing and work.”

“Yup. They’re the furniture of my home. Some of them will drop off after a while, especially when I downsize, maybe go to Goodwill or the Salvation Army; the rest will stay a long time. But I’m not fighting to change anything anymore.”

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ISM PRISMS

Photo by a kind, unknown man

The Montague Reporter

Police Log of date in April

10:31 pm

“Caller states that a white car with an illegal exhaust drives down Randall Road too quickly every two hours. Sports car, no other description or plate. Last drive was at 9:40. Called would like an officer to sit in the area from 5 to 9 pm every day. Explained to caller that this would be referred to an officer and discussed further, as that’s not fathomable at this time. Caller states he’s disappointed.”

I live in a small town with minimal police. Someone who dislikes loud cars requested that an officer sit in his street for 4 hours every day, and was disappointed when hearing that this wasn’t viable. My immediate reaction upon reading this? Give me a break! Not too different from when I follow the remonstrations against affordable housing or not permitting a business to open up by an intersection because of excessive traffic. Really! You call that traffic? Been in New York lately? Even Springfield? Can your kids afford to live here?

For most of the 40 years that I spent with Bernie and the Zen Peacemakers, I worked on social justice issues and grew a little cynical around challenges facing the middle class. Rich people problems, we sometimes called them, though of course not everyone was rich. But some 20 years ago I walked out of the zendo with my dear friend, mentor, and older dharma sister, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, and described to her my ambivalence about teaching in a zendo attended by mostly middle-class meditators.

“It’s different from what I used to do,” I told her.

“That’s true,” she said, “but you know, Eve, everybody suffers.”

An Arab American acquaintance texted me that an entire family in Gaza with whom he was friends had been martyred, in his words. In Sudan and Somalia, people pack meager belongings and carry them on top of their covered heads to a refugee camp just so that they could get emergency rations for their children.

In my neck of the woods, people complain that their children aren’t doing well in school or can’t find work, somebody in the family is drinking or getting divorced, somebody else refuses to see a doctor though he should, etc. Not quite rich people’s problems, but basically the vicissitudes of middle-class, everyday life. And yes, those also cause suffering. Bernie died at the age of 79 and I suffered though I knew he’d lived a fairly long and very, very rich life.

Refraining from harm is a central Buddhist tenet. But is that enough? Some of us can go through the day conscientiously abstaining from doing harm. We’re good to those we live with, kind and attentive to people with whom we work (which gets easier when we work from home). We pay attention to what we eat, to the materials we use around the house, take care of our garden.

Do we then go to sleep with the conviction that we were good people because, to our knowledge, we didn’t cause harm? Is it really enough? Are we pleased with what we refrained from doing? That mentality can sometimes stand in the way of taking new initiatives, looking farther out, or as Bernie used to say, making the mandala of our practice bigger and bigger. After all, the bigger we make it, the higher the probability that we will create harm somewhere, even unintentionally.

At this point in time, I don’t look at how to do anti-racism work, anti-colonialism work, anti-imperialism work, or all the ism prisms, as I call them. Same for anti-misogyny work, anti-gender discrimination work, anti-poverty, or climate change. I look at how to serve the One Body. You can do all the above without swearing by slogans and labels.

I don’t have to do anything under anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism in order to fight for an end to the violence in Gaza, the return of hostages, and strategic moves to finally bring about co-existence between Arab and Jew. I can do those things on the basis of serving the One Body.

When I serve the One Body, I’m not making an enemy of anyone. If I accept that the One Body includes everyone and everything, from Mars to mistletoe, from crocodiles to Crocs, then there’s no enemy. What there is, is creating bridges. What there is, is creating coalitions, the broader the better. What there is, is sitting down with people who’re very different from me and listening, and even better, creating or designing a space, with certain rules we agree upon beforehand, where we feel free to share our visions, ideas, and feelings even in the face of general disapproval.

I often tell people that the circle practice in which I was trained has its guidelines and rules not to enforce niceness, but to encourage folks to share the most oppositional ideas and emotions. Differences exist regardless of our efforts; through bearing witness to them we realize the One Body. For that to happen, we need to create a space for hearing everything out. Not for agreement, but for listening.

I find it ironic how many university students here think that their isms are the right values for everybody in the world. Racism, fascism, colonialism, imperialism—in some of the West (not all) we’ve adopted those as the main, even only, prisms to look through. What about other countries? Do those prisms pertain to everyone? And even if they do, are you sure they manifest elsewhere as they manifest here? In declaring them as absolutes, aren’t you, too, imposing your own Western progressive values on a highly diverse world whose priorities may be way different from your own?

I am grateful to the international nature of the Zen Peacemaker Order. When we get together and people talk with English with a heavy accent (English is the spoken language, for now), they remind me that they have their own lives and values, which may be different from mine here in northeast United States.

Don’t worry, lots of work remains to be done. Only now you start looking carefully at those who disagree with you, exploring their circumstances and reasons. You start looking at how to make allies rather than enemies. Since we share almost our entire DNA, we’re bound to have a lot in common. If we can’t identify that commonality among members of our own species, how could we possibly identify our commonality with other, nonhuman beings?

Take care of the One Body. Take care of the Whole.

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

TODAY’S MEDITATION

In front of the local co-op

These are some of the things that intruded on my meditation earlier today:

— How could this government give so much money to Israel on the eve of a Rafah operation? They tell them not to go in, then give them lots of munitions and aid anyway—a mixed message if ever I heard one.

— What are we doing for my sister’s 70th birthday?

— Don’t forget to put away your winter jeans.

— What does being a martyr even mean? (Reading a book, Martyr, by the Persian American poet Akhbar, whose narrator wants to have a meaningful death. Which is another way of asking what is a meaningful life.)

— Am I drinking enough water?

— Almost 7 weeks since Lori’s accident.

— Do I write a letter to the editor of the local paper?

This last one has a story. Recently, I heard indirectly from someone who’d been in our local jail that there were some one hundred young men there, Hispanics. In this small local community?

I called Jimena Pareja. First, thanked her husband, Byron, for making chicken soup for Lori. Then asked her what she knew about this.

“It’s not from our families here,” she said. “I’m in touch with all of them and I haven’t heard of anyone who was taken to be deported. But I know that they sometimes bring others from across the state or even farther away. You know, the families want to visit, they get upset because they may not see them again, they ask for help, so they transport them to other towns and cities, they don’t even tell them where, and I think that’s what happened here.”

This is still happening, I thought to myself.

During Donald Trump’s presidency, our jail had an agreement with ICE to house deportees from far away, but there was a public outcry, and I thought the jail had agreed to terminate the agreement. It seems as though I was wrong.

It’s the secrecy of it all, is what comes up during meditation. I don’t have a problem with secure borders and a set quota of immigrants who can come in legally (preferably a high number, if only because we need them). But the secrecy so that their families won’t know they’re here, transported from one jail to another in closed trucks so that no one will know, no one will see, including those of us who live here!

It’s hard enough to do something about things we know; what do we do about things we don’t know? During meditation the idea comes up to write a letter to the editor of the excellent local paper.

The last thing that comes up is how I wish my mind to be less discursive, less distracted. Around then the bell rings to signal the end of meditation.

We’ve had such gorgeous days. Wild asters are growing everywhere, humble small flowers blooming in the shadow of the bigger daffodils and hyacinths. Lilac bushes are beginning their short season and soon the fragrance will come in through the open window of the room where Lori lies; I have to remember to open that window.

A dear friend turns 85 soon, which would have been Bernie’s age had he lived. He said to me once: “Death isn’t personal. It’s when you think it is, and get into the story, that the skin goes back onto the bones and you’re stuck with it again. But you don’t have to be. Stuck there, that is.”

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

UPGRADE THIS HUMAN!

The following is based on actual events.

“Okay, get in.”

“What do you mean, get in? I’m going home.”

“Listen, dog, you’re lost.”

“Name’s Aussie, and who says I’m lost?”

“We say it, and we’re the local police. You’re walking on a public road.”

“I’m a member of the public, too.”

“Listen, dog, you’re lost and I’m taking you to a shelter. How did you end up here, on 63?”

“We were walking a few miles down, by Cabot Camp, and—”

“Who’s we? Your owner and you?”

“Puh-lease. I have no owner; I am not a slave. A few of us were walking peacefully on the road—”

“On leash, I hope?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, do I look to you like a leashed dog?”

“You sure have a mouth on you.”

“Like I said, we were walking all peaceful like, talking about peaceful topics like—”

“The weather? Starting the garden?”

“—the Middle East, Gaza, Ukraine, you know, when I saw something awful and chased it.”

“What was it?”

“A gang of turkeys. Wild. Evil. Criminal!”

“What did you do?”

“I chased them down, like any good citizen. They’re the ones you should arrest instead of a peace-loving MAGA enthusiast like me. Don’t you also believe that 2020 was stolen?”

“So that’s how you got lost! OK, hop into the car. We’re taking you in.”

“I’m in, I’m in. Your back seat has no blanket, I’m telling my lawyer. You police have a reputation for brutality, I’m watching you.”

“Great. We like dogs who’re grateful to be picked up when they’re lost.”

“I’m not lost and if I was, I’d never choose you to be my chauffeurs. Your uniforms aren’t bad, though. Where were you on January 6, may I ask?”

“Belt yourself in.”

“Never. You know, the Senora says that sometimes it’s good to get lost.”

“Who’s the Senora, someone illegal?”

“No, but feel free to deport her anyway. She’s my human, whom I’ve spent years training but is she grateful no she’s not. She says that when we get lost, we might run into something unexpected. I never thought she meant the cops.”

“Are you licensed?”

“You can’t license doghood.”

“Are you up-to-date on your rabies shot?”

“I bit the vet when she tried to give it to me, so ask her if she got sick. Listen, I was well on my way home when you stopped me on the road.”

“Are you kidding? If you were anywhere near Cabot Camp, you’ve been walking for miles.”

“The Senora says I could find my way home from Canada. Where’s Canada?”

“We’re not taking any chances, you’re going into the Franklin County Animal Shelter. They’ll call your owner, but our feeling is she’ll say Good Riddance! and leave you there, ha ha ha.”

“Very funny. Maybe I don’t want to go home, did you consider that? Maybe it’s time to upgrade my human. You upgrade your car, your phone, your equipment. I want an upgraded human.”

“What’s that?”

“Someone who COOKS for her dog. Someone who leaves holes in the fence for spontaneous escapades. Someone who never talks back, lets me jump into the passenger seat of the car, and who hates Chihuahuas.”

“What’s wrong with Chihuahuas? I have one at home.”

“A Chihuahua police dog? Now I’ve heard everything. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LIVE IN A BLUE STATE LIKE MASSACHUSETTS. Can I jump into the front seat?”

“There are two of us here, do you see any space?”

“We could change seats. You sit in back and I’ll sit in front.”

“Dream on, dog.”

“Did you ever hear of Rosa Parks? She made history by demanding to sit in front. I know my rights! Just because I’m black.”

“Nothing to do with what color you are.”

“I hate cops.”

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

ZIONISM

Israel in December

Naomi Klein, whose eco activism I admire, published a talk that she gave in the Passover Seder in The Guardian. You can read that talk here.

The article itself was entitled We Need an Exodus from Zionism, in which Klein stated that Zionism had accomplished nothing but aggression, brutality, arrogance, and death. “It has brought us to our present moment of cataclysm and it is time that we said clearly: it has always been leading us here. It is a false idol that equates Jewish freedom with cluster bombs that kill and maim Palestinian children… The false idol of Zionism has been allowed to grow unchecked for far too long. So tonight we say: it ends here.”

She also re-defined her religion: “Our Judaism cannot be contained by an ethnostate, for our Judaism is internationalist by nature … Our Judaism is the Judaism of the Passover Seder: the gathering in ceremony to share food and wine with loved ones and strangers alike, the ritual that is inherently portable, light enough to carry on our backs, in need of nothing but each other: no walls, no temple, no rabbi, a role for everyone, even – especially – the smallest child. The Seder is a diaspora technology if ever there was one, made for collective grieving, contemplation, questioning, remembering and reviving the revolutionary spirt.”

Beautifully said. I want the war in Gaza to stop immediately, for aid in all its forms to get into Gaza, for hostages to be released, and for Palestinians and Jews to live in peace. In years past I worked towards the latter goal.

Klein also referred to a dimension of fear cultivated by many Israelis as well as older American Jews. I remember pruning vineyards in a kibbutz by the Dead Sea and, in the middle of laughter and teasing over which is the better country, being told by one Kibbutz member: “You just watch. One day, when the shit hits the fan in America, you’ll come crawling to us for shelter and safety.” Even then, at the age of 20, I recognized fear-mongering when I heard it.

I won’t deny it, on October 7 I felt a deep fear, for the first time ever, of what might happen to Jews if there was no Israel for refuge. But I knew even then that seeding fear wherever you go is responsible for building an Israel like today, a fortress on the Mediterranean, a doughty mentality inculcated in young people from their earliest school years that glorifies the military, reminding generation after generation that it’s their job to serve and sacrifice just as their parents had done.

My husband went to Israel in the early 1960s to consider settling there. He came back after a year because, he told me, it felt like Sparta.

But Israel is part and parcel of Jewish identity. All great rabbis and scholars knew that a crucial part of their spiritual identity lay there, not everywhere. In the Old Testament, read and studied by Jews and Christians, God tells Abraham that his descendants will return to Israel one day. DNA testing and archeology show over and over again a long Jewish presence in Israel. In fact, the Bible lists mitzvot, or good deeds, that can only be performed in Israel, especially relating to agriculture.

Jews carried this love of the Promised Land in their hearts for myriad generations. I still remember my mother reminiscing what it was like to grow up in Czechoslovakia and someone would return from visiting the Holy Land. It was as if an aura surrounded their heads, she related; awe descended in the room. It was as if the guest had returned from the Garden of Eden itself, from which all humans had been banished.

I think that those who understand this best are indigenous nations. The Lakota won their case against the United States concerning ownership of the Black Hills, but the Supreme Court ruled that they give it up for compensation. To this very day they have not taken the hundreds of millions of dollars accruing in a government account in exchange for their sacred land. They point to Wind Cave, from which they emerged, to Buffalo Gap and Bear Butte. How can they give that up? Is their spirituality, the essence of their nationhood, “internationalist,” in Klein’s words, something portable that can be carried on their backs?

That is also the reason why Jews rejected Uganda, or part of what was then the East Africa Protectorate, as a possible homeland when the British government suggested it in 1903. Had they accepted, they would have truly been colonizers because they had no historical or cultural connection to that land at all.

Judaism didn’t start in Poland or Ukraine or in the US, and certainly not as an “internationalist” tradition. As millions of Sephardic Jews, DNA testing and archeology can attest, it started in the Middle East and continues to carry that distinct flavor. In driving around the country, any guide could point out Gilboa Mountain, where King Saul met his tragic end, the Galilee where Jesus grew up among other Jewish families, Sodom and Gomorrah, eternally filled with salt. Not New York City, not Lublin in Poland, or Minsk in Belarus. Place has everything to do with it.

Which brings me back to Klein calling Judaism internationalist. In some sense, you could say that about all religions because they try to address basic social, economic, and environmental ills: racism, poverty, climate change, etc. But each is also highly specific, with its own rituals, holidays, prayers, songs, dance, robes, history, and, in some cases, homeland. As any poet and artist knows, the life is all in the specifics, not in some abstract concepts.

To make of Judaism, or any religion, some kind of cosmopolitan, generic fix-it is to rob it not just of its uniqueness, but also its mystery, the not-knowing at its center. It reduces it to a kind of generic hospital addressing our needs and wants, and excludes everything that can’t be defined, that is unknowable

No matter how well-intentioned our ideas are, they are the product of a linear way of thinking. Something lies beyond our limited understanding that is at the very essence of Life. Not everything is accessible to our senses; we experience it, but don’t notice or even perceive what we are experiencing.

I agree with Klein that in recent history, and especially since 1967, something has gone awry in some people’s understanding of Zionism, mistaking it as an excuse for grabbing land and homes, for punishing and even killing people who are perceived to be in the way of a divine-sanctioned vision, and for enforcing a kind of apartheid. Show me an idea or concept that has never been co-opted by humans to meet their own self-centered, egoic desires.

But not all Zionists are like that. My brother, a religious Jew who lives in Jerusalem, told me before the holiday that he and many friends and associates see the Passover story not as some self-congratulatory saga of God freeing them from bondage. “Why did God bring Abraham’s descendants into Egypt to begin with?” he told me. “Because God wanted them to experience what it is to be strangers in another land, what it is to be hated, enslaved, and killed. Only then God liberated them, so that when they arrived in their own country, they would remember what it felt like to be Other, and act accordingly.”

That, too, is Zionism.

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PINECONES

This is the year of pinecones. Millions of them carpet the earth around the house, or so it feels, making it difficult for me to clean up the yard. Henry, in particular, loves to play with them. This is how:

I throw the pinecone. Being very light, it falls fairly close to where we stand, but this does not deter Henry. The Illegal Chihuahua runs way out, makes a big circle, then a less big circle, then an even smaller circle, and slowly, inevitably homes in on the pinecone in the middle, which was visible all the time to everyone but him. He goes wide wide wide, having lots of fun in the process, mouth open, eyes sparkling, finds the pinecone, picks it up with his mouth, and lays it down on the ground in front of my feet, as if to say: Again!

And again, and again, and again.

I notice myself processing life in much the same way, albeit with less fun than Henry. This morning, I was awakened by an incoming text from my sister: We hit Iran back. She also added an unflattering comment on the sanity of Bibi Netanyahu.

Instantly, my mind went from sleepy to super-wired. I almost rushed to open up the computer, then thought better of it, and instead, started my daily meditation.

Even in that state, all kinds of angry stories came up. My imagination envisaged thousands of missiles launched back at Israel and raining down on civilians—all civilians, but family especially. My brother lives a block away from the official residence of the President (not Prime Minister), a potential target. My sister has difficulties getting down to a shelter within the 90-second siren warning, and in my mind I quickly saw a picture of a precise missile striking her building.

My mind was making circles like Henry.

Eventually, it found the pinecone in the middle of it all: fear. Not rage, not indignation, not cynicism, fear. Fear of what it is to be at home with missiles hitting all around, explosions in the air, sirens bawling. I could add to that menu fear or self-serving politicians and dictatorial or doctrinal governments, but that’s already a step sideways. It was fear for family being hurt.

It might be nice to include there, too, a gut fear of Iranians being hurt, especially as so many do not support their government, but this time the raw clenching in the stomach was for family. Everyone else came later, after fear took an elevator ride up to the brain and started doing hanky-panky with abstraction, not just bad stuff like getting angry or wishing death or prison for Donald Trump, but even good stuff like forming wishes for loving kindness towards everyone and a healing for the planet. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. That’s not where the grit lay.

I think of the mind’s abstract space like Venus, with a very dense atmosphere and heavy cloud cover, always gray and shapeless, where I hurry to build vast ethereal cities that have nothing to do with Planet Earth. Nothing wrong with cities, have lived in them myself. Certainly nothing wrong with loving kindness and healing, but this morning they were in my head, not in my belly. My belly is usually my First Responder.

I had breakfast this morning with a friend in our local co-op. He told me he stopped hunting critters, though he’d grown up in that culture, at the age of 15 when he shot down a squirrel up on a tree branch peering curiously at him on the ground. When he approached it, the body was still warm. He felt the aliveness of the squirrel in the dwindling warmth of the body, and after that stopped hunting.

“How do we connect with aliveness when we’re in the dumps?” I wondered.

“Aliveness is everywhere,” he responded.

It’s there when I clear up the yard of branches and twigs while Henry is taking time off from pinecones to chase Aussie, which elicits a series of belly laughs. When I laugh, do I sense the aliveness in the laugh? When I exercise and lift my arms high up above my head, do I feel the aliveness in that, or do I just wish the session would end?

When I cry, do I feel it in the warm water on my cheeks? When I’m afraid and my breaths get shallow and the stomach clenches? There’s aliveness there, too, he said, but most people won’t let themselves feel it. Most people, experiencing something unpleasant, hurry like me into the fastest elevator in the world, zoom straight up into their heads and start concocting scenes from action and sci-fi movies, not to mention white hands coming out of the darkness and going round my throat.

In my case, pain and hurt are down below. Above lie anger, blaming, frustration, and finally, cynicism.

It used to be that Israelis talked of nothing but peace. When will there be peace, was the plaintive cry. But with time, the word peacemaker started evoking eyerolling and sardonic, twisted lips. Years ago, when some of us flew into Tel Aviv to work with both Israelis and Palestinians, if you told the border security the name of your organization, they’d tell you to open wide your belongings and they’d search you physically. Peace had become a dirty word.

We only want peace, people would say even as they continued to send their children into the army, look up admiringly at fighter planes, and always vote for military generals to become their political leaders. Even as hello, in Hebrew, is shalom, peace. Which means it creeps into most meetings, phone conversations, and gatherings, but more like noise, not connection.

There’s the abstract world, and there’s the here-and-now.

Zen is very practical. What’s happening to you this very minute? What are you connecting with before that famous elevator ride?  I trust that more than all the prayers for peace repeated frequently every day in houses of worship. They have their place and value, for sure, but when you see countries waging war while talking peace, you know there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or maybe they, like the Illegal Chihuahua, need to circle and circle and circle till they finally find the pinecone. And do it again. And again. And again.

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UH UH UH!

“I’m so glad to get out of the house, Illegal.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“Because there are men there, and men are dangerous, everyone knows that.”

“What about me, Aussie?”

“Give me a break, Henry, you’re no guy.”

“The Senora says that something must have happened to you in Texas before you came here because you’re always afraid of men.”

“Not afraid. Never afraid. But men make this world a dangerous place.”

“Not all men, Aussie.”

“All men, Illegal. Look at the world. Look at how they’re always fighting, hurting, and killing. Humans are fighting wars all over this planet, Henry, they’re crazy.”

“They should start off like us, Aussie.”

“What do you mean?”

“They need to be on leash.”

“Put men on leash, Illegal Chihuahua? Why?”

“The Senora usually lets us run off-leash. But she puts us on a leash when we meet other dogs. They’re on leash, so are we, and the Senora calls out: ‘My dogs are friendly.’ And they say: ‘Oh, we’re friendly, too,’ and we all meet and have a good time. No fights, no wars, just play. You see how easy it is to get along?”

“What happens if someone says: I’m not friendly. What then, Illegal?”

“Then they need more training. Look at that big German Shepherd we met yesterday. He was twice as big as you and ten times as big as me, and he was friendly. You ran away—”

“Did not, just decided to check out Vermont.”

“—but I wasn’t afraid, Aussie. I was friendly. All it needs is a little training.”

“Training in what, Illegal?”

“In how to be friendly! That’s what humans lack. If the leaders of Hamas and Israel would go to Leeann, she could train them in how to be friendly. She has these raw liver treats that she gives you when you’re friendly, and when you’re not friendly, or if you snarl or growl, you know what she does?”

“OMG, Illegal, not that! Anything but that! Don’t say it! Don’t say it!”

“She says: UH UH UH!”

“I told you not to say those words. The blood freezes in my veins when I hear them! I start shaking all over.”

“Exactly. If Leeann tells Hamas and Israel UH UH UH!—”

“Stop saying those words, Henry!”

“—they’ll be friendly forever. No more hostages. No more hurting and bombings and killings.”

“No more hungry dogs.”

“Everybody will be friendly.”

“Who thought of all this, Illegal?”

“The great teacher, the venerable master, the sublimest of the sublimest of gurus—”

“Not Llama Louie!”

“Of course it’s Llama Louie, may his name be blessed forever and ever and never taken in vain! He knows everything. He sees the past and the future.”

“Does he see the tick at the tip of your nose?”

“Stop making fun of Llama Louie. He’s the wisest of all the animals in the house, wiser even than the Senora.”

“That’s not much of a bar, Henry. You know what our problem is, Illegal?”

“What, Aussie?”

“We have too many spiritual teachers in this house.”

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