THERE IS ALWAYS A MESS

Happy Days of Thanksgiving, everyone. Not just one day, but all the days of your life. The leaves above have kept their color though night temperatures are in the 20s.

I was thrilled to open up the Washington Post a few days ago and find on the front page of their digital edition this article about a soup kitchen. Not just any soup kitchen, but the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield, which some of us began in Montague many years ago before it moved to Greenfield.

When it was in Greenfield, Green River Zen Center used to sit on Saturday mornings and then proceed to the Café a few blocks away to help with the cooking, setting up, and serving. The writer doesn’t mention the council that followed the meals, where people could share, from a very deep place in their heart, the challenges they faced day by day.

The vision was dignity and egalitarianism. “I want a place where you sit and eat delicious food and you don’t know whether your server is an ex-con or a millionaire because everyone is treated with respect and dignity,” Bernie said again and again.

This article highlighted people with hard backgrounds of homelessness, addictions, and prison who found a refuge in the Café, and then turned around and made it a refuge for others.

I think we started this almost 15 years ago. People can turn their lives around, one meal at a time. Yes, we need food (when I cooked there years ago I saw farmers bringing in fresh organic produce they’d harvested that very morning), but we also need each other. We need to see respect in each other’s eyes and share.

The Greenfield community came together around the Café. Volunteers, local businesses and social services, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, and a couple of amazing leaders (looking at you, Ariel Pliskin and Kirsten Levitt) not only made it work and kept it going,  but most important, maintained the vision that had been at the inception. I wish Bernie was around to hear what has happened from that vision; in some shape or other, he knows.

A reader complained that I was writing too much about immigrant families who’d come here illegally, not to mention that they don’t speak English. That’s true, too many of them are barely literate in their own language, never mind English, since they dropped out of school by the age of 10 to help their families, if they attended school at all. I highly doubt they were able to go to night school to study English before coming here.

There’s such a disconnect between our lives and theirs. This is not the place for me to recapitulate what it was like for me to come to this country as a young girl (legally), only to say that even at the age of 7 I knew in every bone in my body that the American children I met had no idea what it was like to grow up in a different country where there were enemies at the border, food was rationed, and anxiety reigned.

When I hear stories of what these families have gone through to come here, young boys and girls crossing hundreds of miles on their own, foraging for food, worrying about safety, I’ve often asked myself how their parents ever let them undertake such a trip: Didn’t they love them? Didn’t they want to protect them, as do other parents? Those stories give me a small measure of the poverty and want they left behind. As dangerous as the trip here was, they had nothing to lose because back home terror, poverty, and hunger were a certainty.

Can I tell you these immigrants are perfect, that they lead model lives with love and integrity? Absolutely not. I hear stories of husbands leaving wives and children behind, domestic violence and abuse, not to mention that covid affected their children much as it has affected others. “The kids now coming into 8th grade are still sixth-graders emotionally because they lost at least 18 months of social learning and interaction,” said one teacher. They do Tik-Tok, too, and the parents are called in for urgent conferences with teachers just like everybody else.

If it was just a matter of helping wonderful people, who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity? But it never is like that because people are people. That’s why the role of the Bodhisattva is messy, not clean. There are no clear perpetrators and no clear victims, no villains and no righteous martyrs. In the middle of the mess, we chart our course.

Farms have closed down with Thanksgiving and ahead of farmworkers here is a cold, dark winter. I’m grateful to be called to help. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be asked to stretch and witness lives lived vastly differently from mine. Wednesday evenings with Jimena and the community help my own self-centered walls recede a little bit each time, opening up the world beyond my small life, helping me see something beyond my own narrow horizons. I’ve helped them—you’ve helped them—but they have given me infinitely more.

On that note, Christmas is coming, so once again, here is an Amazon wish list compiled by children for a gift they’d like for the holidays. When parents have limited choices on how to spend meager funds, children can’t count on gifts. Please open this link and find something you’d like to buy for 6 year-old Danny (Bubble Mower for Toddlers), Reyli (Light-up Soccer Ball), 4 year-old Daniela (Lulu Achoo Doll), 5 year-old Marisol (My Sweet Love Happy Twin Play Set), and others.

When I open these up I feel transported to a brave new world of color, fantasy, hope and yearning. Here is the link again. Please choose the gift(s) you can afford for children who have so little. Who knows whether such gift-giving won’t yield the same far-reaching results that Stone Soup Café has achieved till now?

May all our hopes and wishes be fulfilled in like manner.

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.

HUMANALITY

“Aussie, don’t you want to jump up on the bed and stay all night?”

“Absolutely not! What do you think I am? I come from Texas. In Texas we don’t go for humanality.”

“What’s that?”

“Think of bestiality. Think of inter-species miscegenation. Disgusting!”

“I wasn’t thinking of that, Aussie. I just like to feel your fur, hear you breathe. You sleep so quietly.”

“You don’t. Besides, I have a warm woolen bed right on the floor, and when I get restless I have a sofa, a lounge chair with a soft blanket, and a futon with 4 pillows downstairs.”

“You know, Auss, we’re not absolutely one thing or another, we’re a lot more mixed than that. That’s what makes us so interesting.”

“Oh no, don’t tell me. You’re changing your pronouns.”

“I so far haven’t added pronouns to my name, Auss.”

“You’re going to add It to your name. Not just she/her, but now she/her/it. Please please please, do not become a dog. Trans male or trans female, no problem. NOT TRANS DOG!”

“Why, Auss? Gender and sexual identity are more fluid that many people believe. Why not species identity?”

“Okay, go transition into a goldfish.”

“Don’t you think I’d be more comfortable as a dog, Aussie?”

“Do not become a dog! There’s only one dog in this house, and that’s me.”

“What about Henry?”

“Henry the Terrible Chihuahua doesn’t count. And neither do you. You’re a human, I’m a dog. Biology counts for something.”

“It’ll be kind of fun, Auss. Who says we can’t transition between species? Especially between humans and dogs, who are already so close?”

“I do not want to transition into humanhood.”

“Really, Aussie? You never once felt like inside you’re really a human?”

“No. And you can’t become a dog, either. Don’t think about meds, don’t think about surgery. Nothing you do could ever make you like me.”

“You know, there’s a famous story about a man who wakes up one morning to discover he became a big cockroach overnight, Aussie.”

“What happens to him?”

“He loses all his friends and he dies.”

“See? Forget this trans thing between you and us, it won’t work.”

“We’re all on the spectrum of being, Aussie—”

“You as a human, me as a dog.”

“–but basically, Aussie, we’re not just any one thing. In fact, the more intimate we become, part of me flows into you and part of you flows into me. That’s how it was with Bernie and me. As we got closer, I became more like him and he became more like me. That’s probably true for you and Henry the Terrible.”

“You know how much flows from Henry the Terrible into me?”

“How much?”

“Nada. Nobody wants to flow in and out of Henry the Terrible.”

“Aussie, you’re a flesh-and-blood dog, but that’s not all you are. On some level, we’re all one.”

“Don’t give me that one business. I don’t care what you do—chemicals, drugs, surgery—there’s no way you’ll ever become a dog. Even if you do, don’t even think of going out to pee in the yard. That’s my bathroom, not yours. Besides, you won’t fit through the dog door. Hee! Hee! Hee!”

“Okay, what about your transitioning into human?”

“Why should I do that? Answer me this: Who has more legs?

“You do, Aussie.”

“Who has better eyes, ears, and nose?”

“You do, Aussie.”

“Who’s younger and prettier?”

“That’s got nothing to do with anything.”

“Who’s smarter? Who trained whom to feed us, walk us, water us, and give us a dog bed, a sofa, a lounge chair with a woolen blanket, and a futon with pillows to sleep on?”

“You did, Aussie.”

“What could possibly interest me in becoming a human?”

“Pasta for dinner?”

“Eating pasta with tomato sauce automatically disqualifies you from doghood.”

“Ben & Jerry’s Phish Phood Ice Cream, Aussie?”

“When you’re a dog, you’re careful about chocolate.”

“Thanksgiving turkey tomorrow?”

“Maybe I could be persuaded.”

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

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

A SERIOUS THEOLOGICAL DISCUSSION

“You know, sometimes I think that you love Buddha more than you love me.”

“Now, now, Aussie, you don’t have to be jealous. Buddha is you, so there’s no problem, see?”

“No. I’m Aussie. The Man called me Aussie. You’ve called me Aussie since I arrived. Nobody ever called me  Buddha.”

“They don’t usually call me that, either, but Buddha is me just like it’s you, Auss.”

“For a person who tries to be clear, you can be awfully confusing.”

“You know how I went to the Emergency Room yesterday, Auss?”

“Is that where you were most of the day? Did you even think about me?”

“I didn’t have to, Aussie, Lori fed you and walked you. I had to go because I’ve had lots of painful spasms in my lower back, so I finally went to the ER and they did all kinds of tests.”

“Treats, too?”

“No treats, Aussie, just blood work, urinalysis, and a CAT scan.”

“Why not a DOG scan?”

“They don’t have one yet. I saw the doctor today and we think the CAT scan revealed a herniated disk. I’m now on serious muscle relaxants and pain-killers.”

“Who knew cats could do all that!”

“When you’re in the hospital, Auss, everybody wears masks, see? I was seen by a few really nice nurses wearing masks, but the ID they were wearing—”

“What’s ID?”

“A laminated card that identifies them.”

“Don’t they know who they are? How bright can they be if they don’t know who they are? I wouldn’t let anybody take care of me if they don’t know—”

“The nurses wear a card that identifies them as hospital staff and shows their photo. And these nurses were very pretty in the photos, they had beautiful faces, only you couldn’t see those beautiful faces behind the masks, see?”

“If you smelled them you could.”

“The point is, Aussie, you’re Buddha, I’m Buddha, everyone is Buddha, but when we wear masks they can conceal who we really are.”

“Everyone and everything is Buddha?”

“Yup, Auss.”

“Henry the Chihuahua?”

“Yup.”

“Ruby the nasty German Shepherd who died Praise-the-Lord?”

“That’s not nice, Aussie, but yes, Ruby, too.”

“If Henry and Ruby are Buddhas then I don’t want to be Buddha.”

“Listen, Aussie, Buddhists can be a club, but not Buddha. Buddha is everywhere, bright and clear, but we miss it on account of all those masks we wear, just like it was hard to see how pretty those nurses were.”

“Since I never wear a mask I’m always beautiful.”

“You’re Buddha whether you’re beautiful or not, Aussie. You’re Buddha even when you get ornery.”

“When Henry tries to steal my food and I almost kill him, are we still Buddhas?”

“You are, only it’s harder for us to see it.  It’s as if you’ve put on a mask, see?”

“And you call this religion?”

“You know, Aussie, in the Hebrew Bible it says that God created human beings in His image.”

“Why His and not Her? Or It? Or They? Did God add pronouns to His name?“

“God is usually invisible, Aussie.”

“What good is an image that’s invisible?”

“Aussie, you should be a Talmud scholar.”

“What’s a –?”

“If I use the language of the Hebrew Bible, I could say that God created everything in His/Her/Its/Their image, see? Not just humans, also dogs, chipmunks, leaves, stones—”

“Henry the Chihuahua?”

“What’s with your obsession with Henry the Chihuahua, Auss?”

“Some people worry about how God could make Hitler in His/Her/Its/Their image, I worry the same about Henry.”

“There’s one thing that permeates and manifests everywhere, Auss. When we take off our masks we can see it. Or smell it. Or hear it. Whatever.”

“Let me ask you something about those nurses. You know the IDs they wore? Did they say their name was Buddha?”

“No, Aussie, the IDs carried their own names.”

“And their name wasn’t Buddha, right?”

“Not on the ID.”

“Of course! What good would it do to call all the nurses Buddha? You wouldn’t be able to tell one from the other.”

“For daily life we need to distinguish, Aussie, but—”

“And when you came into the hospital, what name did you give them?”

“My name, Eve.”

“Not Buddha?”

“No.”

“And what was the doctor’s name? Dr. Buddha?”

“Aussie, you’re being silly. And why did you just go after Henry?”

“Because he wants me to call him Henry Buddha Chihuahua. Watch me kill him!”

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

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

ODALIS

Here and there, I hear murmurs about immigrant families.

“We all work hard,” someone recently told me, “they’re not the only ones. My family came here with nothing. They never took welfare, never collected unemployment. Nobody ever helped them.”

Nobody ever helped them. Some of the saddest words I ever heard, yet so much a part of the American myth. People should do everything on their own and never need help.

Here are some facts to bear in mind: In my state of Massachusetts, the law allows farmworkers (almost all immigrants, both documented and not) to earn $8.00 an hour; as of January 2022, minimum state wage will be $14.25, but not for farmworkers. Farmworkers have no mandated day of rest and don’t earn overtime pay, though many work an average of 60 or more hours a week. They are excluded from all federal/state wage and hour protections. Local folks aren’t ready to do such backbreaking work under these conditions, so this becomes a market for immigrant workers who lack opportunities for anything else.

During the farming season they work as hard as they can. They celebrate Thanksgiving along with the rest of us (local churches give out lots of turkey dinners at this time), and after that the farms close down till spring. I can’t speak for legal immigrants, but certainly if you’re undocumented you get no help during the winter to meet hefty rent and utility bills, no money for food and children’s clothes. Jimena, bless her heart, recently orchestrated a collection of winter jackets and coats for children and adults.

I started to raise money to help these families when covid began and the farms didn’t open. Since then I’ve seen how edgy their lives are even without the added uncertainty of covid, how the winter brings with it a dread of unpaid rent (that’s when families often double and even triple up after eviction) and utility bills, bringing threats to cut off electricity, heat, and phone use.

Nobody here gets coddled, believe me.

But there are golden seams to every story. On Wednesday evening I went to meet with Jimena, not at her home but rather, to my relief, in a social service office (her front porch gets really cold at this time of year). This is where Jimena works at her second job after putting in full-time hours for the schools during the day. Here is where she meets with immigrant children and coaches them with reading, homework and prep for tests, meets with parents to fill out forms, etc. She does this till 8:30 each evening; the next morning starts out very bright and early each day.

“When Friday night comes,” she tells me, “I sleep and don’t want to get up all weekend.”

I gave her cash for Julia’s rent and some food cards when the door opened and in walked an attractive 17 year-old young woman. Odalis (yes, her real name) is a senior in high school. She has four younger siblings at home; her parents are farmworkers. She’s a great student, Jimena proudly shows me a local newspaper listing Odalis in First Honors in her class.

“And she takes care of the kids,” Jimena exults, as Odalis smiles across the table at us. “She cooks for them, makes sure they do their homework. She has cousins nearby, and does the same for them, too!” On these occasions Jimena sounds like my mother.

“They can’t fool me,” Odalis laughs. “They can tell the parents they don’t have homework, but they can’t tell me that. It helps that I know about computers, how to get online, how to do Zoom, how to do classes online.”

“She’s the one who’s responsible for the younger four because the parents come home so late from the work (60 hours a week, remember?), so she is the one who has to get dinner ready. And she will go to college!” Jimena ends triumphantly.

“Where?” I ask her.

She mentions two local colleges she’s applying to, reasonably sure she could get in provided she doesn’t do badly on the SATs. They have good business schools and she plans to study accounting, earn a livelihood, help her family. Government assistance? Maybe college loans, nothing else, though given her grade-point average, she’s a good candidate for scholarships.

Her jeans are torn at the knee; she sprained an ankle playing soccer. She speaks modestly but with quiet confidence. She knows what she wants.

“Do you have fun?”

She smiles. “A little.”

“Do you have private time for yourself?”

“I think that in college I will have more time, but I’m not sure.” She’d like to live at the college, but also knows how much her parents rely on her to help out at home, and if so she may have to continue working at home while commuting to college. She’s not overly concerned about it.

The other kids studying with Jimena begin to filter in, talking and laughing aloud; time  for me to leave. I want to help this young woman who sits quietly at the table. “If you need help with essays for your college applications, count on me.”

“She’s a writer,” Jimena says immediately. “She wrote a grant to fund our work here.”

I want to put my arm around her and say: You have a life ahead of you, you’re doing so much for yourself and others. You’re great. Are those words for me or for her? Instead I ask: “Are your parents proud of you?” Farmworkers making $8.00 an hour, with a girl going off to college.

A small smile. She nods.

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

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

THE AFTERNOON MIRACLE

Henry stands high up (high for him), front legs up against my hip and hind legs on the floor. It’s that time of the day when he wants attention, and my consciousness goes: Not now, Henry, need to write a post, need to catch the moment, leave me alone.

The moment always seems to offer so many options:

Start writing

Check news

Check phone

Don’t forget the soup you were going to make.

Pay attention to Henry.

Over the past few years, maybe since Bernie died, I choose to give the dogs attention when they ask for it. Aussie is far more subtle about it. I look down from the computer and there she is, standing quietly at my side, maybe an abbreviated whine. She’s easier to ignore than Henry, who wants me to pick him up and let him settle on my lap. While Henry paws me insistently, Aussie stands there, a silent invitation to stop what I’m doing and stroke her softly, give her tenderness—give me tenderness, too. In stroking Aussie, I stroke me as well.

“Look at me,” Sarah Manguso wrote, “dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity.”

I think my time is so important! Meeting in the morning and at noon, private study tomorrow morning, finish this and that at home, walk dogs, meet Jimena later today and bring cash for  Julia’s rent. Julia had to stop working because her son has pulmonary problems no one has diagnosed yet and lost 47 pounds in less than a month. She has to bring him all the way to a Worcester hospital because that’s the only hospital that will work with their lack of medical insurance.

But tell me, are moments like these, filled to capacity, all that time is about?

November is no great shakes in New England. Once we move the clock back the afternoons turn into evenings awfully early, and the perpetual daytime clouds make them feel even earlier. The sun is receding from us and barely manages a weak shine. The lights go on early, the heat, too.

Something in all that gray beckons, time to walk out and greet Kwan-yin, who’s getting ripped up by rodents more and more every day. She’s about to lose an elbow, which may mean she’ll lose her arm. Luckily, she doesn’t seem upset about it. Further down the path is the half-eaten body of a rabbit. A fox, my housemate opined. Luckily, not the rabbit with the white dot on its forehead that she saved from death and nursed back to health a few months ago, but still, a young adult rabbit.

Kwan-yin doesn’t seem upset about that, either, just smiles her smile of eternity, reminding me of bigness all around.

My problem with checking out the news nowadays is that everything feels so small. Republican this, Democrat that, covid’s continuing grin, climate climate climate. On the one side there’s a danger of getting so upset you think life is coming to an end. The other side is that you get beyond it all, lost in eternity. The more we fight, the smaller the fight starts feeling. In the midst of passion and pandemic, we sense there’s a whole other scale to things we won’t find in the newspapers.

I look at the news—Is Trump  coming back? Are the Democrats in such trouble?—and think to myself: This can’t be all of it. This can’t be what I need to pay attention to. Even wildfires in Colorado and the shortcomings of the global meeting in Glasgow on climate change—it can’t be all there is. And that’s the other danger, taking not one step back but a mile. The Buddha did say it’s all delusion, didn’t he?

Or else feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I read that these are more rampant than covid right now. But I sometimes wonder if anxiety and overwhelm haven’t become the choices of the day, the daily specials on the menu, exempting us in some way from staying engaged and conscious.

Comes this early hour of twilight and I pick up Henry and put him on my lap. He won’t let me type on the computer, he wants those hands on his body that shivers with excitement, hungry for tenderness.

His isn’t Aussie’s thick, soft hair; his is short and bristly, not that pleasurable to stroke. But in seconds his eyelids close, the mouth relaxes, he gets heavier on my lap, fully, fully here. And he takes me here with him, and that’s the real miracle of the afternoon. Not the small signposts of busyness, the emails viewed and the to-dos checked off, just a little dog absorbing tenderness with every ounce of his being. Henry’s gift to me.

At some point I say: “Enough, Henry, gotta get dressed and leave,” pivoting away from the desk so that he could more easily jump down on the floor. How does he deal with his disappointment? What many males do if they only could, licking his penis a few times.

I could write about preparing a retreat, giving talks, teaching, next year’s plans for the Zen Peacemaker Order. I can write about the books I read, the sutras I study, the deep thoughts I think, plans with Jimena for what immigrant families will need in December when I’ll be mostly gone, and yes, even the back ache that has plagued me over the past few weeks: How busy and important I am!

Not really.

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.

SUPPORT FOR GETTING LOST

 

“One day, Eve, Aussie, and Henry went into the forest and got lost. Eve thought she was heading towards a lake, but the forest went on and on and she couldn’t find the lake.”

“Was it hidden by a witch?”

“No, they were just lost.”

“So what happened?”

“They went round and round in circles but Eve couldn’t find her way out. She was tired and hungry, she wanted to go home.”

“Did she meet a wolf?”

“No.”

“A demon?”

“No.”

“What’s the good of getting lost if you don’t meet a wolf or a demon? An angel maybe?”

“Not that, either.”

“Then big deal.”

I didn’t meet up with a wolf, a demon, an angel, or a spirit—or the lake, for that matter. But you know what? I was happy to discover that I could still get lost. I’m not a complete know-it-all yet, life isn’t a case of been-there-done-that.

I was tired after trudging around in circles for a couple of hours, listening for sounds of human activity (leaf-blowing everywhere except in the deep, dark forest), watching for landmarks that I’d pass again and again, reflecting the circular nature of getting lost. I couldn’t find my way, couldn’t find my bearings—this by a woman who walks in woods and forest several times a week.

There was plenty of time to remember my former great sense of direction. Whenever we got lost in the car over the years, Bernie would say “Left!” and I would say “Right!”, Bernie would do as I suggested, and when we arrived at our destination he’d shake his head and mutter, “You’ve got some sense of direction!”

No longer. It’s gone along with names, people’s birthdays, and most important, instructions memorized long ago on how to fix the coffee machine. This time I was reduced to squinting up to see the sun behind the clouds, trying to figure out where was south. Finally, I leaned back against a tree drooping with heavy yellow leaves and gave myself permission to be lost. Feel lost.

Do your days get monotonous, one replicating another replicating another? Do you feel like you always know what you’re doing—and it gets mechanical as anything, set in your routine and schedule, one item following the next, one meal following the next? Do you think the way to fix that is to fly to Florida for vacation?

Try getting lost. Not just in the forest, also in your mind. Let it go blank. Let it stop looking for familiar teachings and ideas, the usual blah blah blah landmarks. Put down those spiritual books. Those of us who strive for clarity—it’s not a bad thing to get confused every once in a while.

As I walked round and round I heard a big whooo! I looked up and saw a large crow flying back and forth above me. The whooo! was the sound of its large wings flapping high up in the air. Instantly I thought about Native Americans. Is the crow a sign? Is it telling me where to go? But it’s not a hawk, not an eagle, it’s a crow. Does crow stand for anything?

I started laughing: You’d do anything, look at any culture, read any book, practice any religion, to avoid the sense of being lost. But without being lost, how will you find your way?

I talked to a friend I hadn’t seen for a while.

“What’s new?” he asks.

“I’m practicing being lost.”

“I get lost naturally,” he says.

“I have to practice,” I tell him. Because I so much want to know.

Here are some other practices associated with being lost:

Being uncomfortable. (Feel in your belly!)

Being uncertain. (Ditto!)

Confusion about life and dharma. (Huh?)

Not making head or tail of my writing anymore. (I don’t know what the f— I’m doing!)

These are all challenging practices, I recommend them highly. Lucky for me,  getting lost is getting easier day by day.

“I’ll meet you in 10 minutes,” my mom says to me first thing every time I call her.

“You can’t, mom, I’m in America.”

“What are you doing in America?”

“I live here, mom.”

“Oh,” she says. “You’re not in a hotel? I can come to a hotel.”

“I’m not in a hotel, mom.”

“Are you sure you’re not lost?”

“Actually, I’m not sure about that, mom.”

“Okay, let’s meet in 10 minutes.”

Should I run a contest on what to call this blog? Dispatches from Dead Ends? Dispatches from Absentia? Dispatches from Going Off-Course? What kind of stability is there in falling between the cracks? Stlll, I trust that fall. I trust getting lost.

However you wish to call this blog, please consider supporting it. I haven’t made such an official “ask” in a long time; usually, it’s for support for the local immigrant community (mostly undocumented families), which goes for cash assistance and food cards. In fact, I will soon post a Christmas Amazon list of toys and games for immigrant children; I’ll probably get it Wednesday evening when I see Jimena.

This time I ask on behalf of myself. This blog supports these families; it also supports me. It’s free to everyone even as it costs me to maintain the website and blog. I appreciate being part of this web of give-and-take, but I need help to keep writing, posting, sharing, push buttons, look over the edge again and again and share a vastness I occasionally see.

I’m especially grateful to those of you who make monthly gifts, but all donations, big and small, are deeply appreciated. May we all fly in the wind like the leaves outside. Never mind the altitude, just keep on flying.

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Thank you.
 

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WHY I THINK I SHOULD TRY POETRY

Sometimes I think I should try to write poetry.

Because if I don’t I can’t explain how hard it is to live

While a mourning dove limps on one leg along the road,

Or maybe wingless, waiting for a predator,

Or my dog, or a car on its way to Whole Foods.

How hard it is to drink the morning’s Italian coffee

While migrants struggle in tents colored mud

Or in boats crossing the Mediterranean

Which I love to swim when I’m in Tel-Aviv.

Or the chipmunk on top of piles of yellow leaves

Where Aussie left it, still breathing,

Caught while gathering food for winter.

I can’t do it in prose. The mind rules in prose, and will immediately philosophize, or remind me what the Buddha said, or what Bernie said, and bring things down to size. It will work the unworkable, open up books or Google, or just meander me down some mental path that feels new and unexplored but ends up in abstraction.

It whispers Buddhist instructions: Live every moment, inhale and exhale. Be the One Body that inhales and exhales.

But Aussie has seized up a snake just beneath the fence—I didn’t think they’d be out so late this autumn—one end sticking out of each corner of her mouth, and when I yell at her, leaves it gently on the ground after shaking it. I walk over and watch it try to coil, and try again, and try again.

The mind can’t abide questions, so it answers, and answers, and answers.

In Maui long ago I sat on the beach sipping Mai Tais through a straw while fishermen checked the lines they’d left all night and pulled in mahi and ono under the friendly island sun. The fish leaped high over the waves, showering loops of aquamarine raindrops from their pink fins, as slowly slowly they got pulled in to the yellow sand.

Please don’t call this life and death. why Maybe you’ll note how the fruity flavor in your mouth turns sour, how busily you start making excuses, but it don’t change a thing. Some lounge in beaches, some drown.

In such a universe, can I be anything other than a guest? Can I tell the host how to set the table, that the chair wobbles under me, and that I don’t eat eggplant?

In poetry is where the basic impossibility of things comes out.

The fewer the lines, the bigger the spaces.

And they hold, and hold, and hold.

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JUST LYING THERE

“Aussie, guess what level I’ve reached in my word game?”

“What game?”

“The one I do when I get into bed every night, just before I get my book out.”

“Two?”

“2,643. My sister is more like 50,000. And guess what level of brilliance they’ve assigned me, Aussie?”

“Depends. Do they use fractions?”

“104,282. My sister, of course, is in the millions.”

“How much do you pay them?”

“Not a cent, Auss. Of course, they ask for payment to eliminate ads—“

“What’s ads?”

“—or for bees.”

“Bees? Like zzzzzz?”

“Bees give you letters for free, Aussie. But I  never pay one penny, not even for Star Rush.”

“What’s Star Rush?”

“Star Rush is when you finish a game in less than 3 minutes. For each game you finish in less than 3 minutes you get a star, and you keep getting them till you can’t finish a game in less than 3 minutes, and then they ask you if you’d like to pay to keep all the stars.”

“What happens if you don’t pay?”

“You lose your stars, Auss.”

“Let me get something straight. Is this how you relax?”

“Yeah. How do you relax, Aussie?”

“I just lie there.”

“I see you doing that a lot and I always feel sorry for you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re just lying there, Auss. I wonder if you’re bored, if you want another walk—”

“I always want another walk.”

“I wish I could talk to you about books, Aussie, or about Zen practice. Do you want to meditate together?”

“Hell, no.”

“When you just lie there you look like life is passing you by.”

“It is passing me by, and good riddance. I’m not racing anybody here. Days want to rush by? Let them, I’m staying put. You know why? Because I’m content. I have my walks, I have my food, I have my home, most of all I have my favorite human, Leeann—”

“You don’t have to remind me, Aussie.”

“I’m content. I’m not bored.”

“You don’t look very energetic, Auss.”.

Lying there is how I relax. Lying there is how I’m happy.”

“But you’re so quiet—”

“What am I supposed to do, wag my tail from morning till night? Run up and down the fence barking like a maniac? I’m content, human. Get over it.”

I thought about what being content means. It’s being content with things as they are. Not fussing, not pushing and pulling, not manipulating, reshaping, all the little actions I take and confuse with being alive. Contentment doesn’t need any of that. It has a tender energy of its own, more quiescent, a soft glow like the moon rather than the radiant sun. Nothing to do, nothing to prove. I have what I need.

What a powerful statement that is! How many people in this world can claim that they have what they need? Instead, we clamber up Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs like amateur mountaineers, thinking up more and more needs—job satisfaction, loving relationships, not-to-be-missed events, a sense of relevance and meaning, the list goes on and on. Most of it is to remind ourselves that we’re alive, that we’re important, that our existence is a big deal–if not to the universe, at least to the dog.

“Would you go lie down?”

“You know, Auss, after Bernie turned 70 he started taking things easy. I’d walk into the bedroom and see him lying in bed, glancing at his laptop, occasionally at the TV. I’d say: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Nothing,’ he’d say. ‘Don’t you want to do something?’ I’d ask him. ‘Like what?’ he’d say. ‘Write another book? Come up with a Fourth Tenet?’ ‘Nah,’ he’d say. ‘I’m happy.’”

“Was he bored? Was he depressed? Was he lazy? No, he was just happy. Just content.”

“Aussie, the German translation of The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up in the Land of Attachments that I did with Egyoku Nakao has come out (the link is to Amazon but you could get it in independent bookstores as well). Should I ask folks to buy it for the holidays?”

“In German?”

“Or in English. Or in Portuguese. It would make for a nice gift, Auss.”

“Will it fund any treats?”

“A few. But since you’re so content with things as they are, Auss—”

“BUY THE BOOK! BUY THE BOOK! BUY THE BOOK!”

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

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

RETHINKING SIGNS

“What do we need for Wednesday?” I text Jimena.

Wednesday is the day we meet to discuss the needs of the local immigrant community, when men and women come to pick up food cards and when I usually give her cash to help specific families with rent, utilities, medical bills, burial costs, and other needs. Maybe this coming Wednesday we’ll talk about a list of Christmas gifts for the children, as we did last year. We used to meet on a street corner, but now visit together  with other men and women in her front porch. It will be dark now so she’ll bring in some light, and when it gets very cold, heat. I’ll know to dress warm.

“Just food cards,” she texted back this morning without specifying cash. I don’t mind, I try to keep a cash balance in the account. I’ll hear a lot more about cash needs as the winter progresses and the farms shut down. Meantime, local churches donate turkeys and Thanksgiving meals for the upcoming holiday. I’m happy to let them do their thing, knowing what’s ahead for the winter.

I walked the dogs on our road slowly this morning and noticed the sign that we’ve had by our driveway for four years. That’s when ICE began making raids on illegal immigrants here. Telephones would ring, word would spread fast, and people stayed home, afraid to go to work, take their children to school, or shop for food. Stories proliferated of men and women going to the store for something, getting caught in the dragnet and not coming home. Some still not home, even now.

That’s when signs like these proliferated in our area; I can’t recall how we got this one, I assume I bought it. Not much different from Black Lives Matter signs that also dot our streets.

Now other signs have come up. Three houses away a sign was erected honoring Jesus Christ as our savior. Some signs say America the Beautiful, which I, living where I am, have no issue with only I’m told they stand for a message I may not agree with.

Am I participating in a partisan battle here, I wondered, contemplating the sign? Four years ago, I saw it as one way of  countering Donald Trump’s harangues of hate and bias. And now?

A friend and strong participant in a politically active local group told me that the group wished to persuade the local town council to adopt a declaration indicating that the town sits on land stolen by European settlers from a native tribe many years ago. “But we withdrew our proposal,” he said.

“Why?”

“We asked local people who identify as Native Americans what they thought about it, and they didn’t want it.”

This was news to me. I can’t get onto a Zoom workshop or class lately without participants identifying where they live by the name of the tribe that once owned that land.

“What did they want?” I asked.

“Relationship,” he said.

After the murder of George Floyd, practically every group I knew made sure to insert a paragraph in their website, preferably on the home page, testifying to how they don’t discriminate against anyone. If words mattered that much, this country would be free of racism by the weekend. Relationship? That’s another thing entirely.

I stared at my sign for a long time. I hadn’t actually done anything till early April of 2020, when the pandemic pushed me to help families who had no money for food on the table. I started learning Spanish, wanted to talk with them. That was three years after putting up the sign.

Words have an effect, but they’re so easy to say, so easy to buy a sign, plant it in the yard, and feel good about yourself. Did even one immigrant family care whether or not I put up that sign? Did it help in any real way, or was it just a declaration of my feelings on the subject, which, as we all know, is crucial to the universe’s existence? And when others counteract with their signs, their bumper stickers and flags, what has this display of one-upmanship done other than reinforce our concerns of deep partisan divide, of us vs. them?

I need to reflect about this.

At the same time, I have some strong feelings about religious signs. I wish they’d go away. I can’t help the trepidation; it may come from my Jewish upbringing, and specifically the acknowledged fact of how much Church-sponsored antisemitism contributed to the Holocaust. I feel better when people keep God to themselves.

When daylight ends early and the long nights begin, a neighbor down the road has lit up a large crucifix in red lights by his barn. It’s visible from far away, just as one enters my town from the south. I never feel welcomed by it. Instead, its size and red bulbs are for me an assertion rather than an invitation, a statement about the right path, the right religion, the right God.

I’m a great admirer of Christ, but I can’t help wondering what he’d think of all these signs that say that nothing is possible without him. A friend who many years ago founded perhaps the first American interfaith organization garnering religious support for the environment told me this story:

He’d worked for years to enroll leaders of the Christian evangelical movement in efforts to redefine our relationship to the earth and its creatures. Finally, he succeeded in getting the heads of that movement to the table. He made his presentation, there was a break, and in the break one of those well-known leaders took him aside and said: “Paul, that’s all very impressive, but I have one question for you: Do you take Christ as your savior?”

Our relationship with the absolute, or God, goes deep and wide; it’s so easy to fall into idolatry and self-aggrandizement. Again and again, the words that come up for me here are: Be quiet and listen.

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

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

WANTING MORE

A friend called me up on Thursday.

“It’s three years since Bernie died today,” he told me. “Are you okay?”

“Fine. A little glum, but fine.”

“What are you doing? Wasn’t there a meeting of his successors online to pay their respects?”

“There was. I didn’t attend. I was his wife, not just a student. I find it easier not to mix the two.”

“So what are you doing today?” friend asks.

“I lit a long stick of incense for him in the morning. Had a good heart-to-heart with Kwan-yin in the back though it was freezing. Walk the dogs, do some work, and sometime in mid-afternoon will drive out to Stockbridge.”

“What’s in Stockbridge?”

“A date.”

When I hung up I found Aussie staring up at me from where she lay on the futon. “Did you say a date? You’re going out on a date on the evening of the Man’s third memorial?”

“You want me to gather up the wood for suttee, Auss?”

“It’s not too late, only who’ll walk me if you burn up?”

“I didn’t jump into the crematory oven three years ago and I’m not about to now.”

“You’re a selfish, greedy human.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“You humans always want more. You had a rich marriage, you lived and labored day to day with a remarkable teacher, you loved your work, you have a fabulous dog, life doesn’t come much better than that—AND YOU WANT MORE!”

She’s right, I thought to myself. I want more. More of what?

More inhalations and exhalations, for one thing. Bernie used to say that if we knew ahead of time how many times we’d have to inhale and exhale over our lifetime, some of us would give up at birth. I want more of them.

More springs and falls, even as, looking around me at the multitudes of yellow leaves on the ground that my housemate is blowing together, it hits me that this fall could be the last here, the last for me, the last anywhere, how can anyone know?

More walks with dogs. Especially clear today when I couldn’t walk them on account of a pinched nerve in my back. Henry lies in bed alongside me, pawing me repeatedly, wondering why I won’t throw his turtle for him to catch, while Aussie comes up occasionally to check me out. When she’s not yelling at me for something, telling me I’m a yucky human, she’s concerned.

More writing, More blog posts. More stories.

More reflection of light.

And more intimacy. Sharing the hours, telling someone what I did earlier that day, asking him what he did, “Want a cup of coffee?”, “Who’s driving?”, the dance in the kitchen when both are cooking, making those stupid sounds couples make that no one can decipher but them.

More life, more journey. There are two contradictory things that happen when someone you’ve been close to for 35 years dies. On the one hand, he’s part of you. You embody many of his qualities, keep them going even in his absence; you do that with no choice. And on the other hand, you have your own separate journey to continue.

Bernie plunged into life—I saw him do that day after day—and he also plunged into death when it was time. He didn’t hesitate long enough to say goodbye.

“I think you need to hesitate,” says Aussie.

“My pinched nerve causes me to hesitate plenty.”

“Think of all the people who texted and emailed you condolences that day. And what were you doing? Going on a date! Didn’t you feel like an idiot?”

“This morning I went to the zendo for a memorial service for Bernie, Aussie, pinched nerve and all.”

“How was it?”

“Beautiful.”

“THIS LIFE IS TOO COMPLICATED! Now if you could only stay focused on one thing, go in just one direction, you wouldn’t get hurt.”

“What direction is that, Auss?”

“Stay on your own. Stop trying to bridge one life with another. Do the things you always did, that you know how to do. Stop with trying something new, you’re no Huck Finn.”

If I don’t do something new, I’ll die.

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.