DE-LIGHT

Red leaves on islet in forest

I drove my sister, Ruth, down to the New Haven train station this morning and said goodbye. She’s taking Amtrak to the Newark Airport, from where she’s flying to Israel.

When I spend time with Ruth, who’s 4-1/2 years younger than me, I feel as though I straddle a threshold, one foot in one room and the second foot in another.

The first room is the past. Who else remembers me from the time I was so young?

     Our first snowball fights in American winters.

     Piano lessons.

     A 3-verse poem I wrote her for her birthday and put into her jewelry box.

     Washing dishes together.

     The fight we had one evening when our parents were gone and I pushed her down the stairs.

     Heart-to-hearts about our early loves. Years later, she strongly supported my getting together as a couple with Bernie in the face of my own uncertainty.

     Her miscarriage, the birth of a precious daughter, another miscarriage, and then she called it a day.

The decisions we made, the crises we faced—I had to call to tell you! And sometimes: You’re the only one who knows this.

The second room is now, the present. Not the children we were then, nor the young, reckless people in our 20s and 30s, amateurs in life, hoping big hopes and dreaming big dreams. We see each other in multiple dimensions—child, young woman, professional, wife, mother, widow. She tells me of a conversation she had with her daughter, and I can’t help but see it like a movie, in frames of karma: a long time ago she was like this, then she became this, then that, now this—and it’s all there in that conversation.

Our relationship is marked by deep compassion. After all, in the final analysis, what is there to say to someone whom you’ve known their entire life? What guidance, criticism, or advice is there to give? None, though I’m the oldest of the three of us.

One thing becomes clearer and clearer to me. You can live out of karma, and you can live out of vow.  You can evoke your upbringing and the challenges of your early life–your first marriage, your second marriage, the first career, the second career, the hurts, the errors, the disappointments—till you’re blue in the face. You’re living out of karma: this happened, therefore this happened, therefore this happened, to infinity.

And you can live out of vow. All those things happened—and this is what I stand for. I had a bad night, a tree fell on top of the garage, there’s a leak in the basement, I’m ill, Aussie’s ill, I was never prepared for anything—and I have my vow.

Of course, your vows are also folded into karma. Day by day I look at a slim white piece of paper and remind myself that this is it, my north star, to be followed regardless of what happens.

This past summer, members of the Zen Peacemaker Order’s first cohort, an international group, did a long process around developing their guiding precept, supervised by Sensei Joshin Byrnes, who teaches in Vermont. I followed the process and decided it was time for me, too, to come up with a new guiding precept. I came up with this:

Today I will express de-light in all my endeavors and, accompanying those who suffer, help them awaken to and express de-light in their lives too.

I am indebted to Roshi Michel Dobbs who ends his missives with the words “In love and de- light”.

I’m also indebted to my mother’s passing. From the time I was a child she shared with me the darkness of her early life, of danger, persecution, the need to survive above all, the misery of her marriage. She didn’t show this to others, on the contrary, she showed de-light and triumph to others, but she shares her suffering with me. It inspired me to practice and to be of service to others, but it left its shadow on my life.

After she died last May, and after that first mourning, I felt a lightness of spirit, as if now I could bask in sunlight and the dazzling colors of fall. I find myself laughing more and gathering heaps of joy from the simplest interactions with people, dogs, and even the toad that I chased around the kitchen earlier to catch it and take it outside.

Living with Bernie for 20 years, of course, helped a great deal.

When I brought my sister to Union Station in New Haven, I saw a big white banner at the entrance: Welcome, Class of 2026, a welcome to Yale University’s incoming class of freshmen and freshwomen. I’m not the Class of 2026, I’m the Class of Now, and I feel more welcome than ever by this life and de-light.

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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.

TRUE COLORS

I take this photo of the trees behind my office every year. Come October, I stare and stare, finally walk out of the office in back of the house and take the same photo again and again.

The reds are gorgeous, but I am drawn most to the yellow and orange leaves. The red leaves are made during fall, but orange and yellow have been in the leaves all season long and only become visible to us when the chlorophyl of summer begins to disappear.

You might say that the leaves are finally showing us their true colors.

They need to produce green chlorophyl for photosynthesis, which results in oxygen for us and sugar for them. But as the fall season brings less sunshine, these processes can no longer happen; the green disappears, and instead the vibrant yellows and oranges appear. Colors beyond needs, beyond fulfillment, their true colors. And then the leaves begin to fall.

What is my true color?

“I’m looking for a black and brown dog,” I tell the people I meet on dog walks

Elise McMahon, a highly respected dog trainer in our area who trained our previous generation of dogs, told me that May and October are the worst months for losing dogs. She breeds Briards, which she lets off leash in the woods throughout the year except in May and October. “There is so much animal activity in those months that the Briards go crazy,” she informed me.

Sure enough, since the beginning of October, it seems as if Aussie disappears each time we take a walk. She chases deer with her high-pitched, excited cries (“Me Aussie, big game hunter!”), rabbits and foxes, sometimes it seems as if she chases the air. She could be gone for half an hour and find me no matter where I am.

A black and brown dog. Are those her true colors? I see the black and brown, a little white on the stomach, but I don’t think of her like that at all. What’s the color of quiet intelligence? Of running freely in the woods, tail waving like leaves in the wind? Of standing blissfully in the pond, water licking her chest? Of sidling over to my hip as I sit in my office around 4 pm, mewling a reminder that it’s time for her early supper?

Somewhere there are her true colors; black and brown say nothing.

Henry, the Illegal Chihuahua, has excellent recall so I never have to ask people: Have you seen a small yellow beige dog? Which is good, because yellow beige are not his true colors, either. For Henry’s true colors you have to look into small, dark brown, flashing eyes, feel the weight of 15 pounds leaping across the room, up the bed, and landing smack on your chest in the morning, or hear the snarl when he tosses Boo Boo the bear, Yogi’s friend and Henry’s latest toy, up in the air. You have to see the color of mayhem.

Bernie’s true colors had to do with denim. Not just because he wore jeans every day of his life but because it was also the color of jackets, work, comfort, and cigars. It was the color of neatness. His true colors also had to do with bushy eyebrows, a sprightly step, and stooping shoulders.

Our pine trees, of course, remain green over the winter. It’s easy to overlook them and oooh and aaah over the colorful maples, but green isn’t their true color, either. Theirs is the color of resilience, standing tall guard over ancient forests, the shade of silent winter watchfulness, of holding space till spring.

My sister is here this week. Her hair is blonde to my light gray/brown, redder cheeks, longer fingers. We are sisters; what are our true colors? I don’t know, only that they have to do with coffee, talk that starts and goes nowhere, slower walks than usual, perfect understanding, sherry at dusk, and bouts of high, hysterical giggles.

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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.

WHAT’S MY DEBT?

“Many writers pay a debt to their parents or to the world they left behind.”

I read this sentence in one of the many articles celebrating the Nobel Prize in Literature given to Annie Ernaux, whose books I haven’t yet read (I plan to) which detail her life extensively, including being raised by working-class parents who lived in rooms on top of their grocery store. Writer Sheila Heti quoted the following from one of Ernaux’s books about her mother: “I was both certain of her love for me and aware of one blatant injustice: She spent all day selling milk and potatoes so that I could sit in a lecture hall and learn about Plato.”

My sister is here, and we spend a little time reminiscing and comparing notes about the past. It’s a very small part of what we do, the past hasn’t been that interesting for a long time. But reading the above raised some questions. I also owe a great debt to my parents, but to the world they left behind?

That world was Eastern Europe, the small, insulated, shtetl world finally destroyed in the Holocaust. When I was growing up, they clearly felt I owed that world a debt, and the way to discharge it was to follow those ancient ways, raise an orthodox Jewish family, wear modest clothes, cover my hair, etc. I had good legs and wanted to wear a miniskirt. I couldn’t run fast or far enough from all that.

But to this very day, I’m very grateful to that world for its strong emphasis on learning. Even the poorest families had books. Yes, it was the Torah and commentaries, and more modern families had Jewish philosophy, but from a very young age you learned how to read—boys and girls, not just boys.

When I was 4 my mother discovered that I’d learned to read. We were living in a kibbutz, and I was spending all my time in the communal children’s home except for a couple of hours in late afternoon when I visited my parents. It was at the children’s home that I started matching the letters spelling out the name David, labeled over my friend’s toothbrush, with the boy’s actual name, working out how the letters resulted in certain sounds. I did the same with the name labels on clothes and certain kindergarten items.

My father was very proud. He sat me down at a table with a notebook and pencil and started going over letters more formally, asking me the first day to write out the first 10 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As I grew up, I loved books more and more.

“Look at her,” my parents would boast to their friends or relatives. “If we ask her what gift she wants, it’s never a doll or a toy, it’s always a book.” That wasn’t necessarily the case, I did want dolls and toys, too, but I quickly learned that asking for books was the way to get my parents’ approval and recognition.

That turned into a love of books and knowledge, and unending curiosity, that continued throughout my life. If there was one thing my mother envied me for was the learning opportunities I had. She had them, too, she didn’t have to sell milk and potatoes while I studied Plato, she also went to school later, got a teaching certificate, and continued going to classes till the onset of her dementia. But she always felt inferior to others because her early education had been interrupted by the Holocaust.

For a couple of years in the 1960s I went to night school in Queens College, New York, working full-time jobs during the day in Manhattan. I loved attending class with people much older than me. My peers were demonstrating against Vietnam and occupying school rooms, but night school, with adult students with jobs and families, seemed to me a more grown-up world. Let my friends burn things down, I used to think, this is the real world, the world of work, raising children, eking out the time and energy to study, course by course, towards a degree that they respected a lot more than the day students.

I shared those impressions with my mother, but she didn’t believe it. “They’re so much smarter than me,” she’d say about college students my age.

“You know much more than they do, given the life you’ve lived,” I’d tell her.

But she couldn’t be dissuaded. “They’ll know what to say in class and I won’t,” she replied.

In New England I come in contact with many people who never went to college. Of course, there were the financial issues, but a lot of it, too, was that no one in their family encouraged them to continue their education. I see how hard some immigrant families work to get their kids to school, much like mine did; they know that education is usually the ticket to greater financial security. And I also see Americans who were born here and never got that push from their parents to study hard, get that scholarship, get into college.

What is my debt to my parents and the world they left behind? Still mulling that over.

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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.

RUTH ARRIVES

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This afternoon I picked up my sister, Ruth, from New Haven, Connecticut, almost a 2-hour drive from home. Above is a photo of her from some 12 years ago.

It poured practically the entire way down, but I still made it in good time to attend a Zen Peacemaker meeting by Zoom before her train arrived from Newark Airport. Union Station was noisier than I ever heard it, I’d forgotten to bring headphones, and banners flew welcoming the class of 2026 to Yale.

Ruth lives in Jerusalem; I rarely get family coming to visit. We’ve been very close for many years now and always mourn the long distance between our homes.

Driving back took us some three hours on account of a bad accident near Hartford, where we sat completely still. Above us roared big trucks on the 84 Interstate highway, pounding the concrete overhead as they sped towards Boston, while on our highway, 91 going north, everyone had turned off the engine. We went nowhere for a good hour.

“If this happened in Israel everybody would be honking their horn this entire time,” my sister commented.

I remember a time before free WhatsApp video calls, when international calls were so rare and expensive that we could hardly get the words out of our mouths before we had to hang up the phone. We used them almost exclusively for big news or to mark the major Jewish holidays. Everything else was written on the onion-thin blue aerogrammes that we penned to each other every week.

We both became terrific letter writers, accumulating piles of letters from each other that we kept stacked up and tied with rubber bands. Any day when an aerogramme arrived in the mail was a good day. We’d look forward to them, tear them open very carefully, and read them again and again. So much anticipation, so much patience, so much reflection on the one that arrived before the next one came in. And when letters didn’t arrive, we’d get worried. Did something happen? And then there were the great days when two aerogrammes arrived at the same time.

The phone calls were brief, words tumbling out or else frozen in our mouths. How quickly can you tell someone about your life? How quickly can you tell her how important she is to you? The words I love you seemed to fade across the distance. I used to imagine waves and currents buffeting those long phone cables laid on the ocean bed, a vast body of water separating us.

But here she is, in person. Not on WhatsApp or Zoom or FaceTime, the whole body, the walk, pulling a large navy valise on wheels, and I yell at her on the train platform to stop before she takes the elevator down. The whole person is here, and she brings with her the faces of her partner and daughter, the face of my brother, even the face of parents who’ve died. Dogs we shared, foods we love, the same silly jokes nobody else laughs at but us.

She’s here for 9 days, a full 9 days.

As usual, I’ll try to parse out some work time, sitting time, dog walking time, reading and blogging time. The blog posts will be uneven, maybe a little rushed. I’ll get nervous about commitments and not falling behind. Ruth understands; she knows me better than anybody. She’s already settled down with a British detective novel; she’s come here to rest. In a few days my pace will begin to match hers and it will slowly be what it always is, as if we’ve never been apart.

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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.

 

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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.

NO STEAK AND OYSTERS

I’m considering widening my focus on raising money for Immigrant Families, which I’ve been doing since early April of 2020 when covid struck. I heard that immigrant families could no longer work, that undocumented families got no income at all (including help from the government), and I started buying food cards for them.

Jimena continues to send me shut-off notices like the one above and we come up with the $528 to help the family not lose electricity, especially as the weather here gets cold. I heard yesterday that electricity bills are projected to go up 100% here this winter. It’s going to get colder, the farms will close, and Jimena will probably send me copies of more eviction notices and utility threats as winter advances.

While I keep a very precise bookkeeping of monies coming in and out, usually into a separate PayPal account that is tied to a separate bank account, I don’t have the time right now to start adding everything up.  I remember that in that first year we raised close to $50,000. We raised less after that, but if you add the Christmas gifts for immigrant children and the back-to-school supplies in the early fall, it comes to a very substantial amount. Speaking of back-to-school supplies, thank you very much for buying the extra supplies that I’d posted 5 days ago. I believe that list sold out in less than 36 hours.

But now, after covid, the stories of families needing help is not just an immigrant story (it was my family’s story) or limited to undocumented families. My housemate, Lori, supports low-income families of all kinds dealing with poverty. It’s safe to say that many of those are single-parent households, usually a mother and sometimes a father.

When we walk with Aussie and Henry on weekend mornings (on weekdays she works out of the house visiting those families), she tells me about her new clients and what they face. She never mentions names, but I hear heartbreaking stories about the struggle of single parents to provide a roof over their children’s heads, find work, not yield to isolation, and avoid the lures of alcohol and drugs while scratching up some kind of life for themselves and their families. Even when they get help from government agencies, they get caught amidst rules and regulations that undermine their success.

A week ago I heard about a mother with four children who was just approved for Section 8 housing. Section 8 housing is a federal (HUD) program providing vouchers to help low0income families pay rent. Most landlords don’t accept Section 8; the apartments that do are in low-income areas and are as far from luxury apartments as you can imagine. People who get Section 8 vouchers in this state are required to also find work, not easy when there are little children at home.

Lydia (not her real name) has 4 children, two of whom are below the age of 3 (one is an infant). On the threshold of homelessness, she was thrilled to be approved for Section 8 housing. The challenge was to find a landlord who accepts that, of which there are few and all have long waiting lists. Laura found an apartment, only to discover that, of course, she needed first month, last month, and security, totaling three months’ rent. Section 8 has a program advancing this to low-income families, but the rules are that you have to show a rental contract in order to get the advance, which could take time. A bigger problem is that not too many landlords are ready to provide such a rental contract and then have to wait to get the three months’ rent, especially when there are so many on the waiting list.

Lydia had no money for the landlord to hold the apartment, and lost it.

If you are worried about welfare cheats eating steak and oysters at taxpayers’ expense, step into the labyrinth of government regulations and watch yourself losing strength, resolve, and stamina. Forget about steak and oysters, how about a roof over 4 children’s heads? The frustration was palpable as Lori spoke. How is Lydia going to get herself out of the situation she and her children are in now? She’s approved for low-cost housing, but the regulations are such that make it almost impossible to succeed.

When she said this, I thought about the account I keep for immigrant families. I checked it back home and said to Lori: “I can’t cover everything, but if an amount in the range of $2,500-$3,000 can help, we’ll do that. Tell her to look for the apartment and if she finds something, she could at least offer that amount to hold the apartment till she gets the money covering 3 months’ rent from Boston.”

This woman is not an illegal immigrant, she works hard to create a home for her family, but failure lurks behind every corner, her kids can be taken away from her, and the very programs meant to help her make success almost impossible.

There’s little affordable housing here; what there is, is still expensive (this is true around the country). So what if she was born in this country and is not an immigrant? Poverty doesn’t discriminate based on skin color or country of origin. I, for one, believe that the biggest issue we face in this country, bigger than racism, is the class system and wealth disparity we live with.

So far, I haven’t given that money because the Lydia hasn’t found another apartment yet; she’s aware that when she does, she can count on our offer. But since that and future monies are slated to go to Immigrant families, and especially undocumented ones, I feel it’s only right to put out the thought that it’s time to widen our circle of giving to include anyone in dire need, regardless of where they were born. I’m still mulling this over.

There are a lot of people struggling out there, but there’s the wealth of the universe, as I saw when the back-to-school list sold out so quickly. Finding my way.

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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.

STAYING IN THE GAME

I ran into a young woman with long, red hair as I started walking with the dogs into the woods behind the old Montague Farm, which Zen Peacemakers owned for a number of years; I have been doing that walk for a long, long time.

“Hi there,” I said, friendly like. “Were you here for the wedding?” The Farm is now a venue for weekend weddings.

She said yes, then added: “I would have liked to camp in the woods, but I saw a sign about a big bear, so we didn’t.” She looked at me with the dogs. “Are you sure you’ll be safe?” She pointed to a white sheet of paper, weathered, brown and wrinkly, tacked to a tree. It said: Big bear seen on path. Be careful.

Oh no, I thought to myself. I recognized the warning. One of our staff had put it up after I came to the office announcing that I’d run into a very large bear right at the end of the path, that I’d summoned and leashed the dogs (Bubale and Stanley, my preceding generation of dogs), and taken them back. She’d written out a warning on a sheet of of paper and tacked it onto the tree. Five years later, this same warning deterred the red-haired young woman from camping in the woods.

I took the warning down.

But sometimes I reflect on the fears and trepidations that continue to haunt us from the past. Whether they be serious traumas or just challenging encounters, they can resonate for a long time even if they happened to someone else, not even to you or me.

And—we go on. Right now, we’re considering an in-person gathering of members of the Zen Peacemaker Order in Bahia, Brazil, an opportunity to bear witness to indigenous communities as well as to Brazilian history of enslaved people. I mentioned this to my friend, Roshi Genro Gauntt, veteran of many plunges and bearing witness retreats, who told me about the adversity faced by his own son in Ft. Myers, Florida, due to Hurricane Ian.

“You know, the world isn’t too safe right now,” he said. “Peope may not want to travel.”

He mentioned Putin annexing parts of Ukraine. I thought of the coming election in Brazil, and particularly about Jair Bolsonaro, its current president who is threatening not to give up without a fight. Taking a lesson from Donald Trump, he may refuse to concede the election, challenge the protocols, maybe bring in the army.

Who will want to go to Brazil then?

But what are we supposed to do? “We still have to play,” Genro said to me. “We have to be in the game.”

Well said, I thought to myself. We can’t let the actions of certain dictators drive us to shelter, we can’t even let big weather events stop us from working and doing things. We have to stay in the game.

There is a tendency to contract in tumultuous times, stay indoors, be careful, and wish everyone to “stay safe.” There are bound to be voices exclaiming against taking flights anywhere because of their effect on  climate change. This is not the place for that discussion, to which I am very open.

But I don’t want to see the world as a frightening place, I don’t want to run away as an alternative to running into a bear in the woods. I’ve run into bears this last summer; everything is fine as long as you keep your distance and show plenty of respect for a big, fast, and intelligent animal. I have often watched bears climb over the fence and get up on their hind legs to get at the birdfeeders—always from indoors, keeping the dogs in with me.

I want to be careful, aware of all the things that occur around and through me, including fear, anxiety, and sadness–and I want to stay in the game.

This morning, while walking the dogs, I noticed that Aussie was no longer so afraid of gunshots as she had been since coming to our home 4 years ago. We have a number of shooting ranges in the area, not to mention hunters in the woods, and for the first few years she’d want to return to the car if she heard any shots at all.

This morning, wandering in a field with pumpkins surrounded by purple candlestick celosia, she ran and pranced around, showing not the slightest trepidation at the sounds of gunshots coming from a nearby shooting range. She was no longer a victim to old fears.

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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.

 

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.

JEWELTONE RULERS

“Aussie, guess what? The New York Times is now giving readers an estimate of how long it takes to read their articles. Hurricane Ian Has Pushed Water Out of Tampa Bay. 2 min read.”

“Eh.”

The British Pound Has Lost Its Dominance. 4 min read

“A full four minutes? What a waste of time.”

My Therapist Was a Robot. 10 min read

“Now that’s interesting. Maybe you should add an estimate of how long it takes to read your blog posts.”

“What do you think, Auss? People tell me they reflect on some of those posts. Ten minutes?”

“Forty-five seconds, more like.”

It’s not good to do things too quickly. For much of my life I’ve been obsessed by efficiency. If I do this errand plus this errand plus this errand on all one trip, I’ll end up with more time. If I do this phone call from the car rather than from home, I’ll end up with more time. If I leave this for the evening rather than now (which means I probably won’t do it at all), I’ll end up with more time.

The question I didn’t pay attention to was: Time for what? Instead, I lived like a train locomotive, hauling other cars behind me, hurtling through minor stops in my hurry to get to THE STATION. But once I reach the station, then what? I discovered that at the station they simply connected me to more cars, sent me on my way, and off I hurried again in a rush to get to the station.

Slowly, slowly, immeasurably slowly, I learned to lean into the things I called errands, the cooking of soup, the making of beds, the walking of dogs. The practice is lifelong for me. I was addicted to being fast, doing things quickly and efficiently, monitoring time and trying to beat it at its own game.

I didn’t win that contest. Yes, I could read about the crashing British pound in 2 minutes rather than 4, or Hurricane Ian in 1 minute rather than 2 (I didn’t read My Therapist Was a Robot). I could take in more and more information, most of which is forgotten quicker than it took me to take in. For what?

I was reminded of this yesterday. Over the weekend, Jimena Pareja finally informed me that many items from the Back-to-School Supplies List for Immigrant Children that I’d posted last August hadn’t arrived at her home, which was the address designated. I thought she meant that a few were lost in transit, but she sent me a list Sunday evening and I was dumbfounded by how many there were.

Instantly (I do many things instantly), I got on the phone with Amazon. That list had been sold out quickly, leaving two backpacks that were not even in stock any longer, I told them, all the other items had disappeared. That means they were bought, right? So, what happened to them? Paloma, the first person I talked to, was so taken aback by this that the very next day I received four of the items. But there were many more missing.

I spent another couple of hours on the phone with Amazon yesterday, this time with James, a manager down in South Africa, and after a full investigation he informed me that the original list didn’t contain the quantities I was describing, but that in many cases I’d entered “1” instead of the quantities specified by Jimena and the schoolteachers who work with her.

“Do you suppose you made a mistake?” he asked me tentatively.

“Maybe,” I replied just as tentatively. Why, oh why, after all these years, is it still so hard for me to admit I make mistakes?

“Do you suppose you made up the list too fast?” he ventured.

That stopped me. I’d created the wish list just before going to the Canadian island of Grand Manan, even as I was grappling with the loss of many subscribers and needing to install a new subscriber tool. I wanted the wish list to be out before I left, and when I finished, I thumped myself on the chest (metaphorically speaking) and mentally proclaimed: Yes, I worked fast and hard, and did it!

Only I didn’t. Late yesterday I realized that I’d messed things up, not just for myself but also for Jimena and the children depending on these supplies. Amazon, to their credit, told me to keep the four items Paloma had already sent me at no cost (James told me they’re donating it for the kids).

Yesterday I was grouchy about it; today I’m grateful. Those of you who’ve already bought papers, rulers, envelopes, binders, backpacks and geometry kits for the kids, I thank you with all my heart. If you didn’t—and even if you did—please look at this link for the subsequent list that I just made of the items we didn’t get because of my errors. They include pretty items like Supernova Neon stickies and Jeweltone colored rulers. Enough to tempt you to go back to school (which is probably the purpose)!

I am sorry for this mishap. Mishaps happen all the time, often because I was once again too fast and too efficient. This is our third year of covering back-to-school supplies for children who can’t afford them and the items on this list should have been on that August list (I haven’t added anything else). I was proud of getting it out in August; instead, I’m sending it out again at the end of September. Please, please use this link to see the supplies still needed and buy one or more. There are some cheap items, some costing a little more. They’ll help narrow the gap between haves and have-nots, but most important, I think they’ll make the kids happy.

Here’s the List again. Thank you muchly.

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A NEW CAREER

“Aussie, do you see a difference in me now when I get up in the mornings?”

“Not really. You’ve always been slow about feeding me.”

“I’m not depressed or anxious like I used to be, remember?”

“Do I remember! It was hard to talk to you for half the day.”

“That’s somewhat exaggerated, Auss.”

“So, what happened?”

“I decided to take anti-depressants.”

“WHAT! You, a Zen teacher, are on anti-depressants?”

“Bear with me, Aussie. I have felt depression and anxiety first thing in the morning for almost my entire life. It’s been a chronic condition for decades.”

“A Zen teacher on anti-depressants?”

“What’s wrong with that, Auss? It’s always been a struggle, and I would quickly get up and push it out of my mind. That worked to some extent, but the condition in and of itself never changed. Some months ago, I talked about it with my sister, and she, bless her heart, said: ‘You’ve been struggling with that for so long. You’re now 72, maybe it’s time to stop struggling.’ I talked it over with my doctor, she thought it was a good idea, and now I’m on anti-depressants.”

“And you call yourself a Zen teacher!”

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“A Zen teacher should be able to deal peacefully with anything that comes up without resorting to drugs.”

“Who said, Aussie?”

“Nobody has to say it, everybody knows it’s true. Seeing the emptiness of all things, you know there’s nothing to really get upset about.”

“I wasn’t getting upset, Aussie. I would just open my eyes and the room would look dark—”

“It’s 6 am, for God’s sake!”

“—and I would feel this fear and nervousness overwhelming me. It didn’t matter what the plans for the day were, morning after morning was like that.”

“I bet you wouldn’t feel like that if you woke up at Mar-A-Lago!”

“Jeff Bridges, with whom I’m going to have a conversation on getting older on the Zen Peacemakers website (check out their Events), calls it the morning dreads. I’ve had them practically since I was born.”

“You’ve been meditating since 1985. What good has it done you?”

“No good at all, Aussie. The point is, this is genetic, it’s in the family.”

“Who cares? A Zen teacher should always be calm and have things under control, never have to struggle—and never have to take anti-depressants.”

“I can’t tell you how different my mornings are now. I come down and pet you, tell you how pretty you are, what a great day we’ll have together.”

“Now I know it’s Prozac talking.”

“No, Aussie, it’s me talking. It’s me without the depression, without the morning dreads. And you mewl happily and turn onto your back so that I could rub your belly.”

“No more. Now I know that you’re not the real thing.”

“The real what, Aussie?”

“Enlightened! If you’re enlightened, you shouldn’t need any of that stuff.”

“Aussie, sometimes it’s a matter of not enough brain chemicals or faulty mood regulation. If it goes on and on for years regardless of life situations, it’s a good alternative. What about what I take to sleep?”

“Oh, no. What do you take to sleep?”

“Aussie, I take pot to sleep.”

“YOU WHAT?”

“I take half a gummy. I can’t smoke it on account of my asthma, but the gummies are wonderful. Don’t forget, pot is legal in Massachusetts, and my doctor recommended it. After I turned 70 my sleep regulation went out the window. I could be exhausted, unable to read or watch TV, but as soon as I lay down, I couldn’t sleep. She said that instead of taking sleeping pills, why don’t I try pot? It worked beautifully. Half a gummy causes me to fall asleep gently and wake up gently. Never exhausted, never sleepy, awake and healthy, and looking forward to a terrific day!”

“No Zen teacher should have to take pot to sleep, or anything for that matter. In fact, if you just put on recordings of your Zen talks, you’ll go to sleep right away.”

“Aussie, you know how many people I’ve told to get sleep gummies? You know how many people I’ve bought them for? And just between you and me, not all were in Massachusetts.”

“OMG, A DRUG DEALER!”

“No no, Aussie, I simply share what I’ve discovered works. Look Auss, I want to enjoy these years, I want to enjoy my humanness. When I sleep well and don’t wake up with depression or anxiety, I can act much better in the world, things don’t hang me up like they used to.”

“I’m leaving home.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“I was so proud of living with a Zen teacher. Instead, I’m a drug dealer’s companion. What’s it going to be next, the Mafia? I’m outta here.”

“But who’s going to be my companion now, Auss?”

“Get yourself a couple of Rottweilers.”

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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.

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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.

THINGS THAT MATTER

“Look Aussie, we’re right by Local Burger, which sells the best hamburger in our area. Would you like a cheeseburger?”

“Is the Pope Catholic?”

“So, what do you want?”

“Cheeseburger hold the roll, tomato, lettuce, and pickle.”

“Aussie, that just leaves the meat and cheese.”

“I know what counts.”

Someone from the Zen Peacemaker Order recently shared about her life and summed it up by saying: “It’s glorious to put the things that matter right in front of you.” It’s glorious not to get distracted or interrupted. And maybe most glorious of all is to know what things matter.

When Bernie got sick with his big stroke, there was never any question about what mattered; the day was framed by it. Every morning I’d review the schedule of priorities that I’d put together the evening before, go to him when he got up, keep an eye and ear out for when he showered and dressed, when he went downstairs, when the caregiver arrived. I’d review the priorities with her, his work schedule and exercises, the people he wished to talk to.

Other things also counted, including my teaching and finishing The Book of Householder Koans, but nothing was as immediate as taking care of someone, or raising a child, doing all the work that goes with dependence. Dependence isn’t a good word in this American culture. We are dependent when we’re young, are rushed into independence as soon as we’re able (some earlier than others), and if we’re lucky to live long enough, return to dependence when we’re old. That’s one of the biggest teachings we get in life.

After Bernie died, I wasn’t sure what mattered anymore. There were always too many priorities, I didn’t know what to put right in front of me day in, day out, as I’d  known back then.

After the drought we had this past summer, the worst in the 20 years I’ve lived here, I don’t take rain or water for granted. Options for walking the dogs shrank because everything dried up and it was hard to take them anywhere in the heat of summer with no available water for them to drink. We got a few big rainstorms this past month, but the thirsty earth absorbed all of it, leaving nothing in ponds or waterholes. Nevertheless, the earth got looser, even muddier, and we finally got warnings of possible flooding in the storm we had yesterday (we hadn’t gotten any of those since springtime).

I walked Aussie in late afternoon when the rain stopped and felt overjoyed to see water streaming out of culverts, ponds filling up, and Aussie splashing happily in the creek adjoining our road.  I remembered Standing Rock and the thousands of people, Native Americans and non-, who became Water Protectors in the summer and fall of 2016. It was as if the thing that mattered became visible to all of them, and they hurried to Standing Rock to stop that pipeline.

The water sparkled under the blue skies and afternoon sun, reaching our parched trees, plants and flowers, turning the grass finally green now, when fall is underway.

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WHY IS SHE LAUGHING?

“Look at Henry, Auss. Isn’t he cute with Moo the Red Cow and—and whatever the orange thing is?”

“Definitely not.”

“And look at him with Billy Bunny and Albert the Puffin that I brought him from Grand Manan. I’ve never met a dog who loves his stuffed toys as much as Henry does.”

“He’s almost 4 years old, all grown up. Time to put away puppyish things.”

“Aussie, you just turned 5 four days ago. I cooked you some steak.”

“And where is it now?”

“It’s not your birthday anymore.”

“I celebrate my birthday for a month. But you’re right, I’m no longer a pup. I have no interest in frivolous things or in being silly. It’s time to get serious.”

“You know, Aussie, I like to watch Henry play with his toys. He brings them over to me to throw, and once he finds them, he snarls, shakes them hard, tosses them high up and then catches them again even when they’re almost his size. It’s a heck of a show. Everyone who comes here loves to watch Henry.”

“Henry isn’t entertaining, he’s just foolish. Now me you can have a serious conversation with. We talk about relationships, current events, ethics, metaphysics, the lack of science in climate change, you name it. Nothing stupid. But Henry!”

“Aussie, did it ever occur to you that God may find all of us very entertaining?”

“I am not entertaining! Never was! I’m always, always serious.”

“Those are precisely the ones that God would find funny. From where God sits, we all look incredibly silly with our pretentious opinions, our ponderous sincerity, our dos and don’ts, the flag-waving, handwringing, world-worrying, lesson-learning and morality-mongering. She would probably say: Enough already! if not for the fact that She’s laughing so hard.”

“There’s probably a lot to laugh about you but there’s nothing funny about me. I have a very important role in life.”

“What’s that, Auss?”

“To teach you about right and wrong, the correct political viewpoint which is to take back the election of 2020—”

“Forget it, Auss.”

“To teach you about good food, like steak, about healthy habits like terrorizing rabbits, rules of hygiene—”

“Hygiene?”

“Like not washing my blanket too often, it’s best when it stinks. Like supporting local economies by shopping at the food co-op where they sell the biggest and freshest marrow bones. Karma brought me to this house so that I could teach you things. Why are you laughing?”

“Because you take yourself so seriously, Aussie.”

“Have you ever watched yourself talking to students on Zoom? I can hear the Buddha laughing all the way from India, or wherever he is right now.”

“But that’s the point, Auss. We get pissed at Fox News—”

“I don’t get pissed at Fox News!”

“We worry about many things, most of which won’t happen and instead other things will happen we never thought of. We argue about who’s right and who’s wrong, we speechify and pontificate—”

“Like you’re doing right now.”

“—and up there or out there, someone is laughing at all our earnestness, our intensity and serious-mindedness because we know so little about this world, Aussie. You know how I laugh at Henry snarling at me over Pinky the Elephant (She’s mine!) or at you when you pounce on a squirrel that is already halfway up the tree?”

“You laugh when I pounce on a squirrel?”

“God laughs at all of us, Aussie, in the same way.”

“That’s the saddest thing I ever heard.”

“It’s not out of mockery or spite, Auss, but for Her, we’re Saturday Night Live! every minute of the day.”

“Really? Who plays me?”

“You play you, Aussie. No one can play you like you.”

“Rin Tin Tin can play me. Or Laika, the Russian space dog. Why are you laughing? WHY ARE YOU LAUGHING?”

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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.

 

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.