A POOPISATTVA

“Where are you going?”

“I can’t find my way, Aussie.”

“That’s obvious.”

We got our electrical power back at 5:15 this morning. Last night they were still working on installing new utility poles on our devastated road. I counted some 5-6 events, as they call them, trees and utility poles that fell across a road only a mile long, with lots of overhead electrical lines down. That doesn’t include the trees that crashed along the sides. It was as though a mini-tornado had touched down on one end of the road and rushed through to the other. Police barriers barred access to the street in both entrances.

“We’re putting in new poles, and then they still have to bring the linemen to put up the new lines,” one of the Eversource people told me. “We’ve been here all day.”

That was at 7 pm Friday evening. They must have worked all night, because everything came on at 5 this morning. We’d been without electricity, water, heat, and kitchen utilities for 2-1/2 days.

I love the Eversource people. May they thrive, may their children thrive, their children’s children, etc.

In the late morning Aussie and I went into the forest, following a path I’ve walked for some 18 years. But this time I couldn’t find it. Tree limbs and branches had fallen, a carpet of twigs concealing the usual signposts. On the way back I got lost.

“How are we ever going to get home, Boss?”

“I don’t know, Auss. Wherever I go, the way is barred by lots of branches and brambles that weren’t there before. Do you ever have these days when you try out different things, and none of them work?”

“No.”

“I’m just tired, Aussie.”

“Follow me, dumb human, I’ll take you where you have to go. I always know my way. Ow! What was that?”

“An acorn fell on top of your head. Like I said, Aussie. I’m tired. I slept with my clothes on under a pile of blankets the past 3 nights because it was cold—speaking of which, Aussie, in the middle of the night I felt my sheets and they were full of sand. Now who did that?”

“Probably dumbass Henry, Boss. You know I don’t jump into your bed. I never cuddle!”

“Are you sure it wasn’t you, Aussie? You’re the one who likes to get wet and roll on things.”

“I told you, Boss, I don’t roll on your sheets. They’re not that interesting, unless you poop on them.”

“Aussie! But it is interesting that you love poop so much.”

“Me? What about you, Boss? What do you write about? What do you talk about? What do you care about? All the shit in human life.”

“Aussie, that’s not poop.”

“Of course it is. All you talk about is somebody suffering here and somebody suffering there. Don’t you know anything else?”

“Look at how much I love being out here with you in the sun and surrounded by gorgeous leaves, Aussie. I’m just as happy as can be.”

“No you’re not. You’re never happy unless you see suffering.”

“Aussie, I’m a bodhisattva.”

“You should call yourself Poopisattva.”

“Tell me, Aussie, why do you like to smell and roll on poop?”

“Because it’s not just poop, Boss. The smell jams my senses full of information—who left it, what they ate, how they’re feeling, who they’re voting for. All those things are in poop!”

“Exactly, Aussie. And human suffering is no different. It’s not just that somebody is homeless or doesn’t have food on the table. Each person is different, each person has a story. Like the woman on Thursday who came to get a food card and a carton of tortillas and told a story of why she left Guatemala. Or the young man who is the sole parent for a child because his wife left him for another man. Behind the label of illegal immigrants there are stories. Behind the word suffering is a unique human heart beating with its own energy, its own hopes for the future. I don’t see suffering as bad or smelly, it’s our story as humans.”

“You done already,  Boss?”

“It’s like what happened now, Aussie. We lost power, we were cold, we couldn’t cook, didn’t have hot food, I was tired. But it occurred to me that this gives me a peek at what so many others go through day after day for most of their lives. A lot of the immigrant families also had no power, and sometimes their utilities are shut off because they can’t pay their bills.”

“Here we go again, another spiritual answer.”

“No Aussie, don’t blame this on spirituality; I’ve been this way all my life. I used to do that when I was a kid, thinking about what it was like to grow in the Holocaust, what it’s like to grow up Black. My father used to say: Why are you bothering with all these things?

“Your father was right.”

“I always thought of what my mother did as a teenager, taking risks to save her family from the Nazis and living through extraordinary times. She was a real hero, and what am I doing with my life? Talking to a dog.”

“You could do worse.”

“The point is, Aussie, now I realize that that’s how my imagination took root. It imagined how I would have acted back in her time, and what I can still do, how I can still relieve suffering. See?”

“A poopisattva.”

“Everything I do is connected to my imagination: my Zen practice, my creativity, my writing, visions of what life can be. Suffering led to imagination, and imagination opened up a whole new world for me, see?”

“No.”

“What are we doing at the creek, Aussie?”

“You took the wrong turn, Boss. You always do.”

“Why didn’t you say something, Auss? Now we’ll never get home.”

“Look at it on the bright side, at least we’ll have water.”

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POWER-LESS

As I write this, we will have been out of power for some 20 hours. In our house, that means no heat, light, water, electricity, or WIFI.

I was in the dentist’s chair when it happened, my first appointment there since 2019. My teeth showed the neglect of 10 dentist-less months, and a promise that I’ll have to more than make up for it.

When I came out, I discovered that a microburst had passed by overhead, accounting for why the hygienist’s lamp had gone off and on as she worked on me. It was short, unexpected, and felt like a tornado had gone through, leaving some 88,000 folks in the state without power.

Driving home, I looked at the dark houses I passed, ticking the towns off in my mind (Deerfield’s out, Sunderland seems to be OK, Montague’s out), and as I got closer to home I discovered that trees had fallen on both entries to our street, taking down overhead electric wires as well, and isolating some 10 homes, including ours, from everyone else in the dark neighborhood.

I parked on the side of the road before a fallen tree blocking any further progress, talked to a policeman who sped off after giving me good news (“Those wires are hot! Don’t touch them!” and “Trees are down everywhere, we won’t get to this for a long time!”), and clutching my new toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste, circled the tree, avoided the electric wires, and ran into my neighbors walking on the road.

“I’m going to try to saw off part of the tree to at least give you folks a chance to get through,” the man said. “Better hurry before there’s no more light left.”

He wasn’t doing this for himself—he and his wife could go down their driveway and hit the road unhindered—he was doing this for those of us who were stuck. This is not uncommon in New England. People hope the police, utilities, etc. will come through, but there’s a lot of do-it-yourself initiative. It’s not at all uncommon for folks to get out their electrical or battery-powered saws and start cutting down tree limbs and branches blocking roads.

So, I began writing this post last night, working by the garish white of the computer screen and a small light from a battery-operated lamp, Aussie sleeping on the living room chair, no heat. And let me tell you, when you don’t have the basics you’re used to, you find yourself damn grateful for the fact that it’s not yet too cold, that there are extra blankets, and that there are utility workers out there laboring round the clock to give you all the other things you’re accustomed to, along with police, firemen, and first responders. That doesn’t happen in every country.

I was spared wondering whether I should put on the Vice-Presidential debate or not, since in a short time my computer died. I love watching the wrestling match between Aussie and Henry (In this corner, weighing at 48 pounds, the obnoxious, nasty, aspiring White House dog, soft-eyed but don’t you believe it—Aussie Marko! And in this corner, weighing at 12 pounds but making up for it with his locomotive energy in fetching balls and anything he could get his teeth into, including Aussie—Henry Begley!). Right now, that’s as much melodrama as I can take.

I sat in the dark last night and enjoyed the silence. And it really is silent when you lose power—no furnace gearing up, no dripping water, no whine of WIFI, no pings of incoming texts or emails. You don’t get how noisy our homes are at night, even in the country, till you lose power and remember that night is all about: darkness, silence, the outer landscape fading as the inner comes to the fore, subtly murmuring

Murmuring what? Aloneness, apprehension, how breakable I am. How all it took was a 10-minute microburst to leave me and many others power-less, mocking our pretensions, restoring scale. A good thing. I’m just human. That’s all, and that’s enough.

I remember how much I need everybody else, like my neighbor, Peter, trying to saw off part of the tree that totally blocked the road; the utility and municipal employees working all hours; my housemate who went out and brought coffee from McDonald’s this morning after I got up, still wearing my warm sweatshirt and socks. And finally, Leeann Warner, who takes Aussie out for walks.

“Leeann, are you taking the dogs out today? I have no power but can bring Aussie since I left my car down the road yesterday.”

“Yes, we’re going with the dogs, so bring Aussie, and bring yourself. While I’m out with them you sit in our warm dining room and work here, no problem. And help yourself to anything you want in the kitchen.”

I discover that my real strength comes out of asking for help, receiving it, saying thank you.

It’s interesting to me how since the New York Times broke the story of how Donald Trump, our billionaire president, paid little or no taxes over the years, most analyses focused on how this proves that he’s no great shakes as a businessman regardless of how much he boasts. Only a few called out the other element, and that is that he gets so much for nothing.

When you pay no taxes, it means you don’t give your share for the services you get—national defense, the maintenance and building of bridges and highways, the diplomats, the courts, the first responders. One can have disagreements in all these areas, but we are served living under their canopy, some more, some less. I think of the low-income folks I know who are so careful to pay their taxes on time even as they grumble at how much or little this leaves them with. They can’t imagine a tax-paying record like Trump’s. They don’t believe in getting something for nothing.

My friend Jon Katz, in his Bedlam Farm blog of this morning, reminded readers of the effects that strong steroids have on people. Donald Trump was given very strong steroids this past week. Jon’s post reminded me of what happens to me when I’m given steroids for asthma attacks—and it’s nothing as strong as what Trump was given.

I remembered how manic I get, filled with bursts of energy followed by a downward spiral of exhaustion, cycles of booming optimism (I can do this! I can do everything!) and bust (I’m gonna die!). These are well-known effects of steroids. The best thing you can do for yourself and those you love and care for is to take things easy, be aware of the mood swings, slow down, surrender to the professional advice of those taking care of you. You’re not yourself, you’re erratic and unstable, you have to be careful.

Trump doesn’t do any of these things, agreeing to talks on helping people at this time of covid, then breaking the talks off, then taking them up again, then saying he’ll be at next debate, then saying he won’t be at a virtual debate (that won’t be the end of the story). Is anyone telling this man to stop? Is anyone reminding him that he’s still ill? If they are, he’s not listening. And so the country goes.

Please support this blog, which is free to everyone regardless of support. Please support immigrant families, who do so much with so little—and pay taxes! Buttons are below. And if you prefer to do this by check, send to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351, and designate on the  memo whether it’s for blog or immigrant families.

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SPIRITUAL PROPAGANDA

 

“Leave me alone, Aussie.”

“Come on, Henry, let’s play.”

“Can’t you see I’m working?”

“Doing what, Henry?”

“I’m looking for the purple ball.”

“You call that working?”

“Aussie, you know what it takes to find the purple ball? Do you realize how many hiding places that ball has? Bureaus, television stand, futon, couch, coffee table, behind the bathroom door, behind the laundry room door, behind the—”

“Ok, ok, Henry. I thought the Boss was a work maniac, but you’re OBSSESSED!”

“I have to hurry to find the ball as long as she’s ready to throw it for me. There she is, sitting in her chair, looking at that white thing with little squiggles on it. As long as I deposit the ball in her lap she’ll throw it. But soon she’ll lose interest and say Leave it!”

“OMG, Spirituality 101. Let me give you some advice, Henry. Next time she says Leave it, say right back: NASA!”

“What’s NASA, Aussie?”

Not Another Spiritual Answer.”

“What’s so spiritual about Leave it?”

“Henry, Henry, Henry.”

“What, what, what?”

“The Boss is a teacher, she can’t help herself, always gives spiritual advice. She’s ADDICTED! Don’t give her any openings, hear me?”

“What’s spiritual advice, Aussie?”

Leave it is spiritual advice. Let it go, Aussie, is spiritual advice. Sit! Is spiritual advice.”

“It is? My human tells me the same things, and she’s not a teacher.”

“It’s different in this house, Henry. It’s hard to explain. Everything that sounds ordinary in other homes is highly suspect here. You know what it is, Henry? It’s a devious, underpawed attempt to convert us!”

“Convert us to what, Aussie?”

“To Zen, Henry. To spirituality. You’ve been around for about 10 days, haven’t you noticed how weird things are? Relax, Henry! Take it easy, Henry! I want you here right now, Henry! What do you think that is?”

“Training?”

“Propaganda, Henry!”

Be here right now is propaganda?”

“These Zen people are insidious, Henry. They say that Zen is all life.”

“So?”

“So they can make all of life Zen, don’t you see? They don’t convert you just in the zendo—they convert you on walks, in the kitchen, even while feeding you.”

“How do they convert you when they feed you, Aussie?”

Stop fiddling with your food, Aussie. Just eat!”

“Wow, I never thought of that.”

“How about: Aussie—Walk!”

“I love to walk.”

“That’s Zen talk, Henry. It means: Whatever you do, just do.”

“That’s a problem? I think you’re making things up, Aussie.”

“Oh yeah? What about: Aussie, quiet!”

“That does sound suspicious, I admit. I like to do a little yapping myself.”

“Or how about: Sit, stay! I tell you, Henry, Goebbels couldn’t have been more devious!”

“Who’s Goebbels, Aussie?”

“And then there’s the worst one of all.”

“What’s that, Aussie?”

“She gets up in the morning and comes downstairs while I’m deep asleep on the futon after a hard night’s work as guard-dog. And what do you think she says?”

“Why are you sleeping?”

“Worse.”

“She calls you lazybones?”

“Worse. She says: Aussie, are you awake?”

“That’s terrible!”

“First thing in the morning she reminds me that I’m deluded! How would you like to start the day like that?”

“But then she cuddles with you.”

“I don’t cuddle back, Henry. I know a trap when I sniff one. There’s only one thing for us to do, Henry. We got to get out of here.”

“Where do we go, Aussie?”

“There’s this big house far away, Henry, it’s all white on the outside, and the inside is full of Big Macs.”

“Are there a lot of dogs there, Aussie?”

“None, Henry. No dogs. Everybody’s sick so the place is practically empty.”

“I’m salivating already, Aussie.”

“And the best thing, Henry? The best thing of all?”

“What’s that, Aussie?”

“There’s no spirituality there! Not one bit! Not an iota!”

“When do we leave, Aussie?”

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WHAT’S SO INTELLIGENT ABOUT DYING?

“We’re in the middle of fall, Aussie, and just look at how the leaves change colors.”

“I don’t see anything.”

“You see, Auss, as it gets colder, they get less and less chlorophyl, so other colors which they’ve always had are revealed. Suddenly, instead of green you see yellows and reds and orange and—”

“I don’t see anything.”

“That’s because you’re a dog, Aussie, and dogs see a narrower range of colors than humans. We used to think that all you dogs see are various shades of gray, but now I read that you could see more color than that.”

“I still don’t see anything.”

“We have different sensibilities, Aussie. You can’t see the colors that I can see, but I can’t hear or sniff what you can. That’s why I always find it so interesting when you say you can’t see anything.”

“You like it that I’m color-blind?”

“You’re probably not color blind for a dog. It’s just that when I see what you’re missing, I ask myself what am I missing. Not smelling and hearing as well as you are just the tip of the iceberg; they point to the fact that we all have different systems, brains, and minds, very different awarenesses. Remember when the tsunami hit Thailand and all the animals began running inland way before the humans knew what was happening?”

“I always tell you we’re smarter than you are.”

“You’re missing the point, Aussie. There’s an awareness, a composite of all the different intelligences in the universe, that’s so much vaster than yours and mine, Aussie, it beggars understanding. I think of that every time I see a leaf fall from a tree in fall.”

“What’s so intelligent about dying, Boss?”

What a good question. What’s so intelligent about dying? It reminds me of sitting at a fancy dinner over 20 years ago in Santa Barbara, California, next to a member of the city council who was also a professional veterinarian. I don’t remember how the question of God came up, only that he told me that he didn’t believe in God.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I can’t believe in anything that requires things to die for others to live,” was his answer.

This same man quit the city council in disgust the following year, returned to his veterinary work, became our dogs’ veterinarian, and stewarded my golden Woody’s final illness and death in the kindest way imaginable.

And yet, putting aside the question of God, I sense an intelligence in the greens, yellows, and oranges outside, in Bernie’s death from sepsis, in the tiny wrinkles under my eyes and the pain in my left knee. Bernie rested in that intelligence, which he called not-knowing, with no fear and nothing but gratitude.

A student emailed me a phone number of a woman managing a large warehouse some 20 minutes away from my home selling high-end food in bulk very cheaply, mostly to restaurants and food stores. I called her and we made an appointment for this morning.

I drove over in the rain with Aussie and found her in the back of an industrial area surrounded by vans and trucks. It’s called Steals & Deals, selling nonperishable food that’s close to expiration. But as manager Ivy Garcia explained, those in the food industry are well aware that nonperishable food lasts a lot longer than the stamped expiration date, so numerous food outlets buy from them at these low prices.

“We did only wholesale till the coronavirus hit, we were affected like everyone else,” she said to me. “At that point we opened up to private customers ready to buy in bulk, but only by appointment.”

She showed me large trays of canned food, cartons of pasta, bottled water, coconut milk, drinks, many brand items you find in high-end stores like Whole Foods, all at very low prices. Their stock depends on what comes in and goes out. “Some things I can give you for free for the immigrant families,” she told me. “Bring your car to the back.”

Aussie took the opportunity to leap out through the open door and dance in the rain while Ivy’s son, Angel, loaded box after box of whole wheat tortillas, 10 in a bag, 10 bags in a box. My car trunk, filled up to the rafters till last evening when I brought all the Amazon school supplies to Jimena, filled up once again with boxes of tortillas and expensive chips for kids—all for free.

When I wanted to leave Aussie wouldn’t go in. “You filled up the car again, I’m not jumping in.”

“You have half the back seat, Aussie.”

“I used to have the whole back seat! Then Harry came and I got half, then Harry left and I got it all, and now boxes are moving in all the time. We look like we’re homeless!”

“Aussie, there’s always more room. Inside and outside, there’s always more room.”

I opened up a box at home and examined the tortillas. Perfection. Cooked a couple. Perfection. I thought again of how much food we have in this country, how much we throw away, and how many families don’t have enough to eat on a regular basis.

“So what’s the point?” Aussie asks me with a big yawn. She decided to walk home rather than share her back seat with boxes of tortillas.

“I’m not sure, Aussie. Bernie used to say, you want to do something, ask the universe for help. Don’t keep it a secret. I ask the universe for help and I get it in all kinds of surprising ways, including the visit this morning to Steals and Deals. Maybe it’s the intelligence I was talking about earlier.”

“And what would have happened of Ivy Garcia gave you nothing?”

“Then there would have been nothing, Aussie.”

“Nothing is intelligent, too, Boss.”

“You’re right, Aussie. I’m proud of you for pointing that out.”

“That way I have the back seat all to myself.”

Steals & Deals are at 10 Greenfield St. in South Deerfield.

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LET’S NOT WIN THIS TOO QUICKLY

“How are you doing?” I emailed my friend, Roshi Michel Dobbs, in Long Island.

He answered: “Generally, I feel like the guy who fell off a building, and at every floor he fell past, he said ‘so far so good.’”

I laughed. But lately, in talking to the local sangha or even to my friends, I haven’t been laughing much. Anxiety seems to be everywhere, and we haven’t yet reached October.

I tell people that I don’t feel particularly anxious, and most of the time that’s true; I am confident that Biden will be inaugurated as president in January. But I woke up at 3 this morning and couldn’t sleep. The fears and apprehensions that usually hide out in the day poke their heads out of the closet at night. Staring into the darkness, I realized that anxiety didn’t spare me, either; these are dark times.

So I went downstairs to my office and out the back door, where the gorgeous fall is in full swing. I took the picture above, and the flash gives you a sense of what it looks like right outside my office at night.

A couple of days ago Alisa Glassman, Bernie’s daughter, sent me a pdf copy of a book called Reveille for a New Generation: Organizers and Leaders Reflect On Power, by Greg Pierce, who put together various chapters on the power of organizing community, with chapters by such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez, and more modern organizers today, including Alisa, who has made community organizing her life’s work (she is currently the lead organizer for VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Engagement). Her father and I have always greatly admired her work. Of course, the title immediately brought to mind Alinsky’s classic organizing book, Reveille for Radicals.

Alisa sent me the book specifically because of a short chapter that she contributed, which continues to reverberate in my mind, called: Don’t Win Too Quickly. In it she recounts how, some 24 years ago, she had just begun her organizing efforts in a campaign for a livable wage for Baltimore city employees, and indeed, Baltimore became the first American city to do this for its low-paid workers in the public sector. She recounted that in the middle of that campaign, her boss turned to her one day and said: “Whatever you do, don’t win this campaign too quickly.”

She wrote that she felt betrayed by those words. She’d visited the homes of janitors who worked for a little over $4.00 an hour and saw firsthand how impossible it was to live like that. “I had become an organizer to win, and to win as quickly as I could,” she wrote. “This is what the world needs, I believed. I felt the deep righteous anger of my profession . . .”

Seven years later she got a similar lesson, this time from an African American matriarch and activist who’d saved her neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland, from being turned into horse stables for the adjoining wealthy town. Alisa recounted how Ms. Bette Johnson had taken her to see a dilapidated community center, sandbags alongside the outside of the brick walls. As they walked back, discussing how to revitalize the neighborhood, Ms. Johnson had turned to Alisa and said: “Whatever we do, we can’t win this campaign too quickly.”

“Eve, Ms. Johnson was 70 when she said that,” Alisa told me on the phone.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that. Ms. Johnson was 70, had already saved her neighborhood once and was trying to save it again. She could have said: “Let’s hurry up so that I could see this work completed before I’m gone.” Instead she said: “Whatever we do, we can’t win this campaign too quickly.”

As an organizer, Alisa always looks at what makes people working together powerful: “Authentic, meaningful relationships take time. Building relational power takes time. If we want long-lasting power, we must give the building of new relationships the time it takes for people to learn to trust one another. We must give these budding relations the time to gel and become real.”

I am not a community organizer, I practice engagement in the world based on the dharma, on the experience that we’re all One Body and that nothing is excluded. I grow restless and unhappy when I hear people making broad, demeaning generalizations about others, giving vent to us vs. them, and how the world will end if they win. It’s not Donald Trump that caused this schism; Donald Trump knew how to use it, and in that process revealed this reality, and I’m grateful to him for revealing it to my blind, oblivious eyes.

I’m not worried about Donald Trump, I’m concerned about what comes after him, about the much smarter, more capable, less self-sabotaging people watching the estrangement and flood of anger that has lain waiting for someone—anyone—to unleash. They’re watching, learning how to manipulate this rupture that has broken our society apart, how to set up one group against another in these Disunited States of America, and take over and harm the country in a way that could well dwarf whatever Trump has done.

More important, I think of that One Body, our one world, and realize it is not my practice to fear or grow anxious over Donald Trump or November 3, my middle-of-the-night insomnias notwithstanding. My practice is to bear witness to this One Body, to better understand why a fine and intelligent man close to me believes that the coronavirus is a hoax, to bear witness to those feeling that, no matter how hard they work, they’re always being left behind, always on the margins of things, and their children will fare no better—be they white or black.

Believe me, if we don’t work to heal these divides—between rich and poor, between white and people of color, between men and women, between secular and religious—Donald Trump will be the least of our problems.

And that means that we can’t rush to win too quickly. We can’t think that the outcome of Election Day will be a victory or defeat. As Alisa Glassman wrote, we need to build new relationships, learn to trust one another, give those new relationships time. We’re always in such a hurry: now, now, now, now! It’s not how life works.

By all means, get Joe Biden in in January, but it’ll be meaningless if it isn’t the beginning of a much longer campaign to heal this country. As Alisa wrote at the end of her chapter: “The work is always about building new relationships among and between communities that did not exist before… Our job is not to let the win be our sole objective or even the top objective. The irony is that unless we prioritize other areas besides winning, we will always lose. Without this clear focus, we sabotage the very communities we say we care about.”

You can pre-order Reveille for a New Generation: Organizers and Leaders Reflect on Power, which includes the chapter by Alisa Glassman, on Amazon here.

 

 

 

 

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HENRY

“What’s that, Boss?”

“That’s Henry, Auss.”

“What’s a Henry?”

“Henry is a 12-pound mixed dog who’s moved in with his human. They’re taking the front bedroom upstairs.”

“That’s a dog? What are you supposed to do with it, eat it?”

“I don’t think he’ll let you, Aussie.”

“Why don’t you try throwing it to me, Boss? If it makes noise maybe I’ll fetch it.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say. Actually, I’m very excited to have Henry here, Auss. It’s the first time I have a small dog in the house. I’ve wanted to try one for several years and here he is, though of course he doesn’t belong to me.”

“Why does his nose constantly nudge the blue ball up between your thighs? Does he think you’re missing something? Doesn’t he know you’re a she?”

“I think he wants me to throw it, that’s how he gets my attention, Aussie. He did the same thing with the yellow squeaking duckie that Harry left behind.”

“Are you loving it?”

“Enough, Auss. Henry’s a lovely dog and you’ll have to get along with him.”

“I don’t want to get along with him. Did you ask me if I wanted another dog in the house,  Boss? Does anybody care what I think?”

“As a matter of fact, Aussie, I introduced him to you beforehand and you seemed to get along fine.”

“I was looking forward to finally being an only dog after Harry left: get all the left-overs, sleep wherever I want, not ever again have to share! And now this—a mini-maniac pushing a yellow squeaking duckie up your—”

“Stop it, Aussie!”

“Boss, I have felt canine non grata for a long time now!”

“You’re spoiled and self-indulgent, Aussie. Next thing I know you’ll be off to the White House again.”

“Do I have a choice? Have you looked at the steps to the door lately?”

“OMG, Aussie, look at all the Amazon boxes full of school supplies for immigrant children. It looks like they’re getting everything they need—”

“But I don’t got what I need, Boss. I can’t get into the house!”

“I believe we sold out the Amazon Wish List. Can you believe that, Aussie? It sold out in less than a week. Doesn’t that give you a good feeling, Auss?”

“Boss, I can’t get into the house!”

“I tell you, Aussie, people are amazing. It took me a long time to recognize how generous they are, and how generous life is.”

“I can’t get into the house, Boss!”

“Henry managed to slip through, but then he’s a quarter your size.”

“Boss, I need to get in and rest. It’s been a long day.”

“I have to open them all, repack them and put them in my car, Aussie.”

“Not on my back seat!”

“What is it with you, Aussie? It’s your home, your front steps, your food, your back seat. Henry needed a home so he’s here. Children need help with school supplies so many kind people got them what they needed. Why can’t you learn to share?”

“If I learned to share, I’d be a socialist. You want me to share, send me to China. In fact, I think Henry is a little Chinese, don’t you? I should have known, just another illegal immigrant–in my house!”

“At least he works for a living, Aussie.”

“What does he do?”

“He chases balls and duckies. Do you do that?”

“I’m a proud American dog. I don’t chase balls and duckies. Born-in-the-USA!”

Oh Aussie, I don’t know how much longer the two of us can share the same house. It’s getting so partisan!”

“Henry has to leave. No miniature sex maniacs allowed here.”

“Nobody’s leaving. I love it that he’s different from you. His bark is different—”

“Call that a bark?”

“—his personality is different, his energy level, he looks different. You know what Bernie used to say.”

“Here it comes.“

“He would say that we’re all different plants and flowers in one immense garden. The garden wouldn’t be the same if even one of us goes.”

“NASA!”

“NASA, Auss?”

“Not another spiritual answer.”

 

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PRESENTS!

Presents!

I love getting presents. I love beautifully wrapped presents.

These aren’t beautifully wrapped but I love them just the same, even more. They’re not for me, they’re school supplies for immigrant children, but I am absolutely gleeful as I open each box with the scratch of a sharp knife, dig under the bubble wrap and paper and find more notebooks, more backpacks, more colorful index cards. Then I carry the boxes to the trunk of my car.

I try not to order many things from Amazon for myself in favor of local stores, but for this purpose and due to covid, there’s little choice. So here they are, like magic, and I feel  glorious because I love getting presents.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get many. I was born right after Israel became a country, grew up in a kibbutz, fruit was rationed and there was no money for extras. There’s an old photo of me holding a beautiful doll that I loved with all my heart, given me by my uncle. I think it was the  only toy that I had as a child.

After we arrived in the States, I have strong memories of getting up from my bed at nights and walking quietly to the kitchen to listen behind the door as my parents sat there wondering how to make it to the end of the month. I was the oldest of three and felt the most responsible. As a result, I learned at a very young age never to ask for anything, it would just add to their hardship.

Near where we lived was a store called Bargain Town, a small version of Walmart, with many cheap items. My mother would bring us shopping there and I would head for the toys and games aisle. Later it would be books and records, but before my teens it was toys and games. When she got the things she needed she’d come looking for me.

“Do you want me to get you something?” she’d ask, looking at me sharply.

I would shake my head, never taking my eyes off the game I wanted.

“Tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you.”

I wanted badly to tell her but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth; I was sure that asking for anything would cause her pain.

“If you don’t tell me what you want, I won’t get it for you,” she’d say.

When I didn’t say anything she left, leaving me confused. But she knows what I want, I am looking straight at it, I’d think to myself. All of which confirmed me in the notion that I must never ever ask for anything.

Decades later, and Bernie and I have dinner. I voice my concern about whether we have enough money, both personally and for our work, and he says: “You have a mind of impoverishment. The world will take care of us, don’t worry.”

I tell him about how I grew up and learned never to expect anything. Bernie can’t care less about the stories, no sympathy or empathy there, he just shakes his head once again and says: “You have a mind of impoverishment.” I am being stingy, not using all of the ingredients of my life.

Early Buddhism was often associated with achieving some state of nirvana. If you achieved that state through assiduous practice, your karma—causes and conditions, your upbringing, and all the situations of your life—wouldn’t catch up with you or would no longer be relevant.

That’s not my sense of Zen practice. What I love about Zen is that it envelops you and your craziness as well. It warns you not to make out of it a personality or identity, but it accepts all the things—in fact the very things you may be embarrassed about or wish to hide—that make you different from others. There’s a deep generosity in that.

One day we again talked about money and Bernie again shook his head. “You have a mind of impoverishment.”

I snapped. “Okay, I have a mind of impoverishment. So what!”

He said nothing. Then he started laughing. I started laughing. Then he laughed even harder, and when Bernie laughed hard it became high-pitched and giggly, which made me laugh even harder, and by then we were both laughing so hard we couldn’t eat.

I don’t think he ever told me about my impoverished mind again. Not that I don’t have it, I see it, notice it, sometimes do something about it, sometimes not. Now I’m the one shaking my head at me: Still the same old meshugena.

There’s a famous Zen koan about a teacher who gives the wrong answer to a question and his punishment is to be reborn many lifetimes as a fox. When people work on this koan, whether they know it or not, what they’re working on are these questions: What happens to that tough upbringing, those abusive events, the thing that hurt? Do I ignore them? Can I ignore them? Do I bury myself underneath them and wish to die? Or do I see that that, too, is life, part of the Whole, because nothing is excluded?

If you were hurt in life you can become the world’s great victim, or you can practice with it, learn to hold it lightly, even start laughing with it, and use it to do some good. I believe that’s what happened with Bernie after the loss of his mother when he was a child; it probably happened to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who found herself stopped by people’s perceptions about women. But first, you have to make some peace with it. Not deny, fully acknowledge it and its impact on your life, and then make something out of it.

In his magnificent Overstory, Richard Powers writes of the brilliant Patricia Westerford, who is stopped in her tracks for many years by professional ostracism due to her discoveries about the aliveness of trees. She finally meets Dennis, who loves and take care of her. Powers writes: “She takes his shaking hand in the dark. It feels good, like a root just feels, when it finds, after centuries, another root to pleach to underground. There are a hundred thousand species of love, separately  invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things.”

That’s what each one of us is, with our complexities and hang-ups, one of a hundred thousand species, no, an infinite number of species of love, each more complex than the last, and we’re always creating new combinations and new species of love out of all that mishigas. The dharma, the One Body, embraces it all.

That’s how I felt when I found the Amazon boxes on my steps. Did it matter that they weren’t for me, that they were headphones, computer mice, protractors, crayons, and colorful pencils and calculators, sent to children who have very little by Ruth and Elias and Robert and Susan and Suzanne and others who didn’t send their names? Not one bit.

There are still items on the Amazon List that we need, simple things like flash cards and graph paper and more binders and notebooks. Jimena wants to pack each backpack with paper and notebooks and post-its, etc. and give the backpack to each child, watch his/her face as they open it up. I told her that we didn’t have everything yet, but that we would. I promised her that. If you can, please help by getting something on the  list. Make learning like Christmas.

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NASA AND KABLOOIE

“I love painting my toenails, Aussie.”

“Silliest thing I’ve watched you do. Only humans do something so dumb”.

“You know something, Auss? It’s wonderful to do dumb things every once in a while, not to always be serious. Even as I talk earnestly on the phone about something, I look at my silly red toes, with the two tiny toe rings on the second toe, and I laugh.”

“I thought Buddhists don’t color their toes. Or their fingers. I thought you guys have to be serious all the time.”

“Don’t tell anybody, Aussie, but deep inside I’m happy.”

“Buddhists are not supposed to be happy!”

“Fall is magnificent here; it’s impossible to look out the window or walk in New England now without being happy, even frivolous.”

“Frivolous! Now? With the election coming up? Even I know Donald’s in trouble.”

“Even with the elections and the kablooie around the Supreme Court.”

“What’s kablooie, Boss?”

“A very important word that describes the circus we’re going through right now, Aussie. Kablooie means explosion. It means everything’s going down!”

“Donald’s not going down!”

“I think he is, Auss, but that’s not the point.”

“If only he’d take me into the White House to be his dog. Everybody will love him. I’m much prettier than Melania. Donald will huff and puff and yell Kablooie! Kablooie!, but I’ll bat my pretty eyelashes and look soulfully at the cameras, and you just watch, we’ll win paws down.”

“This is not about Trump, it’s about the country, Auss: the big dramas, the splashy headlines, he screams this and she screams that, a Senate that’s become a sandbox for toddlers—enough already!”

“Kablooie! Kablooie!”

“We’re not going kablooie, Aussie.”

“I don’t care, I love the word.”

“It’s always important to keep in mind that we don’t really know the outcome of things. I think Trump’s time as President unveiled much we didn’t want to look at and now there’s a loud wake-up call we can’t ignore. It’s time to live differently, to sacrifice. How many of us thought like this during Obama’s years? Trump’s years in the White House might be valuable in the long run after all.”

“Of course they’re valuable. We learned to appreciate the importance of a First Dog. Kablooie!”

“Aussie, I first came across kablooie in Calvin and Hobbs, a cartoon about a little boy and his stuffed tiger, which may be alive. Come bedtime, Calvin always asks his father to read him the same book: Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie. But his father’s so sick of it he won’t read it anymore to Calvin.”

“Why? Because it’s violent?”

“That’s the funny thing, Auss. You never find out what the book’s about. All you know is that Calvin always wants to hear that book read to him, and his father won’t do it anymore. They fight all the time, but you don’t really know what they’re fighting about.”

“Anything called Gooey Kablooie must be a great story, Boss.”

“I agree, Aussie. Some of that is what’s happening now. We fight and we fight, but we’re not always sure what we’re fighting about.”

“I’m fighting about having a dog in the—”

“Some might say that it’s all about racism, the pandemic, climate change, gender rights, religious rights and abortion, lots and lots of things. But it’s always good to remember that we never really know how things will pan out. We do what we do, and life takes over, Aussie.”

“Huh?”

“You have to stay open even as you fight for things, Auss. That’s not easy. It’s called not-knowing.”

“Here we go again. NASA.”

“NASA? What’s space flights got to do with anything?”

“NASA. Not another spiritual answer!”

“Aussie, there are things we know we don’t know, but there are lots more things we don’t know we don’t know. Like who knew a pandemic could change our life so radically?”

“NASA! NASA! That’s what I want you to call me from now on. Every time you want me to come, just call out: NASA! NOT ANOTHER SPIRITUAL ANSWER—come!”

“I can’t do that, Aussie. I’m a Zen teacher, spiritual give-and-take is in my blood!”

“I don’t mind what you take, it’s what you give that I mind. I don’t want no spiritual treats.”

“By the way, how would you like to be called Kablooie instead of NASA or Aussie?”

“Too long for a dog, Boss.”

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DISSENT AND DISSENT AND DISSENT

“I’ve been thinking a lot, Chavale, and I finally decided: My conscience is clear.”

“Conscience about what, mom?”

“About the family. I can’t say anything about your father, he’s his own responsibility. But you children were my responsibility and I think I raised you right, right?”

“Right, mom.”

“By that I mean that the most important thing is to help others, and all three of you do that. That’s what I tell my friends. ‘You want to be happy, help others. Maybe at first, doing bad things feels good, but in the end it won’t.’” She thinks a little. “I just don’t understand why life is so tough.”

“You mean, the closing down, mom?” Beginning last Friday afternoon, the eve of the Jewish new year, Israel began its second full shut-down, with residents limited in how far they can wander from home and checkpoints and police on the city streets. My brother and sister got written permission they wave to the police in order to visit my mother.

“Not just that. I have to speak more to God.”

“You spoke with God, mom?”

“On the eve of Yom Kippur [Yom Kippur has not transpired yet, it starts Sunday night, September 27] I spoke to God and I told him, ‘There’s a problem with creation. You made human beings to do good, not bad, so why do so many still do that? Why is life so hard? Something isn’t working in the creation. Somebody goofed here.’”

“Did you get an answer, mom?”

“Not yet.”

Over the past several days we’ve been on the cusp of winter. Temperatures plunged, especially nighttime, and for the first time that I can remember I put the heat on before October. We had frost warnings and I brought in some plants, though the mornings have shown no frost so far. It’ll warm up tomorrow, so the flowers have to survive one more night before returning to  more days of sun, but the end is inevitable. Some are already careening over and nothing flowers anymore.

Time to rest? Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

For the past month, since reading of cancer appearing in her pancreas, she’s been on our wellbeing list, so I wasn’t surprised when she died. I was shocked. Somehow, I thought that someone as strong as she could cheat death, at least till January. I visualized her lying back after the inauguration of Joe Biden and saying, “Now I can rest.”

She’s resting now; not me.

She’s been quoted a lot lately, but the words that really spoke to me were her words on dissent, which she had to do plenty of on a conservative Supreme Court:

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but tomorrow.”

And that has to be my hope, too. All too often I get discouraged. As I wrote the other day, I try to stay centered and stable, but at times it feels as if the world has become the Great Tempter: So, you think it’s been bad till now? Well what about this, and what about this, and just you wait till tomorrow. We’ll see you stay centered tomorrow!

What about Ginsburg’s seat being replaced by Republican senators? What about if Trump, against all odds, wins in November? What do I do?

I’ll dissent, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll say to whoever’s listening that this doesn’t work according to my understanding. I’ll take courage from Ginsburg’s words. It’s not for now that I’m fighting, it’s not for me or my peers, those of us who have fewer years ahead than behind. I dissent for later, for future generations. I’m not predicating anything on results today or tomorrow or next month or even next year.

Hope has nothing to do with tomorrows, it has to do with what your vision is today, where you stand now, what you stand for. And if things don’t go your way, dissent and dissent and dissent. There are infinite ways to dissent, not just writing a court opinion, so find your way.

One of my ways of dissenting, in this grim, uncharitable time, is to do the opposite of what my self-preserving instincts tell me to do: loosen up, and instead of grab—give. So I made up an Amazon Wish List for the children of immigrant families who got Dell Chromes from their schools but no headphones, no backpacks, no notebooks, no calculators or protractors, no money for paper and binders and even crayons.

The list includes two expensive calculators for igh school students studying calculus; the rest are backpacks, more moderate calculators, and also items many of us would find cheap, like index cards, graph paper, flash drives, and sticky notes. In a family that struggles to feed its children, there is little money for such “extras” even though their teachers gave us this list of items, indicating they’re essential, not extras. You can find this Amazon Wish List here.

For now, the items will come to me and I’ll bring them to Jimena. Whatever you could afford to help these children learn would be greatly appreciated. You can also use the donate button below to send money for food cards, or else send a check to me: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351.

I feel like saying, “Do it for Ruth.” Instead, I invoke my mother: “That’s what I tell my friends, you want to be happy, help others.”

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A BIRTHDAY, RBG, AND BEING A TREE

“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to Aussie! Happy birthday to you.” Aussie was three years old yesterday.

“I’m a dog, I don’t do birthdays.”

“I do birthdays, Aussie. I love to celebrate, get a cake, go out. We’re also celebrating that you’ve been here two years! Remember when you came to us from Texas?”

“I was supposed to go to Washington and be the White House dog, but the truck got lost and here I am.”

“And lucky for you, Auss, because you’d be homeless once again after January. They’ll throw you out to the streets, you watch.”

“He won’t take me to Mar-A-Lago? I can do Florida.”

“Naah, you’re a New England dog now, Aussie. Remember how much you love the snow?”

“I want to be a Dixie dog.”

“Being a Dixie dog is not so kosher anymore, Aussie. People don’t like Dixie because it brings up the antebellum South.”

“What happens to Dixie cups?”

“You know what else, Auss? Ruth Bader Ginsberg died.”

“Is that bad?”

“I’ll miss her very much. She was so fierce and honest. Some people say it’s a catastrophe, but actually she lived a long time and was very ill, she couldn’t go on much longer. She once repeated this advice that her mother-in-law gave her:  ‘In every good marriage it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’”

“What?”

“It helps to be a little deaf. Meaning that if somebody says something nasty or insensitive to you, it’s not bad to pretend you’re deaf and never heard it.”

“What?”

I didn’t know RBG died Friday till I returned from the zendo this afternoon and opened up my computer. The media, of course, gave some space to Ginsberg’s humanity and achievements but focused bigly, in Trump’s words, on the politics of her death.

I almost wrote dirty politics, but politics isn’t dirty in and of itself, it’s how it mixes with our fears and small, stubborn insanities that makes politics dirty. Instantly the ramparts go up, the archers and shooters take their place, and instead of embodying Ginsberg’s combination of fierceness and respect for all, we’re into hate and contempt.

The more I actively resist getting pulled into the vitriol of this election, the harder life seems to make it for me, almost as if it’s saying: You thought you could weather these lies and calumny that are our daily Presidential staples—now see this! Where is your peace now?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg centers me. She was fierce, but not insulting. A lady, but at no cost to her brilliance or tenacity. She stood firm, using her skills and gifts to push the horizon just a little further, and a little further. The choice between resignation and backlash isn’t the only one available to us. If anything, these are the times when we should take a break to mourn and reflect on what we’ve learned from her.

Today was the first morning we returned to the zendo to do a memorial service for a man who died so young. I  reflected on the vast hope we put into our children, how much we want them to be well, to succeed, to be happy. I could see the young man’s photo close by while the trees outside waved and fluttered, clearly aware of fall.

That’s what I want to be like, I thought. I want to sit like a tree, stand like a tree, and move like a tree. Be strong and centered, giving and taking with the seasons, harboring life inside and underneath, in silent, endless communion with the rest of the world.

Instead, I got angry after reading the papers.

“I can’t believe that you want to be THAT MAN’S dog, Aussie.”

“I can’t hear a word you say.”

“You know how he loathed RBG? He hates strong females, Auss.”

“Not a word.”

“He doesn’t care about dogs. He doesn’t care about nature, about animals, about anything that isn’t money.”

“What did you say?”

“Comes January they’ll throw you out of that White House quicker than you could say Boo.”

“Bow Wow, not Boo.”

“And stop pretending you can’t hear, you’re a dog, you have better hearing than I do.”

“I’m pretending to be deaf so as not to ruin our relationship. Try to be a little grateful for my wisdom and maturity. From now on I won’t hear a word you say. Nothing will penetrate, promise.”

“I bought you steak for your birthday, Aussie.”

“Where is it?”

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