UH UH UH!

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

“Why, Aussie?”

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

“What about me, Aussie?”

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

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

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

“Not all men, Aussie.”

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

“They should start off like us, Aussie.”

“What do you mean?”

“They need to be on leash.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Training in what, Illegal?”

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

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

“She says: UH UH UH!”

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

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

“Stop saying those words, Henry!”

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

“No more hungry dogs.”

“Everybody will be friendly.”

“Who thought of all this, Illegal?”

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

“Not Llama Louie!”

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

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

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

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

“What, Aussie?”

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

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WHERE AM I LIVING?

On Saturday night I spoke to both my sister and brother in Jerusalem as they awaited a drone and missile attack from Iran. Drones had already been launched, with a long travel time, and my sister told me it felt strange to lie in bed expecting drones, each with lots of explosives, to arrive and drop down. These weren’t coming from the south, as did the rockets from Hamas, they’d be coming from the northeast, which meant Jordan and into Jerusalem.

My brother informed me that he heard they were anticipating missiles as well, with pinpoint precision, though they were expected to be aimed at military installations rather than civilians or basic infrastructure. When you’re lying in bed waiting for all this to happen, that reassurance means bupkes.

Their expectations turned out to be correct. Just an hour later he texted: “Sirens.” There were lots of explosions in the air.

“Where am I living?” my sister exclaimed on the phone.

I also couldn’t sleep. I imagined her lying alone in her bedroom, in her apartment, waiting for heavy dynamite to be dropped on her building, or a missile to hit her street, the entire city. I could hear the anxiety level, the rush of fear for her family. When the sirens go off, there are 90 seconds to get to a shelter and she didn’t have one close enough. Children and animals are terrified; babies cry.

The military makes reassuring sounds, reminds everyone there are defenses, but in a basic way there aren’t. Inside the heart beats: I’m a human being, I’m scared, what will happen to me?

Two oceans away, I knew there was nothing I could do about it. My home and bedroom were safe, but the people I cared about weren’t. Like them, I couldn’t sleep.

Sometimes that’s called empathy. When it’s your family, people say it’s only natural to feel their pain. After all, you’re so close.

Several hours later, still unable to sleep, the thought flashed in my mind: “Where am I living?” How about: I am living in a country that has been doing this to hundreds of thousands of others over almost 6 months, using drones, missiles and heavy-duty bombs dropped by planes and helicopters. And Gaza has no anti-aircraft equipment, no Iron Dome missiles to shoot them down before they kill and cause damage. Even sirens don’t work given how much Israel has jammed their systems electronically. One moment a Palestinian family is sitting in a room eating breakfast, the next moment everyone is gone.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since Saturday night. I thought of my mixed feelings for the bestselling book, White Fragility, in which the author takes to task white women who cry or who indulge in other emotional responses, as if to say: We have no patience for those of you who feel bad about racism, those of you overwhelmed by emotional reactions. Racism is a fact and nothing will help but your becoming an anti-racism activist. If not, Ibram Kendi wrote, you’re promoting racism.

I know that empathy often becomes drama. I’ve heard enough people wallow in self-condemnation and guilt, mistaking sympathy for sentiment and reactivity for action. The self can co-opt everything and make it all about the self; I’ve seen that many times.

But I’m not ready to discount empathy. I’m not ready to feel traitorous because I carry a dual narrative here, when I should really stand for only one thing and bang the door shut on everything else.

Eric Wemple, at The Washington Post, wrote an excellent article about the implosion that took place in the digital magazine Guernica after it published, then retracted an article written by Joanna Chen, an English-Israeli activist, a translator of both Arabic and Hebrew who refused to serve in the Israeli army and who continues to go to checkpoints to pick up sick Palestinian children to bring to pediatric hospitals in Israel.

Chen wrote: “It is not easy to tread the line of empathy, to feel a passion for both sides.” You can read her article here. They published it, faced anger from their staff, retracted it, also faced anger, and didn’t publish anything for a while. Reminiscent of the silence we often take shelter in, thinking it’s the safest place to be.

A staff member of the magazine wrote that everyone working there agreed on a shared vision of fighting imperialism, colonialism and racism, and Chen’s article didn’t meet those criteria.

I, for one, feel that you can be all for a stop to the fighting and bombing, bring massive amounts of food and water into Gaza and release hostages, without trying to fit the situation into various western progressive templates of isms mentioned above, most of which I don’t find relevant to the history and complexities of that part of the world.

But more important, I’m not ready to eschew the power of empathy in favor of some concepts that demand to be the only lens through which to see anything. I back any agreement enabling both people to live with sovereignty and dignity—not because of concepts, but because, simply, the land belongs to them both and they have nowhere to go.

That’s it, bottom line. Practical all the way

Each side has its view, which can open doors to the wide world or become an isolating, delusional bubble. Horror is horror regardless of where in the equation you put it. I can weigh it more heavily on one side than the other, and I do; what Israel has done in Gaza is unconscionable. But woe unto all of us if we can’t imagine what it’s like to lie holding young, terrified children while missiles and drones explode in the air—regardless of who does this to whom. Woe unto us if we’ve lost the ability to feel the other’s pain.

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SOMETHING HAPPENED

The photo above looks like a mess, doesn’t it? Like our life.

I’m sitting this Saturday afternoon, Massachusetts time, waiting to hear about a drone attack from Iran towards Israel that, according to Israeli newspapers, has already been launched. Each drone carries 20 kg. of explosives. It will take a number of hours for them to hit—what targets, what humans, is still not clear.

“Where the hell do I live?” my sister WhatsApped me.

The only answer I have is that we live on this one earth. Not just in a particular country or homeland, but on this lonely blue spinning ball. Right now, short of being a billionaire, death is the only way to get off this earth, and even billionaires can’t stay aloft in some expensive spaceship forever.

At times, the pitch of violence, killing, rage, and destruction feels like a force of nature and we human beings seem powerless to prevent or stop it. But this devastation, unlike earthquakes, is human-made; it can be human-unmade.

My mind is split between that picture, including the homes of my siblings and other family members, and something closer to home. As I’ve written previously, my housemate for several years is lying in my office-turned-bedroom downstairs, having suffered a severe car accident when a 38-year-old man crashed into her car head-on. He was drinking, driving, and smoking weed. He tried to circumvent the car in front of him, went across the double yellow line and crashed head-long into her as she drove in the other direction, leaving her with a smashed foot and ankle, 12 broken ribs, 2 fractured vertebrae, lots of pain, and questions about what will happen to her, will she walk or work again, will she be independent.

The police told her she was lucky to be alive, thanks to her seatbelt.

Two days ago, I heard that the man who caused the accident wasn’t that lucky, and died. He hadn’t come to in all this time. He hadn’t worn a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

When I heard this, it felt as though I myself had driven into a wall. I didn’t know this man at all, never met him though he lives in the next town.

For two days I couldn’t get it out of my head. He’s dead! Not just severely injured, not just with a suspended license and 5 felony charges served by police. Dead. He’s young enough that his parents in all probability are still living. I thought of their grief, and of that of other family members.

It was as if a window had opened, starting with that evening 4 weeks ago when I got a mumbled phone call telling me there was an accident, then visits to the hospital, then coming home, caregiving, re-organizing the house, steady stream of doctors, therapists, nurses. And all this time wondering: How is he doing? Two days ago, I found out.

I felt as if I had lived in a certain box where everything was familiar: family, friends, sangha, work associates. In theory, you know there are other boxes all the time: the cashier in the Food City store where I went to pick up coffee and we talked a little about her aunt fighting with her mother. The Comcast lady calling from somewhere in Asia inquiring about a TV box we’d received and why I was returning it.

The people you know all have their worlds, their connections and activities; you know those boxes somewhat, maybe you connect with them. But this was someone I didn’t know at all, only he crashed into my housemate’s car, disabled her, and killed himself.

I talked this over with my friend, Zen teacher, poet, and translator Peter Levitt. Peter pointed out that at times we’re thrust into a new, unfamiliar energy field. It’s not our usual field of connection or action, but something strange with people we don’t know, and still, in some way, we’re thrust there.

What to do? Is there something calling? Did a new lane open up on this road that I never planned for, and still don’t know anything about? When that happens, Peter said, sometimes you can’t do anything but go with it.

Last night I perused the local paper to see if there was an obituary notice, but there was nothing. Should I knock on the door of the house where he lived and tell whoever answers that I am very sorry about all this? That somehow, in some crazy way, I feel connected to this man, whom I only know of through a violent act and his death? That what looks like something haphazard, even mundane, affects me deeply?

Should I bring flowers? Will they want to meet me? Talk to me? Will I encounter feelings of guilt or anger because I’m the housemate of the woman he struck? The connection feels so intangible, and yet, there was an event. As Joseph Heller would put it, something happened.

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SCSD

The only man she loved

“Look, Aussie, there are men out front.”

“Men?”

“Hurra! Quick, everybody. Pinky, Crocs, Llama Louie—I’m taking you all out so that the men will throw you around and I’ll catch you.”

“What are men doing in a female household?”

“I’m a male, Aussie.”

“You? You want to tell me that there are male Chihuahuas?”

“Aussie, stop abusing Henry.”

“I want to know what these men are doing here. This house is female: Me, you, Lori, and her sister. No men.”

“They’re putting solar panels on the roof, Auss. With solar panels, we’ll get more energy from the sun.”

“We shouldn’t be doing business with men. Men are dangerous. And why are they coming inside? They have no business inside a female house!”

“Checking the fuse box, going up to the attic, using the bathroom. Aussie, you’ve been afraid of men from the first time you came here.”

“Was not. Hung around with the Man till he died.”

“The first month you were here, you ran out the door every time he came downstairs. Only after that you hung out in bed with him.”

“Aussie, what happened to you with men when you were back in Texas?”

“None of your business, Illegal.”

“Are you suffering from PTSD?”

“I’m suffering from SCSD, Stupid Chihuahua Stress Disorder.”

“Did you grow up in an abusive home? Did men scare you?”

“You see what illegal immigration achieved? I’m being psycho-analyzed by a Chihuahua.”

“You know, Auss, from the time I was an adolescent I knew that men and women weren’t two discreet, separate entities.”

“Men are men and women are women. Of course, when you look at Illegal and me, you can get confused.”

“Aussie, I always felt we were all on some kind of gender spectrum. We all have male and female energies, see? When I was a girl, most of the girls I knew were involved with clothes, teasing their hair, and make-up. I couldn’t relate to that, not to mention that we didn’t have money for those things, so I tended to hang out with the boys. Now I feel the opposite, like women are closer to the earth.”

“I’m closer to the earth than you are, Aussie.”

“That’s because you’re shorter, idiot.”

“I mean, we women are more in our bodies.”

“How can you be more in your body than Henry is in his? Does he look to you like he’s reading Nietzsche?”

“Okay, Aussie, you’re right. In fact, you’re more right than you know. We used to label certain things as female or male. Raising children, caregiving, feeding and nurturing, creating a home and family—those are the things we used to classify as female energies. Physical work, business sense, and intellectual pursuits were considered masculine. But now there are plenty of people who disagree with all those classifications.”

“So, what happened to you in Texas, Aussie? Did a man yell at you or beat you? Did you have to hide in the closet?”

“I refuse to be a victim, Chihuahua!”

“Listen, Henry. A therapist might ask all these questions of Aussie, but we actually don’t know everything that causes us to act as we do. Every moment contains everything that ever happened and that will happen. Every one of us contains the same, see?”

“No, Senora.”

“Aussie may have had trauma in her past caused by men, but we don’t really know that that is the reason why she’s so afraid of them.”

“I’m not playing with any men. And I’m never going back to Texas.”

“Aussie, I should have called you Louise, from Thelma and Louise. She kills a man who tries to rape her friend but refuses to drive through Texas in order to get to safety in Mexico.”

“What happens to her?”

“She drives the car over the peak and right down into the Grand Canyon.”

“I love car rides!”

“She dies, Auss.”

“Oh.”

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YOU’RE NO CHAO CHOU

Walking dogs again!

This afternoon, around 2:25, I went out to the back. The yard was no longer sunlit, but blue. Who’d have thought that we, who’ve had almost nothing but clouds for a long time, would enjoy clear skies to see the eclipse?

Even without glasses, peering through folded fingers, I could see the shadow overtake most of the sun. The shadowy lines on the ground changed, getting sharper than ever. Henry played with his ball, while Aussie, at my feet, didn’t seem discomfited in the least even as the sun narrowed into a thin crescent, just like the moon when it waxes and wanes.

“Did I hear right? Are you planning to stop teaching in your zendo?”

“Now, Aussie, relax. It’ll happen only as of July.”

“You mean, you’ll be here all the time?”

“I guess so. Right now, I don’t plan to go into the zendo or participate in Zoom gatherings for at least 6 months. After that, I may do something, I may not, we’ll see, but I’m certainly not going to teach actively.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s time to make room for newer, younger voices.”

“Like mine?”

“You see, Auss, we have some terrific new teachers, but given how long I’ve been there, I still get more attention and listening than they do.”

“I don’t believe it. Everybody knows that nobody pays attention to old people.”

“That may not be true in meditation halls. Would you like to come in one day and see?”

“Not in my wildest dreams.”

“You know, Aussie, sometimes, not showing up is the best way of showing up, of supporting new generations of teachers and peace activists. Even if I come back, I’ll just sit in the back and listen. When 80-year-old Chao Chou started teaching, he said he wants to continue to learn from everyone, including a young child.”

“What about a smart-alecky dog?”

“There’s something else, Aussie. I want to be once again in a place where I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

“I’m too comfortable, Aussie. I’ve grown confident, found my voice. Teaching comes easily even as I continue to sit and study. Luckily, there are always questions and situations that invigorate me to go further and deeper.”

“But I don’t want to see you that often. You may be getting your vacation, but when do I get my time off from you?”

“I want to take another step into the unknown, Aussie. I want to start talking a new language where I don’t know the words, where I have no title, where I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Come out and play with Henry and me. We can teach you how to bark and how to catch balls with your mouth. We can even show you how to shit in the daffodils.”

“You’re shitting in the daffodils? I’m not doing that!”

“Obviously, you’re no Chao Chou.”

“He was a great master, Aussie.”

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I wouldn’t even learn new tricks when I was a puppy.”

“I love what Roshi Joan Halifax likes to say, that her life is a pilgrimage towards uncertainty.”

“Some pilgrimage! Just wait till dementia hits. You’ll have all the uncertainty you want.”

“I don’t want to wait till then, Aussie, and it’s not about learning new tricks. I want to be in unfamiliar territory, not a place I’ve lived in for many years.”

“If you go to South Korea I’m not going with you. They eat dogs there!”

“I want to try new things, Aussie.”

“Good, go to a new restaurant.”

“I want to be in a place where I know or understand very little.”

“Donald Trump’s golf courses?”

“As I get older, Aussie, I see how much I value my routine. How much I value what I know.”

“Don’t worry, as long as you have me, I’ll remind you again and again of how dumb you really are.  But I don’t want to have to do that all the time; erasing your certainties is hard work. Do you know how many certainties you have?”

“I never counted, Auss.”

“132,695.”

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IT’S ALL GOOD

A wet, gray day. Sky wrapped up in cloud shrouds, snow returning to water.

“Where does the water return to?” Aussie asks the horse at the corner farm where we’re walking.

“Into the earth,” says the horse.

“And where does the earth return to?” asks Aussie. “Never mind, I’ve been around too many Zen people lately.”

They start off by exchanging greetings—“How you doing?” “Awesome. How you doing?”—“Fine.” Live and let live.

In the country, the weather is the biggest topic. I noticed that back in 1993, when I lived near Woodstock, New York, and people constantly talked about the weather. What an odd conversation, I thought then. Who cares?

After 22 years of life here, I don’t feel that way anymore.

The snow is melting, leaving mud in its wake, reminding me that before spring with green grass and perennials, there will be mud. And I must get out there to clean out all the branches and twigs of the winter, as well as the dog poop.

I had an appointment for a haircut, left Lori with various precautions, but the haircutter had gotten it wrong and couldn’t take me, so I left, and on the porch I saw two Buddhas, Shakyamuni and Jizo, alongside plants and a porch chair, under a sign It’s All Good.

There was a time I would shake my head at that. 2,500 years of strict monastic discipline and practice, transformed into porch accessories alongside the water bowl for the cat. Welcome to America.

I don’t feel that way anymore, either.

It’s a very simple life here. No big highlights, no big lowlights. Getting back home, I checked up on Lori—it’s her birthday today and we shared a few chocolate cupcakes from Whole Foods. I fed the dogs and folded laundry.

This simple life is way too advanced for me, I’m still not there. Can I live with less drama? Can I live with fewer projects, fewer dreams? How do I live without big stimuli, without things that rouse up the emotions? And what will I write about?

“Write about nothing,” says Aussie.

How do I write about nothing?

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NOISE AND CONNECTION

I am indebted to Sensei Joshin Byrnes for reminding me of Bernie’s words: “Action is the function of awakening.”

It was one of Bernie’s big credos. Not for him a sense of awakening as in: You had a terrific experience of some kind, congratulations, sit there and enjoy that sense of no differentiation between you and the trees, the birds, or flying snowflakes.

In my experience, as I awaken, I see new aspects of life, which of course are new aspects of me, so I serve them. I take care of them. Bernie repeated that many, many times.

Sometimes it’s obvious. My housemate, Lori, is in lots of pain and needs constant care. Her loyal and hard-working sister needs her own time off to go home and sleep through the night. I offer to do that work for a few days starting Saturday afternoon and we have a conversation.

“It’ll be too much for you,” she says.

It’ll be a lot, no blogging or writing, questionable dog walks and challenging nights, but I’m connected to Lori. I’ve also become connected to her sister and much of her family, and friends and neighbors who want to help with the snow, the lawnmower (jobs Lori used to do), and meals. Connections have widened, creating bigger and bigger ripples, and maybe they’re weak at the outer edges but they’re there nevertheless, so of course, I want to do something. Not because I’m some wonderful bodhisattva but because it feels natural to take care of me.

 That’s what doing as a function of enlightenment means. I connect with more and more aspects of life, which means that I realize more and more aspects of myself.

When I was in Israel three months ago, I was puzzled by how it was that the media didn’t hide the situation in Gaza; the numbers of dead and wounded were dutifully reported, there was no censorship per se. So why did so few care?

It took me time to realize that those numbers and statistics were experienced as noise by most people, static on the lines, not the real conversation. The real conversation was always about them, what happened on October 7, and what was befalling their own soldiers, their own sons. Gaza was noise, and they weren’t connecting with noise.

When you’re not connecting, you’re not taking action. The faces of children crying and buildings toppling over after absorbing heavy bombs feel distant and irrelevant. The subliminal message is: This has got nothing to do with us. As if Gaza is on Mars, not 75 kilometers from Jerusalem.

I went a little crazy the day I read of the killing of the World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza. Why them, and not the 200 previous aid workers killed? What is there more basic than food and medicine? It was one of those days when pain and grief just sent me over the edge.

Slowly I’m learning the extent of my connection with Israel, including the bubbles caused by trauma. I am connected to the country and the people in my blood, much as Bernie is in my blood, not some external factor to appreciate or remember or even love. The dharma is in my blood; I don’t know how to even talk about it anymore.

I also feel a deep connection to Palestinians who live in the area, and in fact to that great Levantine culture so different from our own secular Western customs.

I know what to do for Lori, but what do I do with those more distant energies of connection? At the very least, I pay attention to what flows through me: the sinking of the stomach, the rising of the gorge of anger and shame, or something way subtler, a surrender to a long-running thread, a connection I wished to let go of, with no success, like a lover who walked out of your life long ago but remains in your psyche nevertheless; even after you’ve moved on, you know you won’t forget him.

There’s nothing permanent or solid about it, it comes and goes, one of many reminders of how insubstantial and empty we really are.

I overheard Aussie and the Illegal Chihuahua talking the other day.

“Aussie, what’s wrong with the Senora? Most days she is cheery and fine, but sometimes she mutters to herself and stares out the window, won’t even throw Llama Louie for me to catch.”

“She always wants to do something, Enrique.”

“Isn’t that a good thing, Aussie?”

“Not if it makes you miserable. You’d think she’d have learned by now that there’s nothing to do. Life sorts itself out, Illegal. Clouds one day, sunshine the next day. Nobody understands the weather. Just look at the snowstorm we got today.”

“Don’t you tell her that, Aussie?”

“Every day, Illegal. She says I’m a Taoist.”

“What’s that, Aussie?”

“I thought it meant I was a stockbroker, but she said I can’t spell.”

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DOG ON A NAIL

Waiting for Snow

In 1999 I joined Bernie for a teaching trip to Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. One evening I talked about the Zen Peacemaker retreat at Auschwitz. During the Q&A that followed, a woman raised her hand and declared that she feels responsible for the wellbeing of her mind, and for this reason has no interest in listening to stories of retreats in terrible places and, similarly, never reads newspapers.

This morning, after reading that Israel’s army targeted and hit three World Central Kitchen vehicles and killed 7 aid people I felt like doing the same. That’s it, I thought. Cancel all subscriptions, give the computer a rest, and go under the covers. See how long you can sleep.

 I felt like I was carrying a heavy stone in my chest all day. It was hard to walk, hard to hold my back up. I felt broken inside.

You may know this story:

A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.

A friend walks up to the porch to say hello and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.

“What’s that terrifying sound?” asks the friend.

“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”

“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.

The farmer deliberates on this and replies: “Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

Is it age that causes me to often think that the world is delusional? That we spend so much time and energy on not getting off it, not letting go, holding on relentlessly to drama after drama, story after story of who did us wrong and who is and isn’t a human being?

When the dog originally sat on a nail, maybe it didn’t go that deep back then. Maybe it was a soothing scratch on its butt. Maybe it helped its sitting posture, or maybe it was just too damned distracted to pay much attention. Maybe it just shrugged and thought: Nothing’s perfect, I’ll live with it.

But the nail went deeper and deeper, and finally it really hurt. Maybe it started festering, spreading an infection throughout the body, and finally the dog broke down and started yelping from pain. But even then, it wouldn’t sit up and get off it.

Right in my own house there is pain and soreness. Inside of 16 days of a terrible car accident, my housemate has gone through surgery, spent 5 days in one hospital and 4 in another, and made 3 visits to the ER. There is pain, which leads to pain-killers, which lead to other forms of physical dysfunction. There are doctors, therapists, and nurses. There is a discombobulated house and the look on Henry’s face because he can’t figure out why she’s downstairs and I’m upstairs, and whose bed is he supposed to sleep in now anyway.

People are killed, wounded, raped, starved, and shamed every single hour of every day. Some get help right where they live, some never get any.

The question is always the same: What do I do? It’s the same question here in this house as it is in connection with the suffering in other lands, though the scale is way different. What does care for self and other mean when I’m upstairs and she’s downstairs? What does it mean when the sufferer is starving in Haiti or Sudan while I am here, cutting daffodils to bring home before the arrival of snow late tomorrow night?

Here are some things I’ve learned to do:

I sit every single day, with practically no exception. I know, time goes by and work awaits (I tend to sleep long nowadays), and still I sit. Practice my version of kenosis, emptying of the self. It’s a Greek term often associated with Jesus, who is back with us again after Easter Sunday. Self emptied, I feel more ready to meet the day.

Serve life (part of the Rule of the Zen Peacemaker Order). It’s not just checking in with Lori and feeding the dogs or checking off the tasks on the computer calendar. It’s sniffing out the call. It’s hanging out by Lori’s bed and talking, giving her a kiss on the cheek before I go upstairs to bed though I’ve never done that before. It’s listening to the sun tell me that I should spend more time outdoors picking up the branches, limbs and twigs from a winter season, not as duty but as a response to light. Pausing by daffodils at the corner of the garage door. Letting go of shoulds and musts to sniff the air, like a dog, to detect how and where life calls.

Get clear on what’s my business and what’s not my business. This is a tough one, with the world going to pot. Lots of dramas going on around me, inviting me to return to old internal dialogues, to revisit the past and fear the future. Less and less of that is my business. I’ve learned not to give advice when it’s not asked for. I’ve learned to respect people’s lives and to appreciate that regardless of where empathy lies, I’ll never really know what it is to live in others’ shoes. Period.

Too much abstraction isn’t good for me. Ask what I can do, what I can’t do, and be satisfied with the answer.

Love family, friends, sangha. Don’t take anyone for granted.

A friend told me about the first tine His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to speak at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He was a big celebrity and the cathedral was thronged, people came from all over to listen to him. Various others spoke before him, paying tribute to him and describing the catastrophe unfolding in Tibet.

When it was his turn, he got up, approached the microphone, looked across at the thousands of people there, and said: “Let’s be good to one another.” Then he turned around and went back to his seat.

People murmured and muttered among themselves: That’s it?

But soon he got up again, approached the microphone, and added: “If we can’t be good to one another, let’s at least not harm one another.”

With that, he returned to his seat and stayed there.

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ATTENTION

“Aussie, come!”

“When?”

“Now. Aussie. For heaven’s sake, Aussie, when I say Come, you come!”

“I did come, only via Vermont.”

“You know, Auss, the world isn’t paying attention to me like it used to.“

“Of course not, you’re old!”

“Once, people paid more attention. They did what I asked them to do. You did what I asked you to do.”

“Never!”

“Ok, you didn’t, but many did. Now, it’s like nobody cares.”

“I told you, it’s because you’re old. Who cares what anybody old wants?”

“I pay attention to you, Senora.”

“The illegal Chihuahua has spoken! You don’t count, Illegal. That’s why she works with illegal families, they’re the only ones that pay attention to her.”

“Aussie, that’s a terrible thing to say.”

Unruffled, Aussie runs off for another circuit of Vermont.

There are times when the world just doesn’t seem to give a damn, I think to myself. It doesn’t matter what you want, what you feel, what you think. Nobody seems to give a hoot, aside from an illegal Chihuahua.

I look back and marvel at how many ambitions and wants I used to have, coupled with very little patience when they weren’t fulfilled right away (usually the case). So much arrogant confidence that if I tried hard enough or worked hard enough, the world would respond; it would pay attention.

I got into a practice that was all about paying attention, only I was the one who had to do it. To my great surprise, just as I was beginning to realize that the world owed me bupkis, I discovered that there was something that was listening after all. It wasn’t personal or identifiable. And it had been there all the time, only I never noticed because all my life I’d been so focused on complaining that nobody was listening to me. I squandered ten lifetimes’ worth of indignation on that, and when it finally ended, I noticed that something was, indeed, paying attention in a basic, impersonal way.

Had to let go of lots of background noise and all kinds of clever manipulations on how to get a bigger megaphone. There was no need for any of that, only who knew? Who knew that this late in the game, I’d get into a new relationship, and that I’d find attention everywhere I went (except for Aussie, of course, who decided to climb Mt. Washington)?

The morning after my housemate had her terrible accident, when someone driving “under the influence,” as we say it, smashed into her car head-on, I found her in the ER waiting for surgery. I sat on a chair by the bed. She was skin-and-bones, ashen, in lots of pain. We talked just a little, and she would doze off till pain woke her up.

Once she mumbled, “Eve, why don’t you go home? They’ll come get me when they’re ready, you don’t have to just sit there.”

“I’m a meditator, Lori,” I told her. “I like just sitting there.”

Four hours later, they came to get her ready for surgery and I went home.

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BONES ARE NOT CLUTTER

“Look at this house. I have never seen so much clutter in my life! That’s what comes out of bringing illegals in here. Everyone knows they’re messy and dirty.”

“That’s crazy even for you, Aussie, and you have a high bar for craziness. These are all Henry’s toys.”

“I saw you pick them up and put about fifty of them back in the box, and in two minutes he dropped 20 back all around, in your bedroom, your office, on my bed—”

“Beds. You have lots of beds, Auss.”

“On all my beds, kitchen, living room. It’s like he makes those messes on purpose.”

“Aussie, Henry’s human is in the hospital. It’s been almost 2 weeks since her terrible accident, and she’s now doing a second bout of hospitalization.”

“Isn’t she coming home today?”

“Maybe, maybe not. Things continue to screw up, given the extent of the damage to her body. Last night Green River Zen had its monthly council, and the question people addressed was: How do we meet the moment in times of high stress? It was a small, intimate and very moving council. The point is, Aussie, that Henry may be meeting this raw moment by sprinkling all his toys around the house.”

“Illegal meets the moment by creating a mess?”

“He needs to surround himself with things that comfort him. Don’t we all do that?”

“You mean, all the chocolate you eat whenever you go crazy”?

“I don’t go crazy, Aussie. Let’s be more precise with our language.”

“Okay. When your voice gets louder and higher, when you fold your hands under your chin and look despairingly at the computer screen, when you rush off to the kitchen for another cup of coffee or scramble in the cupboards to check what sugary things are there, when you yell: Aus-sie! because I ran far away from you, or: Henry, shut up! because Illegal is yapping like crazy. Precise enough for you?”

“And what do you do when you’re stressed, Aussie?”

“I go out to the back and lie there. I don’t scream at anyone, and I don’t mess up the house with stuff. That’s the trouble, isn’t it? The Illegal Chihuahua surrounds himself with stuff: Llamas and alligators and kangaroos and a dozen monkeys. That’s so materialistic! Obviously, he’s trying to prove he’s really American, but he don’t fool me. Why can’t he just meditate?”

“Material things are very important for wellbeing. Look at how you need marrow bones around you.”

“Bones are NOT clutter.”

“Humans like a cup of coffee or tea, some Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.”

“A whole pint?”

“We’re material beings, Aussie, not clouds in the air. Did it ever occur to you, Auss, that Henry’s toys are his furniture? They’re his way of making his home, like I have a bed and a desk and a nice chair with blankets. Look at the mohair covering I have for the rocking chair, I got it from a dear friend 20 years ago and it helps me feel at home. That’s what Pinky and Llama Louie do for Henry.”

“I’ve heard you give dharma talks about home. You say nothing about Pinky and Llama Louie, you speak about going inside. Why can’t Henry go inside and shut up?”https://www.evemarko.com/markokiskadeeeve/wp-admin/post-new.php

“Here’s a Mary Oliver poem for you, Aussie, and don’t groan:

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.”
“Does she say to bless the dozen monkeys and chipmunks in the bedroom?”

“All of us live in the same house, Aussie: two women, two dogs, Lori’s sister coming in, mice in the basement and in the garage. Soon the ladybugs will come, then the moths and spiders, then—”

“But they’re not stuffed animals, they’re real!”

“We’re all equally real, Aussie.”

“I’m realer.”

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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.