SQUIRREL APPRECIATION DAY

“Guess what, Henry? It’s National Squirrel Appreciation Day. Let’s go appreciate them, what do you say? Are you ready? On your mark, get set, GO!”

“Missed it! Aussie, you almost crashed through that door. The Senora wouldn’t appreciate that much.”

“Lucky she’s not home, hee hee!”

“Hey Aussie, what’s the matter with the Senora? She walked us back home and didn’t even look at us. Not one treat out of those big jacket pockets.”

“Big deal, they’re gluten-free. Ugggh! Besides, why is everybody blaming me whenever she’s in a bad mood?”

“Something must have happened. What do you think happened?”

“Who knows? That’s something you should understand, Henry. You never know anything about the Senora, as you call her. One day she’s happy, one day she’s not. Humans are like that generally. Everybody knows that except you because you ain’t too bright.”

“Maybe she’s mad because you disappeared for such a long time when we walked by the beaver dam.”

“Naah.”

“Aussie, you were gone forever! You leaped over the frozen river, ran into the trees, and that’s the last we saw of you.”

“There’s deer in dem woods, Henry.”

“There are also coyotes, Aussie. Bands of them. I think the Senora worries about you. She was so relieved when you came back.”

“Oh yeah? Did she give me any treats? Did she reward me? It’s common knowledge, silly dog, that when dogs come back from running away, they get treats. That way we make sure to come back, see? We associate good treats with coming back. That’s Dog Training 101, Henry. Human training 101, too, because some of us know how to take advantage of that.”

“I love the Senora, Aussie!”

“Try not to, Henry. Love always brings disappointment, never fails. I’ve been in love with humans many times and look what it’s got me. A freezing January with river ice, Squirrel Appreciation Day, and a Chihuahua for company.”

“You’ve been in love with humans before, Aussie?”

“One in particular, Henry, the most beautiful of them all, the kindest, sweetest-smelling of them all.”

“The Senora?”

“Don’t be daft. The love of my life is Leeann. My Leeann, who takes a whole group of us out into the mountains, with the best raw meat treats in her pockets. She keeps everyone in line, but I’m her favorite. Maybe when her dog Kaya goes to the great dog park in the sky, she’ll adopt me instead.”

“What happened to Leeann, Aussie?”

“She went to St. John’s for the month. I hear it’s warm there. Another human that’s broken my heart.”

“What about the Senora, Aussie?”

“She wants us to have a relationship, Henry.”

“Don’t you already have a relationship?”

“She wants an intimate relationship, Henry. Friendship is not good enough for her. Companionship is not good enough for her. She wants me in her bedroom at night instead of letting me sleep downstairs.”

“I sleep with Lori, Aussie. I sleep in her bed and it’s awfully sweet.”

“That’s disgusting, Henry. Don’t you understand? I’m four years old; she’s 72. That’s 68 years difference. Where do we live, the Playboy Mansion?”

“But what’s 68 years, Aussie, when you talk about love?”

“It’s not a matter of love, Henry. Humans want to get close to us because we make them feel young.”

“Is that so terrible? They feed us, they walk us, they take care of us, and all they want in return is for us to make them feel young. Is that such a bad deal?”

 

                   Donate to My Blog                    Donate to Immigrant Families

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

LIVE COURAGEOUSLY IN THE WORLD OF KARMA

I don’t usually quote messages I receive in response to my blog posts. I appreciate all of them and prefer to keep them private. This time I’d like to make an exception.

Yesterday I wrote about Hilaria, a deaf undocumented mother of three. She came often for food cards and was always funny and lighthearted. Many fathers and mothers who come are focused on what they need and thank us, but Hilaria enjoyed hanging around a little longer, reading lips intently and then making a joke.

She developed brain lesions and had to stop working, waiting for the lesions to diminish in size, and there was talk of brain surgery in the future. Last week she became completely blind and went into panic. A brain specialist said she now really needed the surgery, only there are no hospital beds due to the pandemic. He gave her strong medications that relieved the blindness somewhat, inconsistently, to what extent is still not clear to me.

This evening I brought the first rental check to Jimena and we agreed that she would arrange for me to visit Hilaria soon, if possible. She also told me the good news that surgery for Hilaria has been scheduled in Boston for the end of February.

Many readers responded to my request for money to make sure Jimena keeps her apartment for herself and three sons. One of them, who sounds like a lovely human being, also donated, but wrote the following:

“I’m so angry at the ‘gods’ after reading the true hardships that Hilaria is burdened with! It’s stories like this that are forcing me to question whether or not there actually IS any kind of cohesive energy or goodness or a system of karma in this world. Our whole existence today is a shitshow. I hate to live without a supporting belief, but I can’t support a seeming fairy tale when proof to the contrary is flying in my face every day.”

I have nothing to say about supporting beliefs, cohesive energy or system of karma, though I do feel that everything that we are and do is a function of cause-and-effect. In that connection, a teacher emailed me a quote by a 20th century Japanese woman Zen practitioner, Satomi Myodo, who wrote: “When I realized that, unlike other faiths in which one prays for benefits or miracles, in Buddhism one neither hates hell nor hopes for heaven, but rather lives courageously and eternally in the world of karma, I felt keenly that only here was true liberation to be found.”

I don’t quote this to promote Buddhism, only because I was moved by the courage she talked of. I’ve been so lucky to know people who lived courageously like that their entire lives.

What I really want to say is this: I am constantly amazed by the acts of generosity that surround Hilaria, her family, and community. You and I are not the only ones supporting her. Her boys, including her young 8-year-old, are cared for and fed by neighbors, family, and friends (including Jimena, who does their food shopping at seemingly all hours of the night and weekends).

Hilaria’s sister takes care of her. She receives other funds to cover utilities in her home. The owner of the farm where she worked till she got ill told her to come back whenever she could, there’s work for her always (though not in the thick of winter, when farms are closed).

And unbelievably, there is medical insurance that will cover all the costs of brain surgery in one of the Boston hospitals, considered to be among the best in the country. All this for an undocumented worker. I didn’t ask, but I know that there are people who will drive her back and forth to Boston when the surgery nears, a two-hour drive from here, for tests and pre-op procedures. Most important, she’ll be surrounded by people assuring and reassuring her that her family will be taken care of, she will have her home, and her single job is to fully heal and recover.

How many people can say they have all that?

The farmers who employ undocumented workers here participate in a medical insurance plan for their workers so that if someone becomes ill, their medical needs are covered. I didn’t know this till I got close to this immigrant community. I also know that when ICE raided the farms in the Donald Trump years, farm owners would alert each other to these visits and protect their workers from sudden deportations.

You can see Hilaria as an example of how terribly unfair this world is; you can also see her as an example of call-and-response, the call of a weeping, terrified, disabled woman and the generous response of everyone around her.

The more misery I witness, the more kindness and generosity I witness, too. Not just by people like us, but by the immigrants themselves. Regardless of how marginal and edgy their lives are, they’ll take in relatives and newcomers into already crowded apartments, take care of the children, buy food for each other—and always send money home to families they left behind. It’s amazing how much goodness flows out of their big hearts and much smaller incomes.

I also want to say how supportive our community is here. How all children got computers with which to do schoolwork during Covid, how Comcast offered Wi-Fi for $15.00 a month, how the local community supports Jimena with a grant that pays her salary so that she could translate in the schools and to parents after school, bringing the forms they need to sign and explaining their contents to parents who often are not just illiterate in English, but are also illiterate in Spanish. She works from 7:30 am in the schools with immigrant children and their parents, and four evenings a week till 9:00 pm helping children with special hardships to succeed in school.

Churches and temples provide emergency funds, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, as does the Interfaith Council of this county, of which I was once a member.

In short, there are many, many things I can’t do anything about—and I don’t need to. Others will come in, others will provide. I don’t have the money to singlehandedly provide for these families, but I discovered that if I could write about them and ask, together we make a big, big difference in the lives of many.

I used to want to save the world. I think that came to me through my mother, who saved people’s lives in the Holocaust. I wanted to be like her. The luckiest thing is that I don’t live during a Holocaust. And one notch below that is the understanding I had late in life that it’s not my job to save anybody, my job is much smaller, and that is to serve. Take my small place in the gigantic waves of giving and receiving crashing around and through me all the time, let that energy burst forth, sometimes nourishing, sometimes destroying, beyond any ideas I may have of goodness or badness, of insufficiency or what is enough.

Do small acts of kindness and trust them to spread wide, because everything spreads wide. What I’m sure of is that when we help Hilaria, all beings benefit.

If you still wish to help Hilaria, please make sure to press the link Donate to Immigrant Families so that your gift goes to where it’s intended.

                   Donate to My Blog                 Donate to Immigrant Families

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

 

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

INSULTS TO THE SOUL

After dinner with friends one evening, I scanned their library of books in the living room and saw a book entitled Portable Junk. Hmm, I thought. I bent forward to see it closer and realized that the actual title was Portable Jung.

Which says something about my vision.

I preferred Portable Junk. Junk we can carry with us wherever we go. An odd association, I know, but Marie Von Frantz advised: “Enter space and time completely.” Be there fully, regardless of what you think of yourself. And she was a renowned Jungian analyst, after all.

I am very portable and can take myself with me wherever I go. But do I fully inhabit myself?

The poet Whittier knew a lot about that question: “… [D]ismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Often, I live my life so quickly and superficially, I’m barely aware of insults to my soul. Here’s a partial list:

–My gottas and shoulds.

–Yelling at Aussie to come on already, stop sniffing and scraping at that ice and get over here!

–Looking at my watch.

–Not listening to someone because I’ve heard it all already.

–What my desk looks like.

–Looking away from a woman holding a Homeless sign on an intersection while the January winds blow and almost carry the sign away.

Some of you may remember Hilaria, a deaf immigrant mother with three sons. Hilaria collapsed while working on a farm a few months ago. A scan showed brain lesions. She was given medication and told she couldn’t work for a while. She needed care and stayed with her sister during the day, notwithstanding the objections of her sister’s landlord. But she had to keep her own apartment for the sake of her three sons, who sleep there, all while waiting for the lesions to go down in size.

Indeed, they did, and I was told at the turn of the new year she was in better spirits, wanting to go back to work as soon as possible.

But last week she lost her sight. At first, Jimena told me, images turned gray and less defined; the next day all she could see were vague outlines of the family around her, and on the day after that she was completely blind.

“She is crazy and afraid,” Jimena said to me. “She can’t hear and the only way she can communicate is by reading lips, and now she can’t see the lips. She only knows you are there when you touch her.”

They took her to a brain specialist, who gave her medicines and said she now really needs surgery. The medicines help restore some vision some days, but the needed brain surgery can’t happen right away due to covid. They want her to do the surgery in one of the Boston hospitals, known for their many specialties, and medical insurance will cover medical costs. But there are no beds in the hospitals.

Lately I’ve been writing about how hard it is to gaze face-to-face at our own humanity, the unique, small, and radiant creatures that we are. Perhaps, in the multiverse world, there are other universes where the sun always shines, flower petals rain on our every step, and love is the answer. That’s not this earth; that’s why it may be hard to wake up in the morning and resolve to once again put on our jeans ad sweaters, our socks and shoes, our human skin, and greet the day.

It helps to hear Henry whining because the bedroom door is still shut. It helps if the sky is a brilliant blue outside and the earth is white under snow. And it helps a lot that the birds are chirping outside, congregating around the birdfeeder, moving it back and forth so that seeds fall on the ground and other birds can scamper there, gathering fuel. They use up that fuel staying alive in those sub-zero nights and need refueling first thing in the morning.

Hilaria can’t see or hear any of that.

I told Jimena that we will find ways to cover her rent so that she won’t worry about her boys, especially the 8-year-old, losing their home. Her sister takes care of her, and Jimena and others bring food for the boys. She’ll have her surgery, she’ll recover, and one day she’ll go home, and that home must be there for her. I put my begging bowl out to you and to the universe to help her do that. Please use the Donate to Immigrant Families button below.

Thank you for your generosity.

               Donate to My Blog                 Donate to Immigrant Families

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

 

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

WIDOWLAND

I sat in front of my computer screen yesterday to see an interview of the chanter Krishna Das by guest host Jeff Bridges. I am fortunate to count both men as friends.

To start, the ZPI staff inserted a brief video showing KD, as he’s known, speaking intimately to Bernie about his time at the Zen Peacemakers’ retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau and how he’d played for the spirits of the women in the Women’s Barrack. I’d heard this story before; I’d been in that retreat years ago.

But I wasn’t expecting the video. There he was, the Bernie I remembered so well from before the stroke, full of Bernie life, face tinged with pink from the warm energy that seemed to always fill his body. His was a body that never hit empty; it was always warm till his stroke. Even when he said he was cold, if you felt his skin the skin was warm. After his stroke the skin on his right, paralyzed side was cold and almost lifeless, but the skin on the left was warm just like before.

He didn’t say a word in that video, he just listened to Krishna Das, but I could see the energy flush in his face. When the video was over KD said: “He accepted me exactly as I was. He accepted everyone exactly as they were, you didn’t have to change or be someone else.”

I went into shock. I hadn’t looked at a video of Bernie since he died, probably since he’d had his stroke some six years ago. I stared and stared at him. KD chanted the Hungry Hearts song that Bernie had asked him to write, after which Jeff began to do recollections, and I pushed the Leave Meeting button. The screen went blank; I couldn’t watch or listen anymore.

It’s been more than three years since he died, and I still can’t look at videos him. Yes, died, not passed, not left this sphere of existence, I have no use for those euphemisms. Since he died. Photos I’ve looked at plenty, they’re in the house and in the computer, but not a video of him alive and well, in public.

I sat in my office chair and looked at the floor. Henry stood up on his hind legs and tapped me with one of his front paws, and I helped him come up on my lap. Aussie sidled next to me and mewled; they knew something was up.

A friend of mine who also lost her husband wrote to me: “Such a journey, this widowland.” It’s really another country. Its inhabitants look like other people, talk like other people, eat, walk, and sleep like other people, but they are also elsewhere. When Buddhists say that someone left this sphere of existence, I feel they’re not just talking of those who died but those closest to them who continue to live.

There are days when I don’t consciously think of Bernie at all. I’ve even wondered if he is getting more abstract in my mind, his features less precise, our time together receding into memory. And then something happens—a surprise video, a personal story someone relates to you, a Facebook photo someone has unearthed and that you’ve never seen before—and the ground crashes under you and you stare at the floor, holding in your lap a small Chihuahua mix who’s curling himself around your chest to comfort you while your hand pets the silky back of a bigger dog standing indomitably by your chair.

I can’t participate in gatherings about Bernie, hard to hear people tell stories about him. For me, he’s so inside, how do you tell stories about something inside, someone that’s you?

People say so many things. Most often I hear that with time, the sharpness will fade, and you’ll be left only with gratitude. Maybe. Gratitude,  like compassion, leaves me puzzled, probably due to their overuse.

Before all this happened I was reflecting on a phone conversation I had with a friend. I told him that, as far back as I could remember, I suffered from some form of anxiety and depression first thing every morning. “What I do, of course, is get up,” I told him. “I get out of bed, wash up, meditate, feed the dog, do things, and then it’s gone.”

Recalling this, I heard the words depression and anxiety in a new way and wondered: Are these words generic labels for something much deeper, even lifelong? What happens when you open your eyes first thing in the morning and remember your fragile humanness, about to start a new day where so much can happen—life, death, love, anger, joy, grief—that’ll hit you soft, hard, and every which way in between, and you have no control?

I will investigate this, I promised myself. Rather than jumping out of bed to be rid of those sensations, I will lie there a little longer and ask: What scares me here? What vague outlines of uncertainty make me fearful? Is it this wee thing called a human being, some small speck in the multiverse here this instant and gone in not even a blink of an eyelash?

And where am I most vulnerable if not in love, I realized after leaving the meeting yesterday? Bernie was all about plunges, but what’s tougher than the plunge into love? Full-bodiedly, wholeheartedly jump. A full day lies ahead of you. The person at my side is changing faster than the speed of light, I’m changing similarly, both occasionally on the same wavelength, often not, maybe saying the same daily words—Good morning? Did you sleep well?—but knowing that anything can happen that day, anything at all.

The planet revolves and travels at unimaginable speeds, they say natural laws govern everything. We call it karma. What is there to depend on? What are the natural laws of love?

On my part, at least, there was no holding back. A voice says: You plunged, and you drowned. He died, yes, but you drowned too and still go on living, only in a new country: Widowland.

              Donate to My Blog                Donate to Immigrant Families

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

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

THE DOGS KNOW

It’s the apex of winter here. Winds blow across the snowy, barren pastures and I don’t see another human being or animal outside.

Today was supposed to be warmer than the past (or the next) few days, so I took both dogs out and forgot to put on a hat. Bad mistake. I let them out in the farmland overlooking the Connecticut River, figuring on walking on the roads. The winds were blowing and I looked with concern at Henry, who had his small red vest on. When Henry doesn’t want to go any farther, he sits on his butt in the middle of the street and won’t budge. I expected him to do that any minute; in fact, I wanted him to do that, wanted to sit on my own butt and not move except to return to the car and go home.

Instead, the dogs ran onto the snowy open pastures, sniffed the ground, and went crazy from the smells. Aussie hopped up and down like a kangaroo, rushing in one direction, then another, making big wide circles on the snow that echoed the small circles her tail made. Henry ran after her, sniffing the ground eagerly, pausing to scratch at the ice, and I realized: There is so much life under that carpet of snow! Life that is invisible to my eyes, unheard by my ears, unsniffed by my nostrils, but they know. They know.

If you were to ask me what it is I’ve learned from all the dogs I’ve had over the years, I’d say: There is so much life outside my senses, outside my brilliant mind, even outside my fertile imagination. These animals, considered inferior to us, know it, sense it, and respond exuberantly.

At times they look up at me, a puzzled expression on their faces, as if to say: Aren’t you excited? Aren’t you thrilled?

This intelligent human is a party pooper, someone who can’t see what’s right under her feet, who thinks the landscape pictured above is a wasteland, devoid of life.

“Hi mom,” I greet my mother on our daily phone calls.

“Where are you?”

“Home, mom.”

Like clockwork, she says: “So when are you coming over?”

“I’m here in Massachusetts, mom. Across two oceans.”

She hesitates only an instant: “Okay, so when you have time, come by, I’m waiting for you.”

Trying to keep her on the phone a little while longer, I’ve started making things up:

“Mom, we built a snowman today. Remember how we did that when we were kids?”

Yesterday: “Aussie has a gentleman caller, mom, a German Shepherd that comes to pick her up every morning and take her out to play.”

Two days ago: “The ponds and rivers here are frozen over and people are skating, and some are fishing on the river. Did the Danube freeze over when you were a kid?”

Three days ago: “A gigantic bird landed right by the front door this morning, mom. It pecked on the door trying to come in.”

Anything to keep her on the phone for more than a minute.

She gives a brief laugh, says yes or no, repeats: “So come by when you have a chance,” and hangs up.

Yes, she has dementia, but at times I think I have dementia as well, that we all do by virtue of being human. We hold on to some narrow sliver of experience we call life and can’t go beyond it to the wonders of dog dates and albatrosses trying to crash a party.

When I first started reading Buddhist sutras, I was turned off by the description of multitudes of Buddha universes with goddesses and demons, the heavens raining exquisite nectar and flowers, with huge crystal palaces or enormous thrones made of gold and precious stones. Metaphors, I would groan inwardly. I hate metaphors.

I’m not sure of that anymore. Who’s to say what exists or not? At times Aussie comes to a dead stop, staring into the distance that shows nothing for half a mile but the frozen steppes of New England, nostrils quivering nonstop. Animals somewhere, I think to myself; it’s the sensible answer. She stands and stands, sniffing voraciously, eyes wide open gazing through a window that suddenly opened to her alone.

Me? I watch her, and sometimes feel foolish.

 

             Donate to My Blog               Donate to Immigrant Families

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

THE MESS ON MY WATCH

A storm hit us last night. Not like the big snowstorms I remember from other years, in fact, we haven’t had a big snowstorm yet this winter. This one left us with several inches of snow and a coating of ice, and by mid-morning temperatures began climbing till they reached 40 degrees by early afternoon—Miami Beach!

When the rain stopped (a rise in temperature here in winter always seems to be accompanied by rain) I took Aussie for a walk. She’s so undeterred by cold and snow that she waited for our walk while lying belly-down on a snowy mat on the top step outside my office.

We went to a nearby park leading into the woods. Big mistake. The snow here was wet and full of puddles, and as we sloshed down the path my boots filled up with water and my feet got wet and cold. I trudged down the path like this for some 50 minutes till I decided enough was enough and turned Aussie back.

Didn’t bother her any, but I came home and immediately warmed up some minestrone. I think it will take about a week till those boots dry out.

At the beginning of the walk, I faced a conundrum. Turn left and climb up in snow that looked firm and more solidly packed, which we could do with more ease, or go down the path to the right marred by footsteps filled with water (see above photo). I took the latter path, not realizing how wet I was going to get.

Ten minutes later, I said to Aussie: “What a mess! We shouldn’t have gone this way.”

“You always pick the messy ones,” she answered.

“I do?”

“Part of your messy nature,” she grumbled.

It’s not my nature. I like things in order. Our house isn’t terribly clean, but it’s usually in order. Most things are where I left them and where I expect to find them.

It’s not how I lived with Bernie, who brought a whole lot of mess into my life. The woman who insisted on paying her bills on time often found herself without the money to do that. The woman who wanted to see something get born, grow, and mature saw projects fail before they took shape, or else grow all kinds of limbs that led them sideways rather than straight up. The woman who liked clear-cut roles and definitions saw those things change overnight.

Most difficult of all, relationships—with staff, fellow students, fellow teachers, him and me—got messy.

Living and working with Bernie meant messes. Not in the rooms we lived in—he was one of the neatest people I knew—but in terms of plans gone awry. He couldn’t stop creating things: new companies, new organizations, new sanghas. He was like the woman who gave birth all the time but didn’t stick around to raise all the kids. To me, our workspace seemed full of unruly children who cried for attention, love, and support while we ran around from one to the other doing the best we could. Usually, it wasn’t enough.

At times, I called it a lack of integrity. Why bring anything into the world if you can’t take care of it, I’d challenge him. Why promise something if you’re not sure you can deliver?

You can’t be sure of anything, he’d say back. There are no guarantees. If only 10% of what we do bears fruit, I’m satisfied.

I wasn’t. I was more fundamentalist in nature. No messes on my watch, no unfulfilled promises, no word unkept. Which usually meant fewer words and fewer promises.

I’m a little more comfortable with messes now. By human standards, life is a mess; it’s way too wild to conform to plans or ideas. Bernie was ready to go wild, live with things as they were rather than make things neat and complete. Greyston didn’t need to be perfect to be valuable. Zen Peacemakers wouldn’t follow some clean arc of growth, it would dawdle, meander, and squiggle its way, obeying the reckless laws of life rather than calmer, more controlled laws of humans.

Finally, he stopped. The 2008 recession hit us hard, we lost the Farm, and he gave his word to the Zen Peacemakers board that he wouldn’t start new things. He was happy then. He flew out to teach and at home seemed more relaxed, driving out with a cigar several times a day, watching TV in the evening.

It was I then who would come over and say: “Don’t you want to do things anymore?”

And he would say: “I did enough.”

People seeing him then would never have guessed the good havoc he’d caused in the world, the flames he’d ignited in many, many places. I’m reminded of what Van Gogh wrote his brother: “Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul… and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.”

He left more than a little smoke.

Tomorrow would have been his 83rd birthday..

          Donate to My Blog             Donate to Immigrant Families

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

 

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

GO OUT EVERY DAY

I took Aussie out in mid-afternoon to our old hang-out in the woods overlooking the Montague Farm, where Zen Peacemakers used to have its offices. I’ve been walking dogs out there for almost 20 years.

Arctic gales are expected tonight and tomorrow, taking us into below-zero territory (Fahrenheit), and the winds are already kicking up. In that situation it’s always best to go into the woods where the trees protect you from the blasts coming your way..

It was barren out there this afternoon. Not a bird chirped, not an owl hooted, no people or dogs anywhere. It’s winter: bare, frigid, a delicate balance for the deer that survived hunting season, the small critters and birds.

In our first winter in our house, in 2004, I came out one freezing morning and found a dead coyote on the front lawn. It had no violent marks, I think it simply starved to death. It had come to our house in a last desperate effort to find food and died during the night.

Two years before that, in 2002, Bernie and I arrived in Massachusetts and lived communally with 10 other people in the Montague Farm. That first winter, a local man told me that I faced a choice: Stay at home for 5 months, or buy the right clothes, accessories, and footwear, and go out every day.

20 years later, it hits me that he was describing how to make it not just through a New England winter but also life.  Circumstances change—it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s sad, exhilarating, fun, depressing, or I’m just plain not in the mood—but out I go. Try not to close up, not to slip under the covers. Go out and out to the very edges of not-knowing. Search inside a hollow trunk, scrape away at the ice to see if water runs underneath, look carefully at an unidentified print. Who left it? What was here?

At times I’m asked to go back to old roles and containers, things I know how to do. That feels like staying home instead of facing a New England winter.

My January dog-walking clothes tend to be on the old side: a pair of brown lined jeans a decade old and a gray sweatshirt my mother brought me from her trip to China many years ago, an unattractive burgundy jacket I found in a Salvation Army store 20 years ago. Aussie’s the only one who sees me wearing it.

Since I tend to lose gloves, I wear a different glove on each hand, a heavy black one lined with fleece on my left hand (I lost the right a week ago) and a red mitten on my other hand (its partner was lost five years back). A heavy gray shawl rounds my neck and a green wool hat, knitted for me by Sensei Franziska Schneider in Switzerland, covers my head.

No prizes for style, but I stay warm. My feet are encased in wool socks inside a pair of faded fur-lined boots, yaktrax on their bottoms. I know there’s warm outdoor gear out there that’s lighter and prettier, but this does fine.

The biggest prison I know is the one erected by my own thoughts: What I did, what I didn’t, what I couldn’t. What he did, what she didn’t, what he couldn’t. Why something happened, why something else didn’t happen. Practice has taught me how to leave that prison behind anytime.

Aussie runs up and down the white slopes, impervious. We won’t go out tomorrow, there’s an alert about the freeze. I let her rush freely now; she’s careful, not reckless. At the same time, I know that if she runs into a band of hungry coyotes in winter, for all her sauciness, there won’t be much she could do.

We turn back. The pine needles shiver in the air, the trees shake and moan, dry leaves sweep across the snow and furrows turn brittle, the wind begins to howl, and Aussie’s tail is making circles as she runs parallel to me across the forest. In what feels like a dead, icy wasteland this afternoon edging towards evening, I’m aware that everything is right here, nothing’s absent, and it’s all alive. Vitally, uncompromisingly alive.

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

“Aussie, guess what you are.”

“The smartest dog in the world?”

“No.”

“The cleverest dog you’ve ever had? The best hunter, the sweetest companion, and the most ferocious guard dog ever seen?”

“No.”

“The most reactionary, racist, immigrant-baiting motherf—er in America?”

“Not even that, Aussie. Your DNA results came in, courtesy of a gift we received from Lori.”

“Oh, no! Did they find out I’m a criminal?”

“No, Auss, but they did track the different dog breeds that make up Aussie. See?”

“No.”

“First, Aussie, almost half of you is a herding dog, a German Shepherd. Herding dogs like to control the movements of other animals.”

“And people. I’ve been controlling your moves from the day I came into the house.”

“The German Shepherd is particularly known for courage, athleticism, and intelligence.”

“I knew it! I knew it! C’est moi!”

“But that’s just half of you, Auss. Another quarter or so is Chow Chow.”

“Because I like to chow down?”

“No, because you’re Chinese.”

“I am not! Do I look Chinese to you? Do I have those weird-looking eyes that seem half asleep most of the time?”

“Aussie, Chow Chows used to pull carts in ancient China. They were also used as food.”

“You mean, they ate food.”

“No, Aussie, they were food.”

“Don’t even think about it!”

“Don’t worry, Auss, if I ever consider eating you, it’ll only be a quarter.”

“I don’t think I like this DNA thing. Do any of these labels begin to describe what a unique, elegant, arrogant, good-humored bitch I am?”

“No.”

“So what good are they?”

“About 5% of you is a guard dog, like a pit bull.”

“Forget about it. Too dangerous and the pay’s not good.”

“About 10% of you is Hound, like Beagle and Foxhound. That’s the part that goes after prey.”

“Always knew I’m the greatest hunter that ever lived.”

“But here comes the bad news, Auss. Ready for this?”

“If it’s about me, it can’t be that bad.”

“You also have some Terrier in you. Guess what kind of Terrier? It comes from somewhere down South.”

“No-no-no-no!”

“You’re right! 5% of you is Chihuahua.”

“Like Henry the Terrible?”

“Olé!”

“No way José. Nothing, but NOTHING about me is remotely like Henry. I’m not short-hair, I’m not small, I’m not illegal, and I don’t talk Mexican.”

“Aussie, some of what makes Henry Henry is in you, too.”

“Never!”

“Some of everybody is in all of us, and some of us is in everybody.”

“I can deal with the part of me that’s Spencer the dumb old Golden or Ripper the silly Pug. But not Henry, never Henry!”

“Look at it this way, Auss. Since he’s a relative, you probably won’t ever get married.”

“Vomit! Vomit! What about Donald Trump? Is part of him in you?”

“Probably. Unfortunate, but so. Forget about all this, Aussie. You’re right, all the DNA analysis, all the breeds in the entire world don’t come close to capturing who you really are.”

“I’m a wild thing!”

“You are.”

“I’m beyond labels and categories.”

“Bravo, Aussie.”

“Just look into my eyes. Can you, a writer, pin me down with a word? A name?”

“I cannot.”

“That’s why you’re my best friend, the only human who’s ever understood me.”

“Actually, Aussie, only 1% of you is a companion dog. American Eskimo.”

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

THE BUDDHA AND THE DOG

“Aussie, did you hear what Pope Francis said?”

“Who?”

“The head of one of the world’s largest religions, Auss. Some people believe that he speaks for God. He said that one of the problems we have in the world is that people prefer to have pets, like dogs, than to have children.”

“He calls that a problem? How many children does he have?”

“None, as far as I know, Aussie.”

“How many dogs?”

“None, as far as I know.”

“I rest my case.”

“Aussie, that may be what’s meant by renunciation.”

“What’s renunciation?”

“Giving things up. In terms of religion, it means that you give up things like certain foods, clothes, independence, family life, sex, and children to focus on taking care of the poor and the sick, or on spiritual awakening. Pope Francis may have given up the possibility of having children or dogs to get closer to God.”

“Come on! The best way to get close to God is to get a dog.”

“How do you know, Aussie?”

“Easy. After dealing with me every day, you’d go anywhere, ANYWHERE!, even up to God in the sky, to get away.”

“But Aussie, the opposite is also true. You know how much I value concentration and hate distractions?”

“Do I ever!”

“But when you sidle over to me and mewl like you do, Aussie, I stop typing, put the coffee cup down, and I pet you. And when Henry comes over and gets up on his hind legs and taps my knee with one of his front paws—”

“He loves ordering you around!”

“–I stop everything, pick him up, and put him on my lap. Even in the middle of meetings. Henry regularly attends at our weekly Zen Peacemaker Order meeting.”

“He’s a waste of valuable time!”

“He’s not, Aussie, and that’s the point. The poet, Mary Oliver, said: Joy is not made to be a crumb.

(Sigh) “I love crumbs.”

“Aussie, I don’t want just crumbs of joy in my life, I want lots of joy! Lots of delight, cheer, and happiness!”

“I thought you were a Buddhist!”

“It’s easy for me to get lost in work and Zooms and meetings and blogs; the whole day and week can go by like that. Instead, I’ve learned to stop everything when Henry taps me on the knee, pick him up, sit him down on my lap, and cuddle with him. The minutes I spend doing that are full of joy. There’s something about seeing his big eyes up close—”

“Mine are much prettier.”

“—feeling his fur—”

“You call that fur?”

“—and feeling the heart beating powerfully in that small, 16-pound body that makes me plain happy. He sits on my lap like a prince on the throne receiving adoring strokes and attention, like it’s all coming to him, as if that’s what life is really about. And that simple act of holding him on my lap and stroking him makes me happy, Aussie.”

“Let me ask you something: When the Buddha sat under the tree and meditated, did he have a dog on his lap?”

“Not that I’ve heard. Unless Mara, the Lord of Delusion, brought him one.  The sutras say that Mara brought him his beautiful daughters to distract him, but also an army of monsters and demons.”

“Then he must have brought Henry. And was the Buddha distracted?”

“He was not.”

“Did he hold him and kiss him and tell him what a sweetie he was? Vomit! Vomit! Vomit!”

“I don’t care, Aussie. Like Mary Oliver said, I don’t want a crumb of joy here and a crumb of joy there, I want the whole shebang.”

“And you call yourself a Buddhist!”

“When you and Henry come over and interrupt some work I do that barely reaches the bar of insignificance in the long run of things, I want to grab those minutes of feeling those soft hairs under my hand, seeing a few specks of gray on your dark fur—”

“Gray! Where? Where?”

“—and feeling Henry’s small body shake and quiver with pleasure as my fingers graze down his back. That’s pleasure! That’s gladness! That’s joy!”

“Maybe, but that’s no way to get enlightened.”

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

MUNDANE TASKS OF LIFE

In the past few years, I’ve found myself repeating this refrain to myself again and again: I want to keep on working, keep on doing. I don’t want my days to be consumed by the Mundane Tasks of Life.

But the other day, right at this hour of a cold January twilight, a question occurred to me: So what’s wrong with spending your days on the Mundane Tasks of Life?

I’ve said it before: I’m a slow learner.

What are these tasks? Here’s one day’s worth: Get up in the morning, wash up, meditate, light incense, feed Aussie, study, exercise, eat breakfast, make food plans for company tomorrow and compose shopping list, make the bed, weekly laundry, long talk with my brother re family matters, walk Aussie and Henry, fill up birdfeeders, empty dehumidifier in basement, water flowers, prepare and eat dinner (except on some Wednesday evenings when Byron, Jimena’s husband, cooks dinner for me when I come to meet with them and immigrant families).

But in my mind, what counts as work today? Weekly meeting of Zen Peacemaker Order committee and related emails, Zoom with student, prepare cash and food cards for immigrant families, meet with Jimena and parents in evening, write this blog post. At the end of the day I’ll shake my head: This is how you spent your day? That’s all you did?

Somehow, I don’t include the Mundane Tasks of Life in my list, though there are many of them day after day. If anything, I fantasize about someone sharing those Mundane Tasks of Life, or better yet, taking them off my hands completely.

Not about to happen.

Slowly I’m realizing that there wouldn’t be life without the Mundane Tasks of Life. There wouldn’t be life without shopping for and cooking meals, washing clothes, sweeping the floors, or feeding and walking dogs. At least, not life as I know it.

I know people whose list of the Mundane Tasks of Life is much shorter than mine. They don’t live in a big house, they don’t have dogs, they don’t have friends, associates, or even family members they love to catch up with for longer than 10 minutes, they don’t have birdfeeders or plants or malfunctioning basement water pipes (the plumber arrives on Friday), they don’t bother with a yard or a garden.

Theirs is a simpler life than mine, they have more time on their hands, and often I’ve wondered whether I shouldn’t live like that, too.

But right now I have deep personal connections and loving friendships, keep on studying, keep on teaching, keep on organizing, keep on talking with animals and trees while on walks in the forest. So many books to read! So many sutras to study! So many hours of zazen for which to get up each morning (just signed up for the 108 consecutive days of meditation that Green River has been doing every winter over many years). And yes, so many Mundane Tasks of Life.

One evening I made myself a feta cheese omelet, toasted some bread, added a salad, poured myself a glass of wine because it was a weekend evening, and it hit me: This is life. Life is made up of tasks, the tasks of living.

What outside of these Mundane Tasks of Life is more important? The cutlery and napkins on the dining table ask for relationship just like my sister and brother. The laundry machine asks for attentive care as I load it, keeping it in balance so that it doesn’t pound on the floor, no different from the dogs or the post office lady at the door. These are fields of Buddha activity.

There’s a joke about a man who must get to an office meeting by a certain time only he can’t find parking. He goes round and round the building, round and round the block, no luck. He prays to God: “Please God, find me a parking place, otherwise I’m in trouble.” He goes around the block again and there, right in front of the door, a parking place has opened. He sidles into it and says: “Never mind, God, did it myself.”

Not quite sure why I bring this up now, except to point out that if something feels mundane, it’s because I’ve made it so. I’ve categorized things as important and not, spiritual and not, real work and not. In doing so, I’ve taken something far more mysterious, far more subtle, far more gorgeous and baffling out of the equation.

What I’m also discovering is that when I appreciate my Mundale Tasks of Life, I also appreciate others’ Mundane Tasks of Life. I visited with Jimena this evening, bringing rent money for a family whose father worked in construction, fell off the ladder and broke his leg. And food cards. Ordinarily I’d be in a hurry to leave when all this is done and folks have left, but this time we sat on her freezing porch sipping hot tea to keep warm and talking about omicron and testing in the local schools. Then we talked about her boys playing basketball.

“Oh my God, Eve,” she says, “my Mario played his first game on Monday. You should see all his fans crying his name: Mario! Mario! Here, let me show you.” Out comes one of three cell phones Jimena uses to show me a photo of four pretty girls holding up a sign with his name.

“You’re in trouble now,” I tell her.

“He’s still in Middle School,” she objects vehemently. “He knows that school is the only thing that matters.” Jimena has pounded that lesson into her boys since the day they were born. Nothing, but nothing, is supposed to distract them from school. She must be Jewish somewhere.

“Forget it,” I tell her. “These are beautiful girls; it’s just a matter of time.”

She grins proudly and sighs at the same time. “No, no, no, no,” she says. “Not now.”

“You mean, not ever, don’t you?”

We both laugh. Simple, ordinary life. Take the son to basketball practice, bring him home. Byron cooks dinner, which Jimena won’t eat till she’s done working at 9:00 pm. That’s when she’ll also remind Mario that only school matters, not girls, not even basketball practice.

We sip our tea, we laugh, I gather my pocketbook, soon I’ll leave. Life is so mundane we barely notice it.

Please help me support our immigrant community. I was told that the link supplied on Monday for immigrant families was dead; I hope it’s live this evening, someone’s working on tis. If not, you can use the link for blog donations and add the words: for food cards. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Donate to My Blog               Donate to Immigrant Families

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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