These are gray, beautiful days. We walk along the plains, almost 2,000 acres of shrub land and scrub oaks. I keep my eyes on the long gray skies and remember again why Ishmael goes back to sea whenever November is in his soul. I’m not tempted to go to sea, I enjoy going back to a warm home when outside it doesn’t go over 32 degrees.

I miss the call to adventure. Instead, I have a conversation with Henry and Aussie about—what else?—politics.

“You’d think you Libs would be happy after the election,” snaps Aussie. “Instead you’re scared shitless by what Trump will accomplish before he leaves.”

“What’s the worst he could do?” asks Henry.

“It’s too much to hope that he’d deport all chihuahuas to Mexico,” growls Aussie.

“He’ll add more folks to the unemployment rolls, that’s for sure,” I say.

“Because of corona?”

“No, because he’s going to fire half of all government employees, especially career diplomats and professionals in the intelligence community,” I tell her. “Would probably love to fire some generals but I don’t know if he can, not to mention all the Republicans who supervised elections in states that went Blue.”

“I’m sure he’ll award Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, and Jared well-deserved Presidential Medals of Freedom,” says Aussie. “Maybe Tiffany and Melania too. If only he’d invited me to be his White House dog, he’d probably be giving me a Medal of Freedom, too. I’d go down in history instead of walking in this God-forsaken place.”

“I don’t know if dogs can get Medals of Freedom, Auss.”

“We’re civilians like everybody else. Beside, Trump doesn’t care about silly rules like that, that’s what made him who he is today.”

This Thanksgiving will be my first in a very long time without family. But I’m lucky, I have money for food, and in case I don’t feel like cooking for 1 or 2, the Stone Soup Café, which provides hundreds of hearty, flavorful meals in this community every week, is giving away fabulous Thanksgiving meals on a pay-what-you-can basis. I haven’t been there in a long time, but this may just be the ticket. It will be nice to greet Kirstin, their head chef, and their big team of volunteers.

We’re also beginning a give-away of some $1250-1500 in food cards over the next 8 days to immigrant families to make sure they have food for the holiday. I can’t forget how my orthodox Jewish family, including my Russian rabbi grandfather, always had a Thanksgiving meal. I haven’t met the immigrants or refugees, regardless of religious and cultural observances, who don’t participate in Thanksgiving as soon as they arrive.

So, what are my Thanksgiving thoughts?

“You Americans don’t have your own main culture, except for maybe Thanksgiving.” I still remember the evening when a Filipino playwright friend of mine said this at a meeting with me and other writer friends in a New York City apartment. I felt some annoyance. In New York there’s a Filipino theater that produces your plays, I wanted to tell her. Where would you and many of us be if we had one main culture that imposed its rules and limitations on everybody?

In a recent interview in the Atlantic Magazine, Barack Obama said that the United States is an incredible experiment in building a true multi-cultural society. Unlike other countries, Western and otherwise, we don’t have a dominant culture. Whites will soon be a minority, and with their majority goes any pretense we might have had of a dominant culture that was primarily white, Christian, and European in origin. Many people believe that this is what the partisanship we are experiencing now is mostly about (even though Donald Trump got more Latino and African American votes than before).

Like it or not, we’re on our way. We’ll melt a little in the big pot—we usually do in Thanksgiving, when everybody eats and gathers with family—but big pieces of us don’t melt so easily. We want to hold on to our ethnic, religious, and cultural differences, and why not? It’s where our parents stood, our grandparents; it’s our genealogy. Why invalidate it?

“When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I’m not excluding you from the joining—I’m broadening the joining.”

That was written by Audre Lorde, a woman of color, a Lesbian, a mother, a poet and essayist, a feminist. A little like me, a lot not like me, but at this time in our history, her words rang bells and bells. I can’t and won’t deny my life experience as white, female, Jewish, Buddhist, immigrant. What in that makes me any less of an American?  When I was very young, I tried to conceal the Jewish side of me for several years. What I realized over the decades is that I fit in better when I stand in my origins, in my difference, than when I pretend they’re not there. The more unique the  traits, the better the possibilities for a great joining.

The poet Joseph Pintauro wrote:

I am not who I was

I am not going to be who I was going to be

you changed all that

you are not who you were

you are not going to be who you were going to be

I changed all that …

who are we going to be?

we are going to be who we never would have been

without each other.


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Every Sunday I give Aussie and Henry marrow bones. This tradition started long before either was born. I take the bones out of the freezer on Saturday night to defrost, and by Sunday morning both dogs are circling that particular corner of the kitchen, Henry getting up on his hind legs and hopping around like a meerkat. It’s all we can do to get them to eat their regular food first.

Yesterday I took out an enormous bone and gave it to Aussie; it was so big she could barely take it in her mouth. Henry got something smaller and ran upstairs with it, where he could eat it safe from interruption. He needn’t have worried, Aussie put hers down on the rug under the dining table, her favorite perch. As usual, she started the job while standing on all four legs and licking the bone from all sides, then got down on her belly and down to business, holding the bone with one paw as she began pulling bits of meat off, after which she would be going after the marrow. I imagine Henry did something similar upstairs.

One or two hours pass. I’m seated at the dining table having soup. Henry has come down with his bone, puts it on the kitchen floor and sits next to it. Aussie, who’s been gnawing loudly for a long time, stops.

After a while I notice how silent it is and look at both dogs. Aussie lies under the dining table, her big bone (now slightly diminished in size) next to her. She’s staring straight at Henry, who’s seated on his haunches some six feet away next to his bone. They look at each other like this for at least ten minutes (If only I had a camera!).

What’s going through their minds? I don’t know, but I can guess. It’s time for the post-chewing bone exchange. Aussie, having finished her bone, now would like to get her teeth into Henry’s. Henry, who has finished his, would like to get his tongue and tiny teeth into Aussie’s. They do this exchange every time, but at this early stage of the game, each is loath to give up his/her asset, his/her bone. They have to give it up in order to go for the other, but they’d rather keep their bones and go after the other.

No one makes the first move, but don’t think nothing is going on. Diplomacy is happening even as they stare at each other silently.

Eventually something will happen. We’ll have a walk, or one or the other will be called to something else. They both may run barking outside because someone’s walking up the road. At that point one will get the other’s bone, and after that the other will get the bone she/he had been eyeing for a while, and the compromise is reached: You get mine, I get yours. They may have a small fight about it, but basically, it works out.

I watched this process yesterday and wondered why it is that Aussie and Henry have figured out how to come to an agreement about the sharing of assets and wealth, and American humans can’t do the same. We start out just like them—we want it all. We want what we got and we want yours, too. But even Aussie, four times bigger than Henry, doesn’t want a fight. Maybe she has a sense that it’s unfair to hover over both, who knows? If so, she’s ethically a lot more advanced than many of us humans. Regardless, in the end, after glowering and vigilance in turn, they come to agreement and exchange one bone for another.

They compromise. They do this every single Sunday.

This is when I ask myself whether evolution in reverse is possible. Haven’t we gotten way too smart for our own good? How do we reverse our engineering and see things a little simpler? How do we relearn the art of compromise, which is what our form of government is based on? Without it, the government we have will simply not work.

Could we possibly stare at each other across seven feet of kitchen and dining area—Trump voters and Biden voters, Democrats and Republicans, Progressives, Conservatives, Moderates, and what-have-you’s—do our posturing, glowering, baiting, and snarling on our respective networks and social media, and then come to some compromise where each side gets the bone they want?

Don’t forget, the bones the dogs get the second time around aren’t as fresh as what they got the first time, they don’t have the meat and all the marrow they had before they’d been chewed on. They’re getting second-hand bones, like the used clothes I used to get at the Salvation Army which somebody had worn first. But they get something. They get some remaining gristle, some spots red from blood, and odds are there’s still marrow left inside the bone that you have to burrow deep to get. Best of all, they get the flavor and smell of the other dog, its teeth and spit are all over the used bone, and I believe that makes the bone even more luscious for them this second time around.

If we weren’t so bent on winning at all costs and having it all—Wait till 2024!—we might find some satisfaction in getting something that has the imprint of the other. Something that has been argued about, maneuvered from a House committee to the House and from a Senate committee to the Senate, then back to a joint committee for compromise, then back to House and Senate for their approval, then up to the White House for signature—could you imagine what all those smells would do to the dogs? They’d be all over each other sniffing in curiosity and excitement, trying to decipher who’s who and what’s what.

We don’t want all those smells (Anything Mitch McConnell agrees to I’m not interested!). We want just our smells. Only we don’t get those smells either, we get nothing. We’re stuck in those 10 minutes of staring each other down, only in our case it’s been lasting for years. We’re ready to wait, because we’re sure it’s only a matter of time before we get it all. Meantime the virus hits, climate change hits, fires and floods and climactic gaps between rich and poor have hit, and we’re still staring at each other, waiting to get the other’s bone.


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About a week after our elections I went to a local garage to make an appointment for my 9-year-old Prius, which needs work. I entered the office wearing my mask, and immediately noticed that the man at the desk did not. In our part of the country that’s highly unusual, probably illegal.

He looked up at me as I approached and asked how he could help. I described the work I needed.

“I can’t hear you,” he said, so I raised my voice, speaking through the mask.

He informed me that they were scheduling now for the week of Thanksgiving. That’s fine, I said. We made a date and I walked out the door and to my car.

A Trump voter, a voice inside said. Before I could stop myself, I was off to the races, chugging along on the Trump Express. Quicker than I can write this, I made up a Trump Voter list customized to the man I’d just left:

  1. Didn’t wear a mask.
  2. Was glum and talked in monosyllables.
  3. Was overweight.
  4. Didn’t make eye contact.

Check, check, check, check.

And one more check: You’re insane, I told myself. Check.

That’s my only defense, that as I watched these thoughts flash in my head quicker than water bubbles, I could still label them for what they were: Insane. Tying the most disparate dots together to produce a story or picture that had as much proof and credibility as how Joe Biden won the election through fraud.

I’ve written here before that I never thought much about Trump the man, I thought he was not sane from the get-go. I couldn’t forget that this was the man who liked to have his picture put on the front cover of the New York Post with another gorgeous woman on his arm even as he was married, ignoring the impact and humiliation of this on his wife and children. New Yorkers (of whom I was one then) knew he was a classical narcissist, and I’m personally not that interested in crazy people (unless it’s me). But I am very interested in the impact they have on other, saner people.

When I think of the leaders I resonated with, I think of Martin Luther King, whose life and speeches I studied over a period of years, ditto with Gandhi. We seemed to share a frequency. They lived their lives, a woman reads their words years later and her heart surges and the blood pumps: Yes! Yes! That’s how I feel!

Sometimes it wasn’t the words, but a picture. I studied the life of Abraham Lincoln, too, and though I felt deep ambivalence about some of his actions, including his offers to the South to keep their slaves till 1900 just to keep the Union intact, there was something of the man that always moved me. I liked to picture him on his horse, leaving Mary Todd behind and traveling as a lawyer throughout Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit, so deeply engrossed in the book he was holding that he’d let go of the reins and lose his way. He’d suffered great losses—in that sense he reminds me of Joe Biden—and there was a loneliness about that figure on the horse, deep in his book, that stays with me.

Donald Trump is also a study in resonance. When he talks of how this country becomes great when it kicks out immigrants and keeps minorities and women in their places, that it should make rooms for white supremacists, alt-right militias and anti-Semites, I go No! No! No!, but it’s still a kind of resonance, say a resonance in reverse. It hits me somewhere deep. It evokes denial and even self-loathing, a call to all the angers and rages I’ve felt in my life. He’s my Northern Star for hate and fear, for some old dread that perhaps comes out of being two generations away from a Holocaust, from haunting memories of harsh early years of life.

That’s when I get on the Donald Trump Express.

Leaving the garage, I mentally labeled the man I’d just talked to—someone I’d never met in my life nor exchanged political views with—a Trump voter. A Trump loyalist, maybe a Trump lover. Okay, it wasn’t accompanied by hateful feelings so maybe that wasn’t the Trump Express but more like  the Trump Local, slower and a little more rational, taking me to the same destination as the Express only by a more circuitous route. Either way, I end up in the same place, in stereotypes and stories that carry the same implacable ending: He’s wrong! He’s bad! And even: I suffer because of him.

I shudder to think of what makes any person a human tuning fork for so much fear, or a radio tower that emits constant signals of alarm and hate. What a terrible karma, I think  to myself; there must be suffering at its core. But those signals are powerful and unambivalent, and we resonate strongly either with them or against them.

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“Eve, I love you!”

“Really? Why, Mom?”

“The song you wrote was so beautiful. I sang it to everyone and you should have seen people’s eyes—they shone, Eve!”

“Is that so?”

I never wrote any song for her and she doesn’t see people because the country’s shut down. What do I say, I wonder as she keeps on thanking me again and again for writing the most beautiful song in the world? The other week she thanked me for making the trip to Israel and hoped my trip back would be fine (“Best trip to Israel I ever took,” I texted my brother and sister. “Quick, too.”). And now she’s thanking me for my song.

“I wrote it for you, mom,” I finally tell her.

“You did?” she exclaims happily. “I will not forget this, Eve, ever!”

She’ll probably forget it right away, I think after we hang up. My mother is suffering from dementia and has delusions. But there are delusions and there are delusions. Thinking her daughter wrote a great song just for her makes her feel a lot better than thinking that Nazis are downstairs and coming up to get her.

I’m still in the stepping-back mode after the election. I need to regain that stability, and also some humility. I feel a lot better when I go deep into the wellspring of things, far away from rumblings and expostulations. For a short while, at least, I’ve gotten off the political train, with its emotional extremes, and I stay with what must get done next. Write this; get on the phone with another Zen teacher; go to meet Jimena with food cards later on (we’re meeting Wednesday rather than Thursday this week), etc. Thank heavens for the small jobs of living.

“What will you write about today?” someone asked me earlier.

“I have no idea,” I say, still feeling somewhat dull. “Nothing.”

But you know what comes up when I feel I have nothing to write about, nothing to say? Love comes up.

Tennessee Williams wrote: “[W]e live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Much of the time I’m surrounded by a sense of urgency, of excitement but also anxiety. These past months saw an overwhelming impulse to get online once again and find out what happened, the latest headlines, the latest polls: Did Biden inch up another little bit, did Trump inch down?

Only it’s not just politics or the election; I often push forward and try to cover lots of bases, one thing followed by another and then by another. I remain passionate; I still have my vows.

But when I stop and sit, when I decide to shrug off the jobs and assignments at least for a short time, when I don’t fill that extra time with reading or study, don’t even look at a dramatic sunset or smell the flowers or stroke Aussie’s beautiful black fur—I just look at the air. I feel it waving, and find love there. Not love of someone or something, not even love of life, just a sensation of the enormous generosity all around. I fold myself inside it, humbly and gratefully, and it fills me with love.

That’s how I feel today, Veterans Day. I light incense to honor the people who’ risked their lives so that I could be safe. So many don’t feel safe right now.

I went to give out food cards and a woman said to me in Spanish: God will bless you. God already has, I thought to myself, though I didn’t know how to say this in Spanish, my tenses are terrible. I got chicken, rice and beans from Jimena’s husband for dinner, and a woman brought us home-made bread.

I make a point of calling up my mother every day now rather than every other day, I realize my days of intelligent conversation with her are coming rapidly to an end. But I’m up for unintelligent conversations as well.

“Eve, did you speak to your father?” she asked me in yesterday’s phone call.

“No, Mom.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s dead, Mom.”

“Really? For how long?”

“I think it’s 5 years this week, Mom.”

She thinks it over. “Oh,” she says.






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I have yet to find my rhythm after the election.

Tuesday night through Wednesday I was very upset about how many people voted for four more years of what we’ve had till now (at least 70 million). Treaded water on Thursday and Friday, and Saturday let myself celebrate Biden’s victory. Sunday, I had to stop thinking about it, let everything in but put it aside for later. There’s a lot to reflect on, a lot to understand about what is happening in this country, and I thought I’d start that process today, Monday.

But it still doesn’t take; more time has to pass. So, I passed the time in conversation with Aussie.

“Aussie, did you hear that the Bidens are bringing two dogs into the White House?”

“Don’t tell me, I’m ready to off myself.”

“You still have about 2-1/2 months to get to the White House before the current resident departs.”

“He ain’t departing, so I have four more years to get over there and make the place dog-friendly. Four more years! Four more years!”

“One of the Bidens’ dogs, Major, came from a shelter, Aussie, just like you.”

“Please don’t remind me of my roots.”

“Stop being ashamed of where you come from, Auss.”

“I’m not ashamed, I come from Texas. Nobody from Texas is ever ashamed.”

“You came from the pound, Aussie. You were probably born in Texas but Texas didn’t want you. Tell you what, why don’t you ask the Bidens to take you in as a third dog in the White House?”

“I don’t share.”

“The Bidens are good people, Aussie. Look at Jill.”

“Oh please, Jill looks like one of those humans who loves everybody with a passion. I hate people like that.”

“Did Melania ever look like a dog-lover to you, Auss?”

“I guess not, but I’d have changed her mind for her. Of course, she could put on me one of those designer vests.”

“You mean the ones that say I don’t care?”

“But I can’t figure why Donald didn’t have a dog on which he could lavish all his compassion.”

“Aussie, hear me out. He didn’t want you. He didn’t want any dog. I told you before, you seem to get attracted to people and dogs who don’t want anything to do with you, like the Trumps. Whenever we’re at the dog park you try to play with the one dog who won’t play. He growls and snarls at you, and you don’t give up.”

“Anybody who wants to play with me isn’t worth playing with. Wanna hear a joke, Boss? Henry the Chihuahua walks into a bar—”

“Not those kinds of jokes, Aussie.”

“A Chihuahua walks into a bar. He’s about to order when the bartender gives a slight cough in his direction. ‘Watcha doing?’ asks the Chihuahua. Says the bartender: ‘Aren’t you going to order a Corona Lite?’ Hee! Hee! Hee! Hee! Hee!”

“That’s not funny, Aussie! Making fun of people or dogs because of their religion, ethnicity, culture, or breed is not funny. Neither is the coronavirus.”

“It’s hysterical. A  Corona Lite—Hee! Hee! Hee!”

“You’re mean, Aussie.”

“And you’re so politically correct I want to vomit, only I never let go of food. That’s the trouble with you Libs, you have no sense of humor!”

“Bernie liked this one, Auss. A man walks into a bar with a Chihuahua. The bartender says: ‘I’m sorry, sir, you’ll have to take your dog out of here.’ The man says: ‘It’s my seeing-eye dog!’ The bartender says: ‘That chihuahua is no seeing-eye dog!’ The man says: ‘They gave me a chihuahua?!’”

“That’s funny? What’s funny about it?”

“If I have to explain it to you, Aussie, it’s no good.”

“Does it make fun of Chihuahuas?”

“Not too much.”

“Does it make fun of where they come from?”


“Does it at least make fun of blind people or seeing-eye dogs?”

“Of course not, Aussie.”

“Then what’s funny about it?”

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“Why does Harry run sideways like that?”

“You’re right, Aussie. He seems to be running left when he runs straight.”

“I knew it! Another left-wing socialist in the house!”

“Aussie, he can’t help it. Maybe his left legs are stronger than the right.”

“I don’t care, it’s the last thing we need here. I told you we should deport him. He’s a Chihuahua, what do you expect? He doesn’t have our values, doesn’t care about our history, probably eats tacos on Thanksgiving—”

“Oh, Auss.”

“He’s an illegal immigrant! We have to deport him, otherwise you foreigners are going to take over my home.”

“You know, Aussie, I can’t believe how many folks voted for Donald Trump. I was sure he and everything he stands for were going to go down bigly. Instead, he got millions more votes this time than he did four years ago.”

“Just shows you how much more intelligent the world has become.”

“This really stretches my practice, Aussie.”

“I haven’t seen you working out much lately.”

“I don’t mean those stretches, Auss. My Zen practice is to bear witness. I have to let go of the idea that I understand what’s going on, that I know what’s good for everybody, and instead try to listen deeply to the folks who voted for him. To tell you the truth, Aussie, I didn’t think I’d be doing this again.”

“Doing what?”

“Taking to folks who voted for him. That’s what I did four years ago because I couldn’t understand what happened, so whenever I met people who voted for Trump I’d ask them to explain where they were coming from.”

“So that’s why you adopted me! And I thought it was because I was cute.”

“Now I have to do it all over again.”

“Poor you!”

“I don’t get it, Aussie. All of us want to be safe, all of us want to be secure. At the same time, if you ask Trump supporters what they think of his tweets, how he talks about women, Mexicans, about Blacks and Africans, not to mention Anthony Fauci, they shrug and say: That’s just how he talks, no big deal. So something else is more important to them if they can live with all those things, and I’d like to understand what that is.”

“You’re not smart enough, girlfriend.”

“Aussie, I’m not talking about white supremacists or those anti-government militias practicing their shooting in the Idaho hills, I’m talking about lots of other people who’re not like that at all but still vote for him. What is it that Donald Trump gives them which helps them feel, well, safer and more secure? What does he give them that strengthens their sense of purpose and identity?”

“He gives them lots of tenderness.”

“A friend suggested I tune into Fox News as a starting practice. Now, that’s going to stretch me a bit.”

“What do you mean, a starting practice?”

“Part of my spiritual practice is to listen to things that I disagree with without changing the channel, without telling the person talking this way that he’s full of you know what.”

“Could we put on Sean Hannity?”

“Don’t get me wrong, Aussie, just because I do that doesn’t mean I stop working for what I believe in. Only it’s so easy to get stuck into thinking that you’re always right.”

“I’m always right.”

“It’s listening to dumb things like that Aussie, that makes my practice difficult. It makes me stretch and stretch and stretch.”

“Does it hurt? I want to make you Libs cry.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say, Aussie. But you’re lucky, I’m a veteran. I can hold anything you throw my way.”

“Oh yeah? Let me tell you something. We’re going to teach you Libs a lesson. We’re going to deport Henry and 10,000,000 more Chihuahuas, not to mention all the African Basenjis, the Dogos Argentinos, and the Chinese Chow Chows, Shih Tzus and Shar-Peis, fuckin’ spies.”

“You won’t have many dogs left here, Aussie.”

“Don’t worry, Norwegian Elkhounds will come here begging for refuge.”

“This is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard, Auss.”

“You’re still listening, oh great spiritual practitioner?”

“Still listening, Aussie.”

“Good. We’re going to force all kids to go  back to school for rifle practice after we make all covid masks illegal—”

“Aussie, do you know how many people will get sick?”

“Tough it out, bedwetters. When Donald trump finishes his second term—”

“I don’t see him starting a second term, Auss—”

“He will if we kick Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia out of the country. Isn’t that what you do with traitors? Or else send in the Proud Boys. Still listening?”

“You’re making it hard for me, Aussie.”

“After Donald finishes his second term we’re going to have Donald, Jr. in the White House—”

“The one who looks like a coke fiend?”

“—and when he’s had his 8 years we’ll have my favorite, Ivanka, though she’s not as pretty as Melania, but we can’t have Melania be President because she wasn’t born here. Unless we change the Constitution.”

“Fuggedaboudit, Aussie.”

“And after that Jared Kushner will become President.”

“Jared Kushner!”

“What’s the matter, you anti-Semitic or something?”


“Hey, I thought you could listen to everything. You could hold everything. You could stretch and stretch—


“Can I still go on walks with Leeann?”


“What happened to 35 years of practice?”

“First I kill you, then I start practicing again.”


Thank you to all of you who sent money for Ancelmo. Last night I brought food cards and $400 in cash. It’ll keep things going. What a wonderful thing you enabled me to do, not just helping him and his two kids but cheering me up when I was down! Thank you.


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A photo from several years back

I voted yesterday with energy and optimism. I always enjoy voting where I live. There are no lines, no exhausted workers. The big differences this year were the masks we all wore and the fact that instead of cranking up the voting machine to suck in the ballots, we pushed the ballot into a scanner and watched it scan the results. Mine was number 895 that day.

Today I feel differently. I still hope and believe that Joe Biden will get into the White House. But of far greater importance to me is the fact that this country didn’t repudiate the “achievements” of the past four years. Donald Trump, at last count today, received at least 3,000,000 more votes than he did four years ago. At least 3,000,000 more Americans indicated that, at the very least, they could live with white supremacy, ethnic and religious bashing, the hounding of immigrants, the separation of families, and incompetent government  response to a pandemic. They could live with a President who relies more on his feelings than on  science and medicine, who bullies and humiliates, who seems to never have heard of  kindness and compassion.

They may have their reasons—worry about the economy, for example—but that’s beside the point for now. Today was like a slap in the face, a hit of the kyosaku telling me to wake up, that old concepts are useless here, old beliefs and ways of thinking irrelevant. This has been a long time in the making, and now when people pick up a ballot and stand off to the side blacking in the circles, even folks I know, even neighbors in this predominantly progressive area, I tell myself that I really have no idea how they’re voting. I’m not even sure they’ll tell me the truth if I ask them.

And today I miss Bernie. Two years have passed since he died so suddenly, so unexpectedly. In a funny way, we’re more intimate now than ever before. He speaks in my ears and my mind, through my voice; he walks the grounds in back, I could almost smell a cigar.

In late afternoon I walked out back and sat in one of two chairs facing the gazebo and the hills beyond. Bernie used to sit there in warm afternoons for a short while. Rae, his caregiver, would move the chairs towards the back so that he’d have to walk longer to reach them.

Before his stroke he used to sit at the table out back with his phone and computer (see above), but it was really an excuse to smoke a cigar. I miss him that way now because we’d be talking so much about the election. He would be checking results constantly, enjoying the drama, not showing the least bit anxiety. He knew what his work was about, and it didn’t really depend much on who lived in the White House even as he clearly had his preferences.

Regardless of who won, the next day he still got up in the morning, put on his jeans and Hawaiian shirt, pen, phone, and cigar in the breast pocket, and off he’d go to fight the dragons of suffering, isolation, delusion, poverty, racism and misery. In this eternal process of determining a new president (at least it feels that way), he’d be putting on a red nose and telling us to lighten up, there’s work to do regardless, and always, always have faith in the dharma.

After his stroke there were just the two chairs, for him and Rae, and no cigar. I would watch him from the window of my office and on several occasions,  I’d sit next to him and we’d both look out towards the setting sun. He would look out and say nothing, just let the sun shine on his stricken face.

Now I want to go out there again and put my arms around him: “Bernie, what are you thinking?”

I think I know the answer: “I’m not thinking.” Or: “I’m just sitting here.”

I want him to take me back into that space. Was he contemplating just how much bigger life is than any of us, even his stroke? I had so much to get done when he was sick, but after this two-year taste of his absence, I want to follow him back there once again and ask: “What did you experience? What did you understand back then?”

He didn’t say much, but now I feel that had I just sat day in and day out there with him, rather than stirring around like a mouse in my office, I may or may not have learned something, but there would have been a deep companionship. That’s the thing about taking care of someone who’s very ill. If you let them, if you’re there, they may take you somewhere you wouldn’t go on your own.

After his death I had to deal with various accounts of his, and in one, perhaps a credit card or airplane mileage account, I managed to dig up his password as well as the confirming questions and answers they ask to make sure you’re who you say you are.

These were the questions they asked:

Favorite type movie? His answer: Science fiction.

Favorite sport? Boxing (huh?).

Favorite pizza topping? Pepperoni (I knew that).

Birthday of best friend? His answer: December 5, 1949.

I wept when I saw that. For years he’d never remembered birthdays, didn’t say anything, didn’t buy a gift. Once we had a blazing fight over that at Newark Airport, I enroute to Hartford and he to Tokyo, he taking the escalator up and I taking the stairs, our anger spilling across the railing like some afternoon TV sitcom.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” he finally declared.

“I’m your wife,” I told him. “I’m your friend!”

After he died, I found it: Birthday of best friend? December 5, 1949.


I dedicate this post to Ancelmo. His two children, Axel and Jonathan, are in school. Their mother was deported three years ago. Ancelmo earns money fixing roofs and he fell from the third floor due to the rain and broke his arm. He’s undocumented with no health insurance. Now he can’t work, there’s no disability or insurance monies coming in, no workmen’s comp, not much sympathy or help from the present government. Jimena did manage to put him  into a farmers’ physical therapy program. I have food cards for him but he needs $400 to make this month’s rent for his family. Your support for him, especially on such a day, would be deeply appreciated.

The button Help immigrant families will take you to a Paypal account set up specially for that purpose. Or else you could mail me a check and write on the memo line: for immigrant families or Ancelmo, and mail to Eve Marko, POB 174,Montague, MA 01351. Thank you for your kindness.


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.


With Sami Awad in Palestine

“Billy: ‘Mother, do they have hardwood floors up in heaven?’

Mother: ‘I don’t think so.’

Billy: ‘So what does God walk on?’”

I read this exchange in a transcript of a journal written by hand by a woman raising four children in 1927 not far from the Massachusetts eastern coast. I was moved by how a woman, a school teacher and mother, was intent on keeping a journal with daily entries describing her interactions with her children and their clever ripostes as they grew up.

This was two years before the stock market crashed, putting millions out of work, when the great Depression hammered so powerfully into the American consciousness that, years later, I’d meet people who told me they lived through the Depression and could never forget it.

I’m pretty sure that I and others will tell future generations: We lived through the coronavirus. And what will we say about the Trump years, and the election of 2020? How did we cope? How did we behave?

On the day before Election Day I’m inundated by communications showing anger, anxiety, and fear: There’s a maniac in the White House who’ll do anything to stay in power: militias will take over the states, kidnapping Democratic leaders; the courts will give him everything he asks for.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Wednesday will mark two years since Bernie died. Exactly a year ago today I was in Poland bringing his ashes to Birkenau as part of the Zen Peacemakers’ annual bearing witness retreat, which was his request to me.

This year the retreat is taking place online. I’ll be honest, I didn’t think it would work. The Auschwitz retreat has to take place at Auschwitz, not in the Cloud, I thought to myself.

But I attended all of yesterday’s program and part of today’s, and was stunned by the impact. There we were, chanting the names of the dead again, seeing on film Marian Kolodziej’s testimony. We weren’t by the railroad tracks or at the women’s barrack this time (though four of us did get there in person, practically the only ones in that enormous camp). The rest are doing the retreat remotely, and perhaps because of that it was the people I saw on camera who grabbed my attention. When you’re at the place itself it dwarfs anything and anyone—for this reason Bernie had said years ago that Auschwitz is the teacher at the retreat, no one and nothing else. This time I had more space to look and listened to people.

Today two Palestinians, Sami awad and Dina Awwad (not related), talked of what going to Auschwitz had done to their work, their dreams, and their understanding. The first has done nonviolent resistance and peace work for ages,, the second began a project in partnership with an  Israeli woman based on the writings of Etty Hillesum, who was killed at Auschwitz at a young age

Looking at Sami on camera, I felt like I was watching a man I had loved for a long time. I met him some 16 years ago and watched what unfolded for him, the optimism, the defeats, the constant determination. I heard him describe how his vision had changed beginning with that first trip to Auschwitz.

“The reason the Oslo peace accords didn’t succeed is because they were built on fear—fear of the other, of what will happen, of more losses,” he said today. “They weren’t based on relationship with the other side, we were still seeing the other side as the Other, and we were afraid.”

This is not the time to repeat in detail what he said, only how moved I was looking at this man and what had happened to him over the years, the persistence he showed even as the peace accords got dismantled, his courage when he’d join nonviolent marches each Friday and often got hurt or ended up in jail, and how he’s not afraid to make his vision wider and bigger with the years. I don’t hear him saying: I’m older now, it’s time to get practical, wise up, stop going after dreams and bubbles. Let’s just settle for the most basic minimum and be satisfied.

Like Gandhi, his great exemplar, he looks to transform people, in my language—help them wake up. Getting the British out of India or helping to end the Israeli occupation is a secondary measure; the big measure is to change society, transform human beings.

I have a little sense of how many defeats he’s suffered over the years and what it’s done to him and his family, but whenever I visit him in Bethlehem he cheers me up, not the other way around. For him it’s so clear that it’s not about the short run. I get my enthusiasm back whenever I connect with people like Sami. Depression and anxiety lift. People are doing things, facing life by taking one step after another. Even if you don’t share their belief system, their faith is contagious. Not for them the media’s nightmarish scenarios; their inspiration comes from within, not without.

Here in America, there will be wins tomorrow (and I think there will be), followed by lots of flag-waving and grandiosity and maybe even violence, and there’s no guarantee of anything. I watch my own apprehension balloon when I read someone like Nate Silver,, talk about the scenarios for a win by Donald Trump, few as they are. And then I remember that it’s not about Trump, it’s about me.

Where do I stand,  if not with Sami and Dina, if not with the others appearing on that online retreat? And where do any of us stand, if not on our vows?

I saw Bernie through some 35 years of gains, losses, wins, defeats, people loving him, people hating him, people leaving him, people writing him letters, people wanting to come back. I could never help but notice how much he carried in a stable, peaceful way. Always? No. There were times when he lost patience, and there was one particular time when for a few weeks he couldn’t sleep at night because of worry.

But as a rule, he slept well. He left it to me to get anxious about this problem or that, especially about money, and he was able to hold so much. It was as if he was saying: Here’s breath. That’s our gift, the greatest gift of all. What else do you need? What else do you expect?

No one knew better than he that the work of the Bodhisattva is endless. It’s not just for the long run, it’s endless. Which means lifetime after lifetime, if you believe in reincarnation, and if not, it’s endless into imagination, into beyond and beyond.

Immediate wins were nice, he’d celebrate them for sure: “Come on, let’s go have dinner.” He didn’t drink champagne, he didn’t go somewhere fancy for a week, just: “Let’s go out for dinner.”

And the next morning he’d be back at work. Maybe field some calls or emails of congratulations, let himself feel the contentment of someone who got something done, maybe take a nap, relax in front of the TV. But in no time at all he’d be back making more crazy plans: “Eve, I was taking my bath this morning and I came up with an idea, I don’t know why I never thought of it before.” And off he’d go.

Sami reminds me of Bernie. And the others who appeared on the screen remind me, too, for they have worked on and on for decades now bearing witness to unbearable situations, and still finding light, humor, and love, seeing light not at the end of the tunnel but in the tunnel itself.

Bernie is gone, not around to inspire us any longer. So we have to inspire each other, that’s our work. And we do, again and again.


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“Come on already!”

“We can’t go anywhere, Aussie, it’s snowing outside, earliest snow I can remember here. I don’t even have snow tires on the car yet.”

“I’m out in the back yard all the time, Boss. Since when have you become such a wimp?”

“The snow is supposed to end in the afternoon, then we’ll walk and do some errands.”



“Now! I hate that word.”

“What word, Auss?”

Later! I hate later!

“What about soon?”

“Hate that too!”

This morning I woke up late to see snow. Four hours later it’s still coming down on fall leaves that haven’t fallen yet, flowers still in bloom. I have yet to dig up the dahlia bulbs, I thought, and tonight it’ll go under 20 Fahrenheit. But we did bring the house plants in yesterday. Already they look much happier than they did weathering the chilly nights outdoors.

These seasonal milestones remind me of the circularity of things, which in turn reminds me of something else. “Aussie, you need to learn patience.”

“I need to have my walk. We didn’t walk yesterday at all.”

“It rained all day, Auss.”

“And the day before?”

“It rained, and you still went for a walk in the rain.”

“It was short, doesn’t count.”

“And I’ll warn you right now, Aussie, that tomorrow we have a half-day retreat and I won’t be able to take you for the walk till afternoon.”

“Afternoon! Every self-respecting dog knows that mornings are best for hunting!”

“And Sunday I’m taking part in our Auschwitz retreat on Zoom and I won’t be free before mid-afternoon. No Sunday dog gathering in the conservancy this time.”

“That does it. It’s time for a revolution!”

“Be careful, Aussie. We need so many changes in this country we’re practically begging for a revolution, I admit. But heads roll in revolutions, governments fall, the economy fails, and the poor are always the ones that get hurt worst.”

“Not dogs.”

“Dogs, too, Auss. The most vulnerable among us get hurt even in revolutions that are supposedly for our benefit.”

“You know what I say, Boss? If the system doesn’t work, get rid of it all!”

“Later, Aussie.”

“Now, Boss!”

“I’m nervous about the violence, Aussie.”

“I told you, Boss, you’re a wimp.”

“You may be right. You know, Aussie, Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Abe Lincoln.”

“He’s greater than Lincoln!”

“Many progressives gag. But how many remember all the deals Lincoln tried to make with the South? How many remember that Lincoln offered the South that they could keep slaves till the end of the 19th century—another 40 years of enslaving men, women and children?”

“That’s terrible!”

“Of course it was terrible. Abolitionists railed against him, said he was trying to save the Union on the backs of enslaved men, women and children. Finally we fought a war that killed off three-quarters of a million people, brought an end to slavery in one guise and perpetuated slavery in other guises.”

“And for this they built him a memorial?”

“I still think he was a great man, Aussie, but we never really know anything, you see what I mean?”


“We have to act without really knowing that anything is absolutely right or absolutely wrong.  I think that was true for Lincoln, too. He made his best guess and acted, knowing that in the future people would probably second-guess him. In some way, Aussie, that’s what patience is all about.”

“So when do we go for a walk, Boss?”


“And when do we have an enlightened society, Boss?”

“Soon, Aussie.”

“Not later?”


“I hate that word!”

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What Aussie does when it rains

What’s a face in the crowd?

I think of Donald Trump’s big rallies. He’s so proud of the thousands of cheering, flag-waving men and women who crowd his rallies. Their energy carries him, but at least on a few occasions it looked more like a mob wishing to inflict punishment, lock people up, laugh at them, mock them, assert again and again that they’re not human beings like they—those in the rally—are.

Do they understand what they’re doing? Do they understand how deep this can go?

A phone conversation with my mother this morning:

“Chavale, tell me, where am I?”

“You’re in your apartment, mom.”

“No, I’m in prison. I can only go four steps in each direction.”

“Do you recognize your bed, mom? The dining table in the next room?”

“No,” she says. “I’m in prison. Do you know why?”

“You’re not in prison, mom. The coronavirus is causing many of us to stay home.”

“It’s not because I’m Jewish?”

I read of Mahatma Gandhi’s darshans as he traveled across India, thousands of people in attendance. He talked a little, chanted, read from the Bhagavad Gita. Those close to him said that even when he was exhausted and sick, those gatherings carried him, gave him confidence and life. They didn’t take him away from himself but stronger inwards, to Ram, or Rama, representing ultimate reality and truth according to Hinduism. He invoked that name again and again. It wasn’t his name in flags that he wanted to see, or on hats or sweatshirts or big posters held up high, but rather Ram.

At the same time, he never insisted that everyone do so. Gandhi took it as a personal failure when Indian Muslims seceded to form Pakistan; he wanted Muslims and Hindus to live together in peace. He was very clear about his mission in life: He wanted to build an enlightened society. Getting the British out of India was only a secondary cause, the primary one, he said again and again, was to transform Indian society. Otherwise, he said, they will take the place of the British after the British leave and persecute others. In that spirit, he would be appalled by what Narendra Modi’s government has done in India.

These are gray, rainy days in New England while the coronavirus is surging around the world. Those not sick find their lives curtailed. It tears at the hearts of single people living alone, not seeing their children or grandchildren for many months; children not playing with friends, parents unable to go to work. It may feel right to shrink into ourselves for protection, into some essence that feels solid and unbreachable.

But there’s nothing that can’t be breached. And when some of us see the world as a fearsome place and ourselves as threatened survivors, others reach out instead, seek to widen their focus of attention and concern, ask who needs help right now, who needs more help than I do. That’s not just spiritual, that’s healthy. Believe me, you’ll be a lot happier doing the latter than doing the former.

Yesterday I heard two questions on the phone: How does God want me to be in these times? How does God want me to act in these times?

I realize that I’ve been carrying these questions, or a version of them, since the virus began. Engaging with them, feeling my way around them, singing and dancing with them, have lifted a possible depression and transformed my anxiety into excitement. I hold on to gladness and curiosity and make sure not to deplete my spirit.

In this vein I sat with Jimena de Pareja last week and said to her that it was hard to keep bringing in $1,000 a week to help immigrant families with their basic needs of food, rent, and utilities. You and I have managed it for 7 full months, along with a lengthy Amazon wish list of school supplies, well over $32,000. But I sense a fatigue both inside and out, from myself and others; nobody’s rich around here. People send me ideas on what to do—talk to local churches and civic organizations, social agencies, etc. It adds more work for me, and honestly, I do other things as well. I teach, I help create an order for dharma-based activists, and I write.

These coming days will be extra busy: An online Auschwitz plunge takes place (the retreat at Auschwitz/Birkenau had to be canceled), elections, followed by the second memorial of Bernie’s death. I need  to take care of myself. Most important, I want to do things with gladness, not under pressure.

Since food is so essential, I plan to keep up a reserve of food cards, though maybe not as many as before, focusing especially on families who really can’t feed themselves. I also want to know about people with special needs—someone sick who can’t afford to get treatment, a family thrown out of their house in the middle of winter, serious situations that require, as my friend Jon Katz says, small acts of great kindness.

When that comes up, I’ll write about it and ask specifically for that situation. Later today will bring $500 of food cards and some cash. It’s pouring outside (the remnants of Hurricane Zeta), but Jimena won’t cancel. They’ll stand out there in the rain, men, women and children, because they need those food cards, and I’ll be there as well, though this time may leave my good-will ambassador, Aussie, behind. She’s not in a hurry to go outdoors (see photo above).

So that’s the plan for now. Will keep you apprised as we move forward.


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.