UPGRADE THIS HUMAN!

The following is based on actual events.

“Okay, get in.”

“What do you mean, get in? I’m going home.”

“Listen, dog, you’re lost.”

“Name’s Aussie, and who says I’m lost?”

“We say it, and we’re the local police. You’re walking on a public road.”

“I’m a member of the public, too.”

“Listen, dog, you’re lost and I’m taking you to a shelter. How did you end up here, on 63?”

“We were walking a few miles down, by Cabot Camp, and—”

“Who’s we? Your owner and you?”

“Puh-lease. I have no owner; I am not a slave. A few of us were walking peacefully on the road—”

“On leash, I hope?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, do I look to you like a leashed dog?”

“You sure have a mouth on you.”

“Like I said, we were walking all peaceful like, talking about peaceful topics like—”

“The weather? Starting the garden?”

“—the Middle East, Gaza, Ukraine, you know, when I saw something awful and chased it.”

“What was it?”

“A gang of turkeys. Wild. Evil. Criminal!”

“What did you do?”

“I chased them down, like any good citizen. They’re the ones you should arrest instead of a peace-loving MAGA enthusiast like me. Don’t you also believe that 2020 was stolen?”

“So that’s how you got lost! OK, hop into the car. We’re taking you in.”

“I’m in, I’m in. Your back seat has no blanket, I’m telling my lawyer. You police have a reputation for brutality, I’m watching you.”

“Great. We like dogs who’re grateful to be picked up when they’re lost.”

“I’m not lost and if I was, I’d never choose you to be my chauffeurs. Your uniforms aren’t bad, though. Where were you on January 6, may I ask?”

“Belt yourself in.”

“Never. You know, the Senora says that sometimes it’s good to get lost.”

“Who’s the Senora, someone illegal?”

“No, but feel free to deport her anyway. She’s my human, whom I’ve spent years training but is she grateful no she’s not. She says that when we get lost, we might run into something unexpected. I never thought she meant the cops.”

“Are you licensed?”

“You can’t license doghood.”

“Are you up-to-date on your rabies shot?”

“I bit the vet when she tried to give it to me, so ask her if she got sick. Listen, I was well on my way home when you stopped me on the road.”

“Are you kidding? If you were anywhere near Cabot Camp, you’ve been walking for miles.”

“The Senora says I could find my way home from Canada. Where’s Canada?”

“We’re not taking any chances, you’re going into the Franklin County Animal Shelter. They’ll call your owner, but our feeling is she’ll say Good Riddance! and leave you there, ha ha ha.”

“Very funny. Maybe I don’t want to go home, did you consider that? Maybe it’s time to upgrade my human. You upgrade your car, your phone, your equipment. I want an upgraded human.”

“What’s that?”

“Someone who COOKS for her dog. Someone who leaves holes in the fence for spontaneous escapades. Someone who never talks back, lets me jump into the passenger seat of the car, and who hates Chihuahuas.”

“What’s wrong with Chihuahuas? I have one at home.”

“A Chihuahua police dog? Now I’ve heard everything. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LIVE IN A BLUE STATE LIKE MASSACHUSETTS. Can I jump into the front seat?”

“There are two of us here, do you see any space?”

“We could change seats. You sit in back and I’ll sit in front.”

“Dream on, dog.”

“Did you ever hear of Rosa Parks? She made history by demanding to sit in front. I know my rights! Just because I’m black.”

“Nothing to do with what color you are.”

“I hate cops.”

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ZIONISM

Israel in December

Naomi Klein, whose eco activism I admire, published a talk that she gave in the Passover Seder in The Guardian. You can read that talk here.

The article itself was entitled We Need an Exodus from Zionism, in which Klein stated that Zionism had accomplished nothing but aggression, brutality, arrogance, and death. “It has brought us to our present moment of cataclysm and it is time that we said clearly: it has always been leading us here. It is a false idol that equates Jewish freedom with cluster bombs that kill and maim Palestinian children… The false idol of Zionism has been allowed to grow unchecked for far too long. So tonight we say: it ends here.”

She also re-defined her religion: “Our Judaism cannot be contained by an ethnostate, for our Judaism is internationalist by nature … Our Judaism is the Judaism of the Passover Seder: the gathering in ceremony to share food and wine with loved ones and strangers alike, the ritual that is inherently portable, light enough to carry on our backs, in need of nothing but each other: no walls, no temple, no rabbi, a role for everyone, even – especially – the smallest child. The Seder is a diaspora technology if ever there was one, made for collective grieving, contemplation, questioning, remembering and reviving the revolutionary spirt.”

Beautifully said. I want the war in Gaza to stop immediately, for aid in all its forms to get into Gaza, for hostages to be released, and for Palestinians and Jews to live in peace. In years past I worked towards the latter goal.

Klein also referred to a dimension of fear cultivated by many Israelis as well as older American Jews. I remember pruning vineyards in a kibbutz by the Dead Sea and, in the middle of laughter and teasing over which is the better country, being told by one Kibbutz member: “You just watch. One day, when the shit hits the fan in America, you’ll come crawling to us for shelter and safety.” Even then, at the age of 20, I recognized fear-mongering when I heard it.

I won’t deny it, on October 7 I felt a deep fear, for the first time ever, of what might happen to Jews if there was no Israel for refuge. But I knew even then that seeding fear wherever you go is responsible for building an Israel like today, a fortress on the Mediterranean, a doughty mentality inculcated in young people from their earliest school years that glorifies the military, reminding generation after generation that it’s their job to serve and sacrifice just as their parents had done.

My husband went to Israel in the early 1960s to consider settling there. He came back after a year because, he told me, it felt like Sparta.

But Israel is part and parcel of Jewish identity. All great rabbis and scholars knew that a crucial part of their spiritual identity lay there, not everywhere. In the Old Testament, read and studied by Jews and Christians, God tells Abraham that his descendants will return to Israel one day. DNA testing and archeology show over and over again a long Jewish presence in Israel. In fact, the Bible lists mitzvot, or good deeds, that can only be performed in Israel, especially relating to agriculture.

Jews carried this love of the Promised Land in their hearts for myriad generations. I still remember my mother reminiscing what it was like to grow up in Czechoslovakia and someone would return from visiting the Holy Land. It was as if an aura surrounded their heads, she related; awe descended in the room. It was as if the guest had returned from the Garden of Eden itself, from which all humans had been banished.

I think that those who understand this best are indigenous nations. The Lakota won their case against the United States concerning ownership of the Black Hills, but the Supreme Court ruled that they give it up for compensation. To this very day they have not taken the hundreds of millions of dollars accruing in a government account in exchange for their sacred land. They point to Wind Cave, from which they emerged, to Buffalo Gap and Bear Butte. How can they give that up? Is their spirituality, the essence of their nationhood, “internationalist,” in Klein’s words, something portable that can be carried on their backs?

That is also the reason why Jews rejected Uganda, or part of what was then the East Africa Protectorate, as a possible homeland when the British government suggested it in 1903. Had they accepted, they would have truly been colonizers because they had no historical or cultural connection to that land at all.

Judaism didn’t start in Poland or Ukraine or in the US, and certainly not as an “internationalist” tradition. As millions of Sephardic Jews, DNA testing and archeology can attest, it started in the Middle East and continues to carry that distinct flavor. In driving around the country, any guide could point out Gilboa Mountain, where King Saul met his tragic end, the Galilee where Jesus grew up among other Jewish families, Sodom and Gomorrah, eternally filled with salt. Not New York City, not Lublin in Poland, or Minsk in Belarus. Place has everything to do with it.

Which brings me back to Klein calling Judaism internationalist. In some sense, you could say that about all religions because they try to address basic social, economic, and environmental ills: racism, poverty, climate change, etc. But each is also highly specific, with its own rituals, holidays, prayers, songs, dance, robes, history, and, in some cases, homeland. As any poet and artist knows, the life is all in the specifics, not in some abstract concepts.

To make of Judaism, or any religion, some kind of cosmopolitan, generic fix-it is to rob it not just of its uniqueness, but also its mystery, the not-knowing at its center. It reduces it to a kind of generic hospital addressing our needs and wants, and excludes everything that can’t be defined, that is unknowable

No matter how well-intentioned our ideas are, they are the product of a linear way of thinking. Something lies beyond our limited understanding that is at the very essence of Life. Not everything is accessible to our senses; we experience it, but don’t notice or even perceive what we are experiencing.

I agree with Klein that in recent history, and especially since 1967, something has gone awry in some people’s understanding of Zionism, mistaking it as an excuse for grabbing land and homes, for punishing and even killing people who are perceived to be in the way of a divine-sanctioned vision, and for enforcing a kind of apartheid. Show me an idea or concept that has never been co-opted by humans to meet their own self-centered, egoic desires.

But not all Zionists are like that. My brother, a religious Jew who lives in Jerusalem, told me before the holiday that he and many friends and associates see the Passover story not as some self-congratulatory saga of God freeing them from bondage. “Why did God bring Abraham’s descendants into Egypt to begin with?” he told me. “Because God wanted them to experience what it is to be strangers in another land, what it is to be hated, enslaved, and killed. Only then God liberated them, so that when they arrived in their own country, they would remember what it felt like to be Other, and act accordingly.”

That, too, is Zionism.

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PINECONES

This is the year of pinecones. Millions of them carpet the earth around the house, or so it feels, making it difficult for me to clean up the yard. Henry, in particular, loves to play with them. This is how:

I throw the pinecone. Being very light, it falls fairly close to where we stand, but this does not deter Henry. The Illegal Chihuahua runs way out, makes a big circle, then a less big circle, then an even smaller circle, and slowly, inevitably homes in on the pinecone in the middle, which was visible all the time to everyone but him. He goes wide wide wide, having lots of fun in the process, mouth open, eyes sparkling, finds the pinecone, picks it up with his mouth, and lays it down on the ground in front of my feet, as if to say: Again!

And again, and again, and again.

I notice myself processing life in much the same way, albeit with less fun than Henry. This morning, I was awakened by an incoming text from my sister: We hit Iran back. She also added an unflattering comment on the sanity of Bibi Netanyahu.

Instantly, my mind went from sleepy to super-wired. I almost rushed to open up the computer, then thought better of it, and instead, started my daily meditation.

Even in that state, all kinds of angry stories came up. My imagination envisaged thousands of missiles launched back at Israel and raining down on civilians—all civilians, but family especially. My brother lives a block away from the official residence of the President (not Prime Minister), a potential target. My sister has difficulties getting down to a shelter within the 90-second siren warning, and in my mind I quickly saw a picture of a precise missile striking her building.

My mind was making circles like Henry.

Eventually, it found the pinecone in the middle of it all: fear. Not rage, not indignation, not cynicism, fear. Fear of what it is to be at home with missiles hitting all around, explosions in the air, sirens bawling. I could add to that menu fear or self-serving politicians and dictatorial or doctrinal governments, but that’s already a step sideways. It was fear for family being hurt.

It might be nice to include there, too, a gut fear of Iranians being hurt, especially as so many do not support their government, but this time the raw clenching in the stomach was for family. Everyone else came later, after fear took an elevator ride up to the brain and started doing hanky-panky with abstraction, not just bad stuff like getting angry or wishing death or prison for Donald Trump, but even good stuff like forming wishes for loving kindness towards everyone and a healing for the planet. Good or bad, it didn’t matter. That’s not where the grit lay.

I think of the mind’s abstract space like Venus, with a very dense atmosphere and heavy cloud cover, always gray and shapeless, where I hurry to build vast ethereal cities that have nothing to do with Planet Earth. Nothing wrong with cities, have lived in them myself. Certainly nothing wrong with loving kindness and healing, but this morning they were in my head, not in my belly. My belly is usually my First Responder.

I had breakfast this morning with a friend in our local co-op. He told me he stopped hunting critters, though he’d grown up in that culture, at the age of 15 when he shot down a squirrel up on a tree branch peering curiously at him on the ground. When he approached it, the body was still warm. He felt the aliveness of the squirrel in the dwindling warmth of the body, and after that stopped hunting.

“How do we connect with aliveness when we’re in the dumps?” I wondered.

“Aliveness is everywhere,” he responded.

It’s there when I clear up the yard of branches and twigs while Henry is taking time off from pinecones to chase Aussie, which elicits a series of belly laughs. When I laugh, do I sense the aliveness in the laugh? When I exercise and lift my arms high up above my head, do I feel the aliveness in that, or do I just wish the session would end?

When I cry, do I feel it in the warm water on my cheeks? When I’m afraid and my breaths get shallow and the stomach clenches? There’s aliveness there, too, he said, but most people won’t let themselves feel it. Most people, experiencing something unpleasant, hurry like me into the fastest elevator in the world, zoom straight up into their heads and start concocting scenes from action and sci-fi movies, not to mention white hands coming out of the darkness and going round my throat.

In my case, pain and hurt are down below. Above lie anger, blaming, frustration, and finally, cynicism.

It used to be that Israelis talked of nothing but peace. When will there be peace, was the plaintive cry. But with time, the word peacemaker started evoking eyerolling and sardonic, twisted lips. Years ago, when some of us flew into Tel Aviv to work with both Israelis and Palestinians, if you told the border security the name of your organization, they’d tell you to open wide your belongings and they’d search you physically. Peace had become a dirty word.

We only want peace, people would say even as they continued to send their children into the army, look up admiringly at fighter planes, and always vote for military generals to become their political leaders. Even as hello, in Hebrew, is shalom, peace. Which means it creeps into most meetings, phone conversations, and gatherings, but more like noise, not connection.

There’s the abstract world, and there’s the here-and-now.

Zen is very practical. What’s happening to you this very minute? What are you connecting with before that famous elevator ride?  I trust that more than all the prayers for peace repeated frequently every day in houses of worship. They have their place and value, for sure, but when you see countries waging war while talking peace, you know there’s a disconnect somewhere.

Or maybe they, like the Illegal Chihuahua, need to circle and circle and circle till they finally find the pinecone. And do it again. And again. And again.

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UH UH UH!

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

“Why, Aussie?”

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

“What about me, Aussie?”

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

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

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

“Not all men, Aussie.”

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

“They should start off like us, Aussie.”

“What do you mean?”

“They need to be on leash.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Training in what, Illegal?”

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

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

“She says: UH UH UH!”

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

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

“Stop saying those words, Henry!”

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

“No more hungry dogs.”

“Everybody will be friendly.”

“Who thought of all this, Illegal?”

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

“Not Llama Louie!”

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

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

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

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

“What, Aussie?”

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

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WHERE AM I LIVING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOMETHING HAPPENED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SCSD

The only man she loved

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

“Men?”

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

“What are men doing in a female household?”

“I’m a male, Aussie.”

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

“Aussie, stop abusing Henry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None of your business, Illegal.”

“Are you suffering from PTSD?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I refuse to be a victim, Chihuahua!”

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

“No, Senora.”

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

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

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

“What happens to her?”

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

“I love car rides!”

“She dies, Auss.”

“Oh.”

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You 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.

YOU’RE NO CHAO CHOU

Walking dogs again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

“Like mine?”

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

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

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

“Not in my wildest dreams.”

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

“What about a smart-alecky dog?”

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

“That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Obviously, you’re no Chao Chou.”

“He was a great master, Aussie.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to try new things, Aussie.”

“Good, go to a new restaurant.”

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

“Donald Trump’s golf courses?”

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

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

“I never counted, Auss.”

“132,695.”

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IT’S ALL GOOD

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

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

“Into the earth,” says the horse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t feel that way anymore, either.

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

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

“Write about nothing,” says Aussie.

How do I write about nothing?

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NOISE AND CONNECTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She always wants to do something, Enrique.”

“Isn’t that a good thing, Aussie?”

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

“Don’t you tell her that, Aussie?”

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

“What’s that, Aussie?”

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

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

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