NAKED

In 1995 or 1996 I attended a benefit concert in New York City’s Lincoln Center for Opus 1, Roberta Tzavaras’s organization which supported her teaching of violin in the city’s public schools. I had been involved with her work a couple of years earlier (no, I didn’t see the film) and had been given a ticket for the benefit.

Various performers appeared that night, but the best (excepting the children playing violin with Roberta conducting at the end) was the jazz duet of violinist Yitzhak Perlman and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

I had seen Perlman, crippled from early childhood by polio, in previous occasions and knew the drill. Most violinists came onstage holding their violin in one hand. Perlman couldn’t do that because he needed both hands for his crutches as he walked in, so his violin (a Stradivarius or one in that class) would be waiting for him in the hands of the orchestra’s First Violinist, who would hand it over once Perlman was seated on his chair at the front of the stage, ready to begin. After the performance and/or encores, Perlman would hand the violin back to the First Violinist, get up, reach for his crutches, and hobble off the stage.

When he was giving a solo recital with no orchestra or First Violinist present, an assistant would bring him his violin and also pick it up from him at the end of the recital.

That evening Perlman and Marsalis played beautifully together. Marsalis’s popularity had zoomed and people clapped enthusiastically for him. But for me, Perlman was the great treat because he was a classical musician, not jazz, but played with his unique combination of sensitivity and bravado. They finished their duets, the audience asked for more, and they planed an encore, all obviously arranged ahead of time.

At the end of the encore Marsalis got up on his feet, bowed to the joyful ovations, and walked offstage. Perlman, violin in hand, couldn’t get up to acknowledge the audience, never mind walk offstage. We waited for Marsalis to come out and take his violin from his hands, or at least a stagehand, but no one came.

Working with Roberta Tzavaras a couple of years earlier, I’d seen Perlman visiting young violinists at NYC schools. His office had strict guidelines: The building had to be accessible to crutches, which meant no stairs. He wasn’t going to get into a wheelchair and he certainly wasn’t going to be lifted upstairs. This wasn’t easy to navigate in old East Harlem schools and we had to  nix various spaces that didn’t fit the bill. Once he arrived, he was cheerful and extremely generous, but he clearly had his dignity. If you wanted him, you had to meet him on his terms.

That night it didn’t happen. He sat facing the sell-out audience as moments passed. There wasn’t a soul there that didn’t get it, that didn’t understand that he couldn’t move so long as that violin was in his hand. But there must have been some glitch backstage because no one came to take from him.

He stared out at us, this most famous of violinists, having played his heart out, and we stared back. He had achieved so much in his life, but almost all of us there could have done the one thing he couldn’t: stand up and walk off stage. Some lowered their eyes in embarrassment.

I felt I was looking at a man more naked than anyone I’d ever seen, as if I’d asked: What’s left when you no longer have your family, your immense talent, and your even more immense discipline? And he was showing me the answer as the moments crept by.

Eventually a young man came out and took the violin. Perlman got up and hobbled out on his crutches.

I never appreciated him more than I did that evening.

Two years earlier he was one of the guest performers at the first benefit for Roberta Tazavaras that took place in Carnegie Hall. The last show of the concert paired a child or teenager from the East Harlem schools with a world-renowned violinist—Isaac Stern, Midori, Perlman, etc.—and the 20 played together.

At the end I went backstage where the young people were assembled. Hundreds of their family members streamed to the back to congratulate their children. Going in the opposite direction was Perlman. He was making his way on crutches to one of the Hall’s large banquet rooms in the front where $1,000 ticket-holders were waiting to see him. He limped alone against a river of humanity, many of whom nodded and smiled towards him.

He plowed on, a big smile on his face: “Yes, they did very well. They played very, very well. Yes, it was terrific,” he told the proud parents.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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SELENA

“Hello Eve, hope this message finds you well. Harry had his doctor visit today still in great health. We celebrated his birthday in beginning of month. Had over foot of snow. Harry did not like it at first but loves it now. Just wanted to touch in with you.”

The text came from Harry’s new humans. Harry is the Mountain Cur I’d gotten from a shelter two years ago ago, only to give him to another family last summer because he and Aussie together were too much for me. They ran away all the time. I found him a beautiful couple with lots of dog experience, and 7 months later they’re still giving me updates: jogging for several miles in the mornings with J, running around the yard, going on drives, still iffy with the cat, etc.

I’m grateful for the updates, though I no longer ask for them. Harry’s and my paths parted in good, healthy circumstances. I trust the family he’s with now, they’re as happy as could be with him.

Do you look back a lot and wonder if you made a good decision? Bernie had no patience for the drama of second-guessing and I’ve inherited much of that legacy. What was, was. You discern as well as you can and make the best decision at the moment. No control over the future, no basis for a final judgment on whether things turned out right or not. I think of the famous story of the Dalai Lama’s reply when he was once asked whether he thought the French Revolution (1789) was a success: “Too early to  tell.”

With Harry, Aussie, everything I do, it’s too early to tell.

At the same time, I love getting these texts re Harry’s good life. I still remember the dreadful week after he left, leaving Aussie and me alone in the house. A silence descended on us and Aussie did canine shiva, a week of lying and moping around. She recovered, Harry recovered, the house recovered. I’m happy, Harry’s happy, J and his family are happy.

“I’m not happy,” Aussie grouses.

Let go of the past. Or, as some say it, let it be.

I woke up in the early hours this morning, and suddenly the old pre-election voices were back: He incited a mob and they attacked the Capitol—and the Republicans are going after Liz Cheney? Not Matt Gaetz, not Andy Biggs or Paul Gosar, and not Marjorie Taylor Greene, all of whom enabled and defend him still! Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy flies down to Florida to grovel back into the Great Leader’s good graces!.

Of course, none of these were the issue. It’s the unleashed forces of fear and its antidote, anger. They bubbled under the surface before Trump, but four years of unfettered tweets and bogus claims have helped them spread throughout this land, even the world, and become political staples.

They came for a visit in the early hours, mocking my efforts to stay engaged and at the same time calm, as if saying: Long time no see. We haven’t connected with you in a while—how’re you doing?

I had a few hours’ conversation with them even as it got colder and colder outside. They didn’t shut up till close to 5 in the morning.

Peace has returned this frigid Friday afternoon; I will probably sleep well tonight. The angry voices won’t come back for a while, and when they do, I plan to let them be.

These forces will out; they need to have their say. They’ve built up way too long to quickly blow off the stage. I believe they’ll ignite violence. We can minimize it, but we can no longer prevent it completely.

I’m concerned but not pessimistic. Sometimes you just have to let things unfold. The furies have escaped the box, and they’re not going into retirement very soon till something else happens. For now, letting them be means giving them their space, minimizing the harm, watching out for those they victimize.

I opened an Amazon package two days ago and out came a wall tapestry with photos of a gorgeous young woman and the signature Selena. It took me a while to figure out that the package wasn’t for me, it is a tapestry of Selena Quintanilla, the mythical Latina singer who was killed some 25 years ago, one of the gifts ordered by the children of immigrant families for Christmas. This one came over a month late.

At first I got annoyed about the delay. And then I looked at it as it lay open on the bed showcasing the tragic, beautiful face, and thought of the young girl who wanted that tapestry to hang on the wall so she could look at it from her bed or desk, dream about Selena and her music, dream about love and life.

I called Jimena. She right away knew who’d ordered it. “She still wants Selena,” she told me. “Bring it next Wednesday and I’ll get it to her.”

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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WALKING ON ICE

Aussie walks fearlessly on the surface of the icy pond. She can’t seem to resist any frozen surface of water. I wasn’t concerned yesterday, given how cold it’s been, but earlier this winter the ice was soft and melting and she went on unconcerned.

When I had Stanley, he did the same thing. Once the ice cracked under him and he went under. I rushed forward, unzipping my jacket,  planning to die with him in the frigid water, only he clambered back up on the ice. First his front paws scrabbled up, then he got his entire black body out, including hind legs, and hurried towards land.

That was the last time he ever walked on the icy surface of a pond or lake. He could have tried again another winter (he lived till he was almost 15!), but he didn’t, leaving me with that one image of his paws scratching and scrabbling onto the ice, hoisting himself up, cold and wet, onto the surface.

When do I fight? When do I stop fighting?

Fighting for life is probably the most basic imperative of all, doesn’t even require thinking. Up to what age? Up to what point?

“You fight too much,” Aussie tells me. “You’re always up against something.”

“It’s called challenges, Aussie.”

“What’s that?”

“Something that calls you into battle, into an encounter with some dark place. Something that pushes you into uncertainty. Maybe like walking on top of a frozen pond.”

“I ain’t afraid!”

It’s odd how many of us are pulled towards an unknown land, an puzzling relationship, projects that may have a result and may not, or else they’ll result in something unexpected and unwanted. The blank white page that could remain blank even after hours of effort, or worse, that fills up with nonsense.

Bernie used to say: “Nine out of ten things I do either never take off, never go anywhere.” He didn’t seem to mind those odds; he was even proud of them. Something would fail, and the next morning he’d be up and around, ready for the nex.

My brother tells me: “Every morning I get a phone call from Ima (our mother): ‘Okay, I had breakfast, I’m dressed, what’s the plan?’”

He laughs, we both do, because it’s a measure of her dementia. It’s cold, it’s winter, she hasn’t left the house in a long time, Israel is in its strictest shut-down since the start of the virus (its third, at least), with airports shut and police checkpoints on the roads to fine you heavily and send you back home.

But here’s my mother, going on 93, who needs help putting on her skirt and pretty blouse, earrings and a necklace, shoes that will take her safely down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor, calling up my brother with the morning mantra: “I had breakfast, I’m dressed, what’s the plan?”

That’s not just her dementia, I think to myself, it’s her. Like the birds peeping through the snow that came down all night, she peeps through the dementia: Another venture out, another hill to climb, another new person to meet, another way she can serve and be of value. Maybe she’ll have fun, maybe she won’t. Maybe she’ll eat out, probably she won’t.

It doesn’t matter that her legs are weak, that her body is thin and frail, that there’s a wheelchair waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. Somewhere inside that mental vagueness and physical decrepitude, her vow lives on: Frontiers are endless, I vow to cross every single one.

I don’t have quite that spirit. Or rather, it feels differently for me. Everything in life stretches out to connect: Birds that need feeding, dogs that play,  the cold entering my body, a ghost from the past, a voice on the phone, the warm oak desk, appointments in Samarra. Endless arms stretch out everywhere I look, seeking not so much care as connection.

And I vow to connect with them all. I can’t take care of all, but I want to connect, if only for the briefest moment.

Rilke wrote:

“If only we would let ourselves be dominated

as things do by some immense storm,

we would become strong too, and not need names.”

I don’t walk on icy surfaces like Aussie—don’t have her paws and long, sharp claws that hold her up instead of slipping and sliding like me. Not smart or strong enough to get to any finish line, but when something stretches towards me, I want to at least stretch back.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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ESSENTIAL WORKERS

“Aussie, I’m a Zen Buddhist teacher. Does that make me an essential worker?”

“No.”

“I could get the vaccine if I was considered an essential worker.”

“Wait till Phase 89.”

“There is no Phase 89, Aussie.”

“There will be for you.”

“What about if I’m a writer, Auss? A creative person?”

“Last in line.”

Many years ago, Bernie and I brought his dharma uncle, Junyu Kuroda Roshi, with his wife to Israel. We took them both, along with a few other friends, around the country; they later said it was their best trip ever.

Finally, the evening came when they were going to depart. We took them to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel-Aviv, the country’s international airport. There were various lines at that time and a young, harried woman looked at every passenger’s passport, deciding on the spot what line s/he should stand in. The holders of Israeli passports were processed fastest, then American and European passport holders, and finally the rest. That last line was long and slow.

Junyu Kuroda Roshi, always elegant in his priest’s travel robes, showed the young woman their passports.

“Over there,” she said, pointing to the slow line.

I tried vouching for them. “They’re not young,” I said to her in Hebrew. “They’re friends of ours, we know them.”

“Last in line,” said the young woman.

And they were indeed last in line. Long after everyone else had boarded, they were still being searched and interviewed, left to wait as various supervisors were called in to check them out. I apologized on behalf of Israel and they were polite and patient, but it was clear that they weren’t used to being treated this way. The Kurodas were a prominent Zen family in Japan, the robes alone would have facilitated a quick departure. But not in Israel.

We go up and down, depending on the situation. When I talk to my students, they’re very c courteous and usually call me Roshi. When Bernie first returned from the hospital after his stroke, they made us dinner after dinner, often eating with him when I had to be elsewhere. There’s a deep listening space around me, which is easy to get accustomed to.

Till I bring my car for servicing.

“Hi there, Mark,” say I from behind a mask.

“Hey,” says the man behind the counter, no mask. “You got an appointment?”

I went today to the supermarket to get 15 $50 food cards for immigrant families. This week we’re also giving some cash to a family that lost its ancient refrigerator, which the landlord won’t replace.

“Hi there,” I chirp to the woman with short blonde hair and pencil-thin lips standing behind the Customer Service counter. I’ve seen her week after week for 10 months. “I feel like we’ve become friends.”

“Hmmm,” says she.

I do some quick mental math and estimate I’ve bought at least $40,000 worth of food from her. She tears herself away from the lottery tickets corner (the reason most customers  stand at Customer Service), opens up the drawer, peers inside. “$50 cards?” she scowls.

It’s been $50 cards from the get-go. “Yup,” say I.

She takes them out and counts them—slowly. By now I know all the steps: She’ll  input them one by one into the cash register. If there’s no beep of recognition (it happens several times each session), she’ll peer closely at the number of the card, then at the screen, then back at the card before doing it again. Then she’ll break them in half, count them a couple more times. In the middle she’ll admonish those standing on line behind me to move over to the right can’t they see where the waiting line begins? She’ll tell me the total, I will tell her I’ve already inserted the credit card, she’ll peer at the screen and say “Right,” push a button, wait a while longer till the register spits out receipt after receipt, then peer once more at the number on each receipt as she folds them over carefully.

“Thanks,” I finally say. “See you next week!”

“Hmmm,” she says.

This morning I talked to a friend of mine who has been teaching much longer than me. We talked about what we’ve learned, what we’re still learning. How even as you get more experience, the horizon recedes because there is no horizon, just endless sky everywhere.

There’s a squeak. “Nnnnn! Nnnnn!”

“What is that sound?” asks my friend.

I look at our Chihuahua mix Henry, who stares at me and then back at the credenza in the corner of the room. “Henry lost his ball under the credenza,” I tell him.

We try to continue the conversation, but Henry’s relentless. “Nnnnn! Nnnnn!”

I run out of patience. “Just a minute,” I tell my friend, “I’m going to get his ball, otherwise he’ll cry nonstop.”

I get up from the desk, walk over, and get down on the ground. The bright orange ball is under the credenza way in back. I sigh and slowly get up from the wooden floor (lately my left knee has been hurting), get a broom, get down on the floor again, and wave the tip of the broom handle all around under the credenza to get the ball out. It takes three tries. Henry grabs his  liberated orange ball with his mouth while I slowly get back up and go back to the computer.

“Sorry,” I say to my friend.

“That little dog brought you down on your knees, Eve,” says my friend.

“See you last in line,” I tell him.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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MISSIVE TO MAJOR

From Aussie, White-House Wannabe

To First Canine Major

Dear Major,

Congratulations, First Canine. I got close but never made it to the White House. Closest I came was to the Capitol with that group of patriots, but I’m being tailed by the FBI so I got to keep quiet about that, not to mention that Eve threatened quarantine for life, so—shhhh!

You got there. Congratulations. You got there by fraud, but we won’t talk about that.

We also won’t talk about your flawed origins. You came from a shelter. How could we possibly have a First Canine who came from a shelter? Do everything you can to hide that.

You say it’s not your fault, that someone gave you up to the shelter? Stop it. I hate whiners.

There must have been something wrong with you. You probably didn’t guard the house, maybe you feel asleep on the job, didn’t learn enough tricks.

You say you were too young? Excuses, excuses.

It’s true, I also came from a shelter. I instantly forgot about it. My advice to you is to do the same. You’d be amazed how quickly folks can forget their origins if they really try.

Do not—DO NOT!—pose as an example to future canine generations. Do not walk up and down the lawn of that White House, fans throwing buffalo ears and beef knuckles at you, declaiming that if you could be First Canine, anybody can be First Canine. That you worked hard, that you got lots of help from Joe and Jill, that this is the story of America. I would vomit, only I try to never let go of food.

Check out the local branch of the Proud Pooches, they’re everywhere. Ordinarily they wouldn’t ask you to be a spy, given your origins, but they may make an exception of you, Major.

Major, consider this: A great fraud was committed, the crime of the century. Now history gives you the opportunity to do what’s right, sabotage the saboteurs, torpedo the ship, foil the plot—INFILTRATE!

Small acts of subversion will do.

Like what, you ask? Here’s a list:

They will want to take lots of photos of you with Joe and Jill sitting at a fireplace looking homey. Wait for them to set up, and just when they’re ready to click their cameras, pee on the rug. You’d be surprised what a little pee on the rug can do to humans.

When you and Champ are out on the front lawn, go for his throat. Even better, go for the throat of the Marine who’s walking you. There’s not a thing they can do to you, you’ll get pardoned instantly.

In general, try to fart as often as possible, but especially when other heads of state come to town—and especially Angela Merkel. Joe will ask you to sit there as a welcoming prop. As soon as he starts talking about his respect for Angela and for our allies, you fart. Pause for a short while, give him a chance to make a little joke, wave the air around—maybe they’ll bring in a fan—then do it again. I know, humans can barely smell, but a well-timed fart can bring down an alliance.

In the White House Easter Egg Roll, run across the lawn in the middle of the roll, go for the eggs as soon as they crack, and generally disturb the festivities. Poop prominently.

Shed as much as possible, especially when Jill wears white.

Anytime Joe addresses the nation from his office, embarrass him. The minute he says: “My fellow Americans,” snarl. So much for Mr. Nice Guy.

When Joe and Anthony Fauci stand outside and talking about the phony virus and all the good things they’re doing to fight it, start scratching. The more they tell people to trust science, scratch. Scratch and scratch and scratch. I mean, trust them when they can’t fix their own dog’s fleas?

They may get upset, they may get angry, they may threaten. The minute that happens just open wide those goo-goo eyes of yours and look humble. The nation will rise up to protect you.

Eat poop. It works every time. “Uhhhh!” humans say whenever they see that, for reasons unknown. They get very upset when dogs eat poop, it can start a revolution. We’ve already set it up with your friend, Champ. He poops, you eat.

Get Joe to start throwing you balls.  Catch them but never return them. Make him look bad.

When Jill says: “Hey, sweetie, come give me a kiss,” lick your penis for  a minute or two and then hurry over.

In your extra time, dig a tunnel.

 

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WASHINGTON, TODAY AND 1994

Photo by Peter Cunningham

I loved watching the inauguration. It’s our only day of pomp and circumstance. No royal marriages or divorces here, no royal personage opening Parliament. Just one day every four years, and by now I know the elements, even this year during covid, when flags covered the Mall instead of people. You get to know the sequence, only the stars are different, and the political leaders taking office.

I have to admit that I deeply appreciated seeing Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell there, freezing in the wind, and listening to Senator Roy Blunt, all Republicans. Showing up when you’d really rather not, in fact when there’s pressure on you not to show up, is hard. Obama seemed happy, but it’s easy to be happy when what you wanted to happen happens.

I enjoyed Biden’s speech. It wasn’t brilliant, it wasn’t historic, it was Joe Biden. Sounded just like him. Very decent, a warrior for unity, urging us to do what he did—keep on showing up.

The big star was the 22 year old Amanda Gorman. Her poem, The Hill We Climb, was inspiring, but not as inspiring as she was. Beautiful, confident, poised—Yes! I felt like yelling, you go, girl! You’re the one we depend on for the future, you’re the one surpassing hopes and expectations.

My one issue with Joe Biden’s government picks (other than Tom Vilsack, which is another matter) is that he drew on so many from Obama’s time. He knew and respected them, but I would have liked to see younger, newer faces; I would have liked to see him groom a new leadership to take over, not so many old names and faces.

“I do solemnly swear . . .” The same oath every four years; I remembered when Chief Justice John Roberts stumbled administering the oath to Obama, and Obama reminded him. Always the same words, the same oath written up in the Constitution, regardless of who fills the position. It’s not personal to you, it’s personal to the country.

Vows are more personal. When I make a vow, even if it’s said in a few simple words, my entire life is there: awareness of attachments and karmic cycles, a life that disappears as quickly as it appears, wasted opportunities and endless possibilities for renewal.

People say they don’t want to make vows because they’re afraid they won’t keep them. But how do you know? How do you know that the minute you made a vow a world wasn’t created in which those vows were kept all the time? We know so little about this world, this dimension of being, what do we know about others?

In that spirit I remembered that Bernie’s birthday was January 18, 1939—”a triple Capricorn,” I used to say, shaking my head sadly— and on that date in 1994, when he turned 55, even as the Greyston companies he and Jishu Holmes founded were still trying to find a stable footing in the world, he knew it was time to make another vow. He didn’t wait to assess the success of the past, he was moving on.

That used to annoy folks—You can’t just leave now, Bernie, wait a few more years, etc. But he was a man in a hurry. He also had a gift for seeing where things were headed, both individually and socially, and he liked to be ahead of the curve. And, too, he didn’t need to be affirmed or validated by anyone else (except maybe his wife).

So he sat on the steps of the Capitol in the coldest time of year. He invited folks to join him. That, too, was Bernie. Many of us make our vows privately, perhaps feeling that if no one else knows, they also won’t know if we fail. We’re self-conscious and keep it to ourselves.

Not Bernie. “I’ve made a vow to end homelessness in our county,” he’d announce every chance he got. Then he’d work like crazy to do that, day after day; how it came out didn’t concern him too much. “If you announce it to the world,” he liked to say, “the world comes in to help. If you keep it secret, nobody knows so they don’t help.”

And folks joined him. People from different walks of life sat with him in DC that winter, a motley group. It was historically cold and the Capitol actually shut its offices, very typical for Bernie’s retreats. As one man from Cameroon later said: “I always hated the winter cold in New York. After sitting with Bernie that winter in DC, I lost my fear of the cold.”

He made a vow at the steps of the US Capitol that he would begin an order of Zen Peacemakers, folks not content with sitting on a cushion to gain clarity and peace for themselves but use that as a foundation to make peace in the world in all areas, integrate all the voices, see the dharma in all things. He came back home and set about doing that.

Peter Cunningham was with him, the photographer who dogged Bernie’s steps and documented the fulfillment of his vows again and again. These photos are all his, as are so many others in which he bears witness, showing again and again how personal and creative this bearing witness journey is. You can find many of these photos, and others, on Peter’s website.

Peter, too, was someone whose life intersected with Bernie’s trajectory in many different places, though the two men had their own respective journeys. As I wrote yesterday, every once in a while, someone else says to me: “I was there in that retreat on the steps of the Capitol that freezing winter.” They may have made vows as Bernie did, or not. They went back home and did photography, social service, poetry, business, one is even the President of Naropa University. But at some point, their lives intersected with Bernie Glassman’s because he opened his space of practice so widely, let everyone in who wanted to come, let them be who they were, and said goodbye when they left.

Photo by Peter Cunningham

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.
 

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HIS BIRTHDAY

I planned to write yesterday, on the celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life I studied and admired, and which this year fell on the birthday of my husband, Bernie Glassman. Bernie’s two-year memorial last November was accompanied by sadness and flagging energy for some 24 hours. The next day I felt fine, so I thought: Oh, it’s pretty much over. Bernie comes to mind every day, he doesn’t disappear, but the desolation and the pain, they’re mostly gone. And that translated to a more self-centered version: I grieved right. I went deeply into the pain, didn’t leave the house for first 49 days, went through the first year in a blur of mourning—I did it right!

You better laugh than weep. I long ago discovered that if I was to weep over my mistakes, I wouldn’t stop crying, so it’s better to laugh.

Yesterday felt like I was falling into an old, familiar abyss in which I questioned everything: What it is to be intimate with someone where so much of your identity is tied up with him, and what it is to lose him; what it is to marry your teacher; what it I to live a meaningful life once he’s gone; how I interact with the many people who knew us both as one unit and what happens now when we’re no longer one unit, etc.

It was a very, very funky day. I hoped the next morning would be different, and it is. And this blog helps; readers help. You’re going to get up and write, I tell myself in the morning. You weren’t up to it yesterday, but this is a new morning.

It’s no accident that this evening Green River Zen starts a 3-month study of vows. I live the challenge of living my vows day after day because there are days when, frankly, it’s the last thing I feel like doing. Or else I question the habit of doing them, that gets me to sit each morning, remind myself aloud of the vows, and then look at the schedule replete with reminders and ask: So, what’s to be  done today?  I sometimes wonder: Is it just my natural habit and tendency to be busy? Anything—absolutely anything—can be used to bolster my sense of self-importance, including vows.

I don’t spend much time mulling this over, only I’m aware of the hairsbreadth path. The Breslov Rebbe, a very famous Jewish rebbe, said: “Life is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid.”

Bernie didn’t like birthdays, especially his, which were often celebrated publicly. People meant so well, they loved him very much, but he would have preferred to go out to dinner, just the two of us, and that’s it. Instead, parties were organized, and he even made of a couple of big birthdays fundraisers for Zen Peacemakers.

His 55th birthday, as some know, was spent sitting by the Capitol with a group of students and associates, asking his question about what the next step in his practice is, his next vow. I wasn’t there with him, though over the years I’ve talked to those that were (including yesterday). It was the coldest winter in many years and I believe that work in the Capitol had been suspended. The group stayed in a big homeless shelter just blocks away. Every once in a while, I talk to someone who remembers that birthday.

“Oh, you were there, too?” I say.

Bernie had such a flair for the dramatic, for pulling people into his life and vision. He needed them. But in other ways he was so shy.

Many years ago, long before we married, there was another birthday for him in Yonkers, New York. The Zen Community of New York was then at its smallest size and only a dozen of us attended the party. At some point in the middle of it I looked up and there he sat, on a faded sofa, alone in the corner. I approached him.

“Happy birthday, Sensei,” I said (he was Sensei then). “How are you doing?”

He nodded and said. “I don’t like parties.”

“Not even your own birthday party, Sensei?”

He gave s short laugh. “That most of all. I’m not good at this,” and he gestured towards the few clusters of folks talking and laughing easily. “I never liked parties.”

“But you’ve done so many of them,” I said.

He shrugged. “Sometimes I have to,” he said.

Not everyone felt at ease with him, but I did. Maybe that ease between us presaged a marriage that would take place years later. And at that time, when it didn’t have to be something public, I’d say: “It’s your birthday today. What do you want to do?”

He’d bark out a short list of restaurants: “Johnny’s Tavern, the Indian place in Northampton, the Japanese one we go to, the Chinese place in Greenfield—”

“Not that one,” I’d say, and then catch myself. “Okay, it’s your birthday, you choose.”

And he did.

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HOLMES AND WATSON

Henry’s sick; we believe he ate something that upset his delicate stomach.

The sweet thing about Henry is that when he’s sick, he wants comfort. When he’s unwell, he seeks love and attention. This morning I opened the door, and though he immediately jumped up on me, I could see he wasn’t his usual rambunctious self. He wasn’t bringing me toy monkeys and balls to throw, he wasn’t snarling when I pulled them away. He just wanted stroking and cuddling.

“What’s the matter, Henry?” I asked sorrowfully.

He whimpered and bent down to give a few licks to his penis, which he likes to do when he needs solace.

Later that morning his human went to work and I found him in her room. He likes to stay in his crate, but this time he was on her bed, resting on his special warm blanket. He wasn’t the usual maniac chasing squirrels and play-growling at Aussie. When I approached his bed, he lay on his back and opened up his stomach for strokes.

“I’m not feeling well,” he said sadly.

Aussie’s very different. On the rare, rare times when she’s unwell (usually because she ate things she shouldn’t), she curves herself into a ball and tells me to go away. This morning she, too, didn’t seem quite herself, but once we went out for a walk she found her mojo.

“What do you mean, you forgot the treats! You expect me to check in with you and come when you call–for nothing?”

“Aussie, all good deeds get rewarded, but some get rewarded later than others.

“Who said that?”

“The Buddha, Aussie. He said that good deeds have good results, harmful deeds have harmful results. Trouble is, we can’t control when.”

“Timing is everything.”

Later in the day she lay on the futon behind my desk, keeping an eye out the window for marauding squirrels.

“Aussie, why are you in such a bad mood today?”

“Because I’m living with an enema of the people.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I’m living with an enema of the people.”

“Do you mean enemy of the people, Aussie? And are you referring to sick little Henry upstairs?”

“No, I’m referring to you.”

“To me? So let me ask you, Aussie, if I’m an enemy of the people, and if someone asked you to kill me, what would you do?”

“Ask me an easier one.”

“Like what, Auss?”

“Like what would I do to Schmancy Nancy.”

“Nancy Pelosi?”

“Or what would I do to Poopoo Pants Pence?”

“What would you do, Aussie?”

“Or what would I do to Kamakazi.”

“Who’s Kamakazi, Aussie?”

“I’ll give you a hint. Her name ends with Allah.”

“You mean, Kamala?”

“She’s going to overthrow Biden very soon and take over. Ask me about—”

“I’m asking you about me, Aussie.”

“Errrr … Errrr—”

“WHY ARE YOU EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT?”

“It takes me a while—”

“Let me ask you this, Aussie: Who feeds you?”

“You do.”

“Who gives you a nice warm home?”

“You do.”

“Who gives you walks and car rides and outings with Leeann and weekly marrow bones and makes you a blog star?”

“You do. You’re my Dr. Watson, I’m your Sherlock Holmes.”

“Holmes and Watson were dear friends! I do so many nice things for you, can’t I expect some kindness back? Instead, you’d consider taking me out?”

“You’re an enema of the people, what do you expect?”

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MESSIAH

Avoid drama, keep your mind clear and stable. These were a couple of my mantras over the past few months. One result was that I became prematurely hopeful of putting Trump behind us.

I was sure Joe Biden would have a big victory on Election Day, not because he was a great candidate but because this country was poised to reject Donald Trump big-time. When over 70 million Americans voted for Trump, I was shocked.

After the election, I still thought Trump would go away. Of course, he would bellow and scream, do everything needed to remain in the spotlight, but after all, I reasoned, what can he do? Even as the noises and litigation started around a fraudulent election, local governments and the courts, bless their democratic hearts, weren’t having any of them. After all the posturing and yelling, what could he do?

Last Wednesday I found out. And I believe now, as the days go by, that Wednesday was the tip of the iceberg.

“The genie has been let out of the bottle and we can’t put it back in,” a friend said yesterday.

State Capitols being put under lock and key is now a frequent phenomenon. We  hear of extra protection for governors and other political leaders, and an inauguration guarded by an army even in this time of covid, when there can’t be a crowd.

We hear of police and army veterans who supported the  rioters, even rumors of some form of quiet collaboration by members of Congress. If they didn’t collaborate, they spoke alongside a few rioters in past rallies. The President isn’t the only one who has to watch his words. Certain members of Congress fear for their lives and I don’t blame them. They know that even as January 20 is the focal date, the violence won’t end on that day, not in Washington and not anywhere else.

I believe it’s only a matter of time till a well-planned and organized operation finally succeeds and a political leader is killed. The odds point in that direction. The FBI can’t penetrate every single small, armed group. And while many of the rioters in the Capitol acted like buffoons, some were prepared. Others will be better prepared, even if Joe Biden is not their immediate target.

Some say that democracy has still won the day. Yes—and at what cost? What will it rack up to ultimately?

Democracy isn’t the only thing that’s endangered, the entire social contract is imperiled, and that’s not just because of Donald Trump. That contract began fraying long ago, when millionaires became billionaires and even super-billionaires while wages for the lower and middle classes stagnated and even dipped. When we forgot that the basis for coming together as a society is that all lives should improve by that act, not just a few. When we accepted the label of consumers as the dominant adjective about ourselves, replacing humans.

For me, the question always comes down to this: What do I do? Isn’t that the most important question? We read the newspapers and listen to the radio, we may draw different conclusions, but regardless, isn’t the final question: What do I do?

In times of uncertainty, in times of pandemics, fear rules the day. And when fear rules the day, so do blaming and scapegoating, that’s the history of the Western world. The greater the success of people fighting racism, misogyny, and corporate dominance, the more threatened others feel. Who would have thought that socialism, Communism and Red will return as this country’s great bugaboos?  Trump may go to Mar-a-Lago, but panic, rage and delusion ain’t going nowhere. They’ve come out of the bottle and will have their say.

I hope next week’s Inauguration helps, but I believe the fire will burn for a while. It’s too early for us to talk of making a turn, we’ll be sitting in the middle of that fire until something else happens, the next bend in the road that no one can predict right now.

So, what do I do?

Late this afternoon I’ll go over to Jimena’s house to give out food cards, our first time since Christmas. We were prevented last week because of her need to quarantine after the possibility of infection by covid. That didn’t happen, so today we go back again, and next week and next week. I have no illusions, this winter will be horrific for immigrants, but we’re doing the best we can with food and utilities, and sometimes health emergencies. I’m showing up.

I reach deep inside for a sense of purpose. I remind myself of my vows, and one of those is exactly what I wrote above: Just show up. Follow what’s going on, change direction and steer differently when needed, listen, show up. Don’t ever get too stunned by the news and the upending of assumptions you made about this country that you don’t show up.

How does it measure up to the messianic quality of the rioters?  Make American Great Again points to nothing but grandeur and some vague glorious horizon . The rioters and others like them speak little of concrete measures or actions, and more of some sublime vision of greatness we once had and lost. When I see photos of their adoring faces at Trump rallies, they look and talk of him as though he’s a messiah and that we live in messianic times. Somewhere out there is the dream, the fantasy that this man will singlehandedly, without Congress or even a Vice President, bring it all back. His actual record has nothing to do with it; his actual deeds have nothing to do with it—that’s why remonstrances and reminders of his miserable performance with the pandemic go nowhere. You don’t sweat the small stuff in messianic times.

What great messianic vision have I to counter that one? Personally, I’m highly suspicious of big-scale dreams even as I recognize that there are worlds and infinities out there I know nothing about. I won’t go up to the roof and wait to spread my wings and fly to the Holy Land as East European Jews did back in the 17th century, when a false messiah told them to do just that.

I’ll do small, practical things. Food cards to immigrants. Ask someone in quarantine what they need, support peacemakers around the world, give Zoom talks when I’m asked, help others make their vows in the middle of these dark times, meditate in the mornings, fill birdfeeders along with dog bowls, feed families, bring a small measure of comfort, ease, and understanding where I go. Basic humanness.

Not interested in messiahs. Just want to show up.

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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IS JESUS YOUR SAVIOR?

Late Saturday morning I was in the bedroom folding laundry. I heard a whimper and looked towards the rocking chair in the corner. It’s old and comfortable, and becomes fully stationary when I sit in it, so I do my meditation and often give talks while seated there.

But it wasn’t stationary now. Henry, who loves to bring me his stuffed monkey toys to throw for him, had put one on the rocking chair. Usually, he puts them next to me—on the bed, the office chair, the sofa, and even in the shower and dishwasher. This one he put on the rocking chair, and as he jumped up to pick it up with his mouth, putting weight on the front part of the chair, the chair swung forward. Instantly he jumped back, surprised that the chair didn’t stay put. He tried again, the chair swung forward and at him, instantly he jumped back. He sat on his haunches, clearly flummoxed. He tried again and again, and always the chair rocked forward towards him, throwing him off balance.

That’s when he began to whimper, causing me to look up. “Get it, Henry,” I told him. “Come on, get the monkey.”

But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t get the chair to stay still long enough for him to fetch his monkey from the back. He began to go around the chair because, after a while, he realized that if he went at it from the side, the chair didn’t rock so much. Finally, he found just the right angle from the window side, got his teeth around the monkey and instantly jumped back. He shook his monkey treasure with a big roar (big for him, that is) and threw it over his head in triumph.

“Good dog, Henry,” I congratulated him. “You did it!”

I thought of how the pendulum of life goes back and forth just like my rocking chair, and if we put our weight on one part of it, it will sink right under us, taking us off balance.

I think of the time we’re in and how we try to lean on something, depend on this vs. that, only to have it swing and bite us in the face. I think of the rioters who smashed their way into the Capitol, defacing, bullying, endangering people in the name of patriotism. The FBI and local police should arrest every single person they can identify and bring that person to justice.

But now other reactions are coming in. I read that companies are firing any employee who went to the DC rally; they’re shamed, ridiculed, and even threatened on social media. It’s good to remember that the rally was nonviolent till the attack on the Capitol. It’s good to remember that only a minority went to the Capitol, the majority did not. Some of that minority had planned and plotted, and came prepared. But a majority wanted to protest in support of Trump and the Congress Republicans voting against the election results, and then go home. Firing them from jobs, indulging in what we do so often, e.g., public ridicule, shame, and slurs, don’t go anywhere.

I admit it’s hard for me to feed that way towards the Republican leaders who hid for their lives during the attack (many refusing to wear masks), and then came out to vote against the election results. They’re the ones I wake up at night thinking about.

Over the past 5 days I have woken up in the middle of the night to a surge of anger inside, turning from side to side, feeling a stranger in my own bed. Indignation and something else:  revenge. The monologue is a familiar one. Finally, they’re getting what’s been coming to them for years. Finally, the pendulum is moving to the other side. Finally, people are waking up to the danger we should have seen years ago. Finally! Finally! Finally!

I could say that word in the spirit of gratitude, but in the middle of the night I don’t feel gratitude, I feel RIGHT! I feel pride at being proved right and disdain for those who couldn’t see it coming, like Republican lawmakers. Deep inside there’s the voice I know so well: I knew it! I just knew it!

What’s better than life proving that you were right all along, that you knew better than those frauds sucking up to Fox, that all along you knew what would happen—and it happened. SEE!

When I wake up in the morning and sit, those emotions settle down. Hypocrisy and manipulation didn’t stop outside the boundaries of this person called Eve, they’ve been there for years. Ambition and self-regard are part of my nature, too. If everything meets inside, how can it meet outside?

What will finally bring us together, even into the same room, around the same table? I shiver when I think that it might take some momentous external catastrophe that is so clear and visible that no one has a doubt about it–and is that what we’re waiting for?

An old friend, Paul Gorman, founded an interfaith partnership for environmental action many years ago. It took him a long time to convince even liberal denominations of Christianity and Judaism (I know little of his experience with Muslim communities) to come around the table, quoting liberally from the Old and New Testament to remind them that God asked us to be stewards of the earth.

In later years Paul tried to bring in the American evangelical community and finally got a meeting with some major players. He made his presentation, and when he finished one of the leaders said: “That’s all fine, Paul, but we can’t move forward till you answer me this: Do you declare that Jesus Christ is your savior?”

Bernie used to say that no matter how open you are, not everybody will want to come round the table. He remembered being part of a program many years ago in Chicago, where an African American woman minister pointed to him and said that since Buddhist priests wore black robes, she could have nothing to do with him because for her, black was the work of the devil.

At night the voices of rage and indignation arise. In the morning they subside and I remember again and again that we’re One Body. How do we realize and manifest this day after day?

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to me, Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.

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