Milton and James, who went to camp this past summer

Aussie’s off to find Nessie. She asked me to come along, accused me of not having any sense of adventure. I told her that, much as I love the Scottish Highlands, they’re not right for me now. There’s a different trip I want to make.

Sometimes you can go looking for the Loch Ness monster. Or you can start doing a different kind of journey. Most important, ask yourself: What now?

A friend of mine recently said on the phone that he’s done what he’s wanted to do, written what he’s wanted to write, and what’s up for him now is to find a loving companion.

I was taken aback that someone could see this so clearly. For me, it’s easy to continue the old habits of doing, writing, teaching.

What writing and teaching have in common is that both help me see things I didn’t see before. Questions I didn’t know I had, something in the core I wasn’t conscious of that finds its way to my fingers, then the computer keys, then the screen.

I wasn’t prepared to give a talk Tuesday night, but I did, and things became clear even as I spoke them; I was the first to be surprised. The space frees up and some inner voice begins to speak. You don’t even know this will happen till it comes out of your mouth, or suddenly appears on the screen.

For so much of my life I avoided the path of the heart. The karma of it is clear. My eyes go up to the sky, which I know, from watching so many other people, that it’s a damn good sign that I’ve gone  right into my head.

Bernie’s eyes rarely climbed up when he spoke, even as he was thinking; he kept them straight ahead. At times his famous thick brows would knit together, furrows would appear on top.  He might look over your shoulder for a moment. But his eyes didn‘t roll up much.

Mine do. Go back to the mind where it’s safe, where you’ve made your mark in the past starting when you got good grades in school with relatively little effort and were told you were smart and capable. Continue that theme with variations over the decades.

And what about opening up that dusty path that leads elsewhere? The one like the desert roads in western Morocco, so covered with overturned, sharp-edged boulders and wide, jagged cracks that aid vehicles can’t get through to help those affected by the earthquake? I feel at times that that’s been the path to my heart, to my deepest feelings.

Mine is a self that has not felt very comfortable around children but loves to look into the eyes of Milton, first grade, and hear his stories at our local Catholic Charities office about the camp he went to (with your help) this past summer. Would love to hug him tight, too, but refrains.

Mine is the body that wishes to stretch out an arm to his doting mother who went through hell to get here and wants nothing for herself, just that Milton grow in safety and have a good life.

Open your arms, I tell myself.

I can’t speak much Spanish, another voice says.

You don’t have to, the dialogue continues, just open your arms.

I love students and meditators who cope with challenging children, sick parents, and full-time jobs. I’m sure old-time monks left home because staying home was too tough a practice. I have long ago given up the distance we as teachers were encouraged to cultivate; I hug them because I love and admire them.

A path to a more balanced and honest relationship with brother and sister, get away from the older-sister-who-knows-best role and admit to my yearnings, my wishes for closeness, admit to doubts and not knowing my own next steps.

I’ve had loves of all kinds, watched myself flounder, sometimes not show up for husbands, lovers, and friends. Love is much bigger thann a loving companion, it’s the entire life force. So why die before my time? Why roll up my eyes to think more rather than keep them straight ahead in this moment, opening towards this person, this tree, this dog.

If I was talking Zen talk, I would convey to them that they are Buddhas. That I am Buddha, all one thing, no secrets, no barriers anywhere other than the artificial ones we create. Give no fear—including to myself.

Why just keep on doing the old things because for years they worked? Who needs another book, another blog, more teachers? Stories, yes, lots of them. Not AI stories, but ones that tell of what it is to follow breadcrumbs, veer right and left, get lost, almost be devoured by witch or wolf, and finally reach home—without going to Scotland.

I’ve met my Nessies, I told Aussie before she left, I’ve met my monsters. And the one I’m most afraid of isn’t long-necked and underwater, it’s the rolling of the eyes upwards towards ideas and abstractions, plotting new reasons to work, rather than looking straight ahead into connection. I fear nothing else right now.

How do I change direction? Make that sharp turn of the wheel and go down an untraveled side street?

My sister taught me a new word:  Coddiwomple. It means traveling in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination. Drive purposefully down that elusive side street, pay attention to people, listen to stories, forget about mistakes (Bernie said there’s no such thing). Don’t condition this on other people’s responses (they don’t meet me there!), go full out. Vague destination, but the life force is real.

We have big storms outside (our 5th consecutive day of rain). Aussie lies on the office rug; before that she spent time on the back seat of the garaged car, her safe space. The illegal Chihuahua sits right on my foot and I can feel his little butt shaking; both dogs are very afraid of the occasional thunder. I can’t keep Henry on my lap all the time, but I can occasionally put words aside, bend and pick up the little dog, stroke him, tell him things will be okay even as he continues to tremble. Can’t control the weather, but I can do that.

I have a request. I ask for support for this blog on a quarterly basis. The blog is free—it is at least as much value to me as it may be to others—I should probably pay folks to read it rather than the other way around. I don’t follow the blog’s numbers of hits or readers because that’s not why I write. Nevertheless, I pay to maintain and service it. I usually respond to those who email me. I admit I coddiwomple my way around the blog and my life, sharing their weird twists and turns (including illegal U-turns). Often, I feel like urging you, as we do in a certain Zen ceremony, to wash your ears out after hearing my words.

But there’s one thing better than success, and that’s failure. My motto is: Fail, fail, and fail again. Fail better! Always share. Always connect.

So please use the link below, Donate to My Blog, if you are so inclined. 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.

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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.


The heavy rains and storms are flattening our flowers. Some survive, some don’t.

Yesterday was 9/11, when thousands died, and I lit incense.

Today is a memorial for one person—I have marked it for close to 35 years—and I lit incense again. Each time this day rolls around I think of him, the terrible impact of words casually spoken, and an incredible act of grace and forgiveness.

The name of the man was Chris (I won’t give his family name). He was a young black man from New Orleans who wrote the Zen Community of New York in the late 1980s, when we were in Yonkers struggling to develop our social service programs and trying to prevent the bankruptcy of the Greyston Bakery. In his letter he wrote that he was in his 20s, was fatherless and raised by his mother with limited means. He’d sat for a long time, heard of our work, and could he come up by bus to live and work with us?

We’d never met him and knew nothing of him, so by all measurable criteria, this was not a good idea. But measurable criteria also have their limits. The woman who answered his letter (not me) invited him to come and work as her assistant. He did, and she very quickly realized her mistake. He didn’t have the capacity to do the work he’d written he could do. In addition, he was already taking serious meds for mental illness.

Like many Zen centers, we had a 3-month probation period for anyone coming to live and work, so she agreed that he stay for the probation period and we would do an evaluation at the end. He had to participate in all meditation programs, including retreats. And, in consultation with his doctors, she insisted he take his meds.

Chris agreed and lived in a small room just down the narrow hall from my room. He never missed a sitting period or a retreat, and he worked for her. As the weeks and months went by, it was clear he couldn’t do what was needed. Our days consisted of long hours and deadlines, which Chris couldn’t sustain. At other periods in the unfolding of the community there might have been more help and support; that wasn’t true then, we were struggling.

I find that the act of giving attention and listening to someone consumes lots of energy. Some people, I am aware, say that even a minute of full-fledged attention is very important. They may well be right. I don’t shift gears that quickly. Paying deep attention is a generous act, and from me it takes energy hard to summon in the middle of a big workload.

This is often the criticism I heard aimed at myself, at Bernie, and others who hurried to work each morning but found no time for each other, labeling human needs and companionship distractions before moving on. Believe me when I tell you that lots of kindness, caring, and even love were there, but Chris needed more than that.

Chris’s three months of probation were up, he went through an evaluation, and I was told by Chris’s boss, along with Bernie, that this probation period hadn’t gone well. The work was beyond him; worse, they’d been informed by his doctors that he wasn’t taking his meds, which he had agreed to do. We couldn’t be responsible for his wellbeing.

Other than seeing Chris in morning sittings, I’d had little to do with him at work, exchanging but a few companionable words. But I was the residential coordinator at the time, and like it or not, it was my job to give him the news. That evening I knocked on his door; he was lying in bed, reading. I told him the news, he didn’t seem surprised. I said there was no rush, he could leave once he knew his next steps, no one was hurrying him out the door. He thanked me.

Those were his last words to me. The following day I was gone for two hours in the early afternoon, and when I returned, I was told by the bakery manager that the police had arrived and informed them that Chris had jumped from the 14th floor of a building downtown.

I was shocked—that’s an understatement. I had no idea what meds he’d been taking, no idea that this was a possibility. Later, in talking with others, I discovered from one friend that Chris had indeed told him he would never return to New Orleans, that he’d rather take his own life, and even told him how he would do it. Had we known that ahead of time it might have changed things; as it was, the man never shared this conversation with anyone, and Chris did what he’d threatened to do.

Weeks and months passed. I did what others do in such circumstances, talked it out with peers, talked with a therapist. We did a memorial service. I felt I was sleepwalking those first months after his death.

I wish I could say that it turned a page for me, that it caused me to sit up and wonder: Wait a minute, what am I doing here? What is this practice of freeing all sentient beings? I write in so many grant applications about the need for housing for homeless families, jobs for mothers and childcare for children, but what about the person right in front of me?

Instead, I was glad to be swallowed up by work once again. Chris’s body was sent back to his mother in New Orleans, his life was over, there didn’t seem to be much I could do.

As time has gone by, and especially on September 12, I look at the wooden face of Kwan-yin in back, she who lets herself be consumed by rodents of all kinds that find home and wood to gnaw on inside her body, and ask for forgiveness.  As the years pass, I realize there is still a job ahead for me, and that is not to work more, write more blogs or better books, or teach more. The job ahead is to always, always give attention.

There’s a lot to say about that, but not for now.

A few weeks after Chris took his life, I received a letter from New Orleans addressed to me personally. I opened it up and found several sheets of long lined yellow paper, the kind you tear off of yellow office notepads. The letter was from Chris’s mother, and it was handwritten, the lines sloping down as if it was hard for her to stay on the horizontal lines.

She wrote me not to feel guilty about her son’s death. She had raised him alone in New Orleans, and from the very beginning he’d been a very sad boy, so much so that she would pray for him every Sunday in church. She wrote that she’d long ago realized that he might die before her, that there was little she could do about it, and therefore begged God to take care of him. There was no room for blame here, not by me, not by her, not by anyone. She also added that Chris had told her that those 3 months he spent with us were the happiest he’d been in a very long time. She was grateful for that.

When I think of grace, as I do now, I think of a low-income black woman in New Orleans who lost her son to suicide, buried his body, and then wrote a letter to a white woman in New York whom she’d never met (how she knew my name I’ll never know), to tell her she was not to blame, that she herself had put her trust in God long ago when it came to her son, and I must do the same.

When I light incense for Chris today, I light it for his mother, too.

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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.


“Guess what I want for Christmas? A food bowl with the Man’s mug shot on it.”

“Luckily, Aussie, we don’t celebrate Christmas.”

“Chanukah? My birthday? That’s coming up real soon.”

“You get steak on your birthday, Auss, not a food bowl with Trump’s mug shot on it.”

“You mean I can’t get what I want for my birthday? What about his picture on my water bowl? Or on my orange hunters vest for hunting season? It’ll match his hair!”

‘Forget about it, Aussie. Take a look at that photo. He’s the very picture of truculence.”


“Belligerence, Aussie. Nasty-ism.”


“Aussie, look at the way he’s looking at the camera, at his eyes, his chin, lips, the furrows over his eyebrows. It’s the perfect photo of revenge and even hate. That’s one nasty man.”

“My hero! I want it on my blanket, I want to sleep with him.”

“You don’t sleep on a blanket, Aussie, you sleep on the sofa.”

“Can we put his photo in the living room? There’s a perfect place for it right over the altar with the compassion thig-a-ma-jigs—”

“You mean Kwan-yin and Maria of Guadalupe?”

“–and Bernie and your parents and all the other people. They need company!”

“Forget about that, Auss.”

“I know, why don’t you have it painted over the entire house outside? You’ve wanted to repaint the outside of the house for years. Our home looks like nothing, a light gray, nobody even looks at it, not even when they walk on the road above and I bark like crazy. But paint this photo of the Man all over the outside and we’ll have everybody gawking and pointing. Fox will come!”

“Foxes are always visiting here, Auss.”

“You know what I mean. Fox! They’ll interview me. They’ll take pictures of our home. We’ll be heroes!”

“I don’t want to be a hero.”

“I say it’s time to refresh and renew the place we call home.  It needs a complete make-over.”

“No, Aussie. You know why?”

“You’re afraid I’ll bite the painters?”

“No, Auss. I’m not doing it for the same reason that I don’t watch horror movies or movies with lots of blood and gore—”

“My favorite kinds!”

“—or read scary books at night by Stephen King, who’s a damn good writer. Because if I do, I won’t sleep. I will see ghosts and ghouls in the darkness and have nightmares instead of dreams. The next day I’ll be run-down, distracted, and anxious. Life brings with it enough challenges and it’s tough to keep a clear mind. I don’t have to add more craziness to my life.”

“What about my favorite dogs?”

“Lassie? Benjy? Scooby-Doo?”

“No, Cujo. Pampers the Zombie Poodle? Rip the Rotting Rottweiler? I love those movies. Every time I see one, I want to bite somebody.”

“My point entirely, Aussie. We are responsible for the state of our minds. When I see horror and violence, it affects my mind, makes me see monsters everywhere. Makes me feel scared and more confused. And that’s on me because I know it’s not healthy, so why do it?”

“You’re a scaredy-cat. Just look at that picture: Gentle, good intentions, a man who loves everybody. A sweet, mild-mannered human, just what this country needs.”

“I think too many movies featuring vampire Vizslas have affected your mind, Auss. I can’t live in a house that has a face like that painted all over the outside, it’ll affect me badly. And think what message it gives to the rest of the world!”

“We’ll be noticed. With any luck, they might even try us in court for something, like being co-conspirators,”

“You mean, for being full-fledged idiots? There are too many of those already, Aussie.”

“Sounds to me like you need an anti-anxiety bed. There are some good ones on Chewy’s. but they’re probably too small for you. Would you consider getting two and putting them together? Expensive, I know, but you need to take care of that crazy mind of yours.”

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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.


On Monday morning, Labor Day, I walked with the dogs in Fiske Pond, Wendell. I’d last been there in July, but rocks, dam and bridge were underwater due to the local floods. This time the day was gorgeous. I managed to cross the dam (thanks to beavers) and walked up to the crest overlooking the lake, Aussie hanging back.

Suddenly, I heard a big splash, followed by another. I called her name, no reply. Walked here and there, trying to get a good view from behind the dense trees, and after a while I caught sight of a dark head above water, paddling quickly. Beaver, I wondered? And then, at a long distance, a tiny red band shone under the sun, and I exclaimed: “Aussie!”

Aussie, almost 6 years old, always loved the water but never swam. On a hot day she liked to stand in a pool, creek, or river, water up to her belly, a blissful look on her face. Over the five years I’ve lived with her, she saw ducks, seagulls, even herons, but would never let go of the solid ground under her paws to go after them.

Aussie—a swimmer? My Aussie? It was as if she’d become another dog. And not just any swimmer, but one paddling hard after a row of ducks, making her way to the very middle of the lake, her head low over the water. The ducks made circles, trying to shake her off, but she wouldn’t be deterred.

Suddenly, I got nervous. Was she going to make it? What would happen if she overestimated her strength? If she suddenly got tired and sank like a stone? I started clambering down to the water edge, getting tangled in brambles and the vines of old trees.

It took me 10 minutes to get down, calling her name. She finally turned around and swam back, but then splashed right back into the water and paddled out again to the very middle. The ducks were in no danger, they just dived down if she got close. It didn’t dissuade her. On and on she swam, chasing one duck, then another, while together they made circles in the big lagoon.

I stopped worrying; she knew what to do. After a quarter of an hour, she made her way to shore. It took me the same time to climb back up the embankment. At some point I got completely stuck, encircled by thick sharp branches that wouldn’t open up. Scratched up and mosquito-bitten, I found a happily soaked Aussie, eyes glittering with joyful awareness.

“Is this your first time?” I asked her. I was talking to a dog I’d never seen before. She had swum so freely out there, while I encountered nothing but obstructions.

She had no interest in treats as reward for coming when I called. Instead, she seemed in love with herself, as if saying: I know who I am, don’t need anything more. Don’t need acknowledgment, don’t need approval or reward. You’re excited and happy for me, but I don’t need any of that because I know who I am.

I thought of her Aussie-big-game-hunter bark as she chases deer, as if saying: I know this, I know this, it’s me! There was so much confidence and joy there.

There are those who express things, and those who don’t. Instead, the latter want treats. They want approbation and fame, but if you express something thoroughly, you don’t need any of that.

What prevents us from giving full expression in this way? People talk of needing a safe space. My dear friend, Roshi Ken Byalin, who founded Integration Charter Schools in Staten Island, New York, talks of encouraging kids to enter a brave space, not a safe space. Just like Aussie who entered the water with a big splash, spontaneous, unafraid. Though why she waited for 5 years I don’t know.

Maybe that’s the question: Why do we wait? What’s the right moment? No one can trace that, except for a great novelist, maybe.

A good novelist will present the karma: she’s half German Shepherd, maybe she didn’t find water near Houston, where she came from, maybe she finally was relaxed and confident enough to take risks, etc. All the causes and conditions.

But a really great novelist will know there are magical moments which will not fit into a linear landscape, no matter how beautifully and meticulously described. They won’t arise out of identifiable histories or stories. Someone will just jump into the water and swim.


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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.


Photo by Cynthia Taberner

I went to Ogunquit last week for an overnight stay with my friend, Zen teacher Cynthia Taberner. Cynthia has written publicly about her illness, so I don’t feel that I am breaking confidence in simply stating that we spent 24 hours together right at Ogunquit Beach, which, as she often told me, was her favorite beach.

Ogunquit is very beautiful, but it was extra special for me to experience it with her, see things through her eyes rather than just my own. Where does empathy come from, if not from seeing things through other people’s eyes?

My vision has never been great, especially now when I can’t wear contact lens till I see the cataract surgeon again, and I notice what I miss, especially in terms of color and the margins. Similarly, I notice how much I miss due to the prism of my conditioning, which, like my eyes, misses a lot at a distance.

Ogunquit is some 15 miles north of the New Hampshire-Maine border and we shared a room with a terrace from which we could see the estuary on one side and the Atlantic waves on the other. It was Cynthia who, holding a finger to her lips as a warning to be quiet, called my attention to the cormorant babies in the estuary walking lightly in a single line, first in one direction, then returning, surrounded by seagulls and a heron or two.

On the other side, the beach side, the humans were showing what fun it is to be human. Young, bikinied couples sat on small beach chairs in the sand, reading summer paperbacks behind shades. We paused to admire the vast network of trenches, moats and castles built by younger kids.

“Wow, can I take a picture of this?” I ask them. “You did this all by yourselves?”

“Our dad helped,” the young boy said proudly.

The dad looked up; he also seemed proud.

The tide was coming in and just then a big wave rushed forward, flooding the big rectangular moat they had built, a turreted castle in the middle.

“Yeah!” the boys and older men yelled excitedly, high-fiving each other. “We’ve been waiting for hours to see what happens when the water comes in, and it finally did. You’ve brought us luck!” Everybody grinned in triumphant unison, as if we were all equal partners to this great engineering feat.

And there were the older couples sitting on tall, wooden chairs under the awning by the hotel, sipping on water or a cup of coffee, murmuring to each other, perhaps remembering other times, other beaches, other tides.

Cindy and I sat on the beach chairs she’d brought with her, I holding a hot dog I’d just bought to eat after the long drive. While we’re talking, I suddenly see a large sea gull flapping its wings wildly and flying straight at me, and before I knew it, it had grabbed the hot dog from my fingers with such precision there wasn’t the faintest nick in the fingers that had held the hot dog.

It flew off, landed a few yards away in the sand, and swallowed the entire thing in three seconds flat. Smaller gulls walked around it, perhaps looking for a few crumbs, squawking in admiration, while Cindy and I couldn’t stop laughing and shaking our heads admiringly as the bird fluttered proudly on the sand.

The sun shone on everyone equally—the cormorant young ones, the hot dog-loving avian F-16, the children digging up more tunnels, the dads buried in wet sand, the surfers out by the rocks, the seashells, the ice cream vendors, the happy, happy world.

I’m thinking of my frequent walks with the dogs these past months, Aussie quickly leaping into a pond and standing there in delight on a hot summer day, Henry busily sniffing the ground looking for a stick for me to throw, the splash of the small waterfall nearby. Aussie comes out, her fur heavy and wet, her eyes shiny.

There are many times when I’m happy and don’t know it. And then there are times when I’m happy and I know it.

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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.


“Aussie, where are you going?”

“Where all adventure-loving, danger-chasing, risk-taking critters are going now. Scotland.”

“Why, Auss?”

“To find Nessie, of course.”

“The Loch Ness monster? Oh Aussie, it doesn’t exist.”

“Who says? And it’s not an it, it’s a she.”

“How do you know? Checked her genitals recently?”

“Because she’s called Nessie. Also, it’s time for monsters to be female. Enough of King Kong. Enough of Godzilla, Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy, and all the rest. Where’s equal opportunity when you need it?”

“Alien Queen? Medusa?”

“But Nessie’s real, she exists. She’s not a movie. She’s managed to stay low for almost a thousand years and nobody could find her. But we could, just as long as we get to—”

“Exactly. No one could find her. Aussie, there have been scientific expeditions galore to find Nessie, using sonar earlier and now even more modern technology. No scientific implement has spotted her. No blinking dots underwater to show something’s breathing there, and even photos of her were proven to be fakes.”

“You know what I say: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

“Fire, but not necessarily an underwater monster, Auss. Did you ask the gang at Leeann’s about whether they believe in Nessie?”

“What do they know? The minute I brought up Nessie Petulia got so terrified she went running to Leeann, but she’s a Dachshund, what can you expect? Percy said he didn’t believe in Nessie, but he’s such an entitled Golden, and with a name like that, you just know he’s ignorant about real life.  Come on, just buy one ticket to Scotland. You can even take me in storage. Percy would never fly in storage.”

“I have better things to do than search for a non-existent monster, Aussie.”

“What’s wrong with you? Where did the imagination go? What about fantasy? You have me, the best sniffer and tracker in the world—”

“Of deer and wild turkeys, Auss. Not fish.”

“She’s not a fish, she’s a monster. The real thing. Where your sense of mystery? Where’s the journey in pursuit of life’s big questions?“

“What big questions, Aussie?”

“Does Nessie get lonely? What’s it like, to stay put for a thousand years and never leave your comfort zone? Why does she need such a long neck? What does it feel like, being named after instant coffee?”

“You want to find her to ask her all these questions? I wonder if she even speaks English.”

“Won’t do me any good if she does. The English they talk over there, you can’t understand a word they say.”

“Aussie, there are many things we don’t understand, like sudden illness or death.”

“Like Covid?”

“We associate them with fear and terror, we call them monsters.”


“We make them up, Aussie.”

“We made up Covid?”

“No, no, I mean monsters. The gigantic body, the long neck, the eyes full of hate and—”

“The razor-sharp teeth.”

“I doubt she has razor-sharp teeth, Auss. She has nothing to use them on in Loch Ness.”

“So, let’s go and find her. Everybody in the world is now looking for Nessie.”

“I don’t think so, Aussie. People are working, having babies, raising a family, fighting in Ukraine, worrying about AI, counting Trump indictments, eating pizza—”

“And looking for Nessie. What’s life without Nessie? What’s life without a mysterious monster hiding underwater? What’s life without something that makes no scientific sense, extraordinary, beating all odds and expectations?”

“Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.”

“No, Nessie, Nessie, Nessie. Give me danger! Give me daring! Give me centuries of dreams to pursue, journey beyond horizons, journey without end.”

“How about a slice of broccoli, sausage and pepperoni pizza instead?”

“Make it two slices and hold the broccoli. “

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Photo by Rami Efal

I was in New Hampshire for 2 days to see a good friend, and when I left yesterday to start the 3+ hours of driving I left behind a bag that included my eyeglasses, among other things. Since I wear contact lens as a rule, that wasn’t such a big deal except for first thing in the morning and last thing at night, when I revert to eyeglasses to give things a rest. I will get the bag back with glasses on Saturday.

But today I went to an eye surgeon to begin the process of cataract surgery. He reminded me of my Keratoconus, an eye condition affecting the corneas that I’ve had my entire life (long before it was even diagnosed). He told me to stop wearing my contact lens for 10 days and then come to see him so that he could get a more accurate measurement of the cornea of my eye.

That meant I would have to depend on my glasses, which provide only partial improvement for my vision. Once I get them on Saturday.

I told myself it was no big deal. When you tell yourself that something is no big deal, chances are it’s a big deal.

I started wearing glasses at the age of 8 and promptly hated them. I was sure that my vision would end up being the fatal flaw in my body and life. I became even more certain of that when an eye doctor examined my eyes when I was 12 and promptly told my father that my vision was getting weaker because I clearly wasn’t wearing the glasses. This was not true, but my father, relying more on the doctor’s word than mine, returned home angry and told the family that on account of my negligence, I will turn blind by the age of 25.

Instead, at the age of 25 I was seeing 20/20 with contact lens, and it was then, in the midst of a routine check-up, that the doctor diagnosed that I had Keratoconus, which had just recently been discovered. I was his first patient with this condition, and he was beside himself with excitement.

That condition is actually remedied through the use of contact lens, which I was already wearing, glasses providing much less improvement, and I have seen very well all these years, owing many thanks to doctors who took excellent care of me.

But deep in my mind, there’s the fatal flaw. I drove home today thinking of what it would be like to wear glasses for 10 days, giving me only partial vision. You could work, I told myself. You could drive locally, walk Aussie, do laundry, and read (with some eyestrain).

But you’ll be vulnerable. You’ll feel naked.

It’s as if you suddenly discover that your skin doesn’t cover all of you, there are crevices or spaces that are open and revealing—of weakness, of faults, of not being up to snuff.

I have good health, a fine body and reasonably clear mind. That’s more than some of my friends can boast of, I don’t forget that. Still, the what-if voices arise: What will you do if … How will you manage if …?

I am fine, I tell myself, pushing it all away. Everything is fine.

The teacher Frank Ostaseski, who suffered a number of strokes, said that his sense of vulnerability is that it makes you more permeable, more aware of how interdependent you are rather than some untouchable (and untouched) fortress. That can be a source of inner strength regardless of how it looks to the rest of the world.

I’m reminded of Bernie’s and my last visit to the Auschwitz/Birkenau retreat in November of 2017, a year before he died and 2 years after his big stroke. One evening, as we all gathered, we formed a fishbowl council in which 5 people form a small circle in the middle, speak their truth, and then leave to make room for others to come in. Bernie took his turn to speak in the inner circle, and when he finished, he began to walk away.

We hadn’t noticed that he didn’t have his cane. We offered to bring it to him, but he waved it away, and instead he tottered towards us. The council stopped, everyone grew silent. I knew he wanted to do this himself, but I could feel my toes curling, my body inclined forward, ready to spring up to catch him if he fell, or at least help him make his way.

But something held me back. By then I was pretty sure he didn’t mind showing his nakedness to people who’d long admired this founder of the retreat, the weakness of a body that couldn’t do what a three-year-old could. He wasn’t just teetering on his legs, but on the edge of the fake cliff we call individuality, his fragility blazing as strongly as his dharma talks years ago. That lurching walk, right step, left step, right step (he had no feeling in his right foot), his feet banging heavily on the floor because of the lack of control, was among his greatest teachings.

Tomorrow I will drive to Ogunquit, Maine, to spend time with my friend, Zen teacher Cynthia Taberner. And Saturday I will begin my visual “fast,” peering at the world through glasses that will give me only an obscure view of roads, words, people’s faces, television.

“Just as long as you don’t mistake me for the illegal Chihuahua,” Aussie grumbled.

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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.



Today marks 60 years since the Dream March on Washington, DC, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.

While that march was focused on race relations, he later added poverty and the Vietnam War to his campaign despite great misgivings by associates and advisers, who didn’t want him to deflect his charisma and oratory from racism. Being the prophet he was, he saw how race, war, and poverty were interrelated and was ready to lose many followers and supporters, especially well-meaning, middle-class, white liberals who agreed with him about racism but didn’t want him to question the basic underpinnings of our capitalist society. He also lost the support of Lyndon Johnson.

Where was I 60 years ago? What was I doing? Surviving teenage years, which were pretty fraught in my case. Maybe fraught in every case. Wish I’d been in Washington then. Wish I’d been open enough and less self-concerned, less self-obsessed, to see the enormous possibilities of that moment. To see not just the future beckoning but becoming part of that future, part of the movement.

I wasn’t married at the time, didn’t have children or a job. I had school, a family, no friends, and a high quotient of self-involvement. Maybe not much differently from other kids my age. Dreamed of records, books, clothes, boys.

Years later, the next generation would ask me enviously about the 1960s: OMG, you were there, what was it like? What did you do? Not much, I’d tell them, though I did smoke some pot and spent a little time in Washington Square Park. Went to Central Park the day after King was murdered along with thousands of others. Otherwise, very little. Surviving my family, I’d think to myself, not saying this out loud.

To this day I bear witness to how my mind can once again become self-absorbed, indulge in new versions of the same old familiar mental dramas. The pull of some urgent need to protect myself from something, anything. The pull of ancient feelings of inadequacy and fear.

The writer Rebecca Solnit remembered what it was to want things when she was younger and without much money: I eyed things and was spurred and pricked and bothered by the promise things make, that this pair of boots or that shirt will make you who you need or want to be, that what is incomplete in you is a hole that can be stuffed with stuff, that the things you have are eclipsed by the things you want, that wanting can be cured by having.

Reading those words, I remembered one of the great loves of my life: Ferragamo shoes. I wasn’t living hand-to-mouth in those New York City days, managed to cover a studio apartment’s rent and groceries, maybe kept $500 in the bank, no more than that. And one day I read some fancy man saying that the way you can tell if a woman is truly well-dressed is not from her clothes but from her shoes. Does she wear good, expensive shoes? If she does, then she’s not only stylish, she inhabits style.

My clothes came from the Salvation Army and, walking all over Manhattan like so many of my friends, I never worried much about shoes (though I refused to wear the sneakers that are ubiquitous on NYC streets). Soon, I became obsessed with Ferragamo shoes. They epitomized money and elegance. A woman who wore Ferragamo shoes knew what she was about. A woman who wore Ferragamo shoes could conquer the world.

I started looking for them—on sale, of course. I bought a pair of beige pumps in the 5th Avenue Ferragamo store for $150, my all-time most expensive shoes, nothing else even close to this very day.  This was in the early 1980s; 40 years later, equivalent Ferragamos are well over a thousand dollars.

But one pair wasn’t enough. At Saks Fifth Avenue I found 2 pairs, each for under $100, including a pretty pair of red pumps that were a size too small (the sale didn’t extend to a bigger size). I bought them anyway. The other pair was sandals.

I was sure they had everything I needed that I didn’t have. They would help me make the right impression. They would make me beautiful, sophisticated, fully in my skin. Instead, I limped around in those too-small red shoes to the office and onto subways, each evening thankfully taking them off and massaging my hurting toes. I did that for a few weeks till I finally gave them away.

The top-of-the-line beige pumps lasted me for several years and were very comfortable. I have no memory of what happened to the sandals.

But, as Solnit wrote, there was a hole there that wanted to be stuffed, and I looked to things to stuff it. Not friends, not family, not enlightenment, not vows, not the good of all beings, but things. Specifically, Ferragamo shoes.

That’s been over for a long time, thankfully. Now I know that the less drama inside, the more I can focus outside. The less-gnawing, consuming self-doubt, the less I worry about shoes (except to make sure they’re comfortable and that they match).

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Aussie nuzzled against my leg this heavy, humid afternoon, surprising me. She’s not the most affectionate dog on the planet. I was in the middle of something—am always in the middle of something, even when it’s the beginning or the end of something, it always feels like I’m still in the middle.

I put out a hand to pet the nape of her wet, black neck while still staring at the computer screen, she pushed her head deeper into my leg, and finally I looked down. There she was, head bent, searching for attention, which is the epitome of love. And there I was, staring at a computer screen, which I’d been doing for hours that day.

What are you thinking, a voice asked inside. What are you doing? Carrying on as if there’s nothing else in life but emails, punching words out on the screen, looking at updated headlines every few hours—when somebody‘s asking for attention! Somebody’s asking for love!

I turned to her completely, bent down a little, and stroked her entire back, played with the tips of her ears which she loves, and murmured again and again what a pretty girl she is.

Another voice tried to interrupt: Focus! Don’t let your attention wander! You just got a good idea for one of the couples in the novel you’re trying to write, it’ll disappear in seconds because your memory isn’t good anymore, and then where will you be?

I’ll be here, I replied silently. I‘ll be with Aussie.

Annie Lamott asked the question: How alive am I willing to be?

I want to write, I want to walk, feel, read, exercise, and eat a good meal. I want to attend the Stone Soup Café’s annual harvest dinner tomorrow at the Greenfield Commons or else finally watch the film Lakota Nation vs. United States. I know what I want to do, what the schedule calls for, how to prepare for this or that—but how alive am I willing to be?

In the middle of last week’s retreat someone called me over and pointed to a flower bush, I can’t remember what kind. But what we saw was the endless pulsing activity among flowers, bumble bees, hummingbirds, and a larger bird I couldn’t recognize, buzzing, humming, drinking, pollinating, not full of life, in life.

It’s easy to take time out to see green and red hummingbirds or to stroke Aussie. What about being alive in the middle of sadness, loss, pain, loneliness? In the middle of fear?

Before getting dressed in the mornings, I usually sit on the bed and do several bends to the floor to stretch out my hips and hamstrings. Henry, the small Chihuahua mix, finding a captive audience, brings his ball and puts it in my lap to throw.

This morning, as I bent down, I noticed he wasn’t getting up on his hind legs with the ball in his mouth to put in my lap. I looked down and there he was, seated on the rug, the yellow ball on the floor, his ears up and turned towards the open door, his eyes following.

I heard it, too. Lori, in the other room, was talking on the phone, discussing work with someone, and irritation had crept into her voice. I couldn’t hear precisely what she said, but there was no mistaking the tone of annoyance and the very small, but noticeable, rise in volume.

Henry looked at the door, listening, eyes wide open, anxious. The OCD Chihuahua who can’t stop bringing me toys to play with just sat there, listening to the voice in the other room. Nothing else mattered.

“It’s okay, Henry,” I told him, “she’s not annoyed with you.” He didn’t turn from the door.

When Bernie was ill, I didn’t always want to hear or see it. Not that he talked about it much; he never complained. But there were signs of illness everywhere: a cane, a wheelchair in the trunk of the car, a hospital stand that swung towards you holding tissues, a medical alarm, a pee bottle. An arm and leg that got thinner and thinner from losing muscle.

Much better to smile encouragingly, do extra loads of laundry, say it’s no big deal if he drops something. But it is a big deal. It’s nothing, and it’s a big deal. And my words to the effect of Don’t worry about it, meant to reassure him, were perhaps more for me than for him: Don’t look, don’t listen, put those things behind you. Keep on going.

How alive am I willing to be?

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The daily routine of most adults is so heavy and artificial that we are closed off to much of the world. We have to do this in order to get our work done. I think one purpose of art is to get us out of those routines. When we hear music or poetry or stories, the world opens up again.

Writer Ursula Le Guin wrote these words; I made a note of them because they resonated with me for years. I often felt little patience for the humdrum duties of daily life: walking and feeding dogs, cooking, cleaning, shopping, dusting, filling up birdfeeders, emptying dehumidifier in the basement, making beds, etc.

I have 1-2 wealthy friends who wax eloquent about creativity, their ability to do their artistic work for many hours during the day, and the rich, endless possibilities of following your calling. I think of writers who boast of writing 8 hours a day. You probably have a wife, I think to myself. Or you can afford to hire other people to take care of you, or at least to do the tasks that need to get done that you don’t want to do.

Bernie was pretty old-fashioned when it came to husbands, wives, and home. He offered to cook twice a week, but his meal options were few and consisted mostly of red meat, so after a while (I eat what I‘m given!) I took over the cooking. Similarly, I did most of the shopping, supervised cleaning, did laundry, the bookkeeping, and took care of dogs.

Indignation was of no avail. If he finally agreed to take over the bookkeeping, I’d find six months of bank and credit card statements on his desk, unopened. His solution for cooking was for us to eat out daily, which I rejected. After he turned 70 and Zen Peacemakers no longer owned the Farm, which had been a big burden for him, he clearly had much more leisure time than I did.

I grew accustomed to pining after less housework, dog care, and food preparation. Like those wealthy friends, I wanted to let the Muse have her way with me, where all I am is an unadulterated channel for whatever She sends my way, uninterrupted by the bing! of a kitchen timer, by Henry bringing a ball to play for the 80th time that morning, or a car that needs to be cleaned and washed.

I think of stories, like George Handel writing his Messiah in 24 days, weeping as the glorious notes fell from heaven dew-like, or the many creative types who say: I didn’t do this, it just came through me, know what I mean?

I think I do. But as the great Zen Master Eihei Dogen wrote in a famous fascicle, And there are further implications.

Recently, however, I notice that there is actually housekeeping work I enjoy doing. For example: laundry day, which is usually Wednesday. I strip the bed, collect towels, take things downstairs, pick up tablecloth and napkins from dining room enroute, and kitchen towel from the kitchen. Then my eyes scan Aussie’s various beds: The red couch cover in the living room? The small blue wool blanket someone had given her draped over the seat of the recliner? The sheet hanging over the futon in my office? Aussie has lots of beds. The blanket on the backseat of the car?

I actually like layering them inside the washing machine; I LOVE to hang them up on the outside lines during summer or else on the basement lines the rest of the year.

I enjoy sweeping. Not vacuuming, sweeping. Maybe because I hope that one day a splinter of marrow bone will jump in the air, hit a dresser, and I will have an enlightenment experience; an equivalent has happened to one of the Zen ancestors. But I think it’s more that I just like to sweep. I like the arm motions, enjoy seeing the dust and dirt collected in one or two spot, at which point I step back, shake my head, and say accusingly: “How come this house gets so dirty?” Aussie just walks off, tail doing its helicopter thing.

I like to roll the trash barrel up the driveway and put it alongside the blue glass/plastic and paper bins already waiting out on the road for collection early Tuesday mornings, and I love to return them by the end of Tuesday to their respective perches inside the garage. We got rid of a load; now we begin again. There’s a sense of following ancient rules, of turning the page, going back to scratch.

I’m well aware that for parents with young children, or those of us doing caregiving, just keeping up with the most minimal housework is a big challenge.

But I experience these things differently now. For years I was locked in by the entrenched idea that I didn’t like housework and was doing it under duress. Now I look back and shake my head. Who did I think I was? Was I really beyond the necessity of taking care of myself, body, food, home?

I am now aware that I really like putting flowers on Buddhist altars (I have five), monthly cleaning of my excellent 8-year-old coffee machine, emptying the dishwasher. I feel lucky I can do them, participate in my upkeep, keep my miniscule corner of the universe dust-free and clean. That’s the practice of this householder: Use what I need, dust or wash, put back in its place. Use what I need, dust or wash, put back in its place.

And repeat.

And repeat.

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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.