“How are you doing?” I emailed my friend, Roshi Michel Dobbs, in Long Island.

He answered: “Generally, I feel like the guy who fell off a building, and at every floor he fell past, he said ‘so far so good.’”

I laughed. But lately, in talking to the local sangha or even to my friends, I haven’t been laughing much. Anxiety seems to be everywhere, and we haven’t yet reached October.

I tell people that I don’t feel particularly anxious, and most of the time that’s true; I am confident that Biden will be inaugurated as president in January. But I woke up at 3 this morning and couldn’t sleep. The fears and apprehensions that usually hide out in the day poke their heads out of the closet at night. Staring into the darkness, I realized that anxiety didn’t spare me, either; these are dark times.

So I went downstairs to my office and out the back door, where the gorgeous fall is in full swing. I took the picture above, and the flash gives you a sense of what it looks like right outside my office at night.

A couple of days ago Alisa Glassman, Bernie’s daughter, sent me a pdf copy of a book called Reveille for a New Generation: Organizers and Leaders Reflect On Power, by Greg Pierce, who put together various chapters on the power of organizing community, with chapters by such luminaries as Frederick Douglass, John Lewis, Saul Alinsky, Cesar Chavez, and more modern organizers today, including Alisa, who has made community organizing her life’s work (she is currently the lead organizer for VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Engagement). Her father and I have always greatly admired her work. Of course, the title immediately brought to mind Alinsky’s classic organizing book, Reveille for Radicals.

Alisa sent me the book specifically because of a short chapter that she contributed, which continues to reverberate in my mind, called: Don’t Win Too Quickly. In it she recounts how, some 24 years ago, she had just begun her organizing efforts in a campaign for a livable wage for Baltimore city employees, and indeed, Baltimore became the first American city to do this for its low-paid workers in the public sector. She recounted that in the middle of that campaign, her boss turned to her one day and said: “Whatever you do, don’t win this campaign too quickly.”

She wrote that she felt betrayed by those words. She’d visited the homes of janitors who worked for a little over $4.00 an hour and saw firsthand how impossible it was to live like that. “I had become an organizer to win, and to win as quickly as I could,” she wrote. “This is what the world needs, I believed. I felt the deep righteous anger of my profession . . .”

Seven years later she got a similar lesson, this time from an African American matriarch and activist who’d saved her neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland, from being turned into horse stables for the adjoining wealthy town. Alisa recounted how Ms. Bette Johnson had taken her to see a dilapidated community center, sandbags alongside the outside of the brick walls. As they walked back, discussing how to revitalize the neighborhood, Ms. Johnson had turned to Alisa and said: “Whatever we do, we can’t win this campaign too quickly.”

“Eve, Ms. Johnson was 70 when she said that,” Alisa told me on the phone.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that. Ms. Johnson was 70, had already saved her neighborhood once and was trying to save it again. She could have said: “Let’s hurry up so that I could see this work completed before I’m gone.” Instead she said: “Whatever we do, we can’t win this campaign too quickly.”

As an organizer, Alisa always looks at what makes people working together powerful: “Authentic, meaningful relationships take time. Building relational power takes time. If we want long-lasting power, we must give the building of new relationships the time it takes for people to learn to trust one another. We must give these budding relations the time to gel and become real.”

I am not a community organizer, I practice engagement in the world based on the dharma, on the experience that we’re all One Body and that nothing is excluded. I grow restless and unhappy when I hear people making broad, demeaning generalizations about others, giving vent to us vs. them, and how the world will end if they win. It’s not Donald Trump that caused this schism; Donald Trump knew how to use it, and in that process revealed this reality, and I’m grateful to him for revealing it to my blind, oblivious eyes.

I’m not worried about Donald Trump, I’m concerned about what comes after him, about the much smarter, more capable, less self-sabotaging people watching the estrangement and flood of anger that has lain waiting for someone—anyone—to unleash. They’re watching, learning how to manipulate this rupture that has broken our society apart, how to set up one group against another in these Disunited States of America, and take over and harm the country in a way that could well dwarf whatever Trump has done.

More important, I think of that One Body, our one world, and realize it is not my practice to fear or grow anxious over Donald Trump or November 3, my middle-of-the-night insomnias notwithstanding. My practice is to bear witness to this One Body, to better understand why a fine and intelligent man close to me believes that the coronavirus is a hoax, to bear witness to those feeling that, no matter how hard they work, they’re always being left behind, always on the margins of things, and their children will fare no better—be they white or black.

Believe me, if we don’t work to heal these divides—between rich and poor, between white and people of color, between men and women, between secular and religious—Donald Trump will be the least of our problems.

And that means that we can’t rush to win too quickly. We can’t think that the outcome of Election Day will be a victory or defeat. As Alisa Glassman wrote, we need to build new relationships, learn to trust one another, give those new relationships time. We’re always in such a hurry: now, now, now, now! It’s not how life works.

By all means, get Joe Biden in in January, but it’ll be meaningless if it isn’t the beginning of a much longer campaign to heal this country. As Alisa wrote at the end of her chapter: “The work is always about building new relationships among and between communities that did not exist before… Our job is not to let the win be our sole objective or even the top objective. The irony is that unless we prioritize other areas besides winning, we will always lose. Without this clear focus, we sabotage the very communities we say we care about.”

You can pre-order Reveille for a New Generation: Organizers and Leaders Reflect on Power, which includes the chapter by Alisa Glassman, on Amazon here.





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“What’s that, Boss?”

“That’s Henry, Auss.”

“What’s a Henry?”

“Henry is a 12-pound mixed dog who’s moved in with his human. They’re taking the front bedroom upstairs.”

“That’s a dog? What are you supposed to do with it, eat it?”

“I don’t think he’ll let you, Aussie.”

“Why don’t you try throwing it to me, Boss? If it makes noise maybe I’ll fetch it.”

“That’s a terrible thing to say. Actually, I’m very excited to have Henry here, Auss. It’s the first time I have a small dog in the house. I’ve wanted to try one for several years and here he is, though of course he doesn’t belong to me.”

“Why does his nose constantly nudge the blue ball up between your thighs? Does he think you’re missing something? Doesn’t he know you’re a she?”

“I think he wants me to throw it, that’s how he gets my attention, Aussie. He did the same thing with the yellow squeaking duckie that Harry left behind.”

“Are you loving it?”

“Enough, Auss. Henry’s a lovely dog and you’ll have to get along with him.”

“I don’t want to get along with him. Did you ask me if I wanted another dog in the house,  Boss? Does anybody care what I think?”

“As a matter of fact, Aussie, I introduced him to you beforehand and you seemed to get along fine.”

“I was looking forward to finally being an only dog after Harry left: get all the left-overs, sleep wherever I want, not ever again have to share! And now this—a mini-maniac pushing a yellow squeaking duckie up your—”

“Stop it, Aussie!”

“Boss, I have felt canine non grata for a long time now!”

“You’re spoiled and self-indulgent, Aussie. Next thing I know you’ll be off to the White House again.”

“Do I have a choice? Have you looked at the steps to the door lately?”

“OMG, Aussie, look at all the Amazon boxes full of school supplies for immigrant children. It looks like they’re getting everything they need—”

“But I don’t got what I need, Boss. I can’t get into the house!”

“I believe we sold out the Amazon Wish List. Can you believe that, Aussie? It sold out in less than a week. Doesn’t that give you a good feeling, Auss?”

“Boss, I can’t get into the house!”

“I tell you, Aussie, people are amazing. It took me a long time to recognize how generous they are, and how generous life is.”

“I can’t get into the house, Boss!”

“Henry managed to slip through, but then he’s a quarter your size.”

“Boss, I need to get in and rest. It’s been a long day.”

“I have to open them all, repack them and put them in my car, Aussie.”

“Not on my back seat!”

“What is it with you, Aussie? It’s your home, your front steps, your food, your back seat. Henry needed a home so he’s here. Children need help with school supplies so many kind people got them what they needed. Why can’t you learn to share?”

“If I learned to share, I’d be a socialist. You want me to share, send me to China. In fact, I think Henry is a little Chinese, don’t you? I should have known, just another illegal immigrant–in my house!”

“At least he works for a living, Aussie.”

“What does he do?”

“He chases balls and duckies. Do you do that?”

“I’m a proud American dog. I don’t chase balls and duckies. Born-in-the-USA!”

Oh Aussie, I don’t know how much longer the two of us can share the same house. It’s getting so partisan!”

“Henry has to leave. No miniature sex maniacs allowed here.”

“Nobody’s leaving. I love it that he’s different from you. His bark is different—”

“Call that a bark?”

“—his personality is different, his energy level, he looks different. You know what Bernie used to say.”

“Here it comes.“

“He would say that we’re all different plants and flowers in one immense garden. The garden wouldn’t be the same if even one of us goes.”


“NASA, Auss?”

“Not another spiritual answer.”


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I love getting presents. I love beautifully wrapped presents.

These aren’t beautifully wrapped but I love them just the same, even more. They’re not for me, they’re school supplies for immigrant children, but I am absolutely gleeful as I open each box with the scratch of a sharp knife, dig under the bubble wrap and paper and find more notebooks, more backpacks, more colorful index cards. Then I carry the boxes to the trunk of my car.

I try not to order many things from Amazon for myself in favor of local stores, but for this purpose and due to covid, there’s little choice. So here they are, like magic, and I feel  glorious because I love getting presents.

When I was a kid, I didn’t get many. I was born right after Israel became a country, grew up in a kibbutz, fruit was rationed and there was no money for extras. There’s an old photo of me holding a beautiful doll that I loved with all my heart, given me by my uncle. I think it was the  only toy that I had as a child.

After we arrived in the States, I have strong memories of getting up from my bed at nights and walking quietly to the kitchen to listen behind the door as my parents sat there wondering how to make it to the end of the month. I was the oldest of three and felt the most responsible. As a result, I learned at a very young age never to ask for anything, it would just add to their hardship.

Near where we lived was a store called Bargain Town, a small version of Walmart, with many cheap items. My mother would bring us shopping there and I would head for the toys and games aisle. Later it would be books and records, but before my teens it was toys and games. When she got the things she needed she’d come looking for me.

“Do you want me to get you something?” she’d ask, looking at me sharply.

I would shake my head, never taking my eyes off the game I wanted.

“Tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you.”

I wanted badly to tell her but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth; I was sure that asking for anything would cause her pain.

“If you don’t tell me what you want, I won’t get it for you,” she’d say.

When I didn’t say anything she left, leaving me confused. But she knows what I want, I am looking straight at it, I’d think to myself. All of which confirmed me in the notion that I must never ever ask for anything.

Decades later, and Bernie and I have dinner. I voice my concern about whether we have enough money, both personally and for our work, and he says: “You have a mind of impoverishment. The world will take care of us, don’t worry.”

I tell him about how I grew up and learned never to expect anything. Bernie can’t care less about the stories, no sympathy or empathy there, he just shakes his head once again and says: “You have a mind of impoverishment.” I am being stingy, not using all of the ingredients of my life.

Early Buddhism was often associated with achieving some state of nirvana. If you achieved that state through assiduous practice, your karma—causes and conditions, your upbringing, and all the situations of your life—wouldn’t catch up with you or would no longer be relevant.

That’s not my sense of Zen practice. What I love about Zen is that it envelops you and your craziness as well. It warns you not to make out of it a personality or identity, but it accepts all the things—in fact the very things you may be embarrassed about or wish to hide—that make you different from others. There’s a deep generosity in that.

One day we again talked about money and Bernie again shook his head. “You have a mind of impoverishment.”

I snapped. “Okay, I have a mind of impoverishment. So what!”

He said nothing. Then he started laughing. I started laughing. Then he laughed even harder, and when Bernie laughed hard it became high-pitched and giggly, which made me laugh even harder, and by then we were both laughing so hard we couldn’t eat.

I don’t think he ever told me about my impoverished mind again. Not that I don’t have it, I see it, notice it, sometimes do something about it, sometimes not. Now I’m the one shaking my head at me: Still the same old meshugena.

There’s a famous Zen koan about a teacher who gives the wrong answer to a question and his punishment is to be reborn many lifetimes as a fox. When people work on this koan, whether they know it or not, what they’re working on are these questions: What happens to that tough upbringing, those abusive events, the thing that hurt? Do I ignore them? Can I ignore them? Do I bury myself underneath them and wish to die? Or do I see that that, too, is life, part of the Whole, because nothing is excluded?

If you were hurt in life you can become the world’s great victim, or you can practice with it, learn to hold it lightly, even start laughing with it, and use it to do some good. I believe that’s what happened with Bernie after the loss of his mother when he was a child; it probably happened to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who found herself stopped by people’s perceptions about women. But first, you have to make some peace with it. Not deny, fully acknowledge it and its impact on your life, and then make something out of it.

In his magnificent Overstory, Richard Powers writes of the brilliant Patricia Westerford, who is stopped in her tracks for many years by professional ostracism due to her discoveries about the aliveness of trees. She finally meets Dennis, who loves and take care of her. Powers writes: “She takes his shaking hand in the dark. It feels good, like a root just feels, when it finds, after centuries, another root to pleach to underground. There are a hundred thousand species of love, separately  invented, each more ingenious than the last, and every one of them keeps making things.”

That’s what each one of us is, with our complexities and hang-ups, one of a hundred thousand species, no, an infinite number of species of love, each more complex than the last, and we’re always creating new combinations and new species of love out of all that mishigas. The dharma, the One Body, embraces it all.

That’s how I felt when I found the Amazon boxes on my steps. Did it matter that they weren’t for me, that they were headphones, computer mice, protractors, crayons, and colorful pencils and calculators, sent to children who have very little by Ruth and Elias and Robert and Susan and Suzanne and others who didn’t send their names? Not one bit.

There are still items on the Amazon List that we need, simple things like flash cards and graph paper and more binders and notebooks. Jimena wants to pack each backpack with paper and notebooks and post-its, etc. and give the backpack to each child, watch his/her face as they open it up. I told her that we didn’t have everything yet, but that we would. I promised her that. If you can, please help by getting something on the  list. Make learning like Christmas.

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“I love painting my toenails, Aussie.”

“Silliest thing I’ve watched you do. Only humans do something so dumb”.

“You know something, Auss? It’s wonderful to do dumb things every once in a while, not to always be serious. Even as I talk earnestly on the phone about something, I look at my silly red toes, with the two tiny toe rings on the second toe, and I laugh.”

“I thought Buddhists don’t color their toes. Or their fingers. I thought you guys have to be serious all the time.”

“Don’t tell anybody, Aussie, but deep inside I’m happy.”

“Buddhists are not supposed to be happy!”

“Fall is magnificent here; it’s impossible to look out the window or walk in New England now without being happy, even frivolous.”

“Frivolous! Now? With the election coming up? Even I know Donald’s in trouble.”

“Even with the elections and the kablooie around the Supreme Court.”

“What’s kablooie, Boss?”

“A very important word that describes the circus we’re going through right now, Aussie. Kablooie means explosion. It means everything’s going down!”

“Donald’s not going down!”

“I think he is, Auss, but that’s not the point.”

“If only he’d take me into the White House to be his dog. Everybody will love him. I’m much prettier than Melania. Donald will huff and puff and yell Kablooie! Kablooie!, but I’ll bat my pretty eyelashes and look soulfully at the cameras, and you just watch, we’ll win paws down.”

“This is not about Trump, it’s about the country, Auss: the big dramas, the splashy headlines, he screams this and she screams that, a Senate that’s become a sandbox for toddlers—enough already!”

“Kablooie! Kablooie!”

“We’re not going kablooie, Aussie.”

“I don’t care, I love the word.”

“It’s always important to keep in mind that we don’t really know the outcome of things. I think Trump’s time as President unveiled much we didn’t want to look at and now there’s a loud wake-up call we can’t ignore. It’s time to live differently, to sacrifice. How many of us thought like this during Obama’s years? Trump’s years in the White House might be valuable in the long run after all.”

“Of course they’re valuable. We learned to appreciate the importance of a First Dog. Kablooie!”

“Aussie, I first came across kablooie in Calvin and Hobbs, a cartoon about a little boy and his stuffed tiger, which may be alive. Come bedtime, Calvin always asks his father to read him the same book: Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie. But his father’s so sick of it he won’t read it anymore to Calvin.”

“Why? Because it’s violent?”

“That’s the funny thing, Auss. You never find out what the book’s about. All you know is that Calvin always wants to hear that book read to him, and his father won’t do it anymore. They fight all the time, but you don’t really know what they’re fighting about.”

“Anything called Gooey Kablooie must be a great story, Boss.”

“I agree, Aussie. Some of that is what’s happening now. We fight and we fight, but we’re not always sure what we’re fighting about.”

“I’m fighting about having a dog in the—”

“Some might say that it’s all about racism, the pandemic, climate change, gender rights, religious rights and abortion, lots and lots of things. But it’s always good to remember that we never really know how things will pan out. We do what we do, and life takes over, Aussie.”


“You have to stay open even as you fight for things, Auss. That’s not easy. It’s called not-knowing.”

“Here we go again. NASA.”

“NASA? What’s space flights got to do with anything?”

“NASA. Not another spiritual answer!”

“Aussie, there are things we know we don’t know, but there are lots more things we don’t know we don’t know. Like who knew a pandemic could change our life so radically?”

“NASA! NASA! That’s what I want you to call me from now on. Every time you want me to come, just call out: NASA! NOT ANOTHER SPIRITUAL ANSWER—come!”

“I can’t do that, Aussie. I’m a Zen teacher, spiritual give-and-take is in my blood!”

“I don’t mind what you take, it’s what you give that I mind. I don’t want no spiritual treats.”

“By the way, how would you like to be called Kablooie instead of NASA or Aussie?”

“Too long for a dog, Boss.”

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“I’ve been thinking a lot, Chavale, and I finally decided: My conscience is clear.”

“Conscience about what, mom?”

“About the family. I can’t say anything about your father, he’s his own responsibility. But you children were my responsibility and I think I raised you right, right?”

“Right, mom.”

“By that I mean that the most important thing is to help others, and all three of you do that. That’s what I tell my friends. ‘You want to be happy, help others. Maybe at first, doing bad things feels good, but in the end it won’t.’” She thinks a little. “I just don’t understand why life is so tough.”

“You mean, the closing down, mom?” Beginning last Friday afternoon, the eve of the Jewish new year, Israel began its second full shut-down, with residents limited in how far they can wander from home and checkpoints and police on the city streets. My brother and sister got written permission they wave to the police in order to visit my mother.

“Not just that. I have to speak more to God.”

“You spoke with God, mom?”

“On the eve of Yom Kippur [Yom Kippur has not transpired yet, it starts Sunday night, September 27] I spoke to God and I told him, ‘There’s a problem with creation. You made human beings to do good, not bad, so why do so many still do that? Why is life so hard? Something isn’t working in the creation. Somebody goofed here.’”

“Did you get an answer, mom?”

“Not yet.”

Over the past several days we’ve been on the cusp of winter. Temperatures plunged, especially nighttime, and for the first time that I can remember I put the heat on before October. We had frost warnings and I brought in some plants, though the mornings have shown no frost so far. It’ll warm up tomorrow, so the flowers have to survive one more night before returning to  more days of sun, but the end is inevitable. Some are already careening over and nothing flowers anymore.

Time to rest? Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

For the past month, since reading of cancer appearing in her pancreas, she’s been on our wellbeing list, so I wasn’t surprised when she died. I was shocked. Somehow, I thought that someone as strong as she could cheat death, at least till January. I visualized her lying back after the inauguration of Joe Biden and saying, “Now I can rest.”

She’s resting now; not me.

She’s been quoted a lot lately, but the words that really spoke to me were her words on dissent, which she had to do plenty of on a conservative Supreme Court:

“Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong, and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions, and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but tomorrow.”

And that has to be my hope, too. All too often I get discouraged. As I wrote the other day, I try to stay centered and stable, but at times it feels as if the world has become the Great Tempter: So, you think it’s been bad till now? Well what about this, and what about this, and just you wait till tomorrow. We’ll see you stay centered tomorrow!

What about Ginsburg’s seat being replaced by Republican senators? What about if Trump, against all odds, wins in November? What do I do?

I’ll dissent, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll say to whoever’s listening that this doesn’t work according to my understanding. I’ll take courage from Ginsburg’s words. It’s not for now that I’m fighting, it’s not for me or my peers, those of us who have fewer years ahead than behind. I dissent for later, for future generations. I’m not predicating anything on results today or tomorrow or next month or even next year.

Hope has nothing to do with tomorrows, it has to do with what your vision is today, where you stand now, what you stand for. And if things don’t go your way, dissent and dissent and dissent. There are infinite ways to dissent, not just writing a court opinion, so find your way.

One of my ways of dissenting, in this grim, uncharitable time, is to do the opposite of what my self-preserving instincts tell me to do: loosen up, and instead of grab—give. So I made up an Amazon Wish List for the children of immigrant families who got Dell Chromes from their schools but no headphones, no backpacks, no notebooks, no calculators or protractors, no money for paper and binders and even crayons.

The list includes two expensive calculators for igh school students studying calculus; the rest are backpacks, more moderate calculators, and also items many of us would find cheap, like index cards, graph paper, flash drives, and sticky notes. In a family that struggles to feed its children, there is little money for such “extras” even though their teachers gave us this list of items, indicating they’re essential, not extras. You can find this Amazon Wish List here.

For now, the items will come to me and I’ll bring them to Jimena. Whatever you could afford to help these children learn would be greatly appreciated. You can also use the donate button below to send money for food cards, or else send a check to me: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351.

I feel like saying, “Do it for Ruth.” Instead, I invoke my mother: “That’s what I tell my friends, you want to be happy, help others.”

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“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to Aussie! Happy birthday to you.” Aussie was three years old yesterday.

“I’m a dog, I don’t do birthdays.”

“I do birthdays, Aussie. I love to celebrate, get a cake, go out. We’re also celebrating that you’ve been here two years! Remember when you came to us from Texas?”

“I was supposed to go to Washington and be the White House dog, but the truck got lost and here I am.”

“And lucky for you, Auss, because you’d be homeless once again after January. They’ll throw you out to the streets, you watch.”

“He won’t take me to Mar-A-Lago? I can do Florida.”

“Naah, you’re a New England dog now, Aussie. Remember how much you love the snow?”

“I want to be a Dixie dog.”

“Being a Dixie dog is not so kosher anymore, Aussie. People don’t like Dixie because it brings up the antebellum South.”

“What happens to Dixie cups?”

“You know what else, Auss? Ruth Bader Ginsberg died.”

“Is that bad?”

“I’ll miss her very much. She was so fierce and honest. Some people say it’s a catastrophe, but actually she lived a long time and was very ill, she couldn’t go on much longer. She once repeated this advice that her mother-in-law gave her:  ‘In every good marriage it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’”


“It helps to be a little deaf. Meaning that if somebody says something nasty or insensitive to you, it’s not bad to pretend you’re deaf and never heard it.”


I didn’t know RBG died Friday till I returned from the zendo this afternoon and opened up my computer. The media, of course, gave some space to Ginsberg’s humanity and achievements but focused bigly, in Trump’s words, on the politics of her death.

I almost wrote dirty politics, but politics isn’t dirty in and of itself, it’s how it mixes with our fears and small, stubborn insanities that makes politics dirty. Instantly the ramparts go up, the archers and shooters take their place, and instead of embodying Ginsberg’s combination of fierceness and respect for all, we’re into hate and contempt.

The more I actively resist getting pulled into the vitriol of this election, the harder life seems to make it for me, almost as if it’s saying: You thought you could weather these lies and calumny that are our daily Presidential staples—now see this! Where is your peace now?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg centers me. She was fierce, but not insulting. A lady, but at no cost to her brilliance or tenacity. She stood firm, using her skills and gifts to push the horizon just a little further, and a little further. The choice between resignation and backlash isn’t the only one available to us. If anything, these are the times when we should take a break to mourn and reflect on what we’ve learned from her.

Today was the first morning we returned to the zendo to do a memorial service for a man who died so young. I  reflected on the vast hope we put into our children, how much we want them to be well, to succeed, to be happy. I could see the young man’s photo close by while the trees outside waved and fluttered, clearly aware of fall.

That’s what I want to be like, I thought. I want to sit like a tree, stand like a tree, and move like a tree. Be strong and centered, giving and taking with the seasons, harboring life inside and underneath, in silent, endless communion with the rest of the world.

Instead, I got angry after reading the papers.

“I can’t believe that you want to be THAT MAN’S dog, Aussie.”

“I can’t hear a word you say.”

“You know how he loathed RBG? He hates strong females, Auss.”

“Not a word.”

“He doesn’t care about dogs. He doesn’t care about nature, about animals, about anything that isn’t money.”

“What did you say?”

“Comes January they’ll throw you out of that White House quicker than you could say Boo.”

“Bow Wow, not Boo.”

“And stop pretending you can’t hear, you’re a dog, you have better hearing than I do.”

“I’m pretending to be deaf so as not to ruin our relationship. Try to be a little grateful for my wisdom and maturity. From now on I won’t hear a word you say. Nothing will penetrate, promise.”

“I bought you steak for your birthday, Aussie.”

“Where is it?”

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“Mom, how are you?”

My sister texted that my mother is having a hard time. Israel is going into a strict 3-week lockdown for the Jewish holidays. There is arguing and fighting on TV, much confusion. No synagogue for my mother this year, no hearing the shofar.

”She thinks that somebody’s trying to kill her,” my sister explained.

I called her.

“Don’t worry about me, Chavale,” my mother says, “we have a plan.”

“What plan is that, mom?”

“We’re going to do something very big to beat this. Very, very big.”

“Beat what, mom?”

“You know,” she says vaguely, “this. What is going on.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“I can’t tell you, Chavale, it’s a secret. But listen, do you have a television? Watch the news tomorrow and you’ll hear all about it.”

“Who’s planning this, mom?”

“Two friends and me. But I can’t say anything now, you’ll know tomorrow because you’ll hear it on the news.”

In the middle of dementia, my mother is still the eternal hero. There are enemies everywhere but she will beat them, she will serve on the front lines of the coming war. She tells me this often. It’s how she copes with hardship and the loss of her mind.

How do you cope with it? How do you cope with loss of your mind and your body? Of someone you love?

My friend, Fleet Maull, lost his only child, a 42-year-old son found in bed by his mother in Peru, probably from complications coming out of epileptic attacks that began after a horrific beating he suffered years ago. There’s something about losing a child that catches me around the throat so hard I can hardly breathe. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it: the phone call out of nowhere, the news out of nowhere. The absolute, irredeemable fact of loss.

I come across people whose relentless caution with covid seems to me to border on the extreme. Put gloves on all the time, don’t stop at a rest stop but pee and shit in the woods (a mask, sanitizer, and gloves aren’t good enough), take a covid test before venturing anywhere (though I come from an area that has seen 0 covid infections in August and 1 in July).

Everyone has a right to their own guidelines, as I have a right to agree to those terms or not, but at times I wonder what control we’re trying to exert here. There’s a difference between taking precautions and trying to practically guarantee that nothing bad will happen.

“Americans haven’t learned that life carries risks,” an African woman told me.

Risks and loss for everybody, not just our poor cousins in Third World countries or the hundreds of employees who died from covid infection because they worked in unsafe conditions in slaughterhouses so that we could have our supply of meat. Exposure is everywhere, you can’t avoid it.

I take the usual precautions, but I don’t wish to fight exposure. My life isn’t any more important than anyone else’s. It’s true, I don’t work in a slaughterhouse and I’m not about to lose my home, at least not in the near run. But I will be part of a group holding an in-person service for Fleet’s son on Saturday morning. We will maintain distance and wear masks, all the usual covid-related accessories will be there, but I need to show up in person. I need to see him face-to-face and see his grief, and be seen by him, in my deep, deep sorrow, face-to-face. I want to expose my broken heart to him, and while there will be opportunities to do that on Zoom, sometimes we just need to do it in person.

I wanted to be exposed in flight and airports in order to see my mother still alive because I don’t know when she’ll go. If she goes soon, I won’t be able to attend her funeral or the Shiva. The brave, demented woman continues to imagine herself at the head of an army, taking care of her family, taking care of Jews everywhere, taking care of the world. Even with a clear mind she would wish to be exposed, to share in the risks of being human.

We love and we lose. The risks of being human are everywhere.

I often think of love, of finding someone who wishes to deeply connect, to share a life with a man once again. At the same time, a voice tells me inside: You know, we humans are pretty small when it comes right down to it. We’re small creatures with enormous needs for this and for this and for this and for this, hungry ghosts everywhere. By all means, find love if you can, but don’t forget, you’re not that big. Ours is not the tape measure by which to measure the world, by which to measure how much I give and how much I receive by tiny teaspoonfuls.

So much gives me life that I’ll never repay it in a thousand lifetimes.

How do I repay the gently sloping oak behind the Kwan-Yin in the back yard? We would be nowhere without the green universe that none of us created. How do I repay the hawk that several days in a row has flown low across the windshield of my car as I drove down the road above my house? I must remember to tell this to my Indian friends, I think, and immediately recall that 4 days ago we heard from Renee Iron Hawk that her grandson, whom she is raising, had a fire accident and now lies in a burn unit bed in a Sacramento hospital with burns on 92% of his body (you can support Magnus’s recovery by going here).

Renee took precautions, and still this happened. She knows it, and sounds stoic on the phone. It’s the risks of being human.

Just do your work, I tell myself. Not in some huge way—my work doesn’t have such proportions, nor do my mistakes. I’m not heroic like my mother. Just be ready, I tell myself each morning, and take care. A hawk will guide you on your way.

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Jimena continues to amaze. She works in the schools from morning to evening, focusing on the Latino immigrant community from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon, and then goes to the offices of Catholic Charities to tutor teens in algebra and younger kids with remedial reading and arithmetic (“Whatever they  need!”) from 6:00 to 9:00 four evenings a week.

“At 5:30 on Friday I collapse,” she tells me. “I won’t work on weekends. Weekends are for my family.”

It’s late afternoon and pouring down buckets. The plants need every bit of it, but not the crowd of women and kids waiting below. Jimena and I stand on one of two steps under a small marquee, and today of all days a crowd has arrived for food cards. Everyone is careful, only one approaches at a time. The others stand outside patiently in the downpour, some with small children, some with umbrellas. Nobody seems to mind one bit. Unreserved gratitude everywhere.

“Espere!” Jimena yells to the first woman and runs to get something from her car. When the next person arrives she does it again, and by that time I’m running with her to empty her car trunk of many white plastic bags that she is giving out to parents, one by one. I peer inside. Each bag contains a Dell Chromebook.

Schools are opening up remotely, and the families need their computer notebooks. Perhaps in mid-October they’ll go into a hybrid learning situation, with half the students coming in for two days a week and the other half the other two days.

I should have taken a picture of the 15 plastic bags with Chromes (she’ll give out more from her home the next day), but I didn’t think of it till just a few were left. The reason is that when I realized what was in the bags, I felt a surge of pride and appreciation. Of what? Of this country that provides Dell Chromebooks to immigrant children who need it—including children in undocumented families.

I know the horror stories from the border: family separations, children in prison-like conditions, illness, even death. But I’ll take the good news with the bad anytime, and the good news is that here, families are getting help. They’re getting care for the kids. The school district hires a speedster like Jimena. Comcast agrees to provide Wifi at $10 a month for the first 6 months.

A while ago I talked with an old friend who moved to Mexico.  A photographer, she drove through adjoining villages to take photos of the old people living there. “It’s hard to believe the poverty,” she said on the phone. “They’re practically starving. The young people all leave to the States because there’s nothing for them here, absolutely nothing.”

So yes, I hear from Jimena that Moise needs money to pay down the electricity bill and Manuela can’t work anymore because she’s giving birth any day now, and somehow—through us, through people reaching back into their purses again and again—we and they get it together. Yesterday the president of Green River Zen brought me a letter she had to sign and added two $100 bills in the letter. “For the families,” she said.

This life-giving generosity should never be taken for granted; it should be made visible, marked, shouted from the rooftops.

“I’m your assistant,” I tell Jimena as we rush out into the  rain to bring more bags from the car. I give out food cards and the few remaining crosses that I brought from Jerusalem as she gives out the Chromebooks and has folks sign for them.

And there are further implications, as a famous Zen master wrote. In some families there are 4-5 kids sitting in different corners of a room over their Chromebooks doing different classes. They need over-the-ear headphones. l do some online comparison shopping  (ordinarily I’m a terrible shopper, but I may have to get better at it), found that Best Buy was selling the Insignia headphones she needed for half the price of the others, and ordered 15 of them for a total of $440 because I was afraid they’d run out. I think they’re coming in tomorrow, so maybe on Thursday it’ll be Jimena’s assistant bearing gifts in white plastic bags, of which she doesn’t have many in the house.

Many don’t know how to use the notebooks without a mouse; they don’t know how to log in or choose passwords, so they come over to Jimena’s house and she shows them what to do.

“I need $400,” she tells me in the middle of handing out Chromebooks, “can you help?”

A family is being kicked out of their home. Apartments even here, in this low-income town, rent out for $900, so families crowd in together because no one family can afford that rent. Sure enough, the landlord told one family to get out. Each time they change homes they need to come up with first month’s and last month’s rent, and security.

“I think the Interfaith Council will give me some, and the church up the hill will give me some,” she says. “Could you do $400?”

“Yes,” I say on behalf of all of us. “We’re your assistants, Jimena.”

She laughs. “They’ll also need furniture because they have nothing. I already found them a couch, here, take a look,” and out she takes one of her phones to show me a photo of the couch that someone is donating. Jimena has several phones for the various entities she works for, not to mention her private life. When one rings she goes from one to another till she finds the right one.

“I’ll keep an eye out,” I tell her. Someone is renting a room in my home and is ready to give away a queen-size bed and two cabinets. Trying to keep up with Jimena is like  racing a whirlwind.

I’ve often thought of bringing in one of the families into my own home. But I live in a rural area, not in a town, only accessible by car and without the neighbors and family they rely on so much.

I don’t work on weekends.

But I happen to know she does because she put me to work this past weekend, sending me a wish list of things the kids need: everything from computer-carrying backpacks to computer mice to calculators to cheaper crayons and paper.

We’re both amateurs at this. “I need quantities,” I write her back, “and please be more specific.” I figure I won’t hear from her till Monday at the earliest.

Four hours later I get a list with quantities and specific details. So I order the headphones and start working on an Amazon wish list.

Do I worry we won’t get what we need? “You have such a mind of impoverishment,” Bernie used to say, shaking his head.

“Oh, and by the way, Byron sent soup,” Jimena says. Byron  is her husband, a great cook.

“Sent who?”

“Sent you. He makes great chicken soup and he did this especially for you. I have some in the car, I’ll get it.”

“I’ll get it, I’m your assistant,” I tell her. “Please thank him for me. By the way, is Byron Jewish?”

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“Of all times, why are you taking me on a ride now? We had all morning and you didn’t make a move.”

“I have the time now, Aussie.”

“You know what I just left back home? Emma’s frying up bacon!”

“I’m taking you to the Farmers Co-op, Aussie, where I get your dog supplies. I’m getting you your food, your treats, all kinds of wonderful things.”

“You took me away from bacon for the Farmers Co-op? You want to compare dry kibble—”

“It’s premium, Aussie!”

“—and rawhide—”


“—with bacon frying on the oven? Do humans have a nose?”

“Don’t worry, Auss, she’ll leave you some of the bacon fat.”

“And what about the pan? How is it going to get clean if I don’t lick it up? Speaking of which, do I get paid for all this housework, for licking dishes clean before they go into the dishwasher? I do not!”

“What’s gotten into you today, Aussie? You’ve been complaining nonstop.”

“I do so much in this house and get no credit! I work and work and work, and nothing ever changes!”

“Things change all the time, Aussie. Take a look at the Washington Redskins.”

“Is that a new kind of dog treat?”

“It’s a football team from Washington, DC, our nation’s capital, that for years called itself a name that insulted Native Americans, the original people who lived here. Year after year, at the end of another losing season, I’d send them an email: Change the name! And guess what?”


“They finally changed their name, Aussie! After swearing up and down they’ll never do it, they did. See? Things change after all.”

“What do they call themselves now?”

“The Washington Football Team, at least till they come up with a new name. You know, something inspiring. This is American football, Auss. They’re probably looking for something that sounds courageous, warrior-like, and tough.”

“What about the Washington Dogs?”

“Not sure about that, Auss.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Not all dogs are courageous or warrior-like. Harry was. Remember when the big bear came to the fence? You politely withdrew, but Harry ran right up to him barking like crazy, protecting the house. He went nose to nose with the biggest bear I ever saw. Harry was brave, Aussie.”

“Harry was a dummy. What about Washington Bitches?”

“You know, Auss, naming things can be tough. You should have seen what happened here when they wanted to change the local sports teams’ name from Turners Falls Indians to something less controversial. They went through a whole process, held a referendum, listened to everybody, but what an uproar that caused—right here, in progressive Massachusetts!”

“I don’t get it. What’s in a name?”

“That’s a famous question, Aussie. There’s a lot in a name. We get courage from names. We get inspiration, dedication, physical and mental toughness.”

“I think you should call your Zen group Green River Zen Aussies.”

“I don’t think they’ll approve the name change, Auss.”

“Zen Peacemaker Pooches? I like the sound of that. Do you think they’ll be offended?”

“Some Zen Peacemakers may be offended.”

“I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about the pooches. Indians don’t want to be used in a name, why should pooches? I know! Zen Peacemaker Trumps! It’s flamboyant, it’s charismatic, and it’s flashy. And he won’t mind at all, he loves having his name out there.”

“I’ll propose it to the board, Auss.”

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A friend emailed for ideas regarding a memorial service, and as I looked up different files I came upon this prayer:

As I light this incense

I offer this prayer

to you Kanzeon.

Please protect me from internal demons

and bad situations.

Sure the world is a mess,

just help me not to worry.

Just do what I can do to help,

and to realize my capacities and limitations.

Kanzeon is Kwan-Yin, the goddess of compassion. The man who recited this prayer every day in the years before his death was Greg Shindo Bechle. I wrote about Greg in The Book of Householder Koans, namely, that he had struggled for decades with PTSD after being stabbed with a 9” knife when he was 16. 35 years later, when meditation practice and psychiatric treatment had finally begun to stop the horrific flashbacks he suffered from, he was told by his doctor that he had terminal cancer and would die within the year.

After his death I was shown his prayer, and we incorporated it into the memorial service for him.

Today I came across it again, and realized how many people I have met over my life who have been my teachers. Of course, Bernie immediately comes to mind. When he and I got together a good friend asked me: “So what’s it like, living with a Zen master?”

I didn’t know how to answer that—we were arduously working things out like other couples, and we’d continue to do that till the end—so I shrugged and said: “He’s my husband.”

But over the years I understood. There wasn’t a meal or coffee that we shared that a certain part of me didn’t watch and listen to him, not a private time seeing a movie that my eyes didn’t veer to the periphery not to lose sight of him. There was a special layer of alertness there that I don’t think I gave others, perhaps I should have; still, I stayed attentive to him over many years.

When he died, he didn’t leave a small emptiness, rather a vast emptiness. And as time goes on, the hollow sense of that emptiness is fading and the vast part of it takes over. I don’t know how else to put it.

I got an email from the new president of Greyston Foundation, Joe Kenner, asking me how I could put Bernie’s motivation for starting Greyston in just a few words, and one way of saying that is vast emptiness. But I won’t use that term, I’ll probably use One Body instead.

Only it’s not Bernie I wish to write about, it’s people like Greg who sat together with us for a short time and then died, leaving me this gorgeous small prayer. It’s people who dribble-drabbled to Greyston as we built and developed it, curious about this phenomenon of sitting in the early morning and getting up to work with folks from all walks of life for the rest of the day, including those without homes or work.

It’s the people we met at many retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau who came from the Balkans, Palestine, Rwanda, Pakistan, and Syria. It’s people I’ll see later today for food cards (assuming the big thunderstorms permit it). THEY GIVE MORE THAN THEY TAKE.

“I pray all the time,” a woman told me. She has two children at home and supports them on a midnight factory shift till the factory closes. I don’t think she meant that she’s constantly asking God for help, she probably does, but I knew from her words that it was far more than that, an acknowledgment that there was something far bigger in her life than poverty and worry, something beneficent and connecting, the most alive thing of all.

I have received so much from them, as I have from fellow travelers, those of us on this path of spiritual engagement, who know that meditation isn’t just something you do on a cushion but continues through your every movement. Meditation does you, you don’t do it. This life of purpose we share is the great gift of my life, Bernie’s great gift to me and many others.

Last winter I read a book, another gift given me by Abundance, by a European Zen teacher on how he saw the coming climate crisis. There was no doubt about it, it was going to be catastrophic. He talked of the garden in back of his center in Sweden and said he’d like to think that future generations will have that garden to come to, sit in, and get sustenance from as they face these big challenges.

I thought then to myself that I, too, wish to leave something for the future generations. I have no children, I certainly don’t have money. I don’t even garden.

And that’s when I remembered the Zen Peacemaker Order that Bernie always tried to get off the ground, an order of people living a vow-driven life to act on behalf of our entire planet and all its inhabitants. People who sit first thing in the morning to experience once again that vast emptiness that births everything, and then get up from their chair or cushion and work in the world as agents of that great emptiness. It does them, they don’t do it. They’re the best people I’ve ever met, but even for the short while that they and I exist, we’re not doing really anything, it does it all.

So a wonderful group of teachers and senior practitioners is creating that Order as I write this. Earlier today I spoke to Jorge Koho Mello, a teacher in Switzerland . He will represent Europe in our discussions. He said: “Zen has to change some of its forms and we are the generation that, through Bernie, are the bridge to what future generations will do.”

Yes, I thought, but we must also be a bridge to a future when people will be broken and angry, disillusioned and afraid, Perhaps when rivalry over depleted resources and ecosystems will threaten us all. Some say we’re there already, or close to it. And indeed, I won’t lie to you, there have been times when I’ve closed my eyes and thought: It’s good I’m 70 and won’t live to see all this. But no, a Zen Peacemaker Order is a far better alternative.

This Order for people who seek fellowship for a meditation-based active life may be a gift and maybe not. I try not to exaggerate my importance in any of this, I’m a creature of small steps. And I’m reassured by Greg’s prayer of so many years ago:

Sure the world is a mess,

just help me not to worry.

Just do what I can do to help,

and to realize my capacities and limitations.

We’re doing something new. Below are now two Donate buttons, one for immigrant families and one for my blog. Each is tied to a different PayPal account and to separate bank accounts, for greater transparency–and to ease my bookkeeping. It’s taken a while and I hope they work; we’ll find out soon enough and make whatever adjustments are needed. Please follow your heart, and if you prefer to do this by check, send it to me: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 and write For food cards on the memo line.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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