Bernie and I had at least one thing in common, and that was a dislike for any show of weakness or vulnerability. For different reasons and in different ways, each of us stood ready to tough things out.

After his stroke Bernie changed; there wasn’t much choice. I went the other way. “The slower you go, the faster I go,” I used to tell him. There was always so much to do, so much to plan ahead for and take care of, and I would do it all. Early each morning I worked out the day’s plan so that we all knew what had to happen once Bernie got up and the caregiver arrived, all in addition to what had to get done in my own life. If it felt like too much, that was too bad, I would do what had to be done.

Yesterday I went with Harry and Aussie down to the local preserve to gather with other neighbors and their dogs for the weekly Montague dog-in. It was Harry’s first time joining this gathering of dogs of all sizes on a cold, blue-sky day, but I needn’t have worried. He mixed in with everyone, ran and chased, and had a whale of a time. Aussie, as usual, was in heaven; she’s always in heaven when she’s with other dogs.

The long, downwards-sloping entrance to the preserve was icy, broken into large patches of black ice or else full of white shards and slippery mounds. Ice everywhere. Only when we got fully inside, where the river pools and pauses, pond-like, closer to the woods, did the earth turn to snow and sometimes back to yellow/brown soil.

The dogs frolicked and chased one another, the humans talked neighbor and dog-talk, and after an hour several of us with our dogs began to walk back.

I was older than the others and have never felt safe on ice. I got nervous as I struggled to keep my balance. The others, more confident on their feet, walked ahead along with their dogs and mine, and soon the distance between us widened as I slowed down, till finally no one was with me at all, everyone else making their way up the slope towards where the cars were parked.

I was alone, and I felt alone. Unstable on my feet, I felt a sudden weakness in my legs. Please, I thought to myself, I don’t want to fall.

I looked up and saw Aussie. She, who loves canine company better than anything in the world, had left the others and come down looking for me. She watched me from a distance, at times turning to sniff this or that, but then turning again to watch me. And she stayed there till finally, with legs shaking from effort, I made it up to the cars. I worried that Harry may have run down the street, but they had kept him there by the cars till I arrived.

I was ambushed by the recollection even before I drove away. One Sunday some five years back I’d gone 15 miles away for a meeting, and during that hour icy rain had pelted the Valley. When it was time to drive home the roads were slick arteries of black ice. I didn’t even have boots on.

It took an hour to drive back those same 15 miles, the car shuddering and careening from side to side, other cars dotting the sides where they had fallen from the road. Finally I got to our street, turned slowly, and started the last mile home. I managed to drive the car uphill on the ice. Closet to home the road turned, I turned with it, lost control, and the car careened towards the steep drop on the right. I think I screamed in terror as the car went off the road, but it was stopped from falling all the way down by a ditch at the edge. There it rested, finally stopped.

I called Bernie’s phone and he, safe at home all this time, picked up. Panic-stricken, I told him what I had just gone through, about the terrifying hour’s ride and what had just happened.

“Call Triple A,” he suggested.

“Call Triple A!” I repeated. “You think I need you to tell me to call Triple A? That’s not why I’m calling you!” I hung up the phone.

Why did I call him? The house was below me, I’d have to torturously make my way down the hill and down the driveway, but I’d make it. I called him because I needed someone to hear the terror in my voice, the fear of doing these things alone, of being so close to the sharp edge that was just a few feet away from me.

And he had told me to call Triple A.

I opened the door, gingerly stepped out, and slowly started the slippery way down, convinced I’d slip and fall any moment. I looked down to the right and saw Bernie walking slowly up the driveway. He’d always been much more secure on ice than me. He made it up to the road, lurching a few times to the right and left, then turned and came up towards me. He held out my boots that he had in his hand. Leaning back against a tree, I put them on. Then, holding on to his arm, we both came down together, he slowing down to keep his strong steps in pace with mine.

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an icicle in one of the long ears of Kwan-Yin

I went out to dinner with a dear friend, and sometime towards the end she mentioned saying good night to her partner as he went to sleep at night, pretending in fun to tuck him in. And there it was, the monster emerging from the shadows. Instantly I saw Bernie lying in bed, receiving CBD salve on the right side of his body from me before he turned to go to sleep. Afterwards, as I went around the bed I’d pull down the bottom edge of the blanket to cover his right foot, which usually stuck out and got cold because he couldn’t feel it, and did the same to the thin right arm that lay outside the blanket. He always felt cold on his unstruck left side, and felt nothing on the right.

What hits me then is: Thank you for tenderness. Thank you for every single small moment when I made Bernie coffee, asked if he needed help cutting the food, took extra time massaging him with the salve, smiled and asked, for the fifth or tenth time that day, How ya doing? Small moments, no big deal. Thank you, thank you for all the small things it’s easy to overlook in regular life, and which I miss so much when he’s not here.

But it is here in some way, even without him. I drive Aussie home after her outing with Leeann, she sticks her head close to me and licks my upraised palm. It only lasts seconds, but oh, that touch! That sweet, palpable, physical connection! It’s over almost before it begins because Miss Aussie is not into excess except with other dogs, but so much flares for just a moment. Joy. Love.

People say: It must be nice not to have to take care of anyone anymore. I say: Not really. Yes, it’s important to return, after almost 3 hard years of caregiving, to that unfamiliar room called yourself, see what’s changed, what new furniture is there, what’s the temperature. It’s never a good idea to absent yourself from there for too long.

But you could also get trapped in that room, for in some ways, grief is as self-limiting as anger. When I get angry it takes over the world, attracting enormous energy and reactivity and reducing everything else to miniature. When you grieve, the rest of the world also shrinks to become your own very private tower of sorrow. It’s why at times you grit your teeth hearing people laugh or a truck driver honking his exuberant horn. Those things threaten the walls of sorrow you’ve built around yourself; you don’t want to be reminded that other things exist, too.

Ondaatje wrote, “The self is just a small part of it, you know.” Grief, too, can finally become self-serving.

So what to do? Start looking at other things: the dogs, the waning bright moon that has given us such illuminated nights of late. Maybe go to the Stone Soup Café tomorrow and see old friends, the people who cook a terrific community meal every Saturday in Greenfield. Do council, share my life, take a modest place in that circle of people who just live their lives. Because maybe, if you pay attention and listen enough, you’ll see that everyone has losses, that in fact your life is probably better than anyone else’s.

Do a small act of kindness every day, my friend Jon Katz wrote in his beautiful post on exercises for discernment. Yes, I’d like to do that every day, too.

Someone asked me: Who are you thanking when you say thank you for tenderness? Do you, a Buddhist, believe in a divine being?

We have a service we do monthly in the zendo to feed the hungry spirits, and there is a line I’ve contemplated for many years: “I further beseech you to sustain me day and night, and give me courage to fulfill my vows.” Over and over people have asked, Whom are you beseeching?

Over lunch at a diner, a friend of mine once said to me, “I don’t believe in God, but don’t tell Him I said so.”

I don’t know whom I’m beseeching, whom I am thanking. I just go into the deepest part of myself, the part that’s even beyond breath, and there is presence there. Whose presence, I don’t know, only that it’s fully alive and subtly responds all the time.

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“Oh Stanley, I don’t know what to do.”

“How about getting off my grave for a start? You’re standing right on top me, can’t you show some respect?”

“I can’t see your grave because everything’s covered with snow. It’s all one big, white wasteland here.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem now?”

“It’s Harry the Cur, Stan.”

“I knew it!”

“He’s small, but strong and tough. He eats up my boots, jumps up on the bed in the middle of the night and lands right on top of my legs, has made the living room sofa his kingdom, and when I tell him to go inside the crate he just snorts. No answer, Stanley, just a snort!”

“Leave it to you to adopt a Mafioso.”

“I didn’t know they had Mafiosos in Mississippi. And you should see what happens in this house at mealtime. I put his food bowl on the washing machine and take down the bag of dog food, but Harry jumps up so high that twice he’s brought it down, food, broth, and all. No! I tell him.”

“What does that get you?”

“He’s ready to off Aussie, who’s bigger than he is, if she just eyes his food bowl and he pushes her out of the way so that he could go through the dog door first. She’s become a subservient female! When we had temperatures under 0 Fahrenheit a few days ago he had diarrhea. I shoveled him a nice path in back–”

“A bathroom path, how nice!–”

“But he said he’s no Eskimo and used the office in back. So what do you think, Stan?”

“I think you are one big dummy.”

“Me? Why?”

“You had a perfect life with Miss Awesome, no trouble at all. Awesome does what she’s told, goes where she’s told, never crazy or out of control. Likes to run away, true, but otherwise the perfect dog for you. A little too sweet for my taste—I like a little fight in my women—but very easy to live with. You could have lived with Miss Awesome peacefully for years, but was that enough for you? Did you count your blessings? No, sir, you had to bring Harry the Cur into the house. You want to know what I think?”

“Not really.”

“You like disruption!”

“I think that’s Bernie’s influence, Stan.”

“There you go, blaming things on the Man.”

“Just listen, Stanley. Bernie loved disrupting things. While other people liked routine, he hated it when things were easy and smooth, he needed to add another ingredient into the mix, otherwise it was not much of a mix, see? His favorite song was the one by Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.”

“That’s not just the Man, that’s you too.”

“Bernie could have been a regular Zen teacher, leading retreats and giving teachings. He gave great talks, till he decided one day it was time to build apartments for homeless families and the talks became all about construction estimates, deadlines, and new repairs on roofs.”

“You’re just asking for trouble when you do things like that.”

“Of course, Stanley, but Zen isn’t about just sitting comfortably on a cushion and staying inside your four corners.”

“It’s not?”

“No, Stanley, it’s about going full-blast into the mess of things.”

“Like Harry’s diarrhea?”

“Nothing’s excluded, Stanley.”

“Even a Mafioso?”

“I’m afraid so, Stan. Harry will change us, but we will also change him.”

“Good luck. Now leave me be, I need to nap; just listening to you gets me tired. Let me tell you, lying in the ground and rotting away under layers of snow is so much more peaceful than what you got up there.”

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At 6 this morning the moon was enormous, close to earth. Didn’t make it to the eclipse 6 hours at midnight, couldn’t stay awake, but I got up early and there was the big moon. In winter it’s our sun that remains distant; shining brightly, its rays barely delivering heat.

This icebox cold could keep us indoors, unable to commune with the rest of the world—but I must. I don’t want to stay within the jailhouse called the self. This self right now is anxious, unsettled, the floor having dropped from under.

I remember one Thanksgiving many years ago. I roasted a turkey and lots of the roasting liquid and gravy fell on the old butcher-block table that’s smack in the middle of the kitchen.

“Too bad Stanley can’t get up there,” I told Bernie, referring to the dog circling around madly even as I reached for lots of hand towels and a sponge.

Bernie, without saying a word, bent over, put both his hands under Stanley’s belly and lifted him up onto the butcher-block table. He did it so fast it caught us both by surprise. From where I stood I could see Stanley’s eyes, how they widened to see the floor sink from under his paws. Before he knew it he was standing atop the heavy table, and proceeded instantly to lick it dry. When he was done Bernie simply picked him up and put him back on the floor.

It’s a bit how I feel, my eyes rounding darkly as the ground disappears from under my feet.

But all this is not the point. The point is to find joy in small things, especially now in how the snow opens up to you, even in how the cold opens up to you. I learn that from Harry the Cur, who shivers in his blue coat, having come up from Mississippi right into the big freeze. Still he runs and flails around, trying to get Aussie’s collar off her while she, in return, tries to get his coat off of him.

I got two strippers for dogs, only instead of stripping themselves they strip each other. Harry would like to do that to me, going straight for the bottoms of my pajama pants every single night, but I don’t let him.

Mary Oliver died, she who told us that the world out there is not a scary place, that it’s full of surprise if you could just look. But it’s a throw-away line from a book by Ondaatje that sticks with me. A character says: The self is just a small part of it, you know.

Not because even in below-zero temperatures these Dixie dogs find a way to play, and not because the moon looked so big in the early hours. Because last night I was looking for a photo of Bernie to have enlarged for his memorial, and realized that almost all the photos I have are those of him since his stroke, when the strong confidence slipped away and was replaced by a vulnerable kind of hope as he wore a blue t-shirt that he probably needed help putting on.

I stared and stared, my eyes got damp, and at the same time felt so alive! There’s no liking that caved-in feeling, the contraction of your chest. Is there anything great about looking at someone you loved who’s now dead and you won’t see him again? Nothing, and yet it’s alive! Don’t drive anything away, surrender to the melting and the yearning, in their own way they’re as passionate and crazy as the dogs playing in the snow. Aussie with her thick fur could do it for hours. Harry will give it his all for a few minutes, then run back to the garage for a little breather, then brave the cold once again and jump into the mutual stripping they do of one another.

It was -6 degrees Fahrenheit. No birds were out, no squirrels. Just the three of us, two dogs from America’s warm South playing and dancing, and a woman who recognizes slowly that grief can be many things, but one thing it’s definitely not: It’s not an invitation to build a wall.


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Photo by Clemens Breitschaft

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.

How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you now? How old are you now?

Not answering? Cat got your tongue? Never mind. I know it’s your 80th. Or would have been.

“What do you want to do for your 80th birthday?” I asked you in early fall.

“Nothing,” you said.

You had a big party for your 70th, another one for your 75th. What do you have for your 80th? Gray frosty skies, Aussie lying on your bed, Harry the Cur, who’s never met you, lying on mine, all of us awaiting a big snow.

How we loved a big snow, you and I, the feeling of being in a shrouded world, islanded and safe, waiting for the snowplow to clear the driveway. “Till then,” you used to say happily, “there’s nothing we can do.” You were tired from all those years of doing, glad to wait things out till the snowplow arrived. Glad to watch the Patriots play on Sunday, play against time, a little like you.

And though you said you wanted nothing I’d have bought you something sweet, like the Boston Cream donut you liked. And we’d have discussed the coming storm, me remembering to fill the bathtub with water in case we lost power and bring up the battery-operated lamps. And in the recess of my mind I’d wonder what I’d do if we did lose power, along with our heat and water, that I’d have to get you and the dogs out of the house. But I wouldn’t have worried, I knew I’d take care of everything.

So why don’t I feel that way now? Why do I feel my constitution has melted into puddles? That of course I’ll take care of things, but it won’t really matter?

That’s what I’m missing in your absence, Bernie, that things matter. That we may not be important, but that things matter. Or, to turn it around, the matter of things. Not to look through a book or the black bean soup or the dogs’ toys on the floor as if they’re made of air, as if they don’t exist, but to see that they have matter, that they exist, that I exist.

A student of yours posted the photo above, from one of the times we taught in Switzerland. How different we always were. You liked to improvise everything, I liked to plan. But that photo! My goodness, that photo! We’re in good health, walking towards the meditation hall to start another segment of teaching, doing it like we’ll do it forever. Did we know how unbelievably gorgeous that moment was?

Is that why we humans aren’t usually so present, because the uncertainty coupled with the beauty are way too much for us?

I think they were too much for me that day, so I probably lost myself in the usual things—What do we talk about now? Who starts? What do we do this evening, or tomorrow?

Happy birthday, Bernie.

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“Psst, Awesome, who’s that?”

“That, Spook, is Harry.”

“Harry what? The prince?”

“Does he look like a prince to you, Spook? Just Harry.”

“Where’s he from?”


“OMG, don’t tell me She brought him home!”

“Okay, Spook, I won’t tell you she brought him home, but that’s what She did.”

“How could She do that, Awesome? By the way, what is he?”

“He’s a Mountain Cur.”

“A cur! Who in her right mind brings home a cur? You get rid of curs, you don’t adopt them.”

“What’s wrong with a cur, Spook?”

Cur is a derogatory word, Awesome. It doesn’t just mean mixed, we’re all mixeds. But when you call someone a cur it’s a word of insult, of injury, of contempt!”

“I don’t call him Cur, Stanley Spook, I call him Harry.”

“So what’s the Mountain Cur like?”

“Totally uneducated.”

“Of course.”

“Shat and peed in the house for the first several days, chases after Eve wherever she goes, and sleeps in her bed.”

“Sleeps in her bed!”

“She loves it. The sleeping in her bed, not the shit and pee.”

“I can’t believe she’s sleeping with someone so soon after the Man died.”

“Sad but true, Spooky Stan.”

“She should sleep surrounded by photos of the Man and lots and lots of candles, and switch to a twin bed.”

“Not her. She washed his shirts today, said she plans to take them somewhere and give away.”

“Awesome, how could you let this happen? The Man’s clothes should hang there for the next decade. Is she crying a lot?”

“Not much, Spooky. Voice catches sometimes.”

“Well, I should have known.”

“Known what, Spooky?”

“Awesome, I should have known she wouldn’t be faithful, wouldn’t think of the Man day and night. Instead off she goes sniffing around for someone new—from Mississippi, of all places. And a Mountain Cur! How could she sleep with a cur? Isn’t she ashamed? You know what I think, Awesome?”

“No. Are you going to tell me, Spooky?”

“I think she’s lost her mind. Grief and sadness can do that to humans, and I think they have driven her to distraction, to madness! She’s become the Mad Woman of Montague. The Mad Woman of Zen.”

“I’m not sure you’re right about that, Spooky.”

“I have to be right about that, Awesome, she has to be mad because the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“That she’s a trollop, Awesome. That she doesn’t care who she sleeps with, just as long as he’s furry and warm.”

“I’m afraid to tell you, Spooky, but I think that’s it. You should see the way he curls himself against her leg and then her hand comes down towards his head, and the noise she makes!”

“Woe is me! Vomit, vomit, vomit! I’d rather be dead!”

“You are dead, Stanley!”

“But I can’t go back to the Land of the Dead, Awesome. What do I tell the Man when I see him? That his widow has lost her morals? With a cur, from Mississippi? You know who they vote for over there, don’t you? Woe is me, woe is me!”

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“Miss, what guarantee can you give me that he’ll be safe in your home?”

That question came to me via email from a dog rescue operation somewhere in Texas.

Here in New England we get lots of dogs from the South—Dixie dogs, they’re called—through rescue groups that get dogs out of kill shelters and occasionally have them fostered in a family for a short time before transporting them up North. They advertise online and ask you to fill out long applications. Friends of mine have gotten wonderful dogs in this way.

Looking for a companion for Aussie, I dutifully filled out one lengthy application after another. Ignored. But a third yielded some results, namely, a lengthy email exchange. The questions came from Texas, the answers from here, and I thought I was doing pretty well till I was asked what I would do with the dog in the times I wouldn’t be home.

“I work mostly at home,” I typed, “but there’s also a dog door so that dogs could go out into a large fenced yard. In that way they are not dependent on me for running out to pee or shit. This has worked very well for a variety of dogs that we’ve had over the years.”

“We don’t think dogs should be exposed to the outdoors without human supervision,” the answer came back.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of nosy neighbors, prowlers, and predators.”

“The few neighbors I have are not nosy. I live rurally without too many people looking to steal mutts, in fact without too many people period, except for an insurance agent who came prowling around once, saw our pit bull and shepherd mixes, and promptly reported this to our insurance company, which promptly canceled our home insurance. Other than that, no prowlers. As for predators, coyotes are the only plausible ones here for midsize dogs, and the odds are low. P.S. The dogs love their freedom.”

And that’s when I got one final answer: “Miss, what guarantee can you give me that he’ll be safe in your home?”

I didn’t renew the conversation. When you talk of guarantees, you’ve lost me. Does the word even exist in other cultures?

I am aware that dogs are raised in urban and suburban settings, and there the rules are probably very different. But this is rural New England, farmland and woods. Here, if you look for guarantees you’d never take dogs off-leash into the forest because there are predators there as well, not to mention hunters or an occasional maniac. That means they’ll never fly over the ice or chase a deer scent, never sniff in the hollows of tree trunks. But they’ll be safe.

They’ll never be able to lie and soak the sun on a warm spring day even in a magnificent, fully fenced backyard unless you can sit there with them for hours. Nor will they play tug of war with sticks or dig after gophers for any length of time that you can’t match, but they’ll be safe. The rhythm of their life will always depend on you. They won’t follow their cadence of play—rest—relaxed and curious walking/sniffing—more rest. But they’ll be safe.

True, you live in the country among flora and fauna, have spent the money needed to fence your yard, and take them out every day for a run in the forest—

But can you give them guarantees that they’ll live to a ripe old age?

Can you them give guarantees that they’ll always be safe and never sorry?

Can you give guarantees that nothing, positively nothing bad, will ever happen to them?

That word should be outlawed from the English language.

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Yesterday I got a funny message: “Bernie Glassman wants to be friends with you on Facebook.”

My first thought was: Now you want to be friends?

Naturallement, Rami, ED of Zen Peacemakers, informed me that this was some kind of online scam. But for a moment I almost wondered if this wasn’t Bernie’s way of communicating from the hereafter; if he was to going to reach out to me somehow, this might be it.

Yesterday also marked the day when, three years ago, Bernie had his stroke. It was a milestone in my life, but that was probably nothing like how it was for him.

“You know what Muryo used to say?” he would tell me again and again, referring to Peter Matthiessen. “He said that if he gets sick, he just wants to crawl under a rock and die. He wants to be left alone. Well, that’s true about me, too.”

In earlier years, that indeed was pretty much how Bernie carried on whenever he got sick, but the stroke changed everything. He didn’t have the wherewithal to crawl anywhere. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t walk, couldn’t use his right side.

I remember even now how relieved I was when, at Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center, after Bernie had been moved one floor down from ICU, a rehabilitation physician examined him by hitting a soft mallet all over his body and getting no response. Finally he hit the sole of his foot, then put the mallet away.

“Well?” I asked nervously.

“He’s not totally paralyzed there,” the doctor said. “I got a small response from the foot.”

“What does that mean?” I asked. What I really wanted to know was: Will he talk again? Walk again?

“He’ll regain something,” the doctor said.

Bernie talked again. Bernie walked again. Bernie used his right arm and hand again. Slowly, with help from therapists, caregivers, and so many who financially supported these efforts, he learned to talk, walk with a cane (and without in the kitchen), dress himself, and cut his food with both hands. But he would never be independent again. The man who just wanted to crawl under a rock and be left alone now couldn’t evade the fact that he was dependent. Hugely dependent.

Would he fight it? Would he be angry at his caregivers? Would he be angry at the woman by his side who could take a fast walk each morning, run up and down the stairs, get food out of the refrigerator and hang up laundry in the basement? Who flaunted her physical independence with every move, every errand? Who drove, flew to different cities and countries, who did so much that he couldn’t?

Never. Not even once. That is no exaggeration.

At most he’d withdraw, become silent, or else say he’s tired and needs to rest.

I believe that fully accepting his state of dependence may well have been the hardest thing he ever did. Forget the fuss of the old Greyston days, a divorce from his first wife and the loss of a second. Forget the financial emergencies. This was something he could never push away, never forget.

Visitors would sometimes talk too fast for him to follow and he’d say sadly to me after they left: “I couldn’t understand what they said.”

Someone else would come and talk about a dinner honoring him, or a new bearing witness retreat somewhere far away. We would love to have you there. “Maybe,” he would say with an encouraging smile. But to me he’d say: “I can’t, it’s too much for me.”

He loved his children, he was proud of his successors, he loved the Zen Peacemakers, he loved to hear about the work going on around the world. And he knew without a doubt that he couldn’t do any of it anymore.

I’d tease him after a hard day of exercise and he’d say: “Just watch, next year I won’t walk, I’ll run!” Then add: “But I won’t be disappointed if I don’t.”

“Next year [December 2020], when you turn 70, I want to take you away somewhere,” he told me. His tone was somewhere between serious and prayerful. I smiled and nodded my head, but inside I thought that in all probability it wasn’t going to happen, he couldn’t recover that much.

Do I think I was wrong? No, but now I wish I’d let those words hover for a while. I wish I’d let myself take them in, not as a promise that would not be fulfilled but as the deep, expressed yearning of someone who badly wished to celebrate me—to celebrate us—one last time.

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Photo by Peter Cunningham

I continue to be semi-hoarse since my time in Israel; maybe my voice is changing. The message I get is: Now may be a good time to shut up.

Unless he was talking about work, Bernie tended towards silence, especially in the personal sphere. As everyone knows who was around him, he talked a mile a minute with enormous confidence and enthusiasm, but put him around the dinner table and tell him your mother wasn’t feeling well or you don’t know what to do about this book or that, or even about your whole life, and he had nothing to say.

“Zen masters don’t talk.”

“He talked plenty, Stanley, just not personally. And I wanted to talk, not about Trump or things like that, but about how I was feeling and what was coming up.”

“Zen is about silence.”

“That’s a sad delusion, Stan. Meditation isn’t just about sitting or silence, it’s about everything, including talk. You know what I used to tell Bernie, Stanley? ‘I feel like an electric wire seeking to make a connection, only the socket ain’t there.’”

“That’s a terrible way to talk about your beloved husband who’s now dead and can’t defend himself.”

“Oh Stanley, why don’t you go back to being dead? And speaking about someone else who’s dead and can’t defend himself, let me tell you this story about my old friend, Hans Hokanson, a big, silent Swede, a Zen priest who made massive, gorgeous pieces of furniture. Massive and gorgeous described Hans.”

“Is he dead, too?”

“Yes, Stanley, Hans has been dead for over 20 years.”

“Then I don’t think you should talk about—“

“Just listen, Stan. Back in 1996 I flew with Hans to Vietnam on Singapore Airways. It was a long, long trip that went through Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Singapore, till we finally landed in Vietnam. In all those endless hours of travel, Hans and me sitting side by side, I think Hans may have uttered about six words.

“On our final leg from Singapore to Vietnam, the plane starts to wobble. We get into heavy clouds and wind over the Gulf of Thailand and the plane shakes. The passengers look around nervously. Of course, food is being served right then—“

“What kind of food? Steak?”

“Stop with the food, Stanley. The plane careens this way and that, plates and glasses falling all over the place. From the cockpit, nothing. Nobody says a goddamn word. Finally the plane plunges quite a way down and people scream.

“‘I wish he’d say something,’ I tell Hans.

“Hans deigns to look at me. ‘Who?’

‘’The captain, or the co-pilot. Someone should say something.’

“The plane plunges again. More screams. Silence from the cockpit.

“’Why?’ says Hans.

“’To explain to us what is happening,’ I say.

“’Why?’ says Hans.

“’Because I want to know. I’ll feel better if I know.’

“’If you die, just die,‘ says Hans.

“’I think it would calm most of us—maybe not you, but most of us—if he’d say something, the way they do on American planes.’

“’If we’re going to die what difference will it make?’

“’I’m not talking about dying, Hans, I just want some comfort!’

“Comfort. Does that word appear anywhere in Zen? ‘Why?’ says Hans, who then proceeds with the Buddha’s story of the man wounded by an arrow shot at him. Do you bother with checking whether the arrow was made in China? asks the Great Physician. Do you spend time checking out if it’s aluminum or plastic, and what other colors it comes in? Of course not. You take care of the sick man. ‘It’s the same thing,’ concludes my companion.

“’Hans,’ I say faintly, shocked by his sudden verbosity, ‘I just want the pilot to talk to us.’”

“I don’t think you should tell stories about somebody who’s dead and can’t defend himself,” says Stanley.

“Defend himself against charges he was too silent? Not Hans, Spook. Not in a million years.”

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A week, 8 days, 9 days. Six months ago, for my mother’s 90th birthday, I stayed in Jerusalem for 2 weeks, but it felt too long. This time it’s 8-1/2 days, and it almost always ends this way, a 3:00 or 4:00 am wait on the street for the limo service to pick me up.

By limo I mean a van that will pick me up and then take me around Jerusalem for an hour’s tour as it picks up another 10 people or so, before it hits Highway 1 to go down to the airport. But it always starts with this wait in the dark, standing across from the Museum of Islamic Art, around the corner from the Jerusalem Theater and the President’s home, looking down a quiet street that in daytime is frenzied with buses, cars, people, and lots and lots of cats.

I am one of those people who live very far from their family of origin. That’s common in the US, but elicits raised eyebrows from people here, especially when they hear that I also don’t have children—and now no husband, either. I can see they feel sorry for me, and probably a lot sorrier for my parents. This is not how normal people are meant to live, many eyes convey.

I know people who live this way and feel little closeness with the family members that are far, as if they’ve left them behind, lives diverging so sharply there is little left in common. That’s not true for me. I am very close to both brother and sister. We share karmic stories; we know where we come from, and even share some uncertainty about where we’re headed. We know what we have in common and where we grew apart; by now we even appreciate the differences among us because we perceive more clearly the complementarity of things.

My most enjoyable time is not going off into the desert or even to see the Old City, and especially the shop of Armenian art I like to visit, but rather sitting in a new café that just opened up (both brother and sister always keep up with new cafes) and opening my heart to reveal what’s there. What’s happened since the last time we talked? I know who you were then, but who are you know? What new insight suddenly appeared? And most important, what do you need from me?

We verbally meander, follow a path here and then there, touch on our mother, touch on their children, push away layer after layer, and marvel at how simple it seems to be at the very bottom.

The men in my life never got it. “You two have so much to talk about,” Bernie would marvel after I’d come back from another coffee with my sister. My father’s version was more interrogatory: “What do you have so much to talk about?”

What indeed. Last night, just before we hugged good-bye, my brother said to me: Just be yourself. Most of the work consists of nothing but discarding the nonessentials so that you could finally see who you are and what you need, find the one question that you really have, maybe two. Don’t bother with the rest.

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