NOT A PEOPLE PERSON

It’s not that I talk that much; it may be that I shouldn’t talk at all.

I’ve been hoarse since coming to Israel, and chances of regaining my voice before leaving early am on Friday are slim. I caught a cold right after arriving. It left, returned, left again, but my throat has been consistently sore, my voice rasping and descending into bass. “You sound like Tallulah Bankhead,” Bernie used to say on these occasions.

Last night I couldn’t be quiet. Bernie’s son, Marc, my brother, and I went down to the home of our friends, Iris and Tani Katz, not far from Ramat Gan, and met with a handful of people who knew Bernie and at some point were involved with his madcap schemes for getting everyone in the world to experience the oneness of life. The evening was gracious, the food generous. We sat in their living room and people talked about how they first met him, how they last met him, and what we all took away.

Sami Awad was there from Bethlehem, able to travel through Israel with legal (though temporary) permit, growing a beard. He’s often talked of how going to Auschwitz-Birkenau changed his sense of peace-making forever. It was great to see Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa from Mt. of Olives, or Hajj Ibrahim, known practically around the world for his hospitality to guests coming from all corners of the world. Or Gabriel Meyer, who remembered our big meeting in 2000 in Tantur, right on the border of Israel and the West Bank, where he incubated his idea of an annual Sulha, or reconciliation ceremony, between Jews and Arabs, which later took place year after year in northern Israel. And Michal Fuchs, who has been working on behalf of Arab villages and cities in Israel for many years.

Many dreams dreamt; fewer fulfilled, but who cares? “If I can move things just the narrowest of hairs-breadths,” Bernie used to say, “that would be plenty. Believe me,” he’d repeat again and again, “that would be plenty.”

When we come together in small gatherings like this one we positively relish how different we are from each other. We love the different cultures on display, the different foods, teasing each other about what languages we speak and what we miss (If by next year you learn Hebrew, I’ll learn Arabic!). At the same time people show each other photos of their growing children or grandchildren (Ibrahim has 38) and talk of the people they have in common (You know Tiokasin Ghosthorse, too? Where did you meet him?).

Some will go on doing the same things they have till now, while others, like me, face uncertainty and change. But whatever we call it, we trust the one pulse that beats in all of us. We could feel it, and not just when Gabriel played his song on the guitar and we came in as chorus, not just when we picked up the bread, oil, and olives (basic staples to this region), not just when we found ourselves, clad in different clothes and memories, seated once again in one big circle. And in that circle we wait our turn, and then present ourselves again and again: who we are, what we do, who was the man who connected us.

“I’m not a people person,” Bernie would tell me over and over. “You’re more of a people person than I am.”

Indeed, he was clumsy at parties, either hiding in corners or affecting a joviality that seemed contrived. But he was a magnet wherever he went, drawing people not just go himself and the work, but perhaps most important, to each other. And even when he’s gone, they delight in meeting each other once again, perhaps seeing some reflection of him in each other’s face.

In his absence, what will bring us together now?

 

 

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A SLOW, WIDE U-TURN

It’s New Year’s Eve, but that’s not what’s doing it. In fact, I don’t know what’s doing it. Who can say when the call of life finally, after close to two months, finally grabs you and you yield, say to yourself: Yes, I know, I’m here, I’m alive, time to get moving!

I clearly went into depression after Bernie died, no two ways about it. Call it grief, call it mourning, a hollowness in my entire body every single morning when I opened my eyes to darkness outside and darkness inside. Alone! What is left? No one to care for, no one to think about.

Out of habit your antennas are still out, still pointing to the other bed. They’ll be out throughout the day listening for sounds from the bedroom, from the table where he sits, from the exercise mat where he exercises, listening, wondering what’s needed, weighing whether to go and check things out or continue working at your desk.

Those antennas still reach out, only there’s no connection anymore. And with no connection, depression set in.

It hasn’t totally lifted. Early mornings are still hardest for me: the time of inactivity, of lying horizontal, feeling helpless. Still, something has shifted.

Here in Israel I caught a cold as soon as I landed. Jerusalem was chilled and rainy, a disappointment, and the wind seemed to carry the dampness everywhere in my body no matter how well my brother heated up his home. I was up all night one night, other days tired and sleepy (though I was encouraged by the flowers on all the outside porches of the apartment building next to my mother’s home).

Finally, yesterday morning I spoke to my stepmother, my father’s wife who still mourns for him three years after his death. I heard of her health concerns—cancer, chemo, radiation—mantras I knew quite well–-and suddenly felt like Persephone who’d been taken to the Underworld and now faced a choice: Do I stay there or do I turn around and start walking back?

I could stay in the world of shadows, I thought. I could look at the world like a visitor who’s only come for a brief visit, who smiles wanly at the laughter of children, as if to say that this is great for them but no longer for me, who feels the coming of dusk sharper than any other hours of the day. I could stay there, or I could turn around slowly and start walking back. And I believe that sometime after that phone conversation I started making that big, wide U-turn.

And maybe it’s no accident that this happened on the day before New Year’s Eve. I’m not boring anyone with any new year resolutions, only that life came to a standstill for a split moment, like a movie frame, and I saw that I could keep on looking mournfully at glimmerings of the new day, or, as Stevenson said of Eleanor Roosevelt, I could light a candle. Not curse the darkness, but light a candle.

Only for that I had to turn around and start my journey back to the surface where the sun still shines.

And that big U-turn begins with deep love and appreciation for everyone who reads this blog, for all who email me words of encouragement and support, who remind me of how hard others have it (yes, in my case that helped a lot!), who remind me of the one big heart that goes on beating no matter what. Who remind me there’s always a home to return to, no matter what.

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THE ERI-KING

My mother 80 years ago

Pouring rain in Jerusalem. a different cold from New England, not clear and dry but a dampness that creeps into your bones regardless of how well you heat the apartment.

Three days after Bernie’s 49th day I finally left my home in the early hours of Christmas morning and flew to Jerusalem to visit my mother, now 6 months after celebrating her 90th birthday. Promptly, I caught a cold and stayed home all day today.

Not my mother, who walked in the bone-chilling cold to my brother’s home for Friday night Shabbat dinner. Back home she sits in the same chair at the table, hair dyed dark brown after years of masquerading as a blonde, shoulders hunched up. Once, long ago, we were so physically alike that people mistook us for sisters.

This evening, at my brother’s home, she broke into a recitation in German, which I render in English translation:

Who rides there so late through the night dark and drear?
The father it is, with his infant so dear;
He holdeth the boy tightly clasp’d in his arm,
He holdeth him safely, he keepeth him warm.

“’My son, wherefore seek’st thou thy face thus to hide?’
‘Look, father, the Erl-King is close by our side!
Dost see not the Erl-King, with crown and with train?’
‘My son, ’tis the mist rising over the plain.’”

It’s Goethe’s Eri-King, which symbolizes death, and the father is racing for refuge, holding his sick son in his arms, but the son already sees his doom in the features of the rider chasing them.

She learned the poem in the original German when she was 14 in Czechoslovakia, “before they closed down all the Jewish schools and we lost our chance for an education.” She hasn’t forgotten the words. She obtained a bachelor’s college degree and a teaching certificate, but that sense of inferiority coming out never finishing high school in the normal way has never left her. Over the years various of my actions wounded my mother, but few as much as when I took time off from school in the middle of my college years. She took it personally, as though I was making light of her misfortune.

I would have liked to take a photo of her, my brother, and me at the table, but she would have been shocked that I wished to do that in the Sabbath.

“That’s life,” she told me after Bernie died. “That’s life,” she told me over the phone after his stroke. “I trust you to work with as much intelligence as you can,” she added, leaving me somewhat mystified.

“When she sees you she gets so much life,” my brother told me after walking her home after dinner (I stayed home on account of my cold). “Her eyes look different, she’s more alive than ever. Did you see how much she ate?”

And the Eri-King, I wanted to ask him. Did he ride hard behind you, slowly catching up as she paused many times in that short walk to catch her breath?

I want the days to clear, see some early pink crocuses and cyclamen, feel some warm Middle Eastern sun. The weather report is not optimistic, but I have hope.

 

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THAT WAS BERNIE

Photo by Kathy Solomon

“So girlfriend, how’s Bernie’s memorial coming?”

“Stop calling me girlfriend!”

“I’m The Entire Kit & Caboodle, I can call you anything. Every word is at my command.”

“I can call you anything, too, and I will very soon.”

“Every name you call me will be my true name, girlfriend.”

“We scheduled Bernie’s memorial to take place in Greyston, in Yonkers, on February 17.”

“It’s going to be lots of fun!”

“I wish you wouldn’t say that, Kit & Caboodle, it makes me sad.”

“Why?”

“Because I used to ask Bernie what he wanted in case he died, and he said: ‘I want to do what my sister, Bea, did when she died. She invited her family and friends to a party in which she could say goodbye, and then she died. So that’s what I want, a party.”

“So why are you sad?”

“Because he died so fast he never had his party.”

“Sure he had his party.”

“No he didn’t, Kit & Caboodle.”

“The Zen Center of Los Angeles had a Love Bernie Day, with a service and a big party. They even had action cards where people could write something they were going to do to make life better for the world.”

“But Bernie’s dead.”

“He was there.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just look at the photo.”

“That’s Mark Bloodgood, Kit & Caboodle., standing with Roshi Egyoku, abbot of the Zen Center. Don’t you know anything?”

“I’m a know-nothing, girlfriend.”

“That’s Mark Bloodgood dressed like Bernie, with the eyebrows and everything. I even sent him a few of Bernie’s clothes for the occasion.”

“No no no, girlfriend, that’s Bernie.”

“Mark.”

“Bernie.”

“Mark.”

“You, girlfriend,  are the silliest, most stubborn person I know. Take my word for it, that was Bernie.”

 

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A STREETS BAG

Saturday was the 49th day since Bernie died. According to many Buddhists, the 49th day is the time when what remains of the person who died—some call it energy, some call it soul—is completely released so that it could continue on its journey. But as I wrote before, I felt Bernie was truly gone from the moment the doctor informed me that he was dead.

And actually, Bernie was ready to go all the time. Or more accurately, to be gone. Recently I took down the small bag he used to take on street retreats, when he’d lead a group to live on the streets for several days with just the clothes on their backs and no money. We wrote extensively about that in Bearing Witness, I won’t do that here. He hadn’t been able to walk the streets for a long time; the arthritis in his knees caused him enormous pain on the streets, and he finally stopped, though other teachers continue to do those retreats in various cities here and in Europe.

So I didn’t expect much when I took down his streets bag, yet there it all was: a flattened roll of toilet paper, a folded up sheet of plastic to put down on the pavement for sleeping, a tiny stained pillow, a few bandaids, and an old folding umbrella. He was ready to go. The bag itself was a monk’s bag with the insignia of the Zen Community of New York on it, antecedent to Zen Peacemakers. In short, close to 40 years old.

“What are you going to do when you get old?” I’d sometimes tease him.

And he’d say, in all seriousness, “I want to go on the streets and disappear.”

He dreamed of going on the streets and leaving it all behind him: the organizations he’d founded, the buildings, the money cares, the incessant phone calls, the calendar full of programs, the many, many people in his life. Even me, I sometimes suspect.

He didn’t do it. He didn’t leave even after the stroke, he stayed right with us till sepsis came on and killed him. When it was time to die, he died, but not a moment sooner.

Sometime around 1989 we had a conference around a HUD grant I was writing to fund support programs for homeless families moving into housing we’d built in Yonkers. There were several of us around the table. It was a hard time. We hadn’t been able to get a federal grant yet, there was no money, and the taste of disappointment was in all our mouths. Even Bernie didn’t have his usual vigorous optimism. As it turned out, that $750,000 grant was the first federal grant we won in competitive application—HUD ranked it second in the nation—and parts of the grant were automatically renewed year after year.

But we didn’t know it then. Then all we saw were people shaking their heads, all we heard was criticism: Why’s a Zen group doing this kind of work? Finally, the others left and only he and I were still seated at the table. I was about to get up, preparing for a long day and night of work, when he said to me, “I know that people criticize me for many things. I know that I’m probably not the best person to do this kind of work, I don’t always know how to talk to people in a good way. But nobody else is doing this, that’s why I do it.”

Going on the streets was his relief from all this: meandering, talking to street people, no phones, no watches. So where did he go after 49 days? Has he been reborn? He didn’t believe in reincarnation and I still think of him as gone. But if I see him anywhere again, I know where it will be.

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ATTACHMENT/NON-ATTACHMENT

Today is Bernie’s and my anniversary. Or would have been if he didn’t go off and die.

“That man would do anything to avoid a party.”

“Who asked you, Stan?”

“I come back to life whenever there’s a need for commentary.”

The photo was taken when we were in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in a costume shop. My mother was there, too. Bernie dressed as the owner, she, an orthodox Jewish woman, as the madam, and I—well, you know what I dressed like. A few months later we got married and I had the idea of using the photo to announce the occasion. Inside it said: “We got hitched.”

We photo-shopped my mother out of the photo, clearly revealing the sign on the left: Beware of Texans, drunks, and loose women.

“And Awesome. Did you have a good luck at how she destroyed the sitting mat on the floor? Took out all the stuffing.”

“Quiet, Stan. This photo gave me the idea for the RockyTootsie audios.”

“That was your idea?”

“You’d be surprised where some of Bernie’s best ideas originated.”

“Such as?”

“How do you explain not-knowing?”

“How?”

“It’s a no-brainer. What’s the definition of a Jewish Buddhist?”

“What?”

“A self-hating Jew.”

“That’s terrible.”

“True. Bernie liked to quote the one about not-knowing. The self-hating Jew not so much. But you’re certainly right about one thing, Stanley, Bernie wasn’t into celebrations or parties, wasn’t into candle-lit dinners or romance.”

“He probably made a joke of it all.”

“He made a joke out of everything! In all our years together he gave me exactly one Valentine’s Day card. You opened up the card and you heard Bernie’s voice saying: Hey Tootsie, I love you! accompanied by the silliest music in creation. That’s the music we used in the beginning of every Rocky/Tootsie segment. Just one Valentine’s Day card in 20 years and he couldn’t do it straight.”

“Of course he couldn’t do it straight. The Man didn’t do anything straight.”

“Yeah, but that was also his way of staying away from attachment, Stanley.”

“You want to know what I think?”

“No.”

“I think you were the Man’s teacher of attachment. He was your teacher of non-attachment.”

“You can’t have non-attachment without attachment, Stanley.”

After his stroke Bernie lost all sense of proprioception. As a result he’d roll over in the middle of the night and ram right into me. He never felt a thing because it was his right side. Finally we got two smaller beds with a small gap in between. Sometimes we fell asleep holding hands across that narrow gap, only it could only be his right hand in mine, the one that was almost paralyzed. He felt almost nothing, but still wanted us to hold hands.

 

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STALKED BY LOVE

“Guess what, Rocky? I had a dream last night.”

“You did? About me?”

“No, Rocky. I dreamt that a stalker was stalking me.”

“That’s not so good.”

“He hid in the bushes outside the house. Then he hid in the woods, following me. Finally I’m in Greenfield at night and I round the corner, and there he is, a big heavy man wearing a big coat. You know who it was? Ralph Kramden.”

“You mean Jackie Gleason, from The Honeymooners? You loved The Honeymooners.

“Why do you think Ralph Kramden was stalking me, Rocky?”

“Maybe it was humor stalking you, Toots.”

“Speaking of humor, what do you think of your old shoe? Juvenile Delinquent’s been steadily working on it, taking it apart piece by piece. First the tongue, then the leather sides, then the sole. She’s just about down at the very bottom.”

“She’s doing a great job.”

“Look at the mess in front of your picture. You know what it reminds me of?”

“What?”

“Your life, Berns. Our life together, and all the messes that were there.”

“There sure were lots of them.”

“You always liked to bring things together.”

“What do you mean, bring things together? Things are together.”

“But in our day-to-day life they seem to go in very separate directions, Bernie. You never had any patience for vilifying rich people or saying the government was bad. Remember how we didn’t get that HUD grant and then found out we’d qualified for it only Reagan’s HUD secretary stole all that money and awarded it to his developer friends? We all got so righteous about it.”

“Nothing wrong with government per se. Not even this one.”

“You never bad-mouthed the Corporate Nation. You said that everything is energy and the question is how to work with it, be it Donald Trump or a homeless woman on the street.”

“That’s what Greyston was all about, a mandala where a profitable bakery works together with a health center for folks with AIDS, a child care center, and an organization building low-cost housing. A microcosm of how the world works.”

“But the world doesn’t work this way, Bernie.”

“It works how it works, Toots. My job was to try to move things just a hairsbreadth.”

“Towards what? Towards the world acting as one?”

“No, towards our seeing that the world acts as one. Towards our seeing that nothing is separate from anything else no matter how it looks to us. I wanted everyone to see this, not just Zen people. I wanted the Greyston bakers to see that they needed the child care center for their own children and that even the folks living with AIDS were all a part of them, all a part of this whole. I wanted everybody to experience this as a living thing, not just something they read in a book.”

“Sometimes it all felt like a big mess, like the mess Aussie leaves in front of your altar. When I look at what she did to your shoes I remember how much you loved to walk up and down the neighborhood, always on the lookout for what’s for sale. There would be police cars and crack needles everywhere, dilapidated houses and grungy front yards. Nobody wanted to buy anything or move in except for you.”

“It was so exciting, Toots. So many things to get done, so much that needed doing. I was right in my element in Yonkers.”

“But what about all the messes, Bernie? What about all the times we almost went broke, when we couldn’t pay folks their salaries or stipends, couldn’t pay our bills? What about the layoffs and the crumbling ceilings because we couldn’t keep up the places we lived in? When we couldn’t do the projects we began, when we couldn’t keep our promises?”

“Life doesn’t work according to our ideas of whether something is orderly or a mess.”

“But human beings can only tolerate so much mess before they start cracking, Berns.”

“That may be true. Remember what I used to tell you about me and pain?”

“That you have a high threshold for pain?”

“I think I also had a high threshold for messes. For instance, I’m not bothered by what Aussie leaves on the floor, that’s Aussie. What’s to get upset about?”

“You’re not the one cleaning it up, Berns. Not to mention that you’re dead.”

“That’s true, I’m dead, ain’t I? Should I stalk you, Tootsie?”

“Yes, Rocky. You can stalk me.”

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THE ENTIRE KIT AND CABOODLE

Late Friday night I cried in bed. A short while later, just as I was falling asleep, I looked up and saw someone sitting further down on the bed. It contemplated Aussie, who, strangely enough, didn’t move in her dog bed.

“Who are you?” I asked, sniffling.

“Who do you think?”

“I don’t think you’re a guy, otherwise the Delinquent would be running downstairs and out the dog door. She’s scared of men.”

“It’s true, I’m not a man. Not a woman, either.”

“One of those,” I said.

“Why were you crying?”

“Because I watched a DVD of a Mission Impossible movie.”

“You cried because of a Mission Impossible movie?”

“It’s the kind of movie I always got for Bernie because he liked those action flicks. He’d be sitting on his wheelchair by the edge of the couch. I’d usually be sitting on the couch pretty close to him; sometimes we’d hold hands, sometimes not. And usually in the middle of some totally insane escapade by Tom Cruise I’d glance over towards him and find him looking right back at me, as if to say, You believe that! It was a look we exchanged, see.”

“So why were you crying?”

“Because this evening I looked the same way towards the right and just met a white wall.”

“Poor thing.”

“I’m in the middle of this grief and I don’t know whether I’m coming or going,” I said. “My brain doesn’t work, I get exhausted early, I feel like a zombie. Also, my hair looks terrible.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to do any work.”

“I don’t?”

“Of course you cry, get sad, confused, lonely, and all that, but I’m the one who does the real work.”

“You? Who are you?” I asked.

“I am your system, the whole thing. I am The Entire Kit and Caboodle.”

“You mean, there is such a thing as the whole thing?”

“Would I lie to you, girlfriend?”

“And what do you do, Entire Kit and Caboodle?”

“I take care of you. I take care of everybody, but most people don’t get that they’re being taken care of day in day out. When do you notice it? When you’re grieving.”

“Really?”

“Do you know how much work has to take place when you lose your husband? Your entire being is restructured even as we speak. Billions of cells are reforming, synapses massively transformed, the entire body-mind has to be reconfigured.”

“Scientists don’t talk about this.”

“What do they know? Let me tell you, the person Eve Marko has to go through a complete overhaul; the entire operating system has to change.”

“My emotions, maybe, but my body, too?”

“You, a Zen teacher, are asking such a silly question?”

“Now you sound like my old dog Stanley.”

“The emotions and the body are all the same thing. The shock of Bernie dying as fast as he did, did that disappear?”

“I wonder if that’s why my entire left side has been hurting since his death. But I’m too tired to do anything about it.”

“That’s the beauty of it, you don’t have to. Leave it to me, The Entire Kit and Caboodle. Unbeknownst to you, while you’ve been sleepwalking around the house and bumping into things, barely remembering to take out the recyclables and go to your annual eye check-up, I’ve been overhauling you. You have to die and get reborn—“

“Now you’re scaring me!”

“—but you can’t do any of that, at least not now, so I’m doing it for you. All you have to do is not get in the way.”

“How do I get in the way?”

“By thinking you have to do this or have to do that. By jumping hard into work or reading too many books on Zen, spirituality, or death. Don’t do any of those things, go take a bath. Have yourself a good cry. Don’t talk too much to people. Nuzzle with Aussie and tell her how glad you are that Bernie insisted on going to a shelter to pick her out. Speaking of which, why did he name a dog from Texas Aussie?”

“It’s a mystery.”

“Mystery is another one of my names, but I prefer The Entire Kit and Caboodle. See some movies Bernie would have liked and cry some more. Have a lonely dinner but also remember that at least now you don’t have to eat all that red meat. You just keep on doing all those silly things, and leave the rest to me.”

“I had no idea you were working so hard.”

“I’m always working hard. The Entire Kit and Caboodle never rests even when it’s resting. People always think they’re the ones doing everything, but they’re not. It’s always me, The Entire Kit and Caboodle.”

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WHAT ABOUT A RICOLA LEMON DROP?

“This meeting will come to order.”

“Why have I been summoned from the land of the dead?”

“And why am I here when I’m busy chasing squirrels and generally creating havoc?”

“Quiet, both of you. I need your help. Now, Stanley and Aussie, there is a possibility that the Smithsonian Museum will want something of Bernie’s for their religious collection. This is not yet decided, certainly not final, but it’s crucial to think ahead. What could we offer the Smithsonian that would most represent Bernie?”

“What’s a Smithsonian?”

“Awesome, you are an embarrassment to this family.”

“The Smithsonian, Delinquent, is a national museum that collects many things that people in this country hold dear, from fine arts to the earliest airplane to exhibits of the history of Native peoples, African-Americans and others who arrived here, the natural life that abounds here, everything.”

“Are they going to stuff him?”

“Stuff him, Stanley?”

“You know, like they do with the animals they show.”

“Stanley, he was cremated. There’s nothing to stuff. Anyway, they also collect religious articles.”

“Like marrow bones?”

“No, Delinquent, I mean things like historic Bibles, communion cups, even Wampum beads. So the question is: What should we offer the Smithsonian representing Bernie?”

“Lamb chops. He loved lamb chops.”

“Stanley, they want something religious, something that symbolizes his work or his life.”

“A cigar?”

“Tobacco is sacred for Native Americans, but that’s not the reason Bernie smoked cigars.”

“I know, I know. The beret he liked to wear.”

“Unfortunately you tore it into pieces, Delinquent.”

“Wow, I chewed up a religious artifact.”

“You got to know him for only one or two months of his life, Awesome. You didn’t know him when he wore jeans, Hawaiian shirts, suspenders, and smoked a cigar. He couldn’t do any of that after his stroke. Those were the days!”

“Come on, canines, what else can we offer the Smithsonian?”

“I know. The bathtub where he did zazen every morning.”

“A bathtub. Hmmm, I guess it’s a possibility, Stanley.”

“His Best of Leonard Cohen CD. He listened to that so much in the car that one day I jumped out the window from the back seat.”

“He really loved Leonard Cohen after his stroke, Stanley.”

“I know. A Greyston brownie. I loved those brownies!”

“Stanley, you stole and ate so much chocolate it’s a wonder you lived to your ripe old age. I’m thinking about the old clothes he wore whenever he went on the streets. You don’t know this about Bernie, Delinquent, but Bernie liked to go on the streets with just the clothes on his back and nothing else, and he’d stay there for a number of days.”

“An outdoorsman, wow!”

“In fact, years ago, whenever he’d get weighed down by all the different projects he was doing, he dreamed of just going on the streets and disappearing forever.”

“What did you say to that?”

“That it was a hard thing to do while carrying a big 50-inch television screen.”

“Maybe we could give the big screen to the Smithsonian. That’s one way to get rid of it!”

“Stanley, you’re full of good ideas.”

“What about a Ricola lemon drop? He loved those. Aren’t there about a million of them in the drawer next to his bed?”

“I don’t think the Smithsonian will take a million lemon drops. There are all his Buddhist articles.”

“Yeah, but that wasn’t the Man.”

“It was and it wasn’t, Stan.”

“Still say we should have stuffed him.”

 

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INTO THE LIGHT OF A DARK BLACK NIGHT

We did our winter retreat last week. My mind had been frazzled, slow, and very tired. I wasn’t sure about giving talks, doing face-to-face with students, feeling the pulse of things, just making it through the day. But I did, thanks to those who were there, visible and invisible.

There were so many crazy things about being both Bernie’s successor and his wife, it felt like incest. There were always two relationships to work out simultaneously: the teacher-student relationship, which is very hierarchical in Zen, and the husband-wife, which, at least in the West, is based on equality.

I was aware that in some people’s minds, this dual relationship compromised my legitimacy as a teacher, though our getting together as a couple preceded my dharma transmission by only 3 months, and if you know anything about dharma transmission you know it’s usually planned long in advance. I remember that at that time he and I were still finishing up our last studies, and in one dokusan, or formal face-to-face study, he told me: “If you want to end this now because it may affect the transmission, we’ll do that. I don’t want our coming together to stop you from finishing your studies.”

How interesting that he emphasized our study rather than our couplehood that early morning in Santa Fe, an omen of things to come. For in the world of engaged Zen practice, out of which you act in the world based on an ever-deepening sense of the oneness of life, there was never any argument. I had a lot of trust in him and the incredible breadth of his vision.

“Who’s the greater teacher, Shakyamuni Buddha or Bodhidharma?” he told me he once asked Koryu Osaka Roshi, one of Japan’s pre-eminent 20th century Zen masters.

“Shakyamuni,” answered Koryu Roshi. “Bodhidharma went deep, but Shakyamuni went broad. He talked to everyone, from beggars to kings.”

Bernie took after Shakyamuni. He saw practice everywhere—in businesses, in non-profits, in meditation halls, in child care centers, in the kitchen, even on Mars.

“What do you mean, he worked on manned missions to Mars back in the ‘60s?” asked the New York Times writer who did Bernie’s obituary. Of all the facts she’d gathered about him, that seemed the most strange. “You mean unmanned missions, don’t you?”

“No,” I told her, “at McDonnell-Douglas he worked on developing trajectories for manned missions to Mars. They were sure they’d put an astronaut on Mars in 20 years’ time.” And there, too, I thought to myself, would be the place for practice.

Long past retirement age he was still stretching out—let’s do work in Springfield, there’s a big building in which we could build some businesses and hire people off the street, the sheriff wants us to go into the prisons. He wanted to go everywhere and develop new tools so that everyone—not just Zen practitioners—could experience no separation.

But oh, two people living under the same roof, that’s a whole other thing. We did what other couples do—laughed, cried, sulked, talked, went mute. Argued about his lack of feelings.

“He lost his mother when he was so young,” his older sisters told me over and over again. “And he went to live with his uncaring father and new wife. So of course things happened.”

We loved Italian coffee and movies. We loved Zen Peacemakers.

“May you remember him with all his lights and all his shadows,” someone wrote me, and I thought of Paul McCartney’s song:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free

Black-bird fly
Black-bird fly, into the light of a dark black night

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