It’s May, which means intoxicating scents and sounds. Which means that Aussie needs more training with a remote collar.

“Stop buzzing me! I’m only chasing that chipmunk!”

“When I see you lunge like that, Aussie, I don’t know if you’re rushing down to the creek below or starting a marathon. But you were a good girl and came back when I called you, so I’m giving you this.”

“Chicken? Not dog treats? Yum!”

“Aussie, every time you start running after some scent or animal and come back when I buzz, I’m going to reward you according to the level of difficulty. Since this was difficult, you’re getting chicken. It’s called Fine Dining.”

“Fine Dining, Boss?”

“That’s what your trainer calls it. When you’re being obedient, you get a treat. But when you come back in the face of a major temptation, you get chicken, which is Fine Dining.”

“Boss, watch me rush to the puddle, see? And here I come back. Fine Dining, please!”

“I don’t know, Aussie, that’s not quite it.”

“Okay, watch me pretend to rush after Harry, give him a bite in the butt, and when you call me I come back. Fine Dining!”

“Maybe this qualifies. After all, you do love to give Harry a bite in the butt.”

“I should get Fine Dining all the time. Lately we’ve been going on these short walks, and every minute it’s something else: Aussie, come! Aussie, far enough! Aussie, uh uh uh! Aussie, let’s go! Aussie this, Aussie that! I can’t stand going on walks with you anymore. I’m a grown dog and a great hunter.”

“That’s the problem, Auss. You’re conditioned, see? Your conditioning is to run after every scent in the world. Then you run and run, and don’t get back till midnight! Fine Dining is part of the effort to decondition you.”

“I just jumped up on my hind legs against that tree after the squirrel. You buzzed and I came back, deconditioned. Fine Dining!”

“Aussie, you’re not being serious.”

“Why should I resist my conditioning? My conditioning is me!”

“No, Aussie. Being a hunter is just one aspect, it’s not all of you. And I’m not asking you to resist your conditioning, I’m just asking you to soften around it, to—”

“I know, I know, let it go. I hate that phrase. There’s nothing wrong with my conditioning.”

“There’s nothing wrong with hunting per se, but there’s plenty wrong with running for miles and not coming home. Besides, Aussie, if you can let go of your conditioning—”

“I hate that phrase!”

“—then you’re free to respond to each moment. You’re free to act more spontaneously in the world rather than according to fixed patterns. Don’t you want to be free, Aussie?”

“No, I want to run. I just ran after Harry who was chasing crows, and I came back when you called. Fine Dining!”

“Just a dog treat this time, Aussie.”

“Only dumb dogs chase crows.”

“Maybe chasing crows is Harry’s conditioning, Aussie.”

“Oh, yeah? Does he look like a bird dog to you? Here he comes.”

Harry: “Hey  Boss, how come Aussie’s getting white chicken meat and I’m getting dog treats?”

Boss: “It’s called Fine Dining, Harry.”

Harry: “So why does she get to dine so finely?”

Boss: “Because Aussie’s being deconditioned. She’s in training not to run away.”

Harry: “I don’t run away.”

Boss: “True, but you never ran away to begin with.”

Harry: “Let me see if I understand this. Aussie won’t do what you ask her to do, so in order to get her to do that she gets Fine Dining. I do what you want from the get-go, and I don’t get Fine Dining. Is that it?”

Boss: “I’m afraid so, Harry.”

Harry: “There is no justice in this world! Where are you running to, Aussie?”

Aussie: “I’m only pretending to run, Harry, see? She buzzes me and I come back. Fine Dining!”

Harry: “This deconditioning is the biggest racket I’ve ever seen. I have a question for you, Boss. You know how every morning you sit in that chair silently by the window till I crash through the door to remind you to feed us?”

Boss (sighs): “You don’t need to remind me. You’re so punctual, Harry, I don’t bother setting an alarm.”

Harry: “Don’t you sit to decondition?”

Boss: “Why, Harry, as a matter of fact, you’re right. The thought patterns slow down, the mind settles. Things become more transparent and clearer.”

Harry: “How long have you been doing this, Boss?”

Boss: “At least 35 years, Harry.”

Harry: “And in all that time you never tried chicken?”




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Our apple tree has begun to flower. For me, that’s the tree’s best time because its small, green apples have so far been wrinkled and sour. I take a bite every year and make a face; I can’t even cook them. Instead they fall to the ground, food for birds and animals. The flowers are gorgeous.

When we lived in Santa Barbara, California, our neighbor, a gardener, said to me one day: “Fall’s begun. Don’t you love it?”

I looked around, sniffed, and said, “How can you tell?”

You can tell in New England; it’s easy to get intoxicated by the seasons. Now, springtime, the birds wake me up every morning at 5. I open the dog doors and Harry and Aussie rush out, barking and sniffing at the tracks and scents of all the animals that had crossed the yard at night, when they were shut in and couldn’t protect the house from invaders. Fawns and cubs are out there, a newborn generation beginning its life, and slowly, slowly—for this has been a cold spring—the lilac buds are opening up outside my office window.

I don’t have to say much about fall in New England and even the cold winters are beautiful to my eyes: icy, white, vast.

But those are not the only seasons around here.

A friend, neighbor, and poet, at the age of 71, is planting 50 fruit trees. ”They’ll start growing soon,” he said, “but after a while I won’t be around to enjoy their fruit. It feels good to be doing this for the next generation.”

He opened my eyes to another sense of seasons. I have a season, too. When I die, is it over? What am I planting for the season after that, and the season after that?

The Native Americans say the ancestors are always with us. What kind of ancestor am I?

Every morning I walk out to do a service by our wooden Kwan-Yin, of whom I’ve written a few times. Built by a neo-Nazi student for his teacher, it arrived at the Montague Farm where we lived and worked once upon a time, and when we left, the new owners were ambivalent about retaining it, so we brought her to our back yard where she’s  been standing all this time. Tulips are now growing in her honor; Harry pees on them, also in her honor. And I’ve been noticing the sawdust that has piled up behind her.

“It’s probably the chipmunks living there,” Tim told me. “They’re eating at the wood, which is soft by now anyway from all the weather damage.”

We’ve known for a long time that Kwan-Yin is being carved up by the weather; we also know that she’s so fragile it’s impossible to move her. But this pile of shavings is new. I see it each morning and think about the critters taking shelter inside her, her body hollowing and hollowing as a result.

On the one hand, she’s had her season. At the Farm we celebrated Buddha’s birthday in front of her with food and tea offerings. She gazed down on the Saturday lunches cooked for the community (the progenitor of the Stone Soup Café in Greenfield), dozens of families from all walks of life coming into a circle to introduce ourselves and say grace, children playing ball in her shadow.

Then she came here and watched over Bernie through his illness and death, watched over me and two generations of dogs, not to mention the wildlife, finally giving her body over in order to become their home.

One day she’ll collapse, or rot. But will her season end? We won’t be able to use the sodden wood in the fireplace, but critters will continue to live inside the crevices and between the wood logs. The dogs haven’t touched the sawdust but other animals will. In one form or another, her season will go on and on.

Your season will go on, too, as will mine. Bernie himself didn’t believe in reincarnation. “What remain are the results of your actions,” he used to say. Some of us will leave books, some new, thriving institutions, some fruit trees, and some teachings and memories, that will become almost a physiological part of the next generations. Even as new seasons begin, what ends?


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Lest snow two nights ago

The streets have more cars now. Massachusetts is still locked up but more and more people are leaving their homes. I park by the bench where Jimena and I always meet. A line of people waits a block away to buy ice cream, wearing masks and maintaining distance. Jimena’s not there; a man is there with a brown paper bag, muttering.

“Oh oh,” says Aussie from the back seat. “Don’t go there.” She hates men.

Harry whimpers: I’ll go! I’ll go!

By the time I get out of the car the man is gone. A woman and her small daughter are already waiting at the corner and I ask in Spanish if they’re waiting for tarjetas, food cards. Si. We wait for Jimena to arrive, but this is my chance to practicar mi espagnol. Her name is Grace (made-up), her 8-year-old is Manuela (not my oldest, she explains, the one in the middle).

“How many are there?”

“Five.” And then adds, “No mas.” No more. “Y usted?” And you?

“I have no children,” I tell her, “but my husband had two.”

She ponders that awhile. “Why not?”

How do I summarize a life in my 2-word Spanish mumblings? “Demasiada occupada.” Too busy. Not much of a reason, I know.

Jimena’s arrival spares me from further philosophizing in Spanish, and we go on with our business, which is giving out tarjetas, food gift cards from two supermarkets, to these families. Since those first days in April when I wrote about the need for food by undocumented families, we—mostly you, dear friends—have altogether given food cards and gifts worth at least $6,800 over 5-6 weeks and I have close to another $4,700 in the bank account. Jimena believes we’ve fed 90 families; I estimate a lower figure, 50-60. Still a lot.

At first, I wanted to go slowly. Jimena and I needed to build trust and transparency in our own relationship. At first it was only food; then it became help with rent, paying of utility bills, cash to an abused woman who’d put out a restraining order against her husband and now needed help, etc.

By now we all know that this is going to go on for a while; Massachusetts restaurants, hotels, and B&Bs aren’t opening up soon, the colleges are closed through the summer as are the schools, they won’t hire anyone back very soon and the farmers are cultivating a lot less. I’m now comfortable enough to urge Jimena to tell me about special cases where cash is needed quickly.

Sure enough, Carmen (made-up name) arrives holding a beautiful little boy in her arms. After she picks up a food card and leaves, Jimena tells me that the boy is autistic and Carmen’s husband just left them. Carmen needs money. I give her an envelope with cash and she hurries after her.

Usually we plan this ahead of time, when I ask Jimena to make a list of people she knows who need extra help in addition to food cards. I now make a mental note to myself to bring more cash anyway, because things will come up even as we sit there.

“Oh oh,” I hear Aussie from the car.

The man who sat on the bench earlier reappears and wants to sit down again, though this defies keeping distance. Jimena says okay. We wear a mask, he does not, but he’s also eating a big ice cream sundae. I’m jealous.

He asks Jimena her name and she tells him, he asks mine, ditto, and I ask his. “Greg,” he says.

Jimena and I stiffen. It’s not great to call folks to come and pick up tarjetas if he’s sitting right there.

Greg surprises me. “I’m leaving my place real soon,” he says. “Do any of your friends need some furniture?” He’d watched us do our work, he knows who our friends are. Jimena provides a phone number.

He then tells us that he drinks (I could smell the liquor) and that the ice cream sundae is his first food in two days. “They’re kicking me out because I went back to drinking,” he says. “I need to find another program that’ll take me in. But I can’t stop. I’ve tried, but I can’t stop.”

He mumbles to himself for a few minutes. It’s a gorgeous sunny day and I feel like crying. Finally, I say: “Greg, get your act together. You’re a nice-looking man, you can change things around.”

“Nice looks aren’t everything,” he tells me, “though the two of you are beautiful.”

A couple of minutes pass and he leaves, thanking us. Jimena takes a big breath and goes back to making phone calls inviting folks to come.

They are mostly concerned about what will happen to their children’s schooling, and Jimena, bless her heart, hands our pages with arithmetic notes and problems to a little girl and asks her to start working on them.

A woman arrives, sees me, and says in Spanish that she had freshly picked asparagus for me and forgot it by the door. “Would you come to my home to get it?”

“You bet,” I tell her, and when eventually I leave, I drive over to her home and knock on the door of a second-floor apartment. Three small, bright-eyed children are playing a game on the floor. Their mother shows me two bunches of asparagus that had been picked by her husband that very morning, still warm. “Just give me one,” I tell her, and she does.

I drive home, one hand on the warm asparagus next to me. If it’s a gift to give things to people in need, and an even greater gift to get things back from them. Jimena and her husband want to cook me a meal and I can hardly wait.

“Don’t forget to bring us along. I love Mexican food,” says Aussie with a sigh

“They’re not Mexican.”

“Whatever,” says Aussie.

This coming Monday., May 18, at 12:00 noon US Eastern time, Roshi Egyoku Nakao and I will talk again about householder koans. We’ll deal specifically with Andrea: Nothing, about a woman who wanted to help refugees in her home city in Germany but didn’t know what to do. You can register for it here. It’s free, but take care! You never know what it may eventually inspire you to do.

And if you want to donate for food cards, please use the button below and write on the memo: for food cards. Or else send a check with those words on the memo line to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351.

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


An acquaintance of mine, gathering writings from local people about what they have learned from the coronavirus epidemic, asked me to write something. This is what I wrote:

I ask a friend of mine a question: “What do you think about the virus?” Only he’s not like other friends I have. He’s not a Zen Peacemaker or even a Buddhist, no graduate degrees, he’s not middle-class, comfortably sheltering in place because s/he could work from home or has an income unrelated to location-based work. He has no pension or 401(K) that would evoke the stock market. He’s just a friend.

“Four of my friends have died in the past 3 months,” he tells me. “At least a third of my friends or classmates are gone by now, died from illness, violence, opioids, or suicide. I don’t worry about some made-up disease happening to some made-up people far away, I’m too busy worrying about what’s been happening to my family and friends right here.”

He’s 40. He doesn’t live in New York City or Boston, as I once did. He’s pointing to friends and family right here and now, whose deaths continue unremarked by newspapers, television, or government..

When Donald Trump won the election in 2016 I read a lot about how so many of us on the East and West Coast—elites is what they called us—had missed the heartland of this country. Those of us living in the big cities—New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin and Atlanta—were so busy flying over the rest of the country that we had lost touch. People in rural America and small cities and towns felt ignored and even looked down upon by media, big business, big universities, and by the culture generally, and Donald Trump was their revenge. Not because they believed in him per se but because he promised to disrupt a system that wasn’t working for them.

Some of this resonated for me, some didn’t. I myself live rurally and appreciate the farmers I meet and whose farm stands I stop at to get my greens, tomatoes, and corn. But honestly, I don’t meet many.

In addition, our situation here is different due to 5 excellent colleges (including one large state university) that attract bright, affluent students and urbane, cosmopolitan professors. Stand on any local movie line and you’ll hear the same kind of comments and analysis—that combination of intellect and sardonic wit—that will remind you of a Woody Allen movie.

Those five colleges/universities are the biggest employesr in the region. If not for them, we’d be in a lot of trouble.

What I have gained most from the corona is seeing clearly who suffers. Not those who died or even got sick—we have remarkably few numbers of them—but those who’re seeing their livelihood go up in smoke, their savings gone, lining up to get food from pantries, abject failure staring them in the face. The undocumented families calling to find out when Jimena and I will give out food cards again (this afternoon, as it turns out). The shuttered doors of stores and restaurants, many of which won’t re-open, bringing to a crash the struggle, hopes, and hard work of their owners and employees.

They are not from big cities and universities, they are from here. That’s all I can talk to—not New York or San Francisco—but what I see here.

And then there are the others, those who obey the rules and shelter in place, who at times wake up depressed for lack of company or discombobulated, not recalling what day it is, but who don’t get scratched too hard. They shake their heads about the economy, feel bad for those who suffer. But they love the slowing down and the time for meditation.

They are vigilant against all risks and think that those in the rest of the country who reopen early are stupid and ignorant—I have heard those words often—that they have no respect for science and doctors, and are obviously Republicans and supporters of Donald Trump.

The divide of 2016 has become much more visible due to covid. Many people here don’t understand why it’s always the people in cities who dictate the shut-down of an entire state, especially their own areas that haven’t suffered much from covid. It reinforces their beliefs that the decision-makers who affect so much of their lives live in some far-off planet with no understanding of what their lives are about: A made-up disease for made-up people.

And I begin to pay attention—to them, and also to people around me, progressive, many of them Buddhists who vow to save or serve all beings. Their lack of real empathy and understanding shocks me. The chasm that separates those of us living week to week, bill to bill, who couldn’t afford a $400 emergency before the virus never mind now, and those of us who want everyone to just stay home till it’s safe to go out again, stares me in the face as never before.

We’re doing this not just for our health but for everyone else’s, some say. It doesn’t wash. If you have your eyes open you’ll notice how many people became ill and died because they were admonished not to go to doctors or hospitals. If you have your eyes open you’ll see the faces hiding inside their homes, knowing their life work creating a business is over. If you have your eyes open you’ll see the increasing gap between verbally-gifted children who do fine with distance-learning and those who struggle to follow what’s going on on-screen—provided they even have a screen and WIFI, and provided English is their first language.

If you have your eyes open wide enough to read the news, you’ll know that they’re upping the estimates of children who’ll starve to death JUST DUE TO COVID-RELATED SHUTDOWN OF THE WORLD ECONOMY from 200,000 to over a million worldwide. You’ll read of Chinese factory workers sent home because factories—yes, the very ones making cheap goods that so many of us like to belittle—are shutting down and workers go home to impoverished families who now have no one to put food on the table.

You’re doing this for me? Open your eyes. You want me to be safe? I don’t want to be safe and hide out, I want to open my eyes and keep them open as much as I can. That’s my Buddhist practice.

If you really have your eyes wide open you’ll remember that, as someone said, a live saved is really a death deferred. Like many, I admire Governor Andrew Cuomo’s inspiring work on behalf of his state and have listened to his press conferences, but when he says that he’s not ready to compromise over a single life I find myself disagreeing with him. Whether we like it or not, tradeoffs have to be made. Tradeoffs are made all the time, moment by moment, day by day. And as I wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago, I don’t want children to starve so that I go on living.

Yes, I  know the spiritual aphorisms about how if you save one life you save an entire world. But that goes for people living in favelas in Brazil and factory workers in Indonesia as much as it goes for me. Their lives are as important as mine, perhaps even more so because I’m 70 and have lived a rich life. It’s been good.

What about my 40 year-old friend and his friends who can’t find work, who can’t earn a livelihood, who see the horizon closing in on them day by day? What about the death of so many others—not from covid, but slower death from hunger, disease, lack of medical care, lack of nourishment, lack of hope?

There are crazy people wherever you look, but generally, people are not stupid. They know what they need and they know damn well what risks they’re taking by going back to work. What choice do they have? What choices have we left them, insulated as we are in our educated, spiritual, Zooming bubbles

We didn’t start sheltering in place when covid started, we were sheltering in place long before that, unconcerned about how technology and global trade pacts eliminated factory jobs and rural stores, eliminated family farming and local stores, narrowing the horizons for so many people while we uttered progressive platitudes and wrote indignant letters to the editor about the antics of Donald Trump and those who vote for him, sheltering not in place but in self-entitlement and blindness.

We all have our walls, myself included. Covid has made them unmistakably visible if only we would look. If only we stop being each other’s made-up people.

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There are days when I feel there isn’t much to say. It’s all been said, a voice murmurs inside, why bother? Even the dogs aren’t talking much, except for Aussie, who talks all the time.

“Why am I back in training?”

“Because when I take you off-leash anywhere, Aussie, you run.”

“Of course I run. It’s May! There are new-born animals to chase, fawns and bear cubs—”

“And bear cub mothers!”

“Nature created all these new animals for only one reason—so that I could chase them.”

Yesterday she ran in the Montague Plains, returning after 20 minutes panting happily, dirty and wet from wading in a puddle. She had obviously chased a scent for a long time, loping determinedly after some animal or other. She won’t catch it, but that doesn’t matter; her instinct, her soul, is to hunt.

“And you stop me! You won’t let me be me! You won’t let me follow my path, you won’t let me go on my hero’s journey.”

“Aussie, you have one of the biggest fenced yards in town!”

“Where you see a yard, I see a fence.”

I won’t let her run. I’d flirted with the idea, but got burned out. True, she never got lost, always found her way home, was never hurt. We live off a country road and she sticks to the woods where the animals are, avoiding people, avoiding cars and homes. But she’s young, and in a lifetime of running freely in the woods something will happen.

And yet, deep inside I sympathize with her. After all, she’s a hound and the smartest dog I’ve ever had. She wants to do what she was bred to do, what’s in her very marrow. All the liver/cheese/chicken treats in the world won’t change that.

On Sunday, Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother. Her mind is slowly fading; rare are the phone calls when I’m not told that she’s afraid to go out because someone will try to assassinate her, that my brother is being interrogated by the police, that the violence “out there” is so great that her only safety lies in burrowing in bed and staying put. This at a time when Jerusalem was completely locked down for the coronavirus (it’s opened up a lot since then).

I was her oldest child, an in-your-face rebel, a lover of Ayn Rand who wanted to follow her individual path like Howard Roark, only with a lot less confidence, a lot more insecurity.

My mother, too, wanted to follow her heart, but it was a torn heart. She was raised in an East European orthodox family; she came out of the war with the feeling that nothing was more important than religion and family. God didn’t matter much, she wasn’t sure she believed in Him anymore, but religion and family were everything.

But as the years rolled by she discovered she also wanted things for herself. She wanted to write stories and study. She wanted to be a businesswoman and make money, she wanted respect. But she never learned how to go about these things, how not to be deterred by early failure, how to seek alternatives, how to stay the path even when it goes sideways.

“No one ever encouraged me,” she told me sadly several years ago as I was visiting her, both of us lying in bed together. “Nobody ever encouraged me.” And she had no faith in doing things alone.

Her feelings towards me were mixed. She was angry at the choices I made, the Zen practice, the plunge into a life that seemed unstable and unpromising of middle-class security. Till I was 50, she never gave up hope on reforming me. And yet, even then, I had the sense that secretly she admired me. She knew I’d gone my way, not hers or somebody else’s.

“You were like that from the time you were a little girl,” she used to say.

We find ourselves resting in so many mixed messages from our mothers. Go out and win the world/Be safe. I want you to be happy/I want you to make me happy. I want you to be strong/I want you to be careful.

I could never resolve these dualities, but I did find a way to rest in them, make them one of the puzzles of my life in which pieces didn’t fit. By now that’s fine with me. It’s when all the pieces fit that I start worrying.

So of course, there’s Aussie.

“Here, Aussie, chase the ball!”

“What am I, an outfielder?”

“Don’t you want to run?”

“After deer, not a tennis ball.”

Harry runs after the ball.

“Okay, Aussie, chase Harry!”

“I don’t chase Harrys, I chase wildlife.”

I shake my head, looking at her beautiful, intransigent face.

“I’m trying to keep you engaged, to give you exercise and fun!”

“It don’t work inside a fence.”

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I stare at the cover page of the printout I just picked up from Staples.

Script Title:

Written by:

Name of First Writer:

Based on, If any:

It’s the cover page of the screenplay I finished yesterday. The above categories are still blank because I forgot to fill them out. Still no title. It was written by me, and I am the first writer (Hollywood screenplays often have numerous writers). As for based on, if any, I guess it’s based on my life. Or the questions of my life.

Half a year after Bernie died, I called up an actor friend of ours and told him that I had an idea for a movie he should do.

“I think you should do a movie about an older couple that has worked together for many years till a big stroke finally cripples the husband. The wife continues to work as well as take care of him. Often she asks herself what happens to love now, when you’re surrounded by illness and the prospect of death, when partnership becomes dependence and two lives, once so entwined, become different one from the other. Love is still there, but it’s changed.”

“And?” he asked me.

“She falls in love with another man, with whom she has a passionate affair, but the question about what comprises love at this time remains. Does it include lovemaking or caregiving? Is it about sacrifice and loss? Is it about fun? She has choices to make, decisions to reach.”

It had commercial potential, I told him. “I know that most audiences in movie theaters are very young, which accounts for why so many new American movies are tailored to them, but I think folks our age (he’s my age) would pay to see a movie that asks these questions.”

I told him I never had an extramarital affair nor did I fall in love with anyone other than Bernie, but these were the questions I asked of myself when he was ill, this was the story that appeared in my mind—not like a novel or a short story, all of which I’ve written, but as a movie. “So that’s the movie I think you should make.”

He said: “You may be right that it has commercial possibilities, but you have to write the screenplay.”

“I don’t write screenplays,” I told him.

“Write this one,” he said. “Get the First Draft software, which everybody uses for screenplays.” That was it.

Why not, I thought to myself. I was still somewhat in shock, functioning but not present. I couldn’t go back to old writing projects, couldn’t find myself, so why not?.

I started writing the treatment that April, and completed the screenplay yesterday, a year later.

I wrote scenes during which I wept. I couldn’t sleep some nights. At times I had to take a break away from the words on the screen. I made final edits to The Book of Householder Koans, gave myself long breaks to teach, take Bernie’s ashes to Auschwitz, get sick for 5 weeks this past winter. And went on.

I had to do a lot of research, too, because I made the couple in the screenplay astronomers. One evening last fall I drove to the MIT Haystack Observatory and Radio Telescope two hours away for one of two evenings when they open to the public, writing notes, asking questions, watching how they maneuvered the gigantic radio telescope towards the stars (thrilling!), and drove home, elated, in an incredible storm.

I also attended a brief workshop on screenplay writing, and the woman who gave that workshop will review the screenplay.

She may tell me it’s the worst thing she ever read, hardly a screenplay (“You’re writing a screenplay, not a play,” a friend had warned me early in the process), that it won’t work at all. In that case I may never even send it out. What I hope she says is that it needs work, and here’s how to fix it. In that case I’ll make revisions and then send it out to my actor friend.

Once I do that it’ll be out of my hands. Something will happen, or it won’t. I don’t plan to hawk it myself, Hollywood is not my world. I am aware that only a very tiny percentage of screenplays ever become films. If that happens, fine; it’s also perfectly fine if not. I didn’t write it for Hollywood, I wrote it for grief.

There are so many things we do with grief. We walk it in the forest, on-leash or off; we look up at stars and see grief instead; we sit with it, plant it with flowers in the earth, clean house with it, pause to make room for it in lots of phone conversations. Surround ourselves with pictures of it, go down to the basement and drown in its books and photos, under the pretext of creating some order or cleaning things out.

We can also get creative with it—compose songs, paint, dance, write a screenplay. Things come up you never imagined, dialogue, jokes, the squint of an eye—they will disappear into forgetfulness unless you put them down on a living page, in service of a story about love.

It feels like the end of something. Already I feel a little nervous, wondering what now? What will drive me now? Now that it’s done, I feel, I can die content. There was a call, and I responded.

Only it’s not completely over. “I haven’t written the last scene,” I warned the woman I will bring this to tomorrow. Which is strange, because usually, when I have the characters and story all worked out, the end is pretty clear. So why haven’t I written the last scene? What have I yet to decide about love?

“Is it a happy ending?” a friend asked me.

I hesitated. “It’ll be a good ending,” I told her. “A rich ending.”

I think I know what it will be but I’m not 100% sure. Till the last minute, make room for the unexpected.

Take a few days to regroup. Do dumb things: bookkeeping, packing up books in the basement, packing up pictures. Let my mind stray here and there, unconsciously rake in life’s suggestions. Be open to nothing, and everything.

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“Aussie, I’m beginning to talk to myself. Am I losing it? I’m even wondering if you’re not a figment of my imagination.”

“You wish!”

“Maybe not all of you—I can feel your soft fur and your silky ears—but your voice may be a figment of my imagination, Aussie.”

“What? You think you have it in you to be as tough as me, as annoying and frustrating, as BITCHY as me?”

“I’m surprising even myself.”

“No, no, no, Boss. If you want to create a voice, create Harry. Just look at him: does whatever you tell him, sweet, curls himself all around like a ball (I never do that!), will even sleep in your bed (though naturally he prefers to sleep with me downstairs), a dog who’ll do anything for food. No pride whatsoever. That’s more up your alley, Boss. I’m Aussie. You can’t conceive of my cleverness, my wickedness, my in-your-faceness. You can’t make me up even if you tried.”

“Aussie, it’s well known that many people with dogs project their personality onto their dogs. Or else their needs or their fantasies. Any chance I’m doing that with you?”


“I’ve never seen someone so full of herself.”

“Excuse me, Boss, am I supposed to be just half of myself? Maybe a quarter?”

“I’m starting to worry, Aussie. What happens if your voice is my voice? What happens if you’re showing me a side of my personality I didn’t know I had?”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m beyond your personality, beyond your imagination. Which means I’m real.”

“Nobody’s beyond my imagination, Auss. You’re as real and unreal as everything else.”

“Oh Donald, here we go again. More Buddhist brain-dead voodoo pabulum.”

“Excuse me, Auss?”

“Those are the words used by my poet friend, Linda McCullough Moore, for people who talk like you. Except she didn’t say Buddhist. I added that.”

“Who talk like what, Aussie?”

“Who say stuff like it’s real and unreal. Who say everything is empty. Let me tell you, Boss, if my dog bowl was empty I wouldn’t be sticking around. Who always second-guess how they feel, especially if it’s intense: I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but . . . Who always finish a sentence with the same words no matter what. They could be saying I’m getting really upset about having to stay home all this time or I hate the chili you made for dinner or I miss my mother. And then they always add the same words.”

“What words, Aussie?”

But I have to let it go. I have to let it go! I have to let it go! If I hear I have to let it go one more time I’ll become an attack German Shepherd.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“There you go again: Maybe, maybe not. What the hell does that mean? No wonder we dogs have no idea what you people are talking about! Do you hear us talking like that?”

“Yes and no.”

“More brainless pabulum. It’s either yes, or it’s no.”

“You don’t really know that, Auss.”

“Trust me, I know there’s a yes and I know there’s a no. I already know what you’re going to say next.”

“You shouldn’t know so much.”

“I knew it. Next you’ll tell me that I should not-know. You call this language? You call this communication? You call this a religion?”

“What religion, Aussie?”

“Your Buddhism. I never heard of a more fakakht religion. Everything is no or not: not-knowing, non-thinking, hearing that is non-hearing, speaking that is non-speaking. I hear you chant the Heart Sutra where it says that there is suffering and also no suffering, ignorance and no ignorance—Can’t you Buddhists make up your minds!”

“That’s exactly what we do, Aussie, we make up our minds. It’s all story.”

“Well, your story drives me crazy. When will it ever end?”

“There’s no beginning and no end, Aussie.”

“This religion is not fun. I mean, what’s a religion for if you can’t swear to anything? If you can’t be self-righteous, if you can’t be a know-it-all?”

“You can be a not-know-it all, Auss.”

“I’m outta here.”

“There’s no inside, no outside, Auss.”

“Oh yeah? Watch me jump the fence.”

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Montague Reporter Police Log, 4/30 headline:

“Fridge on the Bridge; Two Big Black Bears; Cooped-Up Residents Starting to Act Like Jerks”

Our local newspaper makes it sound as if these are the big concerns of our local police: a refrigerator left on top of the bridge connecting two towns, two black bears appearing on the road, and a host of people who drink too much, cause accidents, or are having too good a time outside when everybody’s supposed to be miserable inside.

Is this who we are?

I think of out-of-towners who see that headline and sigh: That’s the way to live. If a refrigerator left on a bridge, two black bears, and residents beginning to act like jerks are the biggest concerns, it must be a nice place to call home. No muggings, no rapes, no murders, none of what the rest of the world experiences.

Is this who we really are?

I grew up in an unhappy family with an abusive father, but you’d never have guessed it if you’d seen us walking on Saturday after Shabbat services in the synagogue, wishing and receiving blessings of Gut Shabbos, smiling in our best clothes as we made our way home for a festive lunch I usually dreaded, when rage, fear and insecurity spilled out. Days of Sabbath or holidays, when there was no work and no school, were hardest on the family.

Once I looked at the other well-dressed families looking so bright and kind, sighed, and said to my mother: “They all look so happy!”

And she said to me, “Don’t believe your eyes. You never know what happens inside the house.”

It took me many years to realize that here, at least, she was wrong. Some families didn’t just look happy, they were indeed happy. But I was obsessed with the difference between outside and inside, the visible and invisible.

A local friend of mine, barely 40, tells me how many of his friends are dead due to illness, violence, suicide, or opioids. It’s beautiful now that spring is here, trees and flowers blooming everywhere. But other things bloom, too: poverty, unemployment, hunger, fear, and violence, only they tend to stay  in hiding. Like us, they’ve quarantined themselves, but it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

Today I was back handing out $50 supermarket food cards, mostly to mothers with children (occasionally fathers come, too). I also put cash in two envelopes. One went to a family paying down a large electricity bill that accumulated over an income-less winter. The second went to a mother suffering from physical abuse at the hands of her husband. She has no work, no car, and three children wondering where their father went (the police issued him a restraining order). She doesn’t show the children the marks on her arms and around her neck. With your help, I made sure she at least had cash for the short run.

Jimena described to me their domestic situation, and one image stayed with me. It seems as though the father locked the doors of the apartment so no one could get in. The 14-year-old son, fearing for his mother, broke a window to get in, and one of the things they now have to do is fix that window (our nights are approaching freezing once again).

I recalled a koan from many years ago. “A water buffalo passes through a window. Its head, horns and legs have all gone through. Why can’t its tail go through?” I worked on this koan with a teacher who day and night created new ways to help poor or homeless families, building homes and giving jobs, childcare centers and AIDS facilities. He was the very opposite of being stuck, of saying we can’t do anything.

I, too, tried to show how one can get through, how one can get unstuck. He wouldn’t let me get unstuck. At least in my case (I have no idea what he did with other students) he wanted me to stay with what it is to be stuck.

Jimena and I will meet  a second time this week to see what more is needed by these families. For me it’s no longer about being stuck or unstuck; life is endless, I can’t do everything, but I can do something. I don’t waste energy on pessimism or frustration.

I have received extraordinary donations: three gifts from three generations in the same family; donations from Europe in honor of a Dutch woman’s birthday, donations from a sangha in Germany, a check from an old friend and terrific poet I knew 40 years ago whose life took her to Virginia, and other checks coming into a post office box folded inside small yellow note papers saying: I wish I could do more.

Every time I open one of those I want to say to the person: You’re doing far, far more than you know.

There’s a koan in our Book of Householder Koans (given the cancellation of our talks and workshops due to the virus, I try to plug it a little in the blog), Little Bodhisattva, in which a 13 year-old girl is being tucked into bed by her mother who just came back from sitting in the Zen center.

The little girl says: “I love tuck-me-ins after meditation with the community.” Then she adds: “I like you, Mom, and, at the same time, I like all of the people that you sit with. Your people are my people. They just don’t know it yet.”

In her reflection on the koan, Roshi Egyoku Nakao wrote: “Meditation is vast and wide with nothing obtruding its flow. How about you? How far do you extend? Where do you draw your boundaries?”

The same can be said about compassion. Compassion is vast and wide. You may think it ends with you and the person you’re helping, but it doesn’t, it goes on and on. A week ago, when we did our book launch in the zendo by Zoom, I said to the group of people whose koans appeared in the book: “When you sent in your stories, did you ever imagine that they would move people in various countries and somehow contribute to their wellbeing?”

We have no notion of the extent of our compassion. One thousand dollars, one hundred dollars, one dollar—is any one of these more limited than the others?

Like meditation, compassion is vast and wide, with nothing obstructing its flow. Long ago a young girl was consumed by the difference between outside and inside. What a blessing that 60 years later she finally understands.

Donations to these families can go through button below, but please write on the note: for gift cards, or for families. If you don’t, the donation will go to my blog—which I also deeply appreciate and need. Or send checks to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351 USA, and write the same on the note.

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.


“I hope it is not too personal a question,” the man in the far-right square asks, “but can you tell me how it is for you now with Bernie not here?”

I am on Zoom with a group in another country, talking about The Book of Householder Koans. Lots of questions about Zen, practice, and koans, and then this.

“I am happy,” I tell him. “Don’t tell anybody, but I am actually happy.”

In fact, minutes before the Zoom meeting began, I had written those words down. It was pouring outside, a second day of rain, skies miserable and gray, dogs miserable and gray. And I picked up a pen and wrote in my notebook: “And yet, I’m happy.”

“You’re happy?” snaps Aussie from the futon behind me. “You’re already happy? You couldn’t wait a little, prolong your grief for another couple of years? You couldn’t delay being happy? You have to be happy right now?”

“I know, Auss,” I tell her. “Monday will mark a year and a half since Bernie died, and I don’t know how I’ll feel then. But today I’m happy.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself! You’re supposed to be under the covers prostrate with grief, not talk to anybody for a couple of years, shut the curtains, dim the lights, and sink into depression.”

“Bernie didn’t want that, Aussie. Bernie wanted me to live. He always worried that taking care of him was too much for me.”

“And after you come out of the depression make sure you wear only black, try to always slump when you walk out, and don’t talk on the phone. AND DON’T PAINT YOUR FINGERNAILS!”

“I love painting my fingernails, and my toenails too for that matter, Aussie.”

“You’re supposed to be laden with grief, you’re supposed not to think of anything or anyone other than Bernie. And me, of course.”

“I do think of him, Aussie, especially first thing in the morning. There’s something about waking up in the gray dawn hours that remind me he’s not there.”

“And that’s how you’re supposed to be all day!”

“But I’m not, Aussie. Once I sit and then have coffee and feed Harry and you—”

“Feeding us is always a cheerful act—”

“And get back to work, I feel lighter and more engaged. I get back to life.”

“You’re not supposed to get back so soon, you’re supposed to be dead a little longer. Don’t forget, I knew the Man. Not too long, less than two months, but enough to do some serious studies with him in bed—”

“In bed, Aussie?”

“That’s where the most serious studies happen, every good Zen teacher knows that. Let me tell you, that was some guy you had. Harry will be a lost case forever because he didn’t meet him. But you were his wife! You should be eternally devastated!”

“I feel bad sometimes—”

“Feeling bad is nothing. You should be ravaged with grief, torn apart, your body and life ruined forever. That’s how good widows behave.”

“I’m not a good widow,  Auss.”

“I’m ashamed of you. Ashamed for this family, for this house.”

“Aussie, how would you feel if I met another man?”

“Another man? OMG, maybe a couple of babies, too? Or worse, more dogs?”

“No, Aussie, just another man. I don’t expect another Bernie, don’t even want another Bernie. Someone to talk to, have fun with.”

“You talk to me, don’t you? Is that much fun? Besides, who’d want you? You’re OLD!”

“I’m only 70, Aussie.”

“Should I tell you all the people who died before they were 70? Let’s see, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens—”

“Aussie, there’s bound to be someone interesting out there who’d like to meet me.”

“If they’re heading towards 90, sure. Otherwise, forget it. Everybody knows men want younger women. Besides, how are you going to meet anybody living like this in the middle of the woods?”

“Good point, Auss. Maybe online. Everything’s online nowadays, can’t meet somebody even if you meet someone, know what I mean?”

“The only reason anyone would want to be with you is that then they get to be with me.”

“What are you saying, Aussie?”

“If you’re posting photos anywhere, make sure it’s a photo of me. One look at me and they fall in love. Of course, what happens once they come in the door and see you instead—well, that’s not my problem.”

“You know, Aussie, I was happy before we started this conversation and you took me right down.”

“Which is where you should be, down and out, finished with life, and certainly finished with love and romance. As Bernie used to say: fuggedaboudit.”

“No way, Auss.”

“So, send my photo. What a response you’ll get!”

P.S. Roshi Egyoku Nakao and I will start a weekly discussion of householder koans starting this coming Monday, May 4, at 12:00 pm Eastern US time, as part of the Zen Peacemakers’ Zoom offerings.


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


Escuche y repeta la palabra para stressful: estressante.

Listen and repeat the word for stressful: estressante.”

Monday night Pimsleur Spanish classes instruct me how to say stressful in Spanish. No problema, I’m a natural when it comes to stress.

Tuesdays are my days for meeting Jimena Pareja and members of undocumented families who come to get food cards from two neighboring supermarkets. By now I know them and they know me. I even remember some of their names, though Jimena warns me that that there are new families on the list because more and more are hurting desperately from the economic closure. Almost all are wearing masks (this wasn’t the case several weeks ago) and a few make quite a fashion statement with home-made colorful scarves tied behind their heads. I compliment them on their look.

Then come the stories about covid.

Jimena gives condolences. She murmurs on the side: “Her aunt died of covid.”

“Where does she live?”

“New Jersey.”

“Lo siento,” I tell her.

More condolences. “Her uncle died in Nueva York,” Jimena tells me.

“Donde en Nueva York?” I ask her.


“Lo siento,” I mumble.

Someone comes who had the virus 3 weeks ago along with her husband, but now it’s gone. I ask about the children; children are fine.

Everyone comes quickly this time, one after the other; other weeks we’ve had to wait longer. But today is bright and sunny, Jimena and I aren’t huddling under a marquee against the cold and rain like last week. In the end one more card is left.

“We have to bring it to her,” Jimena says. “She just gave birth two weeks ago and has two more small children, and her husband got four hours of work today.”

It’s the first time she takes me to visit someone at home. “Little by little they will trust you,” she tells me, “and you will hear their stories.”

I hop into the car.

“Keep away from me,” Aussie says, straining her body against the window in the back seat.

“I’m not sick,” I tell her.

“You talked to somebody who was sick! Are you crazy?”

Harry screams into my left ear: Open the window! Open the window! I open it up halfway. All the way! All the way!

“No way Jose,” I tell him, “you’ll jump out and I’ll be chasing you up and down Main Street.”

I follow Jimena to a neighborhood I’ve visited before and get out. She knocks, a pale, tired woman opens the door, two small children peering at us from behind her legs. Jimena explains that I’m a friend and I give her the Stop & Shop card. I also rummage and take out $50 cash. “Un regalo para el bebe nuevo,” I tell her. A gift for the new baby.

Listen and repeat the word for stressful: estressante.

I need to keep this going, I think as I finally drive away. It’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s still a drop. And we have no idea how long we’ll be shut down. Massachusetts has extended full shutdown at least till May 18, no schools till September which also means no summer programs for the children. And now the Great Leader is talking about not giving help to cities that support undocumented families. How are they going to live?

But I should know better. I don’t have to keep this going, it’s never been up to me, it’s everybody’s work. On the way home I stop at the post office and there are some 7 envelopes with checks totaling over $700 in contributions. A friend met me at the supermarket and gave me two food cards that she had bought on her own; these went today to a woman who told me of friends of hers who’re living on the edge.

Finally, I get the most wonderful email from my friend, Heinz-Jurgen Metzger, a Zen teacher in Germany, accompanying a Paypal note that he’s sending me over $680 for food cards that he collected from students and friends. Additional donations are coming separately from Germany.

It’s not about me, the world does everything. Life takes care of life.

A long time ago, in one of the many times Greyston was floundering financially and we hoped a certain donation would come through, I asked Bernie (Sensei to me then) how he could be so unworried. “It’s the Buddha’s money,” he said. “Life takes care of life.”

Earlier that day, when we were handing out cards: “Does this come from the church?” asks one of the mothers, looking at the food card in her hand.

“No, not from church,” says Jimena.

“From the school?” the woman wonders.

“No, not from the school.”

“A social agency?” No, Jimena says, not a social agency. “These are her friends,” she explains, motioning to me. She can’t explain about blog readers.

The woman thinks about that, looking at the $50 food card, and nods. She understands. Amigos.

If you wish to donate for food cards to desperate families, use button below and note on Note: “For food cards.” Or else send a check to me, Eve Marko, at POB 194, Montague, MA 01351.

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.