“What’s going on, Awesome? Never seen you look so happy.”

“I’m having the best time of my life, Stanley. All these people are here and they stroke me and love me and give me lots of attention. Best of all, they bring FOOD!”

“Oy, did I love food. Like what?”

“Soups and lasagna—“

“I loved lasagna! Not veggie, I hope.”

“Of course not veggie, Stanley, what kind of house do you think this is? Lots of cheeses and sweet potato something and crackers. Lots of cakes and salad.”

“I don’t like salad.”

“I’ve never had so much fun, Stanley!”

“What’s the occasion, Awesome?”

“The Man died.”

“Is that so! Are they putting him in with me, Awesome? That grave is so cool, especially now under the fall leaves. What’s Eve doing on the sofa?”

“She’s been sleeping there the last few nights. They’re all asleep upstairs, but she says she needs to sleep on the sofa downstairs. She wants to be close to the Man.”

“The woman just can’t get over her attachments, Awesome. That’s been her problem from the beginning. ‘You are not a proper Zen teacher,’ I told her again and again. Now the Man was the real thing. He looks like he plunged into death like he plunged into everything else.”

“People say he looks peaceful, Stanley.”

“Peaceful phooey. Dead is dead, Awesome. Humans make up so many stories, but not the Man. I lived with him for almost 14 years and I can tell you. He did nothing by half, everything was wholehearted.”

“There were lots of people here, Stanley, all this chanting and singing and sneaking me cookies and pieces of cheese. If only the Man could die more often!”

“The Man did die often, Awesome Aussie, that’s my point. In fact, the Man died more often than anybody. He got up in the morning, died. Reborn on the toilet, died. Reborn in the shower, died. Reborn at breakfast, died. Reborn to talk to his daughter on the phone, died. Reborn to talk to Eve, died.”

“Reborn to let me lick his bowl of oatmeal—“

“And died. See what I mean, Awesome?”

“I never thought of it like that, Spooky Stan.”

“You have a lot to learn, Awesome. You’re still young, but let me tell you, nobody died as often and as deeply as the Man. He was an expert. He was a professional!”

“So when’s he getting reborn, Stan? When’s he getting reborn to die again and get reborn and die again and get reborn and die again and get—“

“Who knows, Awesome? Maybe this is the last time he dies, maybe not.”

“Aren’t you there, Spook? Can’t you see what the Man is doing now?”

“My eyes kind of gave out on me when the brain cancer set in, Awesome. Do you know what they’re going to do with him? I wish they’d put him in the grave with me. We’d have fun together, especially once Eve hangs up the bird feeders for winter and all those sunflower seeds fall right on top of us. I LOVE—correction: LOVED—sunflower seeds.”

“I wish they’d put him in there, too, Spooky, that way I could dig up both of you.”

“I wish you’d stop doing that, Awesome.”

“Eve tries to stop me, but she can’t. Nobody can stop me, Stanley, I’m young and full of life.”

“You’re a juvenile delinquent, is what you are!”

“Prepare to see the light, Spook! Get ready for the light!”

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Photo by Peter Cunningham

Bernie died of sepsis. Bacteria from an infection got into his bloodstream and spread like wildfire into his organs.

He woke me up on Friday night, November 2, and told me he was in a lot of pain on the right side of his body.

In the morning the pain was gone and he had breakfast. Our close, long-time friend, Dr. John Kealy, was concerned by his low blood pressure, but Bernie went back upstairs to rest and watch TV. I’d seen him through plenty of bad nights over the past 3 years—his bad times were usually at night—so I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I went out for a few hours and brought home Chinese food, which he’d always loved but hadn’t eaten in a very long time. His blood pressure was back to normal but he didn’t have much appetite. I noticed that both his hands shook.

Slowly he returned upstairs, I walking at his side. But on his way from the bathroom to bed he fell against the dresser, no strength in his legs. Walking behind him, I pushed him step after slow step to the bed. He was breathing very fast and hard and leaned heavily against me. Nothing like this had happened before. Only later did I realize that Saturday evening he was already in severe sepsis.

But once in bed, his heart rate slowed to its normal pace, his shaking stopped, and he calmly picked up his iPad to look at the news. I’d seen Bernie through so many weak times and assumed it was a partial result of the previous night’s collapse. When I next checked on him he was deeply asleep, breathing normally.

And he continued to sleep deeply early Sunday morning, the day he died. I did my usual routines downstairs till 8:30, when I heard a noise. Upstairs his body seemed to be in seizures, and I called 911. Later I realized that septic shock had set in; Bernie had begun the dying process. But who knew? They took him to the ER of our local hospital and he was immediately treated and tested, would quiet down, then start breathing hard and move restlessly in bed.

He had an infection, they told me, maybe flu, and warned me they’d have to put masks on, please don’t be upset. Upset? By flu? Flu was no problem, I thought. They were going to give him something to help his body quiet down when the doctor returned.

“The results of our tests are coming in,” she told me. “Your husband’s kidneys are failing. He’s going into massive organ failure.” She said they could take extreme measures, put him in intensive care, a breathing tube, respirator, etc.—did he want that? No, I said dully, and looked at the monitor. His heart rate had been around 140. In less than the time it takes to write these words it plummeted to 40. He had basically died within 5 minutes of the time the doctor had told me my husband was dying.

They left me alone with him for 20 minutes.

You can say: Eve, the man had a stroke. The man had cancer. And I’ll say back: I never saw it coming.

One more thing. I wasn’t supposed to be there that weekend. I’d arranged to go to Switzerland to support the opening of a Zen Peacemaker House in Bern, a dharma transmission, and do some teaching, then on to London for four days of fun and rest with an old friend. “There’s a Harold Pinter festival,” she told me, “I got tickets.”

In Switzerland she called to say something happened and she was too sick to host me. I considered going to London on my own, staying in a hotel, see Pinter. Instead, I decided to fly home. It took me 19-1/2 hours to get home, tired, still pining for that good time in London instead of having to put dinner on the table. It was 7:30 Friday evening.

Three hours later, I heard: Eve, come!

Thirty-six hours later he was dead.

On Sunday morning, as his body began showing signs of septic shock, he looked up once at me and said: “I am so much trouble for you.”

We brought him home. The men washed his body with warm herbal water and dressed him in the clothes he hadn’t been able to wear since his stroke: jeans, Hawaiian shirt, suspenders. In his shirt pocket they put a cigar and inside one hand a red nose. Inside the other I inserted his wedding ring.



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Bernie died today. My husband.

He died on the day before the start of Zen Peacemakers’ 23rd or 24th–can’t count now–bearing witness retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau. He envisioned that retreat so many years ago not so much as testament to the past as the time for inner work, to see who and what is Other to me. To look at it straight in the face. And he wanted to go year after year. But not this year.

Also, Bernie, a Buddhist, said he always sensed there were souls there.

He brought blessings to so many people. May his name be blessed.

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Days have transpired since a man went into a synagogue and murdered 11 Jews. I waited for words to come up; they didn’t.

The killer, Robert Bowers, found words. He wrote: I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in. He picked up an assault rifle and several handguns, and went in.

Screw your optics. Did he mean, I don’t care what this looks like to everyone else, I’m still going in to kill?

I started thinking about optics, and what the world looks like to so many of us.

I thought back to around 2003, just after Lula became President of Brazil. I was invited by our friend, Ovidio Waldemar, to Porto Alegre for the World Social Forum, a poor person’s alternative to the World Economic Forum in Davos. 300,000 people attended in mega heat. I made presentations on the Zen Peacemaker Order and then Ovidio and his wife, Olga, took me around. They showed me a recycling center staffed by homeless people, with an on-site school for their children and tiny living quarters for their families. I listened to the opening talk of the new head of Brazil’s land reform movement and visited a town of land given to formerly landless families, then stood in 90 degrees plus heat listening to Hugo Chavez tell everyone that a new day was dawning.

Enthusiasm, even exuberance, reigned everywhere. Change was coming, change to benefit the perpetual have-nots of the world. And the world admired Brazil, how it stood behind Lula on the frontier of change, on the cusp of peaceful revolution.

Fifteen years later, Lula is in prison and a man called Jair Bolsonaro leads the fourth largest country in the world. That’s our optics nowadays.

In Germany, Angela Merkel, who argued so eloquently for Germany to accept more immigrants and refugees, and treat them with humanity and respect, is stepping down. Her time, too, has come and gone. More optics.

My optics have changed, too, if only for a few days and just geographically speaking. I am in Switzerland to support and celebrate the opening of a Zen Peacemaker House in Bern and the making of a new teacher and leader in our Zen Peacemaker family, Jorge de Mello, whose passion combines meditation practice with permaculture and love of this earth. He, his teacher, Barbara Wegmueller, and I walked along the path atop their home in Bern, looking at an enormous sky and the distant Jura, Barbara’s little dog, Jacinto, scurrying ahead of us. A small Shih-Tzu mix, Jacinto had no fear of the many people who passed by and who are so much bigger than him

If transmission and recognition of a new teacher and leader before a small group of 30 people, making vows to pursue peace with all beings and the earth, seems small to you, then I want to say what Robert Bowers wrote: Screw your optics. Neither CNN nor Fox are covering this (unless someone with a gun comes in and starts shooting). It’s a small, unimpetuous act, capping years of disciplined preparation and hard work, a long ripening process that doesn’t lend itself to cameras and soundbytes.

What it’s about is the long haul. What it’s about is the power of vow, which generates its own momentum, that can take you all the way from defeat through euphoria, from horror and disappointment to an exultant Finally!

Only there are no final Finallys!

I don’t make light of the harm done and the suffering inflicted in these times. I don’t make light of corruption and Brazil’s sky-high homicide rates that caused people to lose faith in basic government, so essential to any country’s wellbeing. These cycles of ours have their price, but contrary to what Robert Bowers posted, it’s usually paid by vulnerable minorities and the poor. It’s not his people being slaughtered.

The Bodhisattva vows, vows that I have taken, are to come back lifetime after lifetime to help all beings. I am writing this in the early, sleepless hours of a Swiss morning, sitting at a kitchen table waiting for the darkness to pass, and it seems to me that my lifetimes are speeding by, one after another, quicker and quicker. And I come back, and come back, and come back: to the innocent people shot on a holy day, to men, women, and children walking in caravan under sun and rain, slowly making their way to a promised land up north, to the families hiding out in small apartments just 15 minutes from where we live in the effort to avoid the police, the ones in sanctuary.

You make a big vow. Things still happen, you stay the course.

Screw the optics.


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Running down to the water, butt last

“You know, Aussie, I feel very bad about leaving you and Bernie to go away.”

“Leave it.”

“I think of the many times Bernie and I traveled together and did retreats and workshops and projects, and now I travel alone.”

“Leave it.”

“And I hope you’ll be okay, Aussie. You’re still such a pup and you haven’t been with us that long.”

“Leave it.”

“What do you mean, Leave it?”

“That’s what you tell me when I want to eat horse turds on the road or dig up Stanley’s grave. You say, Leave it.”

“This is not the same thing, Auss.”

“Or else you offer me a few liver treats in your hand, but you say Leave it and I can’t touch them till you say Okay.”

“This is not the same thing, Aussie. Right now I’m expressing some deep feelings.”

“Leave it.”

“Aussie, a man went into a synagogue two days ago and murdered and wounded Jews praying on Shabbat. I’m overcome when I read something like that.”

“Leave it.”

“It’s like someone punched me in the stomach.”

“Leave it.”

“What kind of person takes up a gun and starts shooting indiscriminately as people are praying?”

“Leave it.”

“Aussie, stop with the Leave it.

“Leave Leave it? I thought Leave it a very important Zen practice. Aren’t you supposed to leave things all the time so that you could be in the moment?”

Leave it doesn’t mean to deny what comes up, Aussie. Leave it is closer to Let it be.”

“When I want to eat horse turds you don’t say Let it be.”

“Some things can be very harmful, Aussie. But more and more I feel that there is no real inside or outside. I don’t get angry because of what somebody outside did, I get angry because of thoughts and feelings in my brain, and I react. All of us live with some pain and loss, Aussie, and if we don’t come to peace with it inside we’ll get angry at people outside, maybe even pick up an assault rifle and start shooting.”

“Leave it.”

“We can’t leave it. We can’t just go day after day feeling more disturbed and more upset, at some point things will turn nasty.”

“Leave it.”

“There is much I need to change and can change, Aussie. But in the end, I’m mortal, I can’t control everything.”

“When you die, can I tell you to Leave it?”

“No, Aussie, tell me to  Let it be.”

“When I do Leave it, I get small liver treats in reward. What will I get if I do Let it be?”

“You’ll get peace of mind, Aussie.”

“No liver treats?”

“No liver treats.”

“Then I’m not interested.”


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“Would you stop digging up my grave, Awesome?”

“I know you’re there, Spook, I want to see you.”

“No, you don’t, Awesome. Not the way I am now.”

“If I wait till after the winter there won’t be much of you to see, Spook. I’ve never been here during the winter, but they say there’s lots of this thing called snow and ice. Didn’t see much of that in Texas.”

“Oh Awesome, you should have seen me in my heyday, when I was Stanley rather than Spook. I was quite the dog. Stan the Man, Eve used to call me. It was so awesome to be alive! What’s it like now, Awesome, describe the scene.”

“It’s cold, Spook. Leaves are coming down. I just came back from an outing with Leeann, and we had an adventure because we ran into two pit bulls in the woods and everyone freaked out, except for me. But it all ended well, I chased them away.”

“You chased away two pit bulls?”

“Okay, Leeann and I chased away two pit bulls, but it was me they were afraid of, Stanley. And when Eve brought me home she gave me a treat and a pan to lick and then I stretched out on the sofa for a nap after a long, hard day.”

“OMG, Awesome, it’s just how I remember it. When it gets cold the air is crisp in the nostrils when you first run out the door and you sniff out all the action from during the night, raccoons and foxes, porcupines and deer. You walk around the back yard and bark at everyone to tell them you’re back on duty. You smell if rain is coming, the leaves tickle your hair as they come down, you snort once or twice. Eve used to bend down, put her hand on my back and say, ‘Another wonderful day to be alive, Stan.’ And I’d nuzzle close to her and lick her chin and say, because I’m so romantic at heart, ‘What about breakfast?’ That’s the trouble, Awesome!”

“What’s the trouble, Spook?”

“The living don’t know what they got till they’re dead. They don’t know how good the air feels first thing in the morning, they don’t know how to appreciate the soft blanket on the sofa—“

“I ripped it up with my teeth, Spook.”

“Exactly my point. Life is wasted on the living! Do you appreciate the feel of cold water down your throat? Rolling on the grass and letting it scratch your back? Running after critters and exploring the hollow of that tree behind the house?”

“It fell a few weeks ago, Spook, from all the rain.”

“No, Awesome, you don’t appreciate any of it! And the greatest thing of all is to find that spot of sunlight in a cold day and lie in it, get that warmth on your back, life just smiling and smiling, nothing can go wrong.”

“I appreciate it, Spook.”

“Not like the dead do, Awesome. Not like me. When you’re alive you think it’ll just go on and on. You’re even bored sometimes because it’s one day like the next, and you want to run into bears or coyotes for adventure.”

“Or pitbulls, Spook.”

“But you the living don’t really get it. Every day is an adventure, every minute of being alive is an adventure. You stretch out on the rug and feel it curl under your stomach, you feel Eve’s hands on your neck and she bends down to kiss you on your nose. I pretended I didn’t like it but I would do anything, Awesome, anything to feel that again. Can you understand that?”

“She doesn’t kiss me on the nose, Spook.”

“You call that a nose? And walking in the woods together, stalking a fox or chasing a scent, but always, always knowing where you’ll end up, by the pools deep in the forest. You know you’ll find her there, sitting on a rock, looking out across the pools at something, waiting for you to show up. You always know, or you think you know. But one day you don’t end up by those pools, you end up here, with a dumb Dixie dog digging up your grave.”

“I’m not a dumb Dixie dog, Spook.”

“Love your life, Awesome. Jump with joy, bark and holler. Love every single day, promise me you’ll do that, Awesome. Just promise me.”

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Autumn leaves falling onto a black pool by Rattlesnake Gutter Rd.

Yesterday I had a long talk another Zen teacher. We talked of street retreats and the Zen Peacemaker Order, whose members work in the cracks of society. And early this morning I had a dream.

In the dream Bernie and I are homeless on the streets of New York City. We’ve just come out of a shelter where we spent the night and he looks like he did before his stroke. Slowly we walk the pavement. I’m aware that while Bernie can’t work, I can still go and get a job, perhaps some temp or proofreading work I used to do so long ago, on weekends, when I needed some extra money. After all, that would get us off the streets. Only I didn’t want to do those things anymore.

Finally I say that it would be nice to wash up. We pass a very fancy apartment building in mid-town. The doors are open to let in construction workers, and I say, “Let’s go in there.”

We find an apartment on an upper floor where a cleaning crew is going in, so we mix in with them and get inside. I tell Bernie to go and wash up, do what he needs to do. Then it’s time for me to do the same, and it occurs to me that what I really want to do is wash my hair. Why? Because it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesdays I almost always wash my hair.

I go to a small bedroom to undress, and the housekeeper comes in. “What are you doing?” She’s a Latina with a kind face and curly hair.

“Look,” I say, “we’re not thinking of staying here. All I want to do is wash my hair.”

“You have to leave,” she says.

“I will,” I assure her, “just let me wash my hair and I’ll get out.”

She leaves the room and I could hear her calling the apartment owners, loud voices on the other end getting upset even as she says, “The woman is saying that all she wants to do is wash her hair.”

Should I leave, I wonder. Are they calling the cops? Maybe we should go right now before things get complicated. But I remain unruffled. I could do this really quickly before anybody comes, I figure, and walk into an adjoining enormous bathroom, with an equally enormous tub half-sunken in the floor. I take my clothes off and go down the few steps to the bottom of the tub, which has a European-style hand hose one uses to wash oneself with.

I’m down inside the tub, but every time I try to use the hose to wash my hair someone else comes in to talk to me. Then a line of people forms behind me; they also want to wash. They want to wash different things: their legs, their dirty hands, their necks. Laughing, they give one another the hose to wash their backs and get into long conversations. This becomes a very friendly scene even as I wonder why it’s taking me so long to just wash my hair and leave.

Finally the man of the house arrives. I’m still on line. The housekeeper points me out—by then there’s a whole party going on—and he approaches me, a moustache version of John Cleese, only not as tall, glowers like Cleese, and says: “What are you doing here? You have to get out! Out, out!”

I say, “I will get out, I promise, I just want to wash my hair.”

He gets angry. “So you’re going to shampoo, and then you’re going to condition, and then—“

“No,” I tell him, “I don’t like conditioner. In the effort to untangle, it leaves the hair so limp and wimpy, I try never to use it.”

He calls his wife, who’s in a meeting. “She’s just going to wash her hair and then she’s going to leave. Not even using a conditioner.”

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Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you
    could be cured with a hot bath,
says God through the manhole covers,
    but you want magic, to win
the lottery you never bought a ticket for.

I thought of this poem by Mary Karr (who also wrote Liars Club) last night after taking a bath and immediately getting sick. A combination of blood pressure issues and asthma cause nausea every time I get out of a hot bath. I therefore take very few baths, but last night I was tempted by that tall tub with 9 jets that I got Bernie for his birthday months after we moved here. He used it morning after morning, usually around 4 or 5 o’clock, and credited his daily hot Jacuzzi bath with saving his arthritic knees, and saving Medicare money for knee-replacement surgery. All this stopped with his stroke because he simply can’t get into a tub anymore.

I was fine in the tub, but when I got out the room spun around. It was the worst it had been, barely managed to get a towel around me and sat down on the toilet bowl, hoping the room will stabilize, I will stabilize, breath will come back, and I’d get strong enough to get on my legs, walk to the bedroom, and collapse in bed.

This happened after 10 minutes, and I knew that this would probably be my last bath in that wonderful tub. Bernie is no longer able to get in, and now neither can I, for different reasons. I could almost hear Aussie saying: Leave it!

The voice never
    panders, offers no five-year plan,
no long-term solution, no edicts from a cloudy
    white beard hooked over ears.
It is small and fond and local.

That’s God’s voice Karr is talking about. The God that doesn’t talk about ultimate things, some grand panacea for the ills of being human and mortal. Once I thought I’d like to meet that God. Once I thought that at the end of this retreat or this workshop, I will finally know the five-year plan. I mean, if you can’t end suffering once and for all, why sit?

Instead, the poet says, things are small and fond and local. Sometimes love is too big a word, so I am getting fond of fond. A small tug-of-war over a branch with Aussie in the back yard. The mushroom soup we’re making from large porcini mushrooms given us by Leeann-Rhymes-With-Aussie. Very local.

Today I will walk on the Montague Plains with Aussie and my friend, Mary Rose, of whom I blogged a few years ago. Now there’s a hero for you, a mother whose daughter disappeared, who suspected her son-in-law, Felix Vail, of killing her, and went on a 20-year campaign of tracking down other victims, other families, and finally putting enough evidence together to put him behind bars.

Articles and TV interviews were written about Mary. We met when I helped out at the Stone Soup Café, which serves fabulous lunches to the Greenfield community. She was the tall, stately volunteer coordinator, pointing a homeless man to this table, pulling more chairs over there, reminding folks of seconds and also food to take home. So gracious and attentive, no one would have guessed at the shadow she lived with day in, day out, of her only child dying.

There are big people out there. I am not one of them. Nor am I looking anymore for grand pronouncements or prescriptions, for some voice from heaven that ends vulnerability once and for all. The great voices I do know and trust are those murmuring How was your night? Did you sleep well? We’re going to Turners Falls to the Shea Theater, do you want to come? I can come walk Aussie if you’re busy and you don’t have to pay me, I just like walking that dog, and Here are some big porcini mushrooms for you. The voices that sign up to have dinner with Bernie on the days I’m gone. Small, fond, local voices that help dig out the dahlia bulbs because the dahlias have finally given up the ghost for this season.

Don’t look for
    your initials in the geese honking
overhead or to see through the glass even
    darkly. It says the most obvious shit,
i.e. Put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

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WANTED:       Companion, Canine

BY:                   Aussie, Canine

I AM:   13-months old, from Texas, no idea why they named me after Australia. Have had bad experiences in the past with human males, getting over it. Canine males no problem. Good jumper, know how to reach for food on kitchen counter and dining table. Teeth in great condition; I grind them on furniture.


Postmodern deconstructionist of sandals, shoes, slippers, with special skills at tearing up straps, buckles, and soles. Hoping to move on to boots very soon.

Interior design—leave above in highly original configurations on rugs and floors.

Landscape design—ditto for outdoors, using bones, chewed up twigs and branches, and whatever I can steal from blue recycling bins.

Designer of Miniature Golf Courses–Dig lots of holes in the ground.

YOU ARE: A role model {Eve says I need a role model!), 2 and older, more settled, a little more experience.

REQUIREMENT: Must love to run.

PREFERRED: Loves to get wet, too! Over 30 pounds so you could get through the dog door (they had giants here once!). Does not spook easily (the back is haunted by a dead canine called Stanley)



The Man. Caterer. Gives food scraps on plates, bowls, and cups. Calm, peaceful, but abusive since he gives Zen interviews in bed, must report this. Master of Leave It!

The Woman. Gets up when it’s still dark and just sits there. Sit! Stay! Come! Incompetent teacher, means well. Excellent chauffeur. Chases after me when I run around the house with her clothes in my mouth. Excessive emotions though past menopause. Talks too much.


Canine Spook called Stanley. Usually haunts the back yard but may surprise you indoors. Was patriarch of the pack when he was living, can’t do that now. Resents being dead. Calls me Awesome but always tells me what to do, tells me I’m silly and ignorant. Traditional male.

Don’t need photo, just someone to keep up. Interviews at Montague Conservancy every Monday at 11.

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“How are you, Chavale?” asks my mother on the phone.

“It’s gorgeous outside,” I tell her. It’s so much easier to talk to my 90 year-old mother about the New England fall than about me. The leaves are better–and prettier–at spilling their guts out than I am.

“A treat to the eyes,” my mother says.

“Grace,” I say back.

She makes no reply. I’m not sure how grace translates to an old orthodox Jewish woman.

I’m writing a novel about an 87 year-old woman driving from Florida to California in her much-loved car whom she calls Abe, after Abe Lincoln, to meet up with the love of her life whom she hasn’t seen in 70 years. Abe breaks down in a trailer town in Texas, west of Houston, and there she encounters another woman who has had bad luck with love, only this woman always wears T-shirts with giraffes on them.

“Why do you always wear giraffes?” she asks the Giraffe Lady.

And Giraffe Lady tells her this story, which is my story, too.

“Once I visited a park west of here, a conservation place for animals that have been hurt and wounded. They have antelopes and zebras, wolves and hyenas, ibex and hippos, and even rhinos. Some of the animals roam free, though not the rhinos.

“A guide drove our large van of people and I sat next to him on the passenger side. We rounded the bend and there was an enormous giraffe at the side of the road: white with brown and yellow spots, and the tenderest eyes in creation.

“‘Put your hand out and open your palm,’ the guide instructed me.

“‘I don’t have any food to give,’ I said.

“‘Put out your hand and open your palm,’ said the guide again.

“‘Are you sure it’s safe?’

“But I did as I was told. The giraffe seemed as tall as the clouds, but slowly and elegantly it started to bend its long, long neck. Many seconds seemed to pass till its head came down to my hand. It put out its tongue and licked my open palm, the softest touch I’ve felt anywhere on my body. It licked that empty palm again and again even though there was nothing there except my skin, eyes rimmed black behind long eyelashes, looking at me like they’ve known me my entire life. The oldest look in the world. Then, with great delicacy, the long neck rose again till eventually the head was back in the clouds, and it walked away.

“I gave it nothing. It gave me everything.“

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