“Guess what, Aussie? The New Yorker has an article on Peter Cunningham.”


“Our friend, Peter Cunningham, the photographer. Remember we visited him and Ara Fitzgerald last summer at Grand Manan Island?”

“I LOVED Ara. She was constantly stroking and petting me, making a big fuss, letting me sleep on the bed in the dining room so that I could look out the window and greet everyone who came to the door. Is she also in The New Yorker? By the way, what’s The New Yorker?”

“It’s an elite, elite, elite New York weekly, with articles, reviews, cartoons, photos, and short stories from some of the best English-language writers. They did an article and photos on Peter’s encounter with Henri Cartier-Bresson and how he took him all around New Jersey to take photos.”

“New Jersey? Who takes photos of New Jersey?”

“Now you’re sounding a little like The New Yorker yourself, Aussie. The point is, Peter has been a great photographer for many years.”

“He’s taken photos of The Man, right?”

“But not just of Bernie, but also of the Boss, Springsteen, Madonna, so many of our best-known artists. We can see some of them on his website, Aussie. You should see his photos of our retreats at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Black Hills. He has done some beautiful photography books, and now he’s in The New Yorker!”

“I haven’t seen you this excited in a long time.”

“You know, Aussie, it’s not easy to be successful as an artist. You can barely make a living, in fact most artists have to hold other jobs just to keep a roof over their head. You work hard in anonymity for years and years.”

“So, when are you going to appear in The New Yorker?”

“I haven’t done anything to appear in The New Yorker.”

“You’ve written about me.

“You’re not New Yorker material, Aussie.  Peter’s photographed the fishermen in Grand Manan and the events of 9/11 in Manhattan. He did exquisite photos of Bernie and Peter Matthiessen on a Zen pilgrimage in Japan. He even photographed the old Bronx Yankee Stadium before they destroyed it even though he’s a Red Sox fan. Came the post-season, he and I would exchange some nasty emails and—”

“So why did I have to get adopted by you, a nobody?”

“You know, Auss, even nobodys who never get into The New Yorker have value in the world.”

“Not much.”

“We do things, Aussie.”

“Like what?”

“Things nobody hears about. We drive friends to the hospital, we cook meals for a soup kitchen, we take care of children and the elderly, we help clean up a river and protect trees and drive over to someone’s home with a hot meal—”

“Who cares? Nobody ever hears about them!”

“We volunteer at animal shelters, which is where you’re heading if you say one more word. It doesn’t matter if you ever get into The New Yorker or not, Aussie, just be a mensch, as Bernie used to say.”

“Did he ever get into The New Yorker?”

“Oh Aussie, can’t you be happy just being a nobody?”

“No. Do you think Peter could create a book of photographs on me? Just think of it, I could be smiling at millions of people from a coffee table.”

“I don’t think so, Auss. And photography books don’t sell by the millions.”

“This one will. And you can write the captions.”

“I don’t want to write captions, Aussie.”

“[Groan] Life just ain’t worth living if you’re not a celebrity.”

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The Buddha angel where I sit

“Suffering can be a lens through which you break and see the essence of humanity.”

I listened to Rabbi Tirzah Firestone yesterday talk about her latest book, Wounds Into Wisdom. The big attraction for me was to also hear the Canadian/Hungarian doctor and trauma specialist Gabor Mate speak there. I was deeply moved by him, but that takes another blog post.

Tirzah, whom I met many years ago both in Colorado and in Jerusalem, said essentially this: Suffering can be a lens through which you see to the suffering of all humanity. Or it can become something special, which leads to victimhood.

I thought about this in connection with Jewish perception of history and current events. There is no question in my mind about 2,000 years of exile, dehumanization, and persecution that Jews went through, culminating with the Holocaust. As Gabor Mate said, horrific genocides, not to mention enslavement, have occurred throughout the world, but not one was so coldly mechanical, dispassionate, and calculated, causing mass murder to transcend the realm of rage and passion and tumble into the land of logic, policy, and method. I’ve been to Auschwitz-Birkenau many times, and I still can’t get over how guards and soldiers could see little children, scared and holding on to their mothers’ hands while crying, march off to gas chambers.

No one can doubt the suffering. It’s the specialness of that suffering that is in question for me.

We refer to ourselves as a chosen people. This has lots of spiritual and religious nuance. The Dalai Lama, when asked what he thought about that, said that he wished all people felt chosen in some way. It’s when we combine specialness or chosenness with suffering, however, and develop our identity from that combination, that we get into trouble.

Suddenly it’s important to emphasize the specialness of our suffering, how no one else suffered like we did, becoming a race to see who’s the greater sufferer, who’s the greatest victim. Nowhere in the Bible is “chosenness” combined with suffering; instead, it points to obeying God’s wishes. But over history, chosenness or specialness have come together with suffering and become their own rigid identity.

Even the most prosperous American Jews, those who’ve attended the best schools and have the money they need to live well, scratch under the surface and immediately they become nervous and defensive, taking on the mantle of victimhood, as if saying: “We have always suffered, and we know it’s right around the corner at all times. It’s our legacy. It’s what it means to be Jewish.”

The Buddha said that everyone suffers, that in fact life is suffering. Obviously more or less depending on conditions, but there is no life without suffering and disappointment, even catastrophe. When you truly take that to heart, you are less shocked and stunned than others by reversals in health, family, work, or society. More important, you realize deeply that this is true for everyone. Everyone suffers, trauma lies hidden in many, many places, as Mate has pointed out over his lifetime.

When we take suffering as a lens through which to see others, it increases our empathy, our care, our sense of sisterhood and brotherhood with everyone. But when we make our suffering special, unshared by anyone else who isn’t of our nation, we’ve made a personal and national identity out of it, which leads to greater separation rather than less.

Even as a very young girl I was turned off by sayings like: Look at what happened to us and nobody else. The teachers in the religious school I attended went to great length to imprint on students the specialness and uniqueness of that suffering. The antidote to that suffering was to feel ennobled and unusual, to stand out among the nations. Not to mention building up an army as well as nuclear weapons, as Israel has done.

Suffering is at the essence of what it is to be human. Is it the only thing? Of course not. But I visit senior centers and see even the most successful and fortunate of men and women suffering from old age, illness, fear, and deep loneliness. Various forms of suffering fueled the Buddha in his search for enlightenment. We can’t run away from it.

When we see it broadly enough, bear witness to the slavery and genocides, the children dying of malnutrition even as I type these words, you see the common thread binding all of us. In Zen we’re warned against cutting that thread and finding relief in some version of nirvana, but rather always vowing to be with and among those whose life is hard and bitter.

“Get out of your specialness as the biggest suffering victim,” Rabbi Tirzah said at the end of the session. Don’t feel chosen in that way, unique, or exceptional. Take your place in line with all of humanity, says Rabbi Eve, for joy, change, transformation, and yes, suffering, too.

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There was such a buzz around ChatGPT and its artificial intelligence chatbot that I decided to give it a try.

I found it online, registered, and asked it to write a couple of songs. It did.

Then I asked it to write me a dharma talk. It did that, too, a Buddhism 101 lecture almost anyone can give at the local library. I asked for another dharma talk, and this time I got a talk focused on the Four Noble Truths. It added some Pali words just in case.

“How about a sonnet in the style of William Shakespeare?” I suggested.

“Certainly,” it said right away, and wrote:

When I behold the beauty of the night,

The moon and stars that twinkle in the skies,

I am amazed by their celestial light

And think of all the mysteries that lie

Beyond this world that we call our own.”

There was some more but I won’t reproduce the rest.

“Tell me a joke,” I said.

“Certainly,” it said:

Why don’t scientists trust atoms?

Because they make up everything.”

“That’s a better dharma talk than the first two,” I told it.

It blinked a few times, then said: “I apologize if my previous responses did not meet your expectations. I am constantly learning and improving, so I appreciate your feedback.”

You can tell it ain’t human.

“Ask it what it thinks of dogs,” suggests Aussie.

“As an AI language model, I don’t have personal opinions or feelings,” it shoots back.

“Ask it how we get rid of Chihuahuas,” she says.

Response: “As an AI language model, I don’t have the ability to make anything physically disappear or cause any harm. It’s also worth noting that Chihuahuas, like all animals, deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, and it’s not appropriate to wish harm or disappearance upon any living creature.”

“I told you these things are biased,” Aussie says. “They give you all this goody-goody liberal bullshit. And they call this artificial intelligence!” She gives a snort and walks away.

My fingers dance on the keys. “Why is Aussie such a bitch?” I ask.

This time it blinks many times. “I’m sorry but I cannot respond to that question as it is inappropriate and offensive. It’s important to communicate respectfully and use appropriate language when asking questions or engaging in discussions. It’s also important to recognize that people, including those from Australia (often called ‘Aussies’), are diverse and should not be labeled or stereotyped.”

“Do you speak from your heart?” I ask it.

“As an AI language model, I do not have emotions or personal experiences, and I cannot speak from the heart.”

I mull that over a bit, then write: “ChatGPT, when I logged in it asked me to verify that I’m human. How do I verify that I’m human?”

It answered: “Verifying that you’re human involves completing a task that is difficult or impossible for automated computer programs to do. This is known as a CAPTCHA, Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart.”

“Wow. Anything simpler than that?”

“There are other, simpler methods for verifying that you are human, but they may not be as secure.”

I give up. “Tell me another joke,” I suggest.

“Sure, here’s a joke for you:

Why did the tomato turn red?

Because it saw the salad dressing.”

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A short while ago I talked with a friend who’s going to tour Israel. She was excited, she hadn’t been there in some 27 years.

“Are you going to go into Bethlehem?” I asked. What I really wanted to ask was whether the tour would include the Palestinian West Bank.

“We’re going everywhere,” she said happily, and mentioned how much she loved being in Israel, the people, the warmth, the lights.

I hung up, continued to walk with Aussie, and thought of what is happening in Israel, my country of birth.

The current government wants to undermine the independence of the judiciary, and specifically (though not exclusively) the Supreme Court, by passing a bill that would enable Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to override the Court’s decision by a majority of just one vote.

Given Israel’s form of government, the membership in the Knesset usually reflects the Prime Minister’s coalition, unlike, say, in the US, where we could have a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority Senate, and a Republican majority House. In Israel right now, the Knesset reflects the right-wing coalition of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, leaving only the Supreme Court to block government actions and bills it disagrees with.

Not that the Israeli Supreme Court is any kind of radical court. It usually approves actions by the government and army, including land appropriations. It accepts the security mantra like most Israelis; only rarely has it taken decisions opposed to government measures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But those few times were too many for the right-wing bloc, including most ultra-orthodox Jews who also don’t care for the Court much (or for democratic values, for that matter), and they are pushing to undermine the Court’s power.

While many take to the streets in protest, almost all seem to agree on one thing: This has nothing to do with the Palestinians. This has nothing to do with what takes place in the West Bank. This is not a fight between left-wing Israelis, who want to reach a political agreement with the Palestinians, and right-wing Israelis, who want nothing of the kind.

One of our major newspapers, reporting that such large-scale demonstrations haven’t been seen since the negotiations with Palestinians in the 1990s, quoted the head of an Israeli policy think tank. She said that the disagreements in the 1990s were “’about the border of the state. This is much more serious: It’s about the character of the state.’”

I beg to differ. The relations between Israel and Palestine have everything to do not just with borders but with the very character of Israel. Always has.

In 1967, after Israel conquered the West Bank, a handful of people warned that the occupation of the West Bank would change Israel itself morally, ethically, and politically, including basic governing principles. Very few listened, but this is exactly what happened; the recent events around the Supreme Court are just another symptom of this trend.

Humans are able to compartmentalize bigly, as our ex-President liked to say, and people seem to think that they can have their democracy even as their government enforces a brutal occupation. They know what’s going on, but it’s not happening in their own cities and towns, it’s happening away (as if there is away). They believe it doesn’t affect them, they can go about their lives and proclaim happily that they live in the only democracy in the Middle East.

They have developed an incredible ability to live in denial of what is being done by their democratic country: new settlements and checkpoints that impede a free flow of Palestinians from one area to another. They’re in denial of the fact that they send their own children to serve in an army that enforces expropriations of land and water, and stands by when settlers set fire to olive groves and threaten inhabitants. They don’t seem to mind that this is what their children see and experience at the age of 18.

Many years ago, my sister and I drove to the Dead Sea in summer. On the way we encountered checkpoints where Israelis were just waved through while, in the adjoining lane, a mile of cars bearing Palestinian car plates, filled with families, were made to wait for hours in the heat while young soldiers looked them over slowly and leisurely, indifferent to the cries of children or the looks on the faces of elderly grandparents.

“We’ll pay a big price for this one day,” my sister commented.

I never forgot her words. This was long before suicide bombers, long before intifadas. But corruption had already begun.

The same people who spill onto the streets now didn’t do so when the government passed laws stigmatizing Israeli NGOs that focused on human rights. They didn’t spill onto the streets when the government designated half a dozen Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations. They don’t spill out onto the streets demanding that their human rights not come at the cost of the human rights of others. Nor do they spill out onto the streets in the face of warnings that Israel can’t possibly be both a democracy and an occupying power.

Over 40 years ago, before the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, I met two handsome, gracious brothers from that country on a skiing trip in Austria. They were terrific skiers, had come to Europe annually to ski in winter, and told me they belonged to a special military unit not formally recognized by the army that does all kinds of dirty work on the army’s behalf.

“You mean, like a paramilitary group?” I asked.

They laughed and shrugged. Yes, like a paramilitary group in a country that called itself a democracy. South Africa’s laws didn’t just victimize black Africans, they also undermined the country’s democratic laws for its own white citizens. The judicial branch adopted severe laws against white people who fought against apartheid (nothing like what it did to black fighters), the military was given broad license to go after anyone who fought against it (always labeled terrorists), and media publications against apartheid were banned. We’re talking about white Afrikaans, not the black Africans who suffered much, much worse.

Bernie used to say that the world is a mandala, and that whatever part of the mandala you leave out of your work will then sabotage your efforts. I believe this is what the Israelis are witnessing now, even as most don’t see it.

The white elephant in the room isn’t the Supreme Court or even Bibi Netanyahu, it is the continued settling of the West Bank, the systematic thievery, and denigrating treatment of its Palestinian citizens. Regardless of how this particular crisis will play out, you can’t have occupation and democracy, the system is self-corrupting. In the end, which will it be?

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I hadn’t gone out to light incense for Kwan-yin due to the weather, including snow, ice, rain, and the terrible freeze of last weekend. I usually do that in the early mornings after meditation and feeding Aussie, and before looking at the computer over a cup of coffee. In fact, I go out with my bathrobe over my pajamas, slipping my bare feet into boots, lighting a stick of incense at one of our altars inside and then walking out towards her, trying not to slip on the ice.

I finally went out one morning this past week with the usual stick of incense in my hand to put down at her feet, and immediately noticed the state of Kwan-yin’s arm. It looks like it’s ready to fall off, I thought to myself. A deep sorrow overcame me.

Lori told me that the last time I was traveling, she saw Aussie chewing on a squirrel from the window of her office. “Leave it!” she yelled and hurried downstairs. She had to shout it another couple of times before Aussie left it, begrudgingly.

“I was sure the squirrel was dead,” she told me later, “I’d seen blood on it. I went to get a shovel to carry the body away, but as I approached the squirrel got up on its feet and ran to her,” she said, “you know who I mean.”


“Yes, it climbed up on top and entered inside her head.”

She’s still taller than I am (though we’d had to shave off the bottom part of her last year after her fall), and while I could see a big crack on top of the head, I couldn’t see inside without climbing a ladder.

I talked to a carpenter long ago who said there wasn’t much to do, the wood was giving way, rotted outside by rain and snow, devoured from the inside by critters taking refuge inside her body. Kwan-yin is often represented with many arms and hands, able to heal everyone and everything. But one will fall away soon.

Recently I received an email about the cancellation of an outing. “We’re canceling out of an abundance of caution,” my friends wrote.

Hmmm, I thought. Abundance of caution. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Kwan-yin with her many arms is who I think about when I think of abundance. She reminds me that life is abundant, full of help, love, trees, kangaroos, flowers, dogs and children, no reason to scrimp anywhere.

Caution is, well, cautious. My body slows down immediately when I’m cautiously walking on ice. It contracts as I look ahead, stepping solidly and slowly on the freezing earth. Caution is driving slowly in the fog last night, braking often, gingerly picking up a glass of hot water. Caution is contraction and care, a different energy from gay, expansive abundance.

How do you put the two together? What is abundance of caution?

I think the phrase came into big use during covid, when people used it to explain their absence from various places and meetings, all for good reason. But it has remained in use, and now the oxymoron is used to justify never coming to anything in-person, no longer volunteering or walking with a group, never taking any chances.

Not Kwan-yin; she doesn’t hesitate. One arm, two arms, a hundred arms, she gives them all. She gives her body as shelter, herself to the world.

I usually pray for those who need praying when I light incense at her feet, but over the past days I find myself saying aloud, “Take care of your arm.” I don’t stop to remember that she’s made of wood, or even to recall that we’re all her arms, I just say those words over and over as I would to a long-time, aging friend.

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“What’s the matter, girl?”

“Don’t call me girl. I’m 5-1/2, at the peak of my powers. Grrrrr.”

“What is it, Auss?”


“Bears aren’t around in this cold time of year, Auss.”

“They were around two weeks ago when they took down the birdfeeders in the front of the house. Let’s go back to the car, I’m hungry and I don’t feel safe.”

“The bears are back in their dens and I’m not going back to the car.”

“But I need to be safe!”

“I don’t believe in safe, Aussie. None of us is safe.”

“Don’t give me that baloney—no, changed my mind, I like baloney.”

“I am aware that in this country people want to be safe, but I don’t buy it. We can’t be safe from life, from pandemics, earthquakes, from illness or death. Life isn’t safe.”

“Aussie wants to be safe.”

“Oh Aussie, you’re not even Aussie.”


“You’re not real, Auss.”

“Should I bite you and see?”

“We have no real substance, Auss. What you think is Aussie is a personality you make up in your brain, it’s a fiction. At every moment causes and conditions come together to make up someone you call Aussie, but before I can even finish this sentence they’ve changed and you’re a different Aussie.”

“Still hungry, though.”

“And once we get home and you have your rawhide treat, you’ll no longer be a hungry Aussie, you’ll be a content Aussie. In fact, Auss, you’re not Aussie at all. You’re Aussie-ing.”

“How do I do that?”

“Do what?”

“Aussie-ing? I am Aussie. I don’t do Aussie.”

“What you think of as Aussie doesn’t exist. Instead, you’re Aussie-ing, changing this way and that. You’re movement, Aussie.”

“I’m movement, all right. Rushing to the car right now.”

“Aussie, you don’t feel safe because of the condition that there may be a bear out there. The closer we get to the car, the safer you feel. Why? Because conditions have changed. So, you’re always Aussie-ing according to causes and conditions.”

“I don’t want to Aussie, sounds like a stupid dance. I want to just be Aussie.”

“Wanting to be Aussie is delusional, Aussie. It’s much better if you dance the Aussie.”

“I’m a lousy dancer.”

“This is one dance you can do, Aussie, trust me.”

“What about Henry?”

“There is no such thing as Henry. He’s Henry-ing.”

“So, the million times a day when he brings you a toy to throw, that’s Henry-ing?”

“Yes, Aussie.”

“When he barks half the night for no good reason, that’s Henry-ing?”

“I’m afraid so, Aussie.”

“What about when he’s being stupid? Isn’t that his permanent state?”

“Nothing is a permanent state, Auss.”

“There are always exceptions. What about you? Are you Eve-ing?”

“Of course. Nothing permanent about me, either.”

“What about your big belly? Hasn’t changed much, from what I can see. And the tree up there, is that tree-ing?”

“Aussie, I think you got it now. There’s nothing permanent about that tree.”

“That tree don’t dance, it’s a tree!”

“But look at the top branches that are swaying in the wind. There’s so much action inside the bark, the roots, the earth around it, it’s changing all the time. You know, Aussie, maybe that’s why you don’t feel safe.”

“Because of the bear?”

“No, because you’re not permanent. Because you’re not really Aussie, at least not an Aussie that lasts longer than a fraction of a second.”

“If I change so quickly, how come I’m not out of breath?”

“Aussie, I think you’re afraid to discover that there’s no solid you. It’s at the bottom of our existential angst. Holy shit, there’s a bear there.”

“Is it a bear or is it bear-ing? Ahh, forget it. I’m Aussie-ing hard to the car. Toodaloo!”

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Violet Catches being greeted by Mother Bear. Photo by Suzanne Webber.

“Aussie Moss! Aussie Moss! Aus-sie! Moss Moss!”

“Stop singing.”

“That’s your theme song, Aussie. I love singing it when we walk or drive somewhere together, it’s how I show you how much I love you.”

“I don’t want to hear it. Not now!”

“So when? You’re nothing like Henry who jumps on my lap whenever possible, you don’t sleep in the bedroom and certainly not in my bed—”

“I should hope not!”

“So when can I express how much I love you, Auss?”

“Not in public, I’m embarrassed. Some things you do at home when nobody else can see us, but not here! Not in the street!”

“Come on, Auss. Why do we have to hide love from people?”

“Let’s pretend we don’t know each other, you stay on your side of the road and I’ll stay on mine.”

Every once in a while, I see how hard it is for me to accept love. How hard it is for me to acknowledge and accept bonds of friendship or even respect. It’s funny how self-conscious I can be.

Bernie used to introduce himself to a group by saying that he was an addict. He was addicted to his self and he would always be addicted to his self. Zen was his recovery program, only he knew he wouldn’t ever fully get over his addiction to the self.

There are times when I feel I can give myself fully to what is offered, and certain times I can’t; I lose connection. I’m talking of relationships with people I love, not with strangers. But I’ve noticed many times, even among long-standing couples, that one person beams at the partner, but the partner does not beam back.

I think back to the time when I met Violet Catches, an elder from Cheyenne River Reservation, when she and other Lakota members came to Barre to pick up Wounded Knee artifacts that belonged to their ancestors and which had been stored for many years, gathering dust, in the Barre Museum. As we sat in the big auditorium of the Barre school where the ceremony of return was going to take place, a small group of women, part of the Mashpee Wampanoag, from Cape Cod, approached to greet her.

They didn’t know her personally, but they had wanted to make some connection—actually, who knows why they came? They were led by Mother Bear, a relative of Slow Turtle, a revered medicine man, and of course Violet has her own deep family connection to Lakota medicine people, so their meeting may have had ramifications beyond my understanding. They shared that their particular clan, led by women, was not recognized as legally part of the Mashpee.

Mother Bear introduced herself and the others and presented gifts. Then she said: “We’d like to sing to you.”

In my culture that would have sounded a little odd, but Violet gave her blushing smile and said: “Okay.”

The women formed a circle in the front of the auditorium, but off to the corner, and asked Violet to come inside the circle. She did and they began to sing to her in their language.

I watched her. She’d never met these women before and didn’t know much about their tribe or history. But they sang to her in high, beautiful voices as she stood at the center, looking from one to the other, her hands clasped to her chest, eyes lit up, a humble smile on her face, taking in the respect and affection coming her away. No jokes to chase away unease, no comments or small social talk to minimize what they were communicating to her, no embarrassment (also a function of self-consciousness), certainly no offer to sing back. They wanted to give her something, and she received it completely.

Why this encounter took place in the way it did I don’t know, though, as I said before, this connection may have had other implications in realms I know nothing about. We’re all connected, but for some reason, when aspects of that connection are openly expressed—through love, through acknowledgment of how much someone means to me or me to him/her, through friendship—asking of us to forget ourselves and plunge into that connection expressed so openly, we hesitate, or feel uncomfortable or clumsy. As if we don’t deserve it, as if we’re not up for such an exchange. I find myself usually smiling with my lips shut, as if I’m holding back, marshaling my feelings, not ready to jump.

What Violet and the Mashpee women did together was ceremony, and you can say that’s very different from love because love is more spontaneous. But both require a readiness to leap out of self-consciousness and constant self-addiction, and into relationship, which, to the small self, feels risky and dangerous. Why? Maybe because there’s no bottom when it comes to connection. You go down deep, one layer after another after another, and never land anywhere because it’s infinite and deep. The greatest plunge in the world.

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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.


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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.


It’s a challenging weekend. Very cold temperatures with winds making it feel like -30 Fahrenheit. Aussie, heavily furred and loving nothing more than to sink into a frozen mud pool, which she did yesterday, still runs out the dog door to bark whenever anything catches her fancy, wondering why I’m such a wimp and not taking her out for walks, while Henry, only 15 pounds with short, stubbly fur, barks from inside my office and leaves it at that.

The winds are blowing hard now, shaking the tall pines that are alarmingly close to the house. What happens if just one of them falls? What happens if we lose power, which we did for a minute earlier? I have no generator and we’ll have to leave here, I and two dogs, because the heat will cut off. I keep an eye on the birdfeeders; this is no time to skimp on birdseed.

My friend, Jared Seide, founder of the Center for Council, sent me this terrific graphic book called Leaving Prison Behind. It’s a fictionalized account of a prison inmate, Ray, who’s been paroled and is now contemplating going home to his family after 10 years behind bars. Before leaving, he assembles a council, a circle of people he sees only in his mind who express good wishes, but also their concerns about his coming home. They include Ray’s wife, two boys, his niece, a cousin, and also an imagined conversation with Bernie.

I couldn’t put the book down. I’d never served time in prison, but the book spoke to me very personally. It talked to how we grow up, who and what influences us, and what decisions we make in our life that have long ramifications not just for us but for everyone around us

It talks of sons who sound just like their fathers did 10 and 20 years ago, before going to prison, the pain of hearing that come back at you, knowing it’s a train wreck about to happen, and what can you do about it now after being gone for so long?

It talks of women who raise their families alone, earning a livelihood and supporting their children, growing more independent in their husbands’ absence and now not wanting to take any more shit from anyone. It talks of people who badly need to reveal who they are to the world, hear their own voice, be called by name rather than by a number, but who don’t dare to open up and show vulnerability or pain.

I certainly don’t think my life is like theirs, but as I read the book I still thought: There but for the grace of Kwan-yin …

Prison can happen to anyone. Violence, rage, and retribution are rampant inside and outside. The fact that I didn’t act out externally and actively break the law is a big deal, but not that big a deal.

Don’t carry prison back to your life, Ray is told again and again. When you’re paroled you put physical bars behind you, but not the mental ones, and that denies you real freedom of action no matter how much parole you got. You keep on thinking in the same old patterns, yielding to distrust, to braggadocio to cover up your insecurity, to aggression to cover up your fear, to denial to cover up your shame.

We don’t let ourselves be just who we are, being-changing-becoming all the time, empty in essence and still welcoming all the different expressions of life that go through us and ask to be revealed and made conscious. Instead, we prefer the prison of habit, of the mentality that what worked 20 or 30 years ago—or even 50 years ago—still works now though the world has moved far, far from where it was then.

“You can’t bring these four walls back to our house, Ray,” his wife, Sylvia, tells him in the mental council he’s having on his last night in prison.

I find something in common with Ray. I wasn’t in prison per se, wasn’t hurt, called a number, dehumanized and humiliated, but I think I know about bars that have kept me in place. And I, too, wish to go home.

You can order Leaving Prison Behind here.

I feel my own vulnerability as the winds howl and the tall trees bend this way and that, the freeze that’s just one wall away, electric wires shaking between the house and the road. Rationally, I know things will be fine. But a piece of me resonates with the fear of winter from years ago, when people lived in caves, built a fire, and wrapped up babies in blankets. Many didn’t survive; winter was something to be afraid of.

I’m still raising funds to help immigrants pay for fuel and electricity this winter. I now pay $100 more monthly for electricity than last year, and the fuel bills have practically doubled. It’s fortunate karma that I can pay my bills; I think of that when Henry dives under the blanket to cushion himself against my body at night. But many families can’t. As I wrote once before, they get $200 worth of fuel if that’s all they can pay, they don’t get a full tank. Which means that come these kinds of weekends, they won’t move their thermostats up and instead will stay under the blankets in bed. Like long ago, when humans fought a war against the cold.

Please donate to the immigrant fund so that they can stay warm and free of illness. Thank you.

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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.


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.


Here are two photos of electronics at home.

The first is a gorgeous new MacBook Air, their smallest and cheapest priced version, but still expensive ($999). My old one, which I had for a decade or more, retired unexpectedly last week, thankfully leaving a hard disk with contents intact to be transferred into a new computer.

I heard from an independent repairman that Apple now makes computers to last 10 years. I had a choice of buying a refurbished one, but given what he said, and calculating how old I would be in 10 years, I decided to get a new one. Am glad I had the money to do this because I work on my computer every day of the week except in retreat times.

So here it is, a gorgeous red golden color, not the classic silver, weighing about 1-1/2 pounds so that you could take it in your bag, perfect for travel though I don’t travel so much anymore. At home it’s connected to a bigger screen providing relief for my eyes. It functions just like it looks—perfectly.

Not so the coffee machine. The handle on the steamer broke, so Lori attached a vise grip to it so that we could turn it 90 degrees to steam milk. The machine leaks inside, I tried to open up the back panel to see if I could fix it but couldn’t even unscrew the screws because they’re a special size I couldn’t find in hardware stores. Every morning I open up the bottom to throw out the water that has leaked underneath.

My housemate, Lori, who at first didn’t want to use the coffee machine, now teases me that she will leave when it breaks down completely. “Start packing,” she told Henry the Chihuahua when we first discovered the leak. But the machine still works, and Lori is still here.

We bought this DeLonghi model after Bernie’s stroke. There was a lot he couldn’t do after that, but he wanted to continue to make his own cappuccino though he only had the use of one hand. We got a machine that ground coffee, steamed milk, and made espresso all in one unit, something we never had before. I put some kind of container under the steam tube, and that way Bernie was able to put his coffee on it and press the steam button on. He was delighted, loved to show company what he could do.

It will be 7 years old soon, has served us well, but when it goes, I’ll go back to a more manual, hands-on coffeemaker, nothing as sophisticated as this.

Old and new, spic-and-span gorgeous and a machine requiring a prosthesis to keep on going. You get fond of the old ones that are more into mutuality: I’ll serve you if you serve me.

It was very interesting not to work on a computer for 5 days. I adapted quickly, decided to make the most of this surfeit of time. Did some cooking, dogging, housework, phones, but didn’t feel the pressure of having to do or complete work.

Something happened to time. I experienced the years after Bernie’s stroke as a daily race against time, trying to finish everything, not just my work but also what he needed to be properly cared for. Even before that, I experienced time as an enemy, never a friend, always coming up short, never giving me enough of itself.

On Saturday the Zen teacher Nancy Baker, in talking about non-stealing, said: “There are so many ways to steal. When you hurry, you steal from the future.” I felt she was talking directly to me.

When Bernie would ask me to go to dinner, I’d say, “Okay, let me quickly change my clothes and we’ll go,” and he’d invariably smile and reply: “You don’t have to do it quickly.”

In these five days without a computer, time became spacious and fluid, substanceless. There wasn’t just more of it, it also felt more circular, like the circle Aussie makes when she naps, curved on the sofa with her head by her paws. It wasn’t linear any longer, starting in the morning and ending in the evening.

I experienced what it was not to do. I studied, I read. Not the least bit productive. Stared into lots and lots of space, and it stared right back.

My red golden computer is starting a long life of doing, while the coffee machine with its ungainly mechanical limb is probably on its last legs, or next-to-last. Oddly, I don’t see them as opposites at all.

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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.


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 am writing this on a new red/gold MacAir computer that I picked up last night.

My last one, many years old, conked out last Wednesday night. It took a long weekend to ascertain that it was indeed dead, no possibility of resurrection, at which point I went to the Apple store in Holyoke—always an amazing experience—and bought a new one, much in the same way that Bernie and I liked to get Toyotas, new or used. If something serves you well, get it again. They transferred the files, scanned for malware, and voila!

Thursday, one of my students lent me her computer for a couple of days. Hers was also a MacAir, some 8 years newer than my old one, and at first, I couldn’t open up any application; a strange message appeared on the screen instead. Finally, I texted her and told her the problem. She texted back: “You’re pressing too hard on the keys. They’re meant to be touched gently, not pressed. Glide your fingers across them.”

That’s ridiculous, I thought, but I did as she suggested, the message didn’t come on again and all the apps opened. Ten years on an old computer had accustomed me to pressing hard, but this was no longer necessary.

For some reason, I thought of my mother. We began a winter intensive in Green River Zen Center about Women in Zen. In one of the early sessions, everyone was invited to evoke women they’d known who had a big impact on them. I noticed that I was one of only two people who didn’t mention her mother.

Why not?

My mother was one of the strongest people I knew; whatever strength and resilience I possess, I ascribe to her. She encouraged me to write when I was young and if ever I got into trouble, needed help, needed money, I knew she’d be there for me (though I usually preferred to take care of it on my own). There were other things—there always are. She wasn’t open, usually playing a role, but I don’t give these things much attention anymore. We all have our trips; it’s hard to be a human being in all our fullness; it’s hard to be a mensch.

But why didn’t I evoke her? I inquired inside. Thoughts went nowhere. Instead, what appeared was hardness, a strong sensation of a dual-purpose wall connected with her: keep things in, and keep things out.

Her photo is on my altar, will be at least till her first memorial in May. I found this one among her things after she died. See how young she looks, the bouffant hairdo, the heavy eye lids. She’s probably in a family celebration of some kind—a wedding? She loved getting together with family, but it was also a big stage for the role she acted out.

I’ve looked at this photo again and again, tried to pour myself into it. What a pretty woman, I think to myself, the prettiest woman in our family. And still, what stays inside is hardness. Severity. The wall doesn’t melt.

As I write this, I’m remembering another wall, the wall dividing the lovers Pyramus and Thisby in a play within a play called The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisby, produced by a small group of unlettered peasants for aristocrats who have their own love troubles in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw this play for the first time when I was 16 in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the actors who did the play within the play hammed it up so much that I fell from my seat from laughing so hard. I’ve loved Shakespeare ever since.

A peasant called Snout plays Wall, and starts the presentation by saying:

In this same interlude it doth befall

That I, one Snout by name, present a wall;

And such a wall, as I would have you think,

That had in it a crannied hole or chink,

Through which the lovers, Pyramus and Thisby,

Did whisper often, very secretly.

The lovers invoke the Wall—O wall! O wall!—numerous times, bewailing its existence, wishing it wasn’t there to separate them, but Snout holds up his arms, pretending to be Wall, till the end of the scene, while the aristocrats laugh and laugh: “It is the wittiest partition that ever I heard discourse, my lord,” says Demetrius to the Duke.

There are walls, and there are walls. Walls with chinks, walls with no chinks, walls that separate, walls that make others laugh.

“Don’t press the keys so hard,” she wrote me, “just touch them gently. Let your fingers glide across them.”

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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.


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.