THUMPER AND FOGSEEKER

Once upon a time, on an island far to the north, there were two boats. Both were moored off a wharf called The Shed.

The big one was called Thumper because its engine thumped very loudly. Early each morning it would go out—Thump! Thump! Thump!—to get haddock, scallops, salmon, mackerel, and even small herring. Each late afternoon, as the light failed, it would Thump! Thump! Thump! its way back to the harbor with its catch. It liked to thump loudly to announce it was back.

The second boat was small and old. It didn’t have a big engine like Thumper, so it stayed on the quiet side. It was called Fogseeker.

Thumper would come back after a day of fishing, sidle along Fogseeker, and say proudly: “Look what I brought!”

Fogseeker would ask: “What did you bring, Thumper?”

Thumper would thump. “I brought lots of mackerel and salmon, Fogseeker. Thump! Thump! Thump!” Thumper would look down on the small boat and smirk: “And what did you do all day, Fogseeker?”

“I looked for fog,” said Fogseeker.

“What about fish?” asked Thumper.

“I don’t fish.”

Thumper started laughing. “Tell me, does fog feed people?”

“No,” said Fogseeker.

“Does fog make any money?”

“I don’t think so,” said Fogseeker.

“So what good is it? What good are you?”

And Thumper thumped self-importantly. Everybody knew that the only thing that mattered was fish. Haddock haddock haddock. Salmon salmon salmon. What else was there? Poor little Fogseeker, wasting her days always looking for fog. What a silly thing for a boat to do!

One day Thumper was busy fishing when the air started to thicken. Hmmm, Thumper thought. But it was still early, plenty more time to fish. Thumper fished some more, and the next time he looked up the sky was turning a thick gray. Oh oh, Thumper thought, I really should head home. But it was a good day for shrimp (it wasn’t always a good day for shrimp). Just a little more, thought Thumper, just a little more.

Finally, Thumper stopped, looked around, and said: “Where is home?” He didn’t know because around him everything had turned thick and gray. No sign of The Shed, no sign of the pier, no sign even of the sun. Thumper thumped and thumped as loud as possible, but he had no idea where to go.

Suddenly, a shape glided softly out of the mist. Thumper’s heart thumped loudly. “Fogseeker!”

The small, old boat approached and gave Thumper a friendly bump.

“Fogseeker, what are you doing here?”

“I’m home,” said Fogseeker. “I found fog! I love fog. I feel more at home here than anywhere else. What are you doing here, Thumper, are you fishing?”

“I’m lost, Fogseeker. And I’m scared because I don’t know how to find my way home.”

“Can you see me?” Fogseeker asked.

“If I stay close, I see you.”

“Then follow me.”

“But how can you see anything?” asked Thumper. “There are big and dangerous rocks out there and you’re just a little boat!”

“Trust me,” said Fogseeker. “Stay close and I’ll bring you home.”

Thumper stayed close to his little friend. He thumped loudly sometimes when he saw a sudden sandbar on which he could get stuck, or the sharp edge of a rock that peeked out of the water and which could put a big hole in him. But he stayed with Fogseeker while Fogseeker found his way in the fog, and after a long, scary time Fogseeker slowed down and finally came to a stop. Thumper looked up and there was the wharf! There was The Shed!

“We’re home!” thumped Thumper, mooring right between Fogseeker and the wooden posts of the wharf. “How did you find your way? I couldn’t see anything in that fog.”

“I think that’s because you’re always looking out for fish, so you don’t see anything else,” said Fogseeker. “I’ve been seeking fog my entire life and the fog contains everything: fish, rocks, islands, birds, other boats, winds, clouds, rain, everything.”

“I don’t see them.”

“If you’re just looking for fish, you miss everything else,” said Fogseeker. “I’m used to making my way through the mist, seeing many different shapes, but I don’t focus on them, see? I’m just looking for fog.”

“But how did you find The Shed?” asked Thumper.

“I could hear the gulls crying,” said Fogseeker. “Gulls live on the island because it has fresh water, so I just followed their cries.”

Thumper was amazed. He had been so scared of getting lost! He looked nervously at his little friend. “Do you think I should stop fishing?” Thumper asked.

“No,” said Fogseeker. “You’re a great fishing boat and you feed many people. Your job is to fish; mine is to always search for fog.”

Thumper thumped in happy relief. He gave Fogseeker a little bump. “Thanks, pal. You’re small and you don’t bring any fish home—or fog, for that matter. But you got a big heart.”

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SILOS

I think we finally got the subscription tool working on the blog again. WordPress found an obscure problem at their end; it took a while, and I believe it’s successful. If you’re still not getting anything, email me (eve@zenpeacemakers.com). Many thanks to Silvana Gravini, the tech consultant who worked through weekends and evenings to rectify the situation. I don’t know what I would do without her help. And she continues to do her best to make things work. If you haven’t re-subscribed, please do so, it would be great to have you back, reading this blog at no charge (you can also read it on Facebook and my website).

Those of you who didn’t follow the blog this summer—there’s a lot you missed, but maybe not. I got sick for about a month, hospitalized for a few days along with 2 visits to the Emergency Room due to anaplasmosis, a tick-borne illness. Feel terrific now. Then drove with Aussie up to Grand Manan, an island off Canada’s New Brunswick coast, to visit friends Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald, and am still blogging from there. I missed one week of blogs when I was ill; otherwise, disloyal as ever. You’ll find those blogs on my website if you wish to catch up.

Now I’m writing from The Shed, the wharf which I described the other day, providing mooring to the faithful little motorboat Fogseeker as well as the bigger fishing boats. Grand Manan is not a resort island but rather a fisherman’s island, with people born here or else from over there or just plain visitors. A shipyard next door hauls up huge fishing boats for maintenance and repairs. I’m as comfortable as could be here among coils of orange, black, green, and yellow ropes, not to mention the buoys hanging from the wood beams above.

Which brings me to the topic of silos, which Ara and I got into this morning after Peter left to drive back home. You know how it is with friends, you get up to take your shower, Aussie banging her tail in encouragement and hope that after that it’ll be walk time, and instead someone says something, you say something back, and the next time you look at your watch two hours have passed. One of the bonuses of vacation.

I told the story of traveling cross-country, and somewhere on I-70, I believe, middle of the Plains, I see a sign saying “Downtown” with an arrow. I follow the arrow with my eyes and see it pointing to one silo in a sea of tall grass, nothing else. Tailor-made for a photo, only there were no I-phones at the time and stopping anywhere on I-70 in snowy March between distant exits was not congenial to one’s health and safety. But that picture has stayed with me ever since.

I think of the silo of my own life in the woods of Western Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful one: a home, a terrific housemate, lilac trees and forsythia, and a green cornucopia of trees we walk amidst with gratitude day after day. Health, too (with the exception of several weeks in July/August). No covid, no asthma attacks. Zooms with students and fellow teachers in the Zen Peaceker Order, phones with friends, brother, sister, throwing balls for Henry the Chihuahua and arguing with Aussie the whatever.

And it can all be a silo that reinforces thoughts and belief systems regardless of how often I chant the mantra: Let it go, let it go, it ain’t true, let it go. Habits and opinions form, voices like a dour Greek chorus (I told you to be careful! I told you so!), things get solid and unbreakable against all laws of nature.

Silos can be nourishing, Ara reminds me. They hold grain, they feed people. I think of Emily Dickinson in her Amherst room, rarely emerging from the house, content to entertain family and a few visitors, looking out the window at a world whose unrelenting mystery she caught in those silo-protected verses. I think of Solzhenitsyn hunkered down in a little Vermont town for years so that he could write his Gulag opus. Ara is right, we need silos. And some of us need something else, a flip of the page, a brand new street corner from which to cross.

I hesitated coming here. I haven’t traveled in years unless it was for work or family. And this time, I reminded myself primly, I’d been sick and lost all those days of work. What was I doing, going away for 9-10 days? After all, I live in a place where people come for vacation, I don’t need to go anywhere.

But I did, I did. I needed to go to sleep with the smell of salty water in my nostrils. I needed to walk in fog that brought sea and shore together. I needed to munch on cheese and drink wine over a table made of lobster traps (I don’t even eat lobster) and hear fishermen talk boats, catches, children, weather, and when the season starts. I needed to hear island poetry, peer at blue stones and orange shells that found resting places on the beach and remember that Native Americans warn you not to move things around because everything has its place. I needed to meet men and women who follow different clocks from me (we are in a different time zone from Massachusetts) but mark the passage of time in faces a lot more sunburnt and furrowed than mine. Who maybe don’t struggle against dying as I do.

I can almost feel the brainwaves change, my body’s lines and curves conforming to the lines and curves of the island.

Even Aussie, who at first wouldn’t set a paw in salty water, goes right up to her belly in the low tide under the pier, even takes a few sips, and will race the waves if we start walking along the shoreline again. She becomes an island dog and will give me a fight when we get back on the ferry, tomorrow or Friday, to go home.

Home. Right now, the word conveys a settling in, a narrowing down, a routine, homework. Sit feed dogs light incense make coffee check birdfeeders news emails calendar take dogs out blog prepare class teach write some more get things done done done done.

But how else to get things done? Discipline has its virtue, but where does it meet infinity? Wait till I walk out at night before bed, searching for the  moon? Hear a new language, or just a couple of words put together in a way I never imagined?

So much to do back home, including posting a back-to-school supplies list for the children of immigrant families. Have the list but didn’t want to do that yet because of problems with subscription tool, but mostly because I wanted to write about Grand Manan. I will do so soon, just wait a day or two even as the voices clamor in my head: What about the children? What about this country? What about losses and grieving friends? What about the climate? What about the world?

Not yet. Not yet. Soon, but not yet.

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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.

GRAND MANAN

Aussie’s looking into the fog. Does she smell something? Hear something?

Across the water, close to Grand Manan where we’re staying, is Ross Island, where we went the other day, carried by an ancient white motorboat called Fogseeker in blood-red letters. Aussie wouldn’t climb into the boat, so in the end Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald, my generous hosts, and I flew across the waves. Peter left us off, avoiding the rocks jutting out of the water, and Ara and I walked on the rocky beach towards an old lighthouse at the very point where Ross Island ends, only the lighthouse is no longer there, it decayed and finally collapsed. There we rendezvoused with Peter, who’d had a hard time getting the motor back on, but we got into the boat, motor was fine, and we returned to Grand Manan, Aussie waiting at water edge, flapping her tail loudly at our loud approach:

“You came back! You came back!”

She, whose life mission is to enter every freshwater pond and lake and sample it up to her belly, looked askance at the waves encircling Grand Manan. But this particular day we walked for a few hours along the beach, the fog lifting only at the end, and it seemed as though she discovered something new about herself she hadn’t known before. She rushed over to the waves, tail circling high like a flag, and as soon as they covered her paws she dashed back:

“Watch me outrun them!” she yelled happily. Never seen her so happy as I saw her then.

When she wasn’t running we’d both look out at the mist, grayness everywhere, no shapes, no objects, nothing to see or be seen by. Only the outcropping of rock and occasional screech of seagulls to remind us that we weren’t the only solid beings in a vaporous, empty world before Jehovah created light and distinguished between light and darkness.

I loved it. Always feel comfortable in wide, indefinable spaces, just gray or just white, nothing for my senses to latch on to and trigger the endless opinions and monologues of my mind. A world without attachment, quiet and serene, easy peasy.

And then we come back to The Shed, a 100 year-old fisherman’s wooden shed and wharf which Peter and Ara, together with a community of old friends and island mates, are raising out of decay and collapse. There’s a new floor with tangled-up wires and chains, hooks, an old painted drafting table and counters made up of throw-away wood, thick, stained gloves, a fisherman lantern, ancient photos from the time Peter’s father was here and raised a family, a leaky roof, multi-colored buoys galore, coiled ropes everywhere, a wood-burning stove for winter with attendant logs, and rectangular lobster traps on the perimeter that, draped fortuitously by wooden boards of various sizes, magically turn into tables, stools, and chairs where Peter and Ara entertain half the inhabitants of Grand manan.

Coming back from staring out at the mist, I found Peter seated in the Shed (see below), computer and projector aimed at a large screen blocking the empty doorway leading to the pier, looking at hundreds of photos that he was preparing for a show this evening at the island’s museum.

I watched from behind as slide after slide appeared, people I knew and most that I didn’t, places I recognized and many I didn’t. There were his and Ara’s fisherman families from the island, families he grew up with over many years. There was Bernie and other Zen Peacemakers, the guardhouse of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the corpses of murdered Tutsis in Rwanda, teepees under shooting stars in the Black Hills and the mad chorus of Manhattan lights.

There were children smiling, their blonde hair floating down to the ice cream cones in their hands, smoke enveloping the Towers in downtown Manhattan that day in September 2001, sheep ferried across the Bay of Fundy and basketball players rushing for lay-ups in a tournament held in memory of a young woman who played basketball and died. Old and new photos of the singers Janice Ian and Bruce Springsteen, birth and death so intertwined it was hard to tell the difference. You can see some of those photos on Peter’s website.

As I watched Peter look at his creations, taking this out, editing that, I saw the true cacophony of all that grayness in which Aussie and I had walked earlier. The fog (which Peter’s father had studied his entire life) had throbbed with life, perhaps that’s what Aussie kept sniffing at as she raced the waves. It seemed as though there, there was nothing, and here there was everything.

As always, in the beginning you have your preferences. What a great photo of that little girl—just look at the expression on her face! I love that pizza sign. And then, shock! Bernie, dead, lies on a mattress in the room that now serves as my office, lifeless face peering out from under a Pamsula quilt. No, no, not that one! A monument of skulls in Murambi, Rwanda—not that one, either! This is okay, but that one’s better. I don’t want to see this, but that one’s great.

It’s easy to run along the beach and feel unattached, free as a bird, nothing pulling you right or left. And then you enter The Shed where thousands of photos and lifetimes roll in front of you—his life, your life—fading one into the other. You tell him to slow it down a little, let the viewers on Tuesday night appreciate each more. But slow or fast, one fades into another and into another. Magnificent, memorable photographs disappearing one into another.

This morning I write from The Shed. It’s rainy outside, which doesn’t disturb Aussie from sitting out on the pier, wondering why her landlubber human isn’t taking her on another long walk. Raindrops come down through a leaky roof while, further up in their 2-century old home, Peter prepares to leave soon to be with a very sick brother back in Massachusetts. The gray was back this morning, but it’s begun to lift because I can see ducks in the water, floating in a line towards Ross Island.

NOTE:

We hope we got the subscription tool working again. Thank you for your patience. We’ll do whatever it takes to include you, at least digitally, in this wide wide 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.

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.

WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

“What the F— am I doing here?”

“You look comfy to me, Aussie.”

“I’m not on land!”

“Of course not, Auss, you’re on a ferry.”

“You took me off land?”

“Just off the mainland, Auss. We’re going to an island. Islands are surrounded by water.”

“I don’t want to go there.”

“Once we get there, Aussie, you’ll be on land again. For now, you have to be on a boat which takes us across the water to the island.”

“So am I like what’s his name? The one who walked on water?”

“Jesus? Of course not, Auss, you’re walking on the deck of a ferry.”

“But the ferry’s on water, right? So I’m walking on water and HATING EVERY MINUTE OF IT!”

“Why?”

“Because I like to know where I’m standing! I like solid ground under my paws. I don’t want to sway, I don’t want to slide, I don’t want to think I’m standing someplace and then find myself someplace else.”

“But Aussie, that’s what’s exciting about life. We start out somewhere, we think we’re there forever, but if we’re open to new directions and opportunities, we end up someplace else. And then someplace else again. And then someplace—”

“STOP! I don’t want that. No Jesus, no ferry, no journey, just solid ground!”

“Aussie, you’re forgetting the most important thing of all.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re going on your first international trip. You’ve left the United States.”

“Where am I going, Italy?”

“No.”

“I know—Bra-zil!”

“No, Auss, you’re going to Grand Manan.”

“Grand what?”

“Grand Manan.”

“What’s a grand manan?”

“An island just south of New Brunswick, in Canada.”

“Canada? You call Canada international?”

“It’s our northern neighbor.”

“It’s boring. It might be more interesting if they sent drugs over, like Mexico, or if we had a war, like Russia and Ukraine. That’s what I call international.”

“Believe me, Auss, we should be grateful night and day that we live in peace with Canada. Too many countries live in enmity with their neighbors.””

“Just look at the people and the dogs. Do they look different to you? Same men, same women, same kids. Look at that Eskimo hound. Looks just like Leeann’s Willy, only no manners. Maybe Canadians don’t have manners.”

You are criticizing others for having no manners?”

“When we passed the border did you see anything different? It was flat on one side and flat on the other. No new mountains, no new rivers. One minute we’re in America, the next minute we’re in Canada. No guards with guns, no stupid beagles sniffing for you-know-what.”

“Speaking of the border, Aussie, you were rude to the young woman who let us through.”

“She asked me if I had my rabies certificate, so I said: DO I LOOK RABID TO YOU?”

“Aussie, please try to make friends. I hear you’ll meet a dog called Coco.”

“You mean, we’re going to be on an island and I will not be an only dog?”

“Try to be a good dog, Aussie.”

“I’m from America, nobody tells me what to do. If you didn’t have me on a leash I’d jump and swim back home.”

“The water’s salty, Auss.”

“You put salt in the water? How much?”

“Quite a bit, I’m afraid.”

“And we’re paying for this?”

SPECIAL NOTE FROM AUSSIE:

Hey, Aussie lovers. Are you having trouble subscribing to my blog? It’s not my fault, I’m surrounded by incompetents. They lost your email addresses! What world do they live in? I’m told you’ve been sent an email request to resubscribe. Or a confirmation. Or whatever. If you got my latest post (this one, silly), then there’s no problem. If you didn’t get the email, or you’re not getting confirmation, DON’T WORRY! Send an email to my human and let her deal with it, eve@zenpeacemakers.com. She’s untrustworthy and a fool, but it’s the best I got.

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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.

EVE PARFAIT

Yesterday the Zen Peacemaker Order did a Reflection on the Rule, and the group of us that met on Zoom, from the US, England, Switzerland, Germany and Brazil, focused on what it means to be stingy. Or, as Bernie used to accuse me often, of having a mind of poverty.

I’ve contemplated this precept often in the past, but this time we focused more on time than money. I realized that I’m way stingier with my time than with money.

I don’t buy expensive things, which is no big sacrifice because I live in a rural area, don’t travel much now or go out. No need for pretty dresses or sandals. I have a rule: I look at my closet and any article of clothing that hasn’t been worn in two years gets recycled. It does wonders for narrowing my wardrobe. For the same reason, I don’t get fancy things for the house. I’m happy with warm and comfortable, not grand and impressive. The only one I spoil is Aussie.

I also tithe, which has been in my bones since I turned 30, mostly due to my Jewish heritage.

But time—there’s the rub. I can be intolerant of people needing my time. Not students or close friends, and certainly not family members, whose lives I love to share.

Recently, a friend wrote me that she finds herself spending considerable time supporting people of her generation who need friendship, advice, and companionship as they age. I’m not that gracious. In the store earlier today, I thought about getting a watch with numbers that are easier to read, which tells you how often I look at my watch:

The woman with dementia who’d like to walk with me for an hour? I look at my watch. Someone who lost a husband recently? I bend my head imperceptibly to see my watch. Talk concerning a failed marriage or children who won’t talk to you? From the corner of my eye, I check my watch.

As for simple social talk, forget about it. I’ve practiced all kinds of subtle motions with my hand and arm so that I can glimpse my watch without anyone noticing.

I wish I could tell you that this only began as I got older; it’s not true. When I lived for 2 years near Woodstock in my early 40s, I loved to nap on the red sofa in the living room in a puddle of light created by the afternoon sun beaming in through a big picture window. But when I awoke, even after just 30 minutes, I’d quickly see how much the sun had moved, setting slowly beyond the trees, and my stomach would clench with anxiety. Time passed! Time passed! I could have done something valuable, could have begun this or finished that. Instead, I slept! I let time pass!

You’re not so important, I tell myself. Nothing you do will change the world! I’m aware of all that, and still, my mind of poverty, the same mind Bernie used to point out to me again and again, continues to obsess over time.

“Move your weight onto your heels,” Kendra Renzoni, my Foundation Training trainer, instructs us. Don’t rush forward, ahead of yourself, don’t sit with your head close to the camera in a Zoom call, none of that’s necessary. Sit and stand back, breathe, be in your body. Be in this moment.

Tomorrow early afternoon I will pick up Aussie and start the drive to Grand Manan, a Canadian island south of New Brunswick, to visit friends who generously invited me to stay at their home for a week. I look forward to it; I’m sure I will enjoy it. And still, there’s the familiar scratching in my stomach: Time will pass! Time will pass! You’ve had difficulties reconnecting with blog subscribers, you believe it’s fixed but you have to monitor it. Isn’t it better to do this close to home? (By the way, if you got an email asking you to resubscribe and then find your email address rejected, please email me: eve@zenpeacemakers.com).

Ahh, these odd meanderings of sanity! Such a concoction! When I was in the hospital some 3-4 weeks ago (and if you missed those blog posts, which were pretty good, check them out on my website), I noticed that dessert was always referred to as a parfait. There was banana parfait, chocolate parfait, peach parfait, orange parfait, etc. The food was terrible, but dessert was always referred to as a parfait. Each was a mishmash of some dairy with flavoring and occasional canned fruit, not to mention sugar. It felt like they threw in whatever they happened to have in the kitchen and just changed the flavoring.

I thought about the word perfect as I ate my banana parfait. I knew that I’d never be perfect; instead, I would always be a parfait, the Eve parfait, composed of many silly things the world has in supply, only occasionally—almost by accident—making up a decent dessert.

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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.

GOING PUBLIC/STAYING PRIVATE

Relaxing at Lake Pleasant

People have asked me how many readers read this blog. How many hits do you get, they wonder. Once I looked it up, only for the life of me I can’t remember what it said. After that I decided I didn’t really want to know, I want to write, pure and simple, and I worried that if I start worrying about what people like or don’t like, what they want more of or not, it’ll get too complicated.

I think I got what I wished for, in spades. We’ve had big tech issues with the blog so that those who subscribe to it directly aren’t getting it, it can only be accessed through Facebook or on my website. I’d hoped it would be resolved by now, the redoubtable Silvana has tried to export a big list of names into WordPress, only to find that WordPress has locked up the subscription tool, so everyone is consulting with each other in an effort to work things out.

And me? I get to write to an emptier universe than usual, remembering the existential question: If there’s no one in the forest to hear a tree fall, did it fall or not? But fallen trees don’t need human validation, they make a big difference to all the neighboring critters and flora, they have for millions of years.

And if my blog falls? I think of writers I’ve known who decided not to seek publication but rather write (or paint, or photograph) for its own sake. I think of the many people who do origami, the Japanese paper-folding art, either giving away their creations or keeping them private.

Not everything needs to go public. Some things do, like the back-to-school supplies list I’d like to put up to help children from poor immigrant families get what they need for school opening in September. I’ve always bugged Jimena to get me that list earlier, and this time, when she has and I have it all organized, I can’t post it till the subscription is restored.

Going public/staying private. A lifelong push-and-pull for this writer who yearned in her early years to bury herself in books and writing her entire life, a female Philip Roth, only to find life going in very different directions.

I’m thinking about what Simone de Beauvoir said: “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.” But is that what gives life its value? It makes us awfully reliant on others, on relationships, on interactions, on keeping that social web around us going however we can.

I think of Bernie after his stroke, when he spoke with difficulty, often slurring his words, when his hearing was bad (unless someone put his hearing aids in for him), when he could no longer rely on constant travel, meetings, and phone calls. Our own dinners were often cut short when he’d look at me, smile, and softly say: “I’m tired, I have to go upstairs,” and slowly he’d make his way up and into bed. Did his life no longer have value?

Instead, I think of the poet Maya Angelou’s answer to Bill Moyers when he asked her once: “Do you belong to anyone?”

She answered: “More and more I belong to myself.” And then she added: “I like Maya very much.”

Wow, I thought upon reading this, what does it mean to belong to yourself? And what does it mean to like yourself very much?

I think of Zen practice as a way of belonging to myself. Not the constructed Eve who walks the dogs, visits a grieving friend, teaches this or that, writes a blog (that right now very few access), talks to her family, reads, studies, and sits, not that one at all. That’s the one who relies on her interactions with others to feel alive, to feel that that constructed image is real, is actually who she is.

Daily meditation has taught me that that is not the case. That this person, constantly changing in response to an interactive world, can’t be locked up in any of those stories or social constructs. Impermanent as she is, she is absolutely herself and belongs to no one else. There’s no reason to look out there for definition or validation (unless I’m looking for stories, which in certain circumstances is a valuable thing to do, not in others).

But can I say that I like Eve very much? Not yet. Yes, I can look over my life and think: Not bad, kid. Did a lot, loved a lot, had fun, lived a life you never dreamed of. Only I don’t believe that liking myself depends on that. Maybe it depends on feeling no lack in me.

I’m reminded of how the doorbell rang one day, the dogs going crazy. I open the door to a shy young woman standing on the steps. She extends a brochure towards me, saying: “I’m here to invite you to a memorial service.”

“A memorial for whom?” I ask.

“A memorial for Jesus Christ. He died for all our sins,” she says.

I look down. The brochure is from Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I admire Jesus,” I tell her, “but I don’t see myself as a sinful person.”

“Still,” she says, “the least you could do is come to his memorial.”

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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.

BIGGER HORIZONS, LESS FEAR

Here’s how I get up in the morning:

The windows are open, but the horizons are closed. My mind wakes up slowly. That’s considered a plus for meditation. Recommendations are to sit early, before the usual definitions and thought patterns settle in. I haven’t seen that work for me; for most of my life I have woken up right into a very narrow perspective.

Why narrow? Because, one way or another, it’s all about me: Morning. Nice or not nice? What day is it? What am I doing today? What’s going to happen? That last question especially brings up ancient fears and anxieties that, rather than expiring, always seem to find new clothes in which to dress up. The ancient concern that has gnawed deeply inside me is some version of: Who the hell am I? In new clothes, it appears as: What happens to a single older woman like me? What happens if I get sick and can’t take care of myself? What happens if creativity dies and I never write another blog post, another book, another poem? This last one scares the hell out of me.

As I write this, I realize that almost the only time fear or anxiety comes up is when my horizons are small, focused on me. That self-enclosed, self-obsessed world is a breeding ground for anxiety. And why not, given how narrow it feels? I can practically feel the constriction, as if someone put a headband around my consciousness and pulled it tight, wagging a finger in front and warning it to stay in place.

So, while I used to enjoy meditation in the early morning, it wasn’t because my mind was wide or free. It was because I loved the pre-dawn darkness, the way the early sunbeams streak the walls with the promise of new shapes and forms, and how the darkness finally lifts to reveal the world.

That’s what happens now. I get up and leave some of that headachy, self-engrossed realm behind. Pay attention to the shower, the toothbrush, an old towel that needs to be replaced. My horizons start receding, the world comes in and reminds me of its freshness, of the fact that it’s an ocean and not an enclosed lagoon, that I inhale air, that the leaves manufacture chlorophyl (a miracle that never ceases to amaze me), that anything can happen. The bigger the horizons, the less the fear. At least for me, reliance on the life force takes away fear.

I am aware that lots of people are very afraid of what climate change is bringing, or else they’re cynical about it, which is just the other side of the coin: So what’s the big deal if my house goes solar and I recycle and try not to drive or at least get an electric car? It’s the greedy corporations! It’s the ruthless, predatory system! It’s Republicans! It’s Trump!

Its cousin is fear: What will happen to this earth, we are destroying everything! There are grounds for this, but sometimes it borders on hysteria. I feel that our individual efforts do make a difference. When the Berlin Wall was torn down overnight and the Soviet Union collapsed, people looked around at each other and said: How did this happen? How did such an entrenched system collapse by itself? No intelligence agency, with its billions of dollars, predicted this would happen.

It didn’t collapse by itself, multiple individuals and organizations worked hard and, with faith and hope, made the space for it to collapse. Metaphorically, they were already disassembling the wall over many years till one day someone finally removed a brick, and the whole thing came crashing down.

An unsustainable system will also come crashing. It might take many of us and other species down with it, not much comfort in that, but eventually things will change. I say that not because of my faith in human beings but because of my faith in the life force.

The nights now are as loud as could be. I go out just before calling it a day (or an evening) into the nightly concerts of cicadas, crickets and tree frogs.

“It’s an orgy out here,” I tell Aussie.

“Why them and not us?” she wonders, yawning.

I walk around the perimeter lit by a motion sensor. It’s a small radius, beyond it it’s all dark. Dark to me, but so full of life for others.

I’ve had some tech trouble with the blog. I was told that those who subscribe to it and get it via their email have not gotten it for weeks. This is due to changes Google made that this low-tech author was not aware of. Right now, you can access my blog through my website (www.evemarko.com) and also through Facebook. The inimitable Silvana is working on it and has already informed me that if you re-subscribe on my website (check off Subscribe to Eve’s Blog), you should be receiving posts through email once again. My apologies for this. She continues to tweak the system to bring everybody else on board.

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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.

WHATEVER YOU HAVE, HAS YOU

“Aussie, what weighs us down?”

“Your age and your weight.”

“I’m referring to possessions, Auss. Say, the house and the yard. Do you think we should sell them and go into a small condo?”

“And what am I going to patrol, a parking lot?”

“And what about our housemates, Lori and Henry?”

“No self-respecting condo will accept an illegal Chihuahua. That’s the only good argument I can see for moving.”

“I love our flower garden and the hummingbird feeders—”

“I need flowers to pee on!”

“But you know, Aussie, everything you own you also have to take care of. You have to plant and water the flowers, you have to clean and fill and refill the feeders, water the brown grass, dust off the picnic table and chairs. Whatever you have, has you. Let me tell you a story.”

“Do you have to?”

“Several weeks ago, I went to the hospital Emergency Room and from there was admitted straightaway into the hospital, so when the aide arrived asking for an inventory of what I’d brought with me (it’s an extra security measure), there wasn’t much to list: the clothes on my back, a phone, a small handbag, and the watch on my wrist.

“Some 36 hours later I get a new roommate in her early 60s. She had hurt herself while cleaning the tub and complained of pain shooting down her leg, though nothing had been broken. Sure enough, an hour after she settles in, the aide comes asking to inventory what she’d brought with her into the hospital. Like me, she had spent all day in the Emergency Room, never suspecting she would be admitted into the hospital for several days. The curtains were drawn so I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear them plain as day.

“’Well,’ says Janice (not her real name) to the aide, ‘I guess I have my rings.’

“’How many, one? Two?’

“’Seven,’ says Janice.

“The aide dutifully writes this down. ‘Any other jewelry?’

“’I have my earrings,’ says Janice.

“’I see you have them on,’ says the aide brightly.

“’Yeah, but I have five more pairs.’

“’I see,’ says the aide, and intones: ‘Five pairs of earrings’ as she writes it all down. ‘Anything else?’

“’Well, I have watches,’ says Janice.

“’The one on your wrist?’

“’I have three watches with me.’

“’Necklaces?’ guesses the aide.

“’Four necklaces and two brooches.’

“The next morning, I hear the nurse inform Janice that she’ll be taken down for a CT-Scan at 10:00. At exactly 10:00 a handsome young man appears, having wheeled a bed down the hallway, and informs Janice that he’s ready to wheel her to the CT-Scan on that bed. ‘Okay,’ says Janice, ‘I’ll get ready.’

“He leaves the room and, behind the curtain, I hear Janice getting up slowly and beginning to rummage around. The hallway is in my line of vision and soon I see the young man checking his watch. He knocks discreetly, asking if Janice is ready. Janice is not ready. He waits another five minutes, checks his watch, and I see him talking to the nurse.

“The nurse comes in. ‘Janice, you’re running late for the CT-Scan.’

“”I’m getting myself ready,’ Janice tells her.

“’Okay,’ says the angelic nurse. ‘Let me know.’

“She leaves, and now I hear the sound of small things spilling onto a hard surface. What’s she doing, I wonder. She doesn’t have to get dressed, she’s going to be wheeled in her hospital gown on the bed, lucky woman (I love being wheeled in a bed down hospital corridors!). She’s not going to the bathroom. And then it hits me: I bet she’s packing up that jewelry to take to the CT-Scan.

“Finally, Janice is ready. I see her walking to the door, dragging behind her a large heavy black rucksack. She lies on the bed, puts the heavy rucksack on her chest, clutching it with both hands, and off they go.

“So you see, Aussie,” I say to Aussie, “they say that we can’t take anything with us when we die. What scares me is: What if we can? Could you imagine taking everything we’ve accumulated into the afterlife, spending our time there watering, polishing, packing, folding, cleaning, laundering, and all the things we do to take care of our possessions? Spending one lifetime like that feels way too much.”

“What about me? Don’t you want me in your after-life?”

“And feed you, brush you, walk you, take you for your shots, and get you to Leeann twice a week for an eternity? No thanks, Auss.”

“Don’t worry, we’re not going to the same place anyway. You’ll be burning up while I chase squirrels in paradise.”

“How do you know I’ll be in hell and you’ll be in heaven, Aussie?”

“Because you’re the one who vows to relieve suffering. Not too much suffering in paradise, unless you count the squirrels.”

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THE HARDEST THING IN THE WORLD

“What’s the matter, Aussie? You’ve been glum, chum. Is the hot weather bothering you?”

“No.”

“Lack of rain? Just look at the grass!”

“You know I hate thunderstorms.”

“So, what is it, Auss?”

“How come I’m not getting an invite to testify before the January 6 committee?”

“For one thing, Aussie, you weren’t anywhere near Washington on January 6, what could you possibly have to say?”

“They’ve had Oath keepers, they’ve had Proud Boys, they’ve had Republicans. Why not dogs?”

“That’s the second thing, Aussie, you’re a dog. Why would they invite a dog to testify?”

“To gain credibility. People on all sides of the aisle trust dogs. We dogs are incapable of lying. They’re missing a great opportunity to boost their ratings.”

“Sorry, Aussie, you’re not a stakeholder here.”

“I hold steaks as well as anybody.”

“Aussie, you’re getting too disgruntled and pissed off. That’s no way to live. Which brings me to my main point.”

“Oh, oh.”

“When I was sick, everybody was terrific. People brought me food, flowers, good wishes, laughter. They sent cards and picked me up from the hospital. Even Henry was jubilant when I came home. And you? What did you do? Nothing.”

“What do you mean, nothing? I gave you better care than anybody.”

“Really? How?”

“I let you love me.”

“You let me love you, Aussie?”

“That’s the best care in the world, and it’s work work work all the time. Do you know how labor-intensive it is, to be loved?”

“Aussie, when I stroke you, that’s hard work for you?”

“I’m developing a goddamn bald spot from all that stroking!”

“And when I brush you, which you seem to thoroughly enjoy, especially in the summer when you’re shedding a lot of hair, that’s hard work for you?”

“Who wants a haircut every day?”

“Aussie, what’s hard about being loved?”

“For one thing, I’m too busy! I’m busy protecting private property from those varmint rabbits, growling half the night at the fox on the other side of the fence, and making sure Enrique doesn’t dig up all my marrow bones, the grave robber.”

“Too busy for love, eh, Aussie?”

“It’s hard to be loved. I have to shut my eyes, listen to silly love talk, feel fingers gently probing inside my fur, making contact with my skin. Ugggh!”

“Why is it ugghh?”

“Because nothing happens.”

“Nothing, Auss?”

“No drama, no fun, no excitement. Can’t throw Enrique into the river, can’t jump on your bed with my muddy paws, can’t do all the things I love to do. Just have to lie there, do nothing, and get love. It’s BORING! It’s much more fun to be mad at the world.”

“What will happen, Aussie, if you just stop doing all those things and take in all that love?”

“I might get addicted, that’s what! I may want it day after day without stop, and then what will become of me?”

“You’ll be loved, Aussie. You may even become a lover.”

“I’ll become a wuss, is what’ll happen. No way, Jose. I’m tough, I’m strong, leader of the Proud Pooches. Don’t have a soft bone in my body.”

“You’re all those things, Aussie—and you’re loved!”

“No, no, no! Admired—sure. Worshipped—even better. Loved—too much hard work.”

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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.

SILOS AND BRIDGES

Museum and Library, Barre, MA

Two pictures come to mind: On my first cross-country trip some 25 years ago, I traveled through Kansas and saw a sign off I-70: Downtown, with an arrow to the right. I looked out across those immense wheat farms and saw just one thing: a silo. The silo was downtown.

The second picture is in the photo above and it’s of the Bare Museum and Library in downtown Barre: A stereotypical New England town only bigger, with the white church, the white town hall, the library, the café, the local hair salon, the broad, grassy commons, lots of flags, lots of white picket fences. What makes this one special is that its library houses the Barre Museum, which itself contains hundreds of items belonging to Native American tribes, including a number that were looted from corpses of those killed in the Wounded Knee massacre.

Our friends from Cheyenne River who are aways part of the Zen Peacemakers’ summer Black Hills retreat, Manny and Renee Iron Hawk, were at Barre asking for these items to be returned to them (they are members of the Descendants of Wounded Knee organization) a few months ago. I wasn’t there at the time, but I followed the news carefully, and finally, after checking with Manny and Renee, decided to go there to talk with some of the people involved, which I did yesterday.

My sense was that both the Museum and the Lakota want this repatriation to happen, and that the breakdown happens, as it often does, in the communication. It’s why I still remember the silo in “downtown Kansas” from so many years back.

In many ways, we’re all silos. No matter how much we try to talk with each other, write, text, email, do everything we know to communicate, we inexorably frame ourselves within an imaginary construct called I or me, add stories and labels to make it feel real, and voila: we exist! Not as one of an infinite number of dharma eyes, but as a silo, self-isolating, self-centered, self-reinforcing again and again. No wonder that two people living under the same roof for many years often feel that they don’t really know the other person, not really.

Now imagine what happens when you throw in a different culture, different values, different histories, different language. It’s a wonder we can say anything at all and feel understood by the other.

Sure enough, we sat outside before the hot sun climbed over the trees (we’re under heat alerts for a couple of days). “We don’t know what items were taken from Wounded Knee and belong to the Lakota and what aren’t,” said Ann Meilus, who speaks for the Museum. “We have items from other tribes who may want theirs returned, too.”

She described the process the Museum’s governing body had to do to obtain a consensus to repatriate what they have there. Now they’ve begun to inventory everything, which includes documentation and photos, under the supervision of a museum curator and historian, and when that process is over, they would like Manny and Renee to come back, do ceremony, and will transport those items to Cheyenne River.

Our Lakota friends, in the meantime, are distrustful of the Museum. Government or institutional bureaucracy hasn’t favored them historically, time passes, excuses abound, and they still don’t have the clothes, the jewelry, and the ceremonial items that belong to their ancestors. The lack of trust on both sides is palpable.

Ann mentioned that since newspaper accounts have come out about this story, many of them inaccurate, she and staff have been on the receiving end of so much outrage and hate that her docents won’t work in the museum anymore. “Nobody gets paid here, everybody is a volunteer, and when you get so much rage from people who’re mostly unfamiliar with the situation and just react based on something they read, it can be really discouraging.”

Barbara Becker, who wrote the award-winning Heartwood: The Art of Living With the End in Mind , and I offered our services as communication facilitators. We’ve built relationships with the Lakota both at Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge, we’ve borne witness to what they’ve endured and continue to endure—they have every right in the world to distrust what some private museum out East is doing with their things. And these are their things, no one doubts that.

But we both also believe the Museum sincerely wishes to repatriate their items. Today I spoke to the curator who’s supervising the cataloguing, and he surprised me by saying that the inventory process is almost over, and letters will go out to various Native communities asking them to make a formal claim for certain articles that are theirs or may be of interest to them. Once these claims are officially made and publicized, the actual repatriation process will begin. These communities include Indian tribes from California, who have articles in the Museum, and others.

How do you translate between people who wish to honor these personal items as important reminders of a terrible history of the US, and those who say: that’s very nice, but they belong to us, period? You can take sides and make this just another front in an old, old war, which I believe many people did on social media.

Or you can create a space for more feedback, more two-way information, keeping as many in the loop as possible, and going clear-sightedly ahead, one day after the next, till actual repatriation takes place (I believe it will). You can bear witness to the different realities we all experience and make room for each other with patience and also with determination to achieve the end result.

You can take this situation as a chance to increase rancor and partisanship, or as an opportunity to build bridges between silos.

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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.