WHY WRITE NOW?

Cracks in ice framed by jewels

“How are you, mom?”

“I’m waiting for my visa.”

“For what? To go where, mom?” I’m sure she’ll tell me she wants a visa to come to visit me (impossible for her now).

“A visa for the Messiah,” she says matter-of-factly.

“The Messiah needs a visa?”

“Everybody needs a visa,” she SAYS. “Everybody else gives up, but not him. Even with the corona, he’s coming as long as he gets the visa. I’ll let you know when he’s here.”

“What’s he going to look like, mom?”

“Oh, he’s going to be young, he’s going to be good-looking. I think he’s going to be a mensch.”

“Mom, you know what I think? I think the Messiah is going to be a woman.”

She laughs like I’ve just made the funniest joke she’s ever heard. “Shall we make a bet?” she asks brightly.

On the eve of a war in Ukraine, I ask myself a few times a day why I’m writing. Can’t I do something else that is more important? I feel some anxiety and frustration. It won’t be my family or even American soldiers involved, but on another level we’re all involved. Even if you don’t remember the Cold War and the dread of watching countries used as pawns by two super-powers (yes, we did that, too), you see how fear and paranoia can bring on death and devastation on a terrible scale.

When we simplify the world into us vs. them, everyone else becomes an object, marginal and expendable, to be used and misused again and again. The worst price, of course, will be paid by Ukrainians, but I feel a sour, personal taste of defeat. Once again, after a pandemic and in the face of climate change, all of which call for world-wide sanity and intelligent responses, our species acts worse than schoolyard bullies.

Where is kindness, I ask myself? Where are generosity and patience? Most of all, where is a new paradigm calling on us to extend understanding and compassion beyond the borders of family and nation, to an entire suffering world?

In the middle of all that, my mother is sure the Messiah will obtain a visa to finally arrive, and when he does, she’ll call me right away to hop over to Israel for a quick cappuccino with him.

I thought of Bernie. He didn’t talk despair, for him it was just the same kind of mishigas in various guises arising from the delusion of separateness again and again. He found refuge in laughter.

You might think laughter comes out of hearing a good joke, but it actually comes out of not-knowing. He liked to repeat something he’d heard: “If you can laugh at yourself, you will never run out things to find amusing.” He laughed even after his stroke.

The world is facing another stroke, and various people have something to say: Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin, the people you hear on the news. There will be asks for money, demonstrations, help for refugees, even a joining of human arms to create a bigger and bigger circle.

Me? I want to create something beautiful. Stay sane and clear, never lose my grounding—

“That’s why I take you out on walks.”

“Thanks, Aussie.”

Most of all, add to the quotient of beauty in the world: food for birds, flowers, prune the apple tree and plants out front, and create beauty with words because that’s what I’ve been learning to do over lifetimes. It’s what I do because I must, even in the face of catastrophe, like Clive James’ gulls:

Do the gulls cry in triumph, or distress?
In neither, for they cry because they must,
Not knowing this is glory …

Finally, I’m reminded of an interview I read of the Soviet dissident scientist Andrei Sakharov. The interview took place when he and his wife, Elena Bonner, were exiled to Gorky, isolated, deprived, under constant surveillance by the KGB, Bonner’s health deteriorating due to lack of medical care. The journalist asked him how he felt about the fact that at the very time he and Bonner risked so much, living through threats and intimidation, far from friends and family, other people led peaceful, unimpeded, unbothered lives.

Sakharov calmly answered that some people find themselves on the front lines while other fathers need to put their children to sleep every night.

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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.

LOVE IN A SNOW SQUALL

On Sunday I offered incense marking the memorial of someone I met many years ago.

He was a Polish priest or monk, can’t remember which, by the name of Fr. Jan Bereza and I met him at our first or second bearing witness retreat at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps. My memory is bad, it more and more doubles as imagination, but in that memory I see him wearing black. I remember him in a monk’s black robes—perhaps he led a mass there—and also in jeans and a black sweater when he wasn’t being official.

I recall how moved and shaken he was by the retreat, by the international gathering in that place, and how much he spoke to the need for interfaith dialogue and understanding. This in a country whose Catholic establishment continues to be highly conservative, no fans of Pope Francis, and with lots of anti-Semitism still deeply entrenched. Jan (he asked me not to call him by his title) died soon afterwards from cancer, more than two decades ago, but I continue to remember his humility, how earnestly he tried to share his understanding and feelings in fledgling English.

I often feel embarrassed when others try to use whatever little English they have to communicate from their heart while I can’t speak any of their language at all.

Many people who participated in that first retreat in 1996 have died, but for some reason I’ve kept the date of his death in my calendar all this time because of how he moved me in only one or two encounters. Moved me, as in: created movement. Something happened, some small vein of energy burst forth and affected, and continues to affect, my life.

Yesterday was the day of his memorial even as I don’t know what year he died.

Why do I light incense in such situations? A few reasons, but one is that it’s my way of participating in the timelessness of things. Another way of saying that is that I remember the past, but that’s not really it. For one thing, as I said above, my memory more and more becomes imagination—like Proust maybe, without the talent. And secondly, because there is no past, just timelessness in which everything is now. And since now changes quicker than I can say the word, I’d say that everything is a fluid now.

My unliberated brain of course says otherwise, and that’s fine, it shows I’m not senile yet, but I am deeply aware that time and space are unhindered by any ideas I have of them. Things are here and now, and if I don’t experience them that way it only reflects the narrowness of my experience (and the limits of my senses, which are the tools through which I experience things) rather than the truth of their existence.

Somewhere deep inside me I feel a dimension of meaning and meaningfulness that has nothing to do with any stories in my mind.

We had a snow squall the other day. One moment it was blue and sunny, very cold, and the next moment everything turned gray, and then white. You could hardly see anything through the window. A maelstrom of wind and snow passed through, and as I watched, two things came to my mind: I hope Lori is okay with Henry. She’d just driven away to take him for a walk in face of phone alerts about a squall, but I knew their walks are short, not far from their car. The second was: I should email Jeff Bridges and tell him that this reminds me of his very fine movie, White Squall, that he made years ago about such a phenomenon.

But the point is that even as these little scripts appeared in my mind, I was aware of something else entirely, a mutual reaching out, a recognition shared by the tiny snow particles, the massive wind, the shaking glass window, the waving trees, and me. Even as words wrote themselves out in my brain: Lori, Jeff, alerts, squall, something else was coming at me and I was responding with no consciousness on my part, just looking out the window.

Thinking about things is just skimming the surface. I do my meditation daily, other practices, too. But in the middle of the day I come to a stop sometimes, my gaze held by a deep wine-colored rose that is slowly dying and drying up. Only it doesn’t feel dead to me at all.

Or seeing tracks on the snow the squall left and feeling that they’re as remarkable and eternal as tracks imprinted on rocks found by archeologists from millennia ago. The mind pleasantly patters on, teliing me they were made by critters or dogs or even hopping birds, all going after food, but another sense, having nothing to do with identification or a story of what happened or who/what did this, tells me these are as timeless as the teeth of mastodons.

People ask at times where is love in Zen, where is it in Buddhism. For me, it’s everywhere in this practice. It’s in the sense of infinity taking your form, so how can’t it love you? Or the form of a snowflake, or the bluster of wind, or the woman looking out the window.

 

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ASHAMED TO BE POOR

BRRRR!

In an hour I’ll drive to Jimena with some food cards and cash assistance. Not much this time, just $180 to help pay down an electricity bill that’s in arrears and, always, food cards. Usually, we need more cash than that.

I don’t need to be told how utilities are climbing up the roof this winter. My own electricity bill went up 50% and I called up the utility to clarify. I don’t look forward to getting the fuel bill. So I’m glad we could help these families survive this winter. January was particularly tough. Lori and I keep the thermostat daytime at about 65 degrees, both of us wearing multiple layers indoors, while the nighttime temperature is always set to 60.

Many nights, as I close down the downstairs and lower the temperature, I remember how, some 30 years ago, I lived in a garage apartment near Woodstock, New York. I had very little money because I’d been fired from my job in New York City and couldn’t find a job in the Hudson Valley. It was the only time I ever relied on unemployment checks to keep going. I still remember keeping the thermostat down at 55 and even 50 at night; I was cold all the time and my fingers had a hard time typing on the computer keyboard.

It’s hard not to have money wherever you live, but in this country, you feel downright ashamed. You’re seen as lazy, no good, a loser. I’m not aware that this is how poverty plays out elsewhere, but it does here. Having money, having property, paying bills on time—all these make you honorable citizens.

In 1959, two years after we arrived in this country, my parents managed to buy a 15-year-old beat-up green Dodge. At a time when Detroit factories turned out the first Thunderbirds and Buicks and Cadillacs with elegant tail fins that looked like wings, ready to fly you up like today’s SpaceX rockets, my parents were happy with a car that looked like a chubby, banged up beetle. Not the Volkswagen Beetle that would be very cool years later, just a fat, scratchy bug on wheels that reminded me of the water beetles I was to face off in New York City apartments years later.

It was the first car they ever owned, and they were very glad of it.

Till one day the front doorbell rang. My mother found her neighbor standing at the door. He lived in a big house diagonally across the street with two long, fancy cars always parked up front.

“Your car is parked in front of my house,” he told her.

She looked over his shoulder and saw that, indeed, there was the green Dodge in front of the man’s house.

“I’m sorry, we had no room here,” she apologized, “that’s why it is there.” She was embarrassed about her English.

“Well, get it away from my house,” he said and turned to go.

She hesitated, gathered up her courage, and said: “But, you know, you park one of your cars in front of us all the time. We never complain about this.”

He turned back and scowled. “My car is a Lincoln. Yours isn’t.” And with that he walked off.

She told me this later that evening and tried to laugh it off—“Imagine that!”—but I could see how ashamed she felt. Ashamed of the lumpy car and the loud noise it made when you turned it on, ashamed of our lack of things.

By then my mother had gone through two wars and had helped save people’s lives. She was—and continues to be—my hero. Without her courage, I wouldn’t be here to write these words. But all she owned was an ugly, old, green Dodge. She insisted it didn’t matter, we knew who we were, we had values, we had character, most important of all, we knew how to survive. But I think that deep inside her, she felt ashamed.

Some 15 years later she caught me on the phone one day and recounted her trip with my father to visit her nephew in Toronto. Her nephew had been orphaned in the Holocaust and my mother had helped not just to save his life but also stowed aboard a ship with him (he was 5 years old at the time) in order to flee Europe and get to Israel. She loved him like her own child.

But he was not why she was so excited.

“Guess what?” she gushed on the phone. “We flew to Toronto with luggage on wheels, imagine that! Both your father and me, we each had our own luggage on wheels. Do you remember what used to happen? We’d pack our things in cardboard boxes that were then taped up, or else in old torn suitcases. When we arrived and went to pick up the suitcases, they’d come around torn open with all our clothes spilling out, and everybody would look around to see who these suitcases belonged to, and they were always ours, and we’d have to gather them up in front of everybody and put back all the things, remember that? Well, this time we flew to Toronto with luggage on wheels, just like everybody else!”

Just like everybody else.

Not standing out with a battered Dodge or torn suitcases, not walking around with only a sweater and a skirt with bare legs in sneakers as did one of the women who came this evening for a food card (I’m finishing this post after returning home). We asked her why she dressed this way, wasn’t she cold, and she just laughed.

Giving and receiving is how this life circulates, like the bloodstream, reflecting fluidity and impermanence. Dam it up by too little giving or too little receiving, and the body gets sick. So why do so many feel ashamed that they have little money, that they need to receive?

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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.

BUDDHISTS ARE BORING

“It’s too cold to be out!”

“Aussie, are you saying something out there? You’re way ahead of me on the road, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”

“I’m busy bitching. I got nobody to play with. No dog, no human in sight. Even Henry’s not here, Lori won’t let him out the door because of the freeze. Life sucks. And why, pray, are we only walking on the road these days?”

“Because, Miss Whiner, I have trouble with my lower back and walking in the woods, on snow and ice, stresses it even more. At least I’m walking you, try to be grateful.”

“Sorry, not a Buddhist. You call this walking? No deer, no foxes, nothing to sniff underground. Life is a big piece of yucky.”

“Actually, Auss, we’ve been seeing lots of deer over the past days, they’re pretty close by. I think they’re coming closer to the houses because they’re hungry.”

“Well, I wish they’d come even closer because I don’t smell or see them, so I don’t run. And if I don’t run, what’s the use of living?”

“Aussie, you’re alive! Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“Sorry, I’m the cool, dispassionate type. Someone has to be here. You’re too Jewish, Henry’s too Mexican.”

“Henry’s not Mexican.”

“He goes crazy about everything. Did you see how he carried on when Froggie ended up on the bathroom counter? And you also get emotional. What’s the use of all that meditation you do?”

“What do you mean, Aussie?”

“Everybody knows that humans meditate in order not to get upset. Especially Jewish people like you, who’re over-the-top about everything.”

“I forgot to refill the birdfeeders! OMG! They’ll starve!”

“See what I mean? You become a Buddhist to quiet down, relax, let go, and become boring.”

“Aussie, not all Buddhists are boring.”

“Wanna bet? What do you call just sitting there?”

“Just sitting there, as you put it, helps me put my small self aside and start really seeing and listening. Just sitting there helps me trust and care more about the world. You should try it sometimes, Auss.”

“Not me. You start caring, you start suffering. You care about the starving deer, the birds and squirrels, the iced-up lilac trees. That’s too much suffering for me!”

“You know, Aussie, there’s something worse than suffering.”

“What’s that?”

“Not suffering. Not feeling anything at all.”

“Sounds good to me. I’m getting to know more about myself. I ain’t into suffering, so I’m not a Buddhist. I am into bitching, which probably makes me Jewish.”

“Aussie, we’re called to be fully alive, fully engaged.”

“It’s too goddamn cold to be fully alive and fully engaged. Could we go home?”

“Aussie, Fr. Greg Boyle, who started Homeboy Industries to help gang members in Los Angeles, wrote that we’re called to be practitioners. Otherwise, he said, we’re audience.”

“Good. You run around, I’ll watch. Better still, I’ll watch from a prone position.”

“You know, Aussie, half of Bernie’s body, the entire right side, was paralyzed after his stroke. He did lots of therapy, and though he never did get to use his right arm and hand much, he taught his right leg to walk again.”

“Is this another story about suffering?”

“No, Aussie, it’s a story about trust. Here’s the thing: Even as Bernie walked, almost always with a cane, his right foot never felt the ground underneath. It never felt the heavy shoe he had to wear summer and winter, never felt the floor, never felt the stairs—and still he walked. You know how he did that, Auss?”

“I do not.”

“He trusted that the ground held him, Aussie, even when he couldn’t feel it. Even more, he trusted that life held him even when he couldn’t feel things anymore, when he couldn’t do things he loved, couldn’t drive, couldn’t smoke cigars, couldn’t read, couldn’t concentrate for any length of time, could no longer teach much or lead events. Loss surrounded him on all sides, and still he trusted life completely.”

“Even when it was cold?”

“Even when it was cold.”

“Could we go back home now?”

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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.

ANOTHER FUNDRAISING PITCH

“Come, Aussie, come to me!”

Aussie emerges from the enclosure behind Leeann’s house, accompanied by Leeann, and looks out at me dubiously. I am the last to pick her up from a group of about 10 dogs that Leeann and her husband take to the forested hills behind their home.

I’ve watched as Leeann brings out the other dogs. They see their humans and rush joyously towards them, a big family reunion. Leeann doesn’t bother leashing them even though she has chickens nearby; the dogs are so happy to get into the respective cars. They’ve had their games, their long walks and jaunts, and are ready to go home.

Not Aussie.

“Go to Eve, Aussie,” Leeann urges her, “go on!”.

Aussie looks up at Leeann. “Why?”

“Come on, Aussie,” I call out, embarrassed that mine is the only dog that doesn’t want to come home.

“You’re my favorite human on the planet, except for the man at Mar-a-Lago. I want to go home with you.” With that Aussie heads to the front door of Leeann’s bright yellow house to make her point because Leeann, for some reason, doesn’t understand a word she says.

Aussie stayed with Leeann only once. After Bernie died, I stayed home for 49 days, with the exception of one overnight trip to Florida for his brother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Bernie wanted to go for that but died earlier. I went instead; the entire trip didn’t last more than 24 hours. After the 49 days passed, I flew to Israel to see my family, and Aussie stayed with Leeann. She’s sure that’s her real home, not mine.

“That’s my real home,” she tells me once I get her onto the back seat of the car.

“It’s not, Aussie.”

“Are you telling me I don’t know my real home? What’s your real home?”

“Meditation, Auss.”

“Well, my real home is with Leeann.”

“Leeann isn’t the one who adopted you, Auss. Bernie and I found you in a shelter and took you home, not Leeann.”

“I was adopted by the wrong person!”

“It might feel that way, Aussie, but—”

“My whole life would have been different if Leeann adopted me.”

“Leeann has her dog, Kaya.”

“Kaya’s old, she’ll die soon, and then I could take over. If I could have just lived in that house instead of with you, everything would be different. My whole life would have changed! But no, it had to be you.”

“Sounds like you need therapy, Auss.”

“I have to talk to somebody about how you raised me all wrong, how you didn’t take me on as many walks as Leeann—”

“That’s her livelihood, Aussie. “

“How you don’t cook real food for me like Leeann does for Kaya—”

“Aussie, you’re about 10 pounds overweight!”

“How you keep your back turned to me and look at that dumb screen all the time.”

“How do you think I get the money to feed and house you, Aussie?”

“How you prefer Henry the Terrible to me.”

“I do not!”

“I had a raw deal! It’s not fair! My life would have been so much better if Leeann had adopted me.”

“You know, Aussie, we spend lots of energy obsessing over how we grew up, what our parents did wrong, how it could all have been different if they were different, how much better our work and love life would have been. But I’m not spending any money on dog therapy, you cost me enough already.”

“I’m deprived! I’m abused! I’M UNHAPPY! Look at what you do for the Mexicans.”

“Who?”

“All those illegals coming over the border, replacing us, taking over the country.”

“They’re from all over, not just Mexico.”

“You can do what you did for them, start a fundraising appeal. Call it Support Aussie’s Therapy Fund. Make a button for people where they could donate.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Of course I’m crazy, that’s why I need therapy. It’s all your fault. If you gave me more walks—”

“Two hours a day isn’t enough?”

“Lamb chops and hamburger—”

“You get steak on your homecoming day.”

“That’s just once a year. I’m telling you, the stars were misaligned when I arrived. They switched babies or something, and I got the bad deal.”

“Aussie, listen to me. You want to be happy? Enjoy the life you have.”

“What’s to enjoy?”

“Chasing squirrels, toppling Henry, playing in the snow in the back yard, the walks and the treats and the soft, warm blanket you love to lie on.”

“Big deal! I’m a loser in the lottery of life. Quick, start that money drive. Support Aussie’s Therapy! Send in lots of money because I have lots to complain about. Years of it!”

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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.

JUST NOT IN FLORIDA

Bernie and others sitting in front of the US Capitol, January 1994. Photo by Peter Cunningham

This morning’s digital edition of The Washington Post quoted the following in one of its lead articles: “The Florida state legislature kicked off Black History Month by advancing bills that would allow parents to sue a school if any instruction caused students ‘discomfort, guilt or anguish.’ The bills have been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.”

A few months I began to gather up a few fictional sketches I wrote years ago which included certain elements of how I grew up. They included:

— 11-year-old Stacy, my first American friend, who was obsessed by Charlton Heston (remember him?). She showed me her scrapbooks on the actor over and over again and couldn’t fathom my indifference. I tried to share her enthusiasm but was puzzled by why anyone would want to spend time assembling two thick scrapbooks about somebody they didn’t know.

— my mother taking my sister and me to see Carmen when I was 9 or 10, even though she only had money for two seats in the last row and kept my sister on her lap because she wanted her children to learn about operas.

— petrified fear in my first meeting with a Catholic nun at the age of 8, while using the red swings on the church grounds next to my home, after hearing that nuns could kidnap you and make you Christian against your will.

The fictional girl in the sketches has her own obsession, and that is to go to Russia and rescue Raoul Wallenberg from the Lubyanka prison in Russia, or even from the Gulag. Raoul Wallenberg, for those of you who grew up making scrapbooks on Charlton Heston, was a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing them fake visas that he printed on Swedish Government stationery. He’d even go to the railroad stations where Jews were put on trains to Auschwitz and give them these visas, in the face of threats against his life.

Most of those who didn’t get those visas were murdered in the final year of World War II because, in part, the officials at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp wouldn’t even bother with selections and instead would send entire trainloads to the gas chambers.

At the end of the war Wallenberg went to a meeting with the Russian army and was never heard from or seen again. For many years the Russian government denied knowing anything about him, and only in the late 20th century did they admit that he was killed, probably by a shot to the head in the 1950s. That didn’t prevent other inmates of Russian prisons from claiming sights of him over decades.

I am not the young girl who is so obsessed; I don’t know where these sketches will go. Maybe she’ll grow into a woman who is obsessed with saving the world, who knows? But I am intrigued by the Greta Thunbergs of this world, young women who single-mindedly focus on the dire consequences of climate change and the immense suffering of species. Many people think they’re crazy. They are labeled occasionally as autistic, and especially as having Asperger’s. It’s not normal to be this way, people say. It’s not healthy, it’s not sane.

How sane is it to face catastrophe by assembling scrapbooks on handsome actors or playing video games? What does a normal childhood or upbringing look like these days?

The central character in these sketches isn’t me, but I know that girl because I was one of those children who grew up with lots of anguish about what happened to her family in the Holocaust. I grew up on stories of a woman being torn to pieces by dogs outside the railway station because a Nazi soldier didn’t like something about her (the doctor’s wife, my mother told me), or what it was like to emerge from a cellar to bring food back to the family hiding there, knowing what will happen if you’re caught.

Discomfort, guilt, and anguish peopled my childhood. The Mickey Mouse Club’s Mouseketeers seemed vacuous to me, though I remember thinking that Annette Funicello always looked sad, which caused me to wonder what happened to her family. Everybody my age was more fun-loving and carefree than I was; it wasn’t cool to be anything else.

I never got into fairy tales, including the grim ones, because I knew early on that reality was a hell of a lot grimmer.

I was once invited to the end-of-summer camp dance by a handsome, popular young man, only to whisper into his ear about all the important things we had to do for the world as we danced real close. I never heard from him again.

For good reason. I was nuts. Still am. DeSantis is probably right to endorse that bill.

The second Tenet of the Zen Peacemakers is bearing witness, letting ourselves be touched by the joys and pains of the universe.

Except in Florida.

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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.

MY MANIFEST DESTINY

I get some lovely messages from readers of this blog. Sometimes—rarely, but it happens—not so lovely. Regardless, I rarely respond.

I am happy when someone tells me that what I wrote touched their heart or resonated with their own sense of life. Someone just wrote me that my musings are like music to his ears. I almost never respond, even to say thank you, with the exception of close friends.

Not because I don’t care. Writing is a lonely business. You spend hours putting thoughts, feelings, ideas together—little pieces of dialogue, something you read—into some kind of collage, call it a blog, and send it out to the universe. Like today’s short talk with my mother:

“How are you doing, mom?”

“I keep on telling you, don’t worry about me.”

“I don’t worry, mom, just want to hear your voice.”

“I think it’s time you had children.”

“You think so, mom? What’s the hurry?” I am 72.

“They’re a big pleasure. Or at least one child. So go find somebody and do it.”

That goes into the collage without much thinking, just curious to see if it connects anywhere. Sometimes you hit a certain note, like the high tweets of the juncos in the morning mobbing the feeders, and you know that it came together. More often, you’re not sure.

So getting emails saying that something moved you—well, it moves me. But not enough to respond. In fact, I have no idea how many people read my blog or how many hits it has. A long time ago I asked the computer consultant helping me to show me how I can find those numbers, she did, and since then I never once checked.

I didn’t start this blog to win a crowd of new friends or fans, though in a couple of cases that did happen. I started it when Bernie got very sick because his sudden illness tore through my body like its own trauma, its own stroke, and I needed to express how I felt. As the blogger Jon Katz told me when I told him I had no time to write: “You can’t afford not to.” He never spoke truer words.

Things aren’t visceral and raw as they were then, and still the blog calls me thrice a week to an encounter with an empty screen, black-and-white keys that wait for my fingers, a miniature piece of creation that’s not even a blip in the infinite cosmos of energy. And I have the happy fortune of occasionally getting not just financial support for this effort but words of beauty and praise.

And yet, I don’t usually respond. Why?

“Because you’re a B-I-T-C—”

“Who asked you, Aussie? And what were you doing outside?”

“Ambushing squirrels.”

“They’re just hungry, Auss, it’s why we have six birdfeeders out and I’ve been filling them every single day.”

“I know, but I love going after prey. It’s my manifest destiny.”

I can go after prey, too, or its instinctual equivalent. Look up emails or messages at every bing!, check on the state of the world every hour, answer phones, see people, talk to people, remember the shopping and the house and yes, even the birds.

“Don’t forget me! Don’t forget Aussie!”

It’s so easy to let my attention shift from one thing to another. But I’m slowly learning to manage how much attention I give and where I give it. Not because people don’t matter, but because life matters.

Lately, when I go out into the woods, I take my hat off even in frigid temperatures in order to listen to the sounds of ice forming, the cracks in brittle branches, and even, in the above photo, the inaudible sound of water streaming under the thick layer of ice. Things are alive under there and I want to hear them.

Things are alive everywhere and I want to hear more and more of it if I can, and that means paying deep attention, not letting pieces of me dribble out like the threads running out of the old sweater I’m wearing.

There’s so much to say for give-and-take, for saying thank you, for acknowledging the person on the other side of the blog, the reader who is so important to me. And I won’t lie, a small voice inside whispers: If you don’t answer, they won’t read. They won’t care. They won’t support you; you’ll lose everyone.

I’m learning not to respond to all my voices just as I’m learning not to respond to everyone outside, and I’m doing it in the name of liberation. Liberate my attention and my consciousness from patterns and long-held habits, from going after objects like Aussie goes after prey.

“You’ll never catch anything, you’re so slow.”

“I don’t want to catch anything, Auss. I want to be caught.”

“Huh?”

And now, one more story related to Hilaria, whose vision has improved but is still awaiting brain surgery. On the day she lost her vision and went to the hospital she had an appointment to talk with the teacher of her youngest son about the customized educational plan they were preparing for him. The angry teacher found Jimena: “She didn’t show up for our meeting. What does she think this is?”

“She couldn’t, you see—”

“That boy comes to school without a snow jacket or warm pants, without the right boots or a hat. What kind of mother is she?”

“She tries hard, but she can’t,” Jimena finally managed to say in between the teacher’s fulminations, and explained about the hospital and Hilaria’s loss of vision. “But I promise you,” Jimena said, “I will get him the right clothes tonight and tomorrow he will have everything you mentioned, I will get those things this evening, believe me.”

The woman looked at her, nodding, started walking away, turned back. “No, you work evenings. I’ll buy everything for him. Tell the mom not to worry, I’ll buy everything for him.”

 

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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.

WHEN NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS

Birds under the birdfeeders

Another grey winter day. Is it?

Yesterday a white, heavy mist descended on elevated portions of this Pioneer Valley. I wound my way carefully around a curvy road driving Aussie to Leeann. Leeann, who takes Aussie and about 8-10 other dogs on long jaunts into the forested hills, is back after being gone for a month and Aussie knew it long before we approached her house. She knew the road that takes us to the next town, up the hill, then down, and by the time we drove past the elementary school and library she was standing on the narrow ledge between driver and passenger seats, staring straight ahead, eyes transfixed and shining, tail whacking the back seat so loudly that at first I thought something was wrong with the car.

When we made the final left up the driveway she whined excitedly, backed off onto her seat and pranced back and forth from one door to the next. She had to wait a bit and whinnied piteously to see her friends, Percy the Golden and Evi the whatever taken out first and hurrying to the fenced playground behind Leeann’s house. She hadn’t seen them in almost a month.

That was yesterday. This morning we woke up to rain turning into sleet and snow, and knew there would be no walk today. Icy rain will fall and temperatures will plunge, bringing us one very cold weekend.

When it is this gray over several days, it’s easy to feel that time stands still and nothing is moving, nothing is changing. Same old white ground, same old bare branches. Of course, if you walk the terrain and see the tracks on the snow or watch the dogs scrape their paws raw trying to get at critters underneath, you get that there’s lots of life out there. But I, a human being, don’t sense those things easily.

Last night I listened to a recording of a training given for members of the Zen Peacemaker Order on a mandala approach to life. Bernie wrote about that in his Instructions to the Cook: Living a Life That Matters so I won’t go into detail here. Suffice to say that when you take that approach to life, you try to work with as many ingredients as possible, from those that are clearly visible to you and may even be your strengths, to those that you relegate to the margins or don’t even want to see, in order to cook the supreme meal, which is your life.

Introducing the topic, the teacher mentioned a scientist’s words to the effect that so much of the world is hidden from us in both space and time. They may be hidden from us in space because, well, they are in space, a long distance away. They can also be hidden from us because they’re too deep in the earth for us or our machines and computers to sense, a little like how I can’t sense what Aussie senses under the snow and ice.

Things may be way too big for us to really see, such as the giant heavenly bodies, and also way too tiny. Ants have arrived in the sink of the bathroom upstairs, but they’re so small that at first I just turned on the water without noticing they were there. Of course we have the machinery to identify ants and look under ice, but do we really know what are the tiniest pieces of matter in our universe? Science seems to be changing its mind about this every decade or so.

The same is true with time. Some things move so fast we can’t follow them, while others move so slowly we can’t follow them either. This morning I opened my eyes, looked at the grayness outside, and thought: a slow day. Yes, the birds will scurry around the feeders, an occasional truck will drive loudly down the road, but what my senses relay to me is: Slow, nothing is happening. Dogs sleeping, heat rising, everything still.

Is that true?

In daytime hours I tend not to get overly excited by news, but there are nights when impatience and anxiety creep up: What are we doing about climate change? What’s happening to species the world over? What about people leaving lands because there’s no food and no hope and trying to reach other shores? I personally bend towards wild inclusivity, and during those nights: Nothing is moving! Nothing is happening!

But it is, only often invisible to our mind and senses. Such great forces are at work all the time. Whatever small things I do now take place in an enormous space of meaningfulness–even today, when it’s another gray winter day where no one ventures out and nothing much is happening.

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OH OH, NOW WHAT DO I DO?

Wherever I am, Henry loves to bring Gertie, his stuffed pet turtle, for me to throw. I throw, he runs and fetches, and the routine goes on all day. First thing in the morning he rushes in as soon as the bedroom door opens (Lori tells me that he stays in his bed till he hears the meditation bell go off, at which point he leaps up and hurries to my door), and after a few obligatory but perfunctory hugs and kisses he runs to fetch Gertie, his true love, from his toy box, dashes back, and the day follows from there.

He also loves to put Gertie in a container, any will do. His favorite is when I open the dishwasher to put dishes in, and instantly find Gertie in the cutlery basket. Pick it up—throw—retrieve—and then it’s back in the dishwasher, this time inside a bowl.

His second favorite takes place the minute he hears me open the basement door, carrying a basket of laundry to hang up on the lines. I can hear the patter of small paws behind me, and as I hang things up, I find Gertie the turtle buried in my just-washed underwear or under my gray dog-walking sweatshirt. I pick her up, throw her, he runs to fetch her, and back she goes in the laundry bin to surprise me when I bend over to get my socks.

Every so often Henry, after fetching Gertie, shakes her up in an owner’s frenzy and tosses her into the air, and good luck where she lands. If I’m in the bathroom washing my face, you could bet she’ll land in the toilet bowl. The usual exclamations follow: “Again in the toilet bowl! That’s disgusting, Henry! I told you and told you, never in the toilet bowl.” I fish her out and wash her in the sink, put her back on the floor, and Henry happily licks off the water for the next 20 minutes.

I have found Gertie under black-and-white panties in my underwear drawer and under my pillow as I straighten it up for nighttime. She almost caught fire when he tossed her to the glass-encased candle that always burns on the Kwan-yin altar. I have found her a couple of times inside my boots and once in a bowl of soup I’d left on the table while I went to get a soup spoon. I’ve also found Gertie simmering in spaghetti sauce atop the stove.

It took Henry an entire day to figure out how to retrieve Gertie from the rocking chair in my room. She landed on top of the chair, and as he brazenly leaped up to fetch her, the chair, registering 16 pounds of weight up front, rocked forward and Henry fell back on the floor. He repeated this about half a dozen times, trying to outsmart the rocking chair, and finally sat back on his haunches, trying to figure out the relevant aerodynamics. By the end of the day, he worked out that by going at the chair sideways, he could squeeze Gertie out without the chair bouncing forward in ambush and throwing him back on the floor.

He’s fixated on burying Gertie inside containers or else tossing them the longest distance he can, usually hitting me in the head. In Zoom meetings, he’s tossed Gertie at the people on the computer screen, and now a few lay bets on whom he’s going to hit next. He reminds me a little of Tom Brady, only he ain’t retiring anytime soon.

“Is there a point to this story?”

“I’m writing about Henry, Aussie.”

“Why bother?”

“Because there’s no one quite like him, Auss. You could analyze his DNA all you want and find his matches in other dogs, and they’ll still be different. I never tire of noticing how unique each and every one of us is. You know what they say about snowflakes.”

“What do they say about snowflakes?”

“Each one is different from the other.”

“Fool me. You feel one, you feel them all. Snowflakes don’t got any personality.”

“Maybe if you investigated them a little, Aussie, if you paid attention, if you plunged into snowflakedom, you’d see some differences. Of course, you’d need a little patience.”

“If I don’t have patience for Henry, why would I have patience for a snowflake?”

“There will never be another dog like Henry, Auss.”

“Good.”

“There will never be another Aussie, Auss. Do you fully understand what that means? One specific being that never was and never will be again, is just here this instant. Buddhism says that you change every instant.”

“Every instant?”

“Every instant.”

“Okay, it’s now a few instances later, and guess what? I’m still me.”

“You’ve changed, Auss.”

“Have not. It’s now the next instant. I’m still me, still Aussie.”

“But not the same Aussie you were before.”

“I feel like me. I smell like me. I’M HUNGRY LIKE ME!”

“Aussie, even Gertie changes every minute.”

“Of course, she gets wetter and smellier from Henry’s saliva. Oh no, here they comes. I’m outta here.”

“Where you going?”

“Out the dog door. Time to meet a snowflake.”

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WHEN DID I LEARN TO BE SO AFRAID?

Lately, whenever I go out with Aussie in the frosty daytime, she returns home with a scraped up, red nose. It’s just a small scratch in the photo above, but yesterday she came back with a raw, angry laceration on top of her nose. It comes out of her scratching at the hard snow and ice because she wants to get at the life underneath.

I’m always moved by this passion to go after prey, to connect with some subterranean critter. It’s easy to skim on top of things and ignore the depths, but not Aussie; Aussie will go the distance with total focus and unadulterated joy.

Each morning I hear Henry the “mixed-up chihuahua,” as Aussie calls him, whining as I do my meditation in the bedroom, scraping at the door with his paw: Let me in! Let me in! And when I finally open the door he takes a running leap onto the bed, hops on his hind paws and pirouettes round and round, begging to be stroked and hugged. After that he quickly scans the room, searching for one of the many stuffed animals that litter our home, runs out to Lori’s bedroom to dig up Pinky the Elephant or the green turtle or red alligator out of his box of toys and brings one of them dangling from his mouth. He offers it to me to throw, which I do, he runs after it, and the day is off to its usual start.

You’d never know, from his enthusiasm and wild happiness, that we’ve started every single morning like this since the end of September 2020.

I ask myself: When did I become afraid to be so happy?

“Joy is not meant to be a crumb,” Mary Oliver wrote. Tell that to me, tell it to other humans. Dogs know that already.

Every day is full of invitations to be fully alive, to respond with joy, grief, exuberance, depression, and everything in between, and every day I back away. Or try to negotiate some middle course, like Goldilocks. Nothing excessive, nothing over the top. Just right.

When did I learn to be so afraid?

I have an old black file cabinet in the basement filled with ancient Zen Peacemakers files. I was told I could toss the files away, but being a paper recycling fanatic, I go through them to see what can be saved for printing purposes and what can be recycled.

I’m confronted by memories, pictures, and reminders of a shared past. Some are happy: Notes of an interfaith convocation we sponsored in Jerusalem 22 years ago with some 50 religious leaders, activists, and artists in attendance; peacemaker circles in various European countries; accompanying the great clown, Mr. YooWho, to Chiapas, Mexico, Bernie taking on an apprentice role (not something he was used to doing); blueprints of a Greyston AIDS center before it was built; lists of people whose lives happily intersected with ours over decades.

And then there are the less happy ones: Rejection by the Commonwealth of a costly application to build an alternative septic system for the Farm in order to protect the surrounding wetlands; unpaid invoices two and three months late; rejection by a bank to provide a second mortgage on the property; an angry letter from a disgruntled student.

Most were addressed to Bernie, and I’m always struck by how much stuff landed on his desk, the millions of details he plowed through day in, day out. His was not a simple life.

As I bear witness to them, I find myself sticking to a narrow stream of emotions. Not too happy, not too sad. Trying hard not to let my feelings fall off the side of the road.

We’re constituted to run against our limits all the time. Like the old story: Do I go to my daughter’s piano recital, or do I travel for a work meeting? Maybe there are beings in some universe that can be in two different places at the same time, but that’s not you or me. We’re faced with choices by virtue of being human.

Sometimes I decide easily, one alternative is clearly better than another. But there are times when both are important, helpful, even virtuous. What do I do when I come face-to-face with the impossibility of doing two things that are clearly needed?

I can face the edges and constraints of what it is to be human with humility and tenderness. But sometimes I start making excuses: It wasn’t that important after all. She wasn’t really a friend. Other people can help him, it doesn’t have to be me.

Looking through these files of so much work done over the years, so many good and bad times, I occasionally berate myself: Why didn’t I help more? I could have done more fundraising, I could have remained on the board, I could have been more available to talk and listen and help hold things together. He wanted that. But another voice reminds me of the alternative, because I also wanted to go my own way, do my own thing, teach, write. I couldn’t do everything.

So often I’ll hew to a middle course: Don’t get too nostalgic, don’t laugh, don’t weep.  Stay neutral, keep a little distant (it is past, after all), stay detached. Be cool.

And that’s why I don’t scrape my nose raw against the ice going gleefully after some critter, and I don’t scratch against a bedroom door while jumping up and down on my back legs: Open up! Open up! It’s morning! Morning! Morning! Open up!

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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.