MY HAPPY PLACE

I was at the dentist yesterday undergoing a root canal procedure, with a dentist and an assistant hovering over me.

I couldn’t talk (Whatever happens, don’t close your mouth!). I was further incapacitated by the heavy x-ray “blanket” they drape on you before taking x-rays, which they did several times during the procedure.

I usually like to tease Dr. Kim when he works on me. Once I wore a mala of skulls around my wrist and he asked me about it. “It’s the heads of all the dentists who screwed up my teeth,” I told him. He laughed so hard he had to put down his instrument.

Nothing doing this time. “Can’t you at least give me a running narrative of what’s going on?” I managed to garble out, but he shook his head, working quickly. He’d been delayed due to an emergency patient in the adjoining treatment room.

In the middle of it all, as the nurse prepared to do another x-ray,  I sat up a few inches and saw a framed picture of these words: “You are my happy place.” I groaned and lay back. And remembered this Zen koan:

”Iron Grindstone Liu arrived at Kuei Shan. Kuei Shan said, ‘Old cow, so you’ve come!’

The Grindstone said, ‘Tomorrow there’s a great communal feast on T’ai Shan, are you going to go, Teacher?’

Kuei Shan relaxed his body and lay down; the Grindstone immediately left.”

Ah, the exquisite idiosyncrasies of Chan koan literature! Iron Grindstone Liu was a woman, an accomplished teacher, one of the very few women teachers mentioned. She could grind you right down to the essence if you engaged with her, hence her nickname. And yes, Old Cow was her teacher’s affectionate, respectful name for her.

She asked him if he was going to a big event. What did he do? He lay down. Maybe the floor was his happy place. Being the great Chan master he was, any place would have been his happy place.

Sometimes, in these days of covid, I want to go out and have fun. I miss live music, I miss dinners out, I miss going out with friends.

Much of my life has been full of activity. Even now, at the age of 71, I feel like I go from one thing to another to another, one job to the next to the next to the next, and at times I could feel a rushing energy go through my body that whispers: Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! I take a deep breath, even walk out into the back yard and visit with Kwan-yin, but the voice continues: If you don’t hurry you won’t get this done or that, you won’t blog, you won’t be ready for the class tomorrow, you won’t answer emails, and then the day ends. Your life will end, so hurry!

I’m taking things off my plate so that I could slow down. Don’t need to go to the great communal feast on T’ai Shan—or anywhere else, for that matter. I can lie down on whatever patch of earth life gives me and feel that I am already here, nothing remains to be done because it’s all here. My happy place.

Bernie was full of action when he was younger. There were always a million projects going on around him, people hurried, people ran, but he, the center of it all, didn’t hurry, not even once. He wouldn’t speed on the road even if we were late to the airport, he’d be as cool as a cucumber. Someone would tailgate or cut us off; no four-letter word would come out of his mouth. Not a gasp, not a gulp, no sudden inhalation. He’d pause, then go on talking just as before after making sure the car was right.

He had lots of destinations, but he fully inhabited wherever he was—including that final bed in the emergency room of the hospital where he died.

Sometimes we’d plan to do something—have a talk, go out—and I’d say, “I’m quickly making this phone call” or “I’m quickly going to the bathroom. And he’d say, “You don’t have to do it quickly.”

Finally, after all these years, I’m taking his advice. I’ve always been a very slow student.

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.

NOT BECAUSE I DON’T CARE

For two days, small groups of women went out on the streets of Kabul to demonstrate for women’s rights and for their inclusion in the Taliban government. The articles I read didn’t say they were demonstrating against the Taliban per se, or the new government. They were demonstrating for women. For equal rights.

Their courage is indescribable.

They were mostly young, not having lived what their mothers lived more than 20 years ago. But they heard the stories and, weaponless, confronted the soldiers.

We, on the other hand, left in a big hurry, and as often happens when you leave in a hurry, we left many behind.

The safest country in the world, sandwiched between two oceans and two friendly countries north and south, is so afraid of terrorists that we created a visa system making it almost impossible for Afghans who helped us to get out. So many security agencies were involved, checking and double-checking on the referrals (Yes, but are you sure he’s not a double agent for the Taliban?), and bureaucracy was no match for the Taliban. In fact, bureaucracy fueled by fear is no match for anything. It’ll swallow up energy, innovation, and people’s dreams. And people.

A Latina friend, an American citizen, hoped to finally go on vacation with her husband and two children. They hadn’t gone on vacation since coming to this country, trying to save up money. They found a one-week package deal for vacation in Costa Rica and she submitted her application for a passport at the end of April, paying the extra fee for expedited handling. The family trip was scheduled for late July.

She never got her passport. The State Dept. announced there were delays in processing passports so three months’ wait was no longer enough. Too bad. They didn’t lose the entire value of the package for the four of them, but they had to pay penalties.

Is anybody accountable anywhere in Washington?

Meantime, almost 20,000 people were killed in gun violence in 2020 in the U.S. (not including suicide by guns) because practically anyone can get his/her hands on a gun, while Afghans who proved their value and support couldn’t get visas because they might be terrorists.

I look out in early evening. The sun still shines, but big rains and thunderstorms are on their way for the night and all day tomorrow. And even as I shake my head about how crazy this country is, I also think: It’s so beautiful.

In early September the trees are a dark, dark green, creating black caverns between the trunks. The western-facing leaves are lapping up the last rays of twilight while the others move lightly in the breeze. I’m sure that somehow, they know what’s ahead of them this evening. And I remember reading in Richard Price‘s great Overstory that leaves stir when humans pass by them. They register us, even as we usually don’t register them.

Where am I in these last moments of daylight? The Afghan women risking so much to claim human rights feel close even as I look at New England forests. The government repeats again and again how that far-away country is far away, not of critical importance to us here. But people wanting their freedom feel close. Women wanting education and jobs, the ability to support families and raise children, feel closer to me than the red shirt I’m wearing. They want to have a loud, intelligent, confident voice. A woman’s voice who cares more about life than death, who knows both tedium and patience, who plants, waters and harvests, who knows the cycles of infinity. Who knows the language of leaves and trees and won’t uproot herself from earth.

From where comes this resonance?

I watch a hummingbird drinking the sugared water I put outside for it. They’re usually not out so late, but the temperatures are warm, waiting for rain. This may be the last week I’ll see them here, they leave early.

My mother had a bad day just before Rosh Hashana.

“How am I?” she repeats my question. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but be very, very careful. They’re taking us away.”

“Where, mom?”

“They’re taking people to concentration camps. I’m all packed.”

“Mom, nobody’s coming, believe me. Nobody’s coming to get you, I promise.”

“I packed some food for the children.”

“Mom, nobody’s coming.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re in Israel, mom. They have good army and police, there’s our family. No one is taking you away anywhere.”

“I promise that I will contact you from wherever I’ll be.”

“You’ll be home, mom, with Swapna. It’s the new year, you’ll have company for meals, you’ll be fine.”

“If I don’t get in touch with you it’s because I can’t get in touch, not because I don’t care.”

My sister later confirmed that she did indeed pack a bag.

The wind is picking up, a flutter among the branches. Fall is coming, their fall. Everything is in that rush of foliage: the courage of women in Afghanistan, an old woman still living out her fears of 80 years ago, Henry the Chihuahua’s stuffed blue alligator on my lap waiting to be tossed and retrieved, a green hummingbird ready to fly south.

The compassion of leaves.

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REACHING OUT NOT IN OUR LANGUAGE

I have so many different thoughts and feelings from this long weekend I hardly know where to start.

“Start at the end.”

“I don’t usually, Aussie.”

“That’s why it’s a good idea.”

Which instantly reminds me of the death of Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little in the best TV series ever, The Wire. I’m not the only one who calls it that, so have British newspapers, and you know what great series the Brits create.

Bernie and I devoured all five seasons of The Wire, and he later watched the interview Barack Obama did with David Simon regarding that series. He was especially gratified to hear the two discussing the challenges that ex-cons face as they try to get jobs upon their release from prison. Greyston, which Bernie founded, addresses those issues with their Open Hiring policy (in which no questions are asked of an applicant’s jail or prison record) and have become national spokesmen for it.

While all the characters were beautifully developed—police detectives, politicians, teachers, journalists, etc.—it was the drug dealers on the streets of Baltimore that stood out best. Instead of just seeing them as abstract violent hoodlums running amok in poor neighborhoods, the series explored them as human beings, as competitors, family people who stand by each other, and the neighborhood kids who see their participation in the drug trade as their only entry into not just the economy but also into a family that cares. It didn’t hurt that some great actors appeared in that series, including not just Williams but also Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan.

One of the many jewels that came out of Omar Little’s mouth was: Boy, you got me confused with a man who repeats himself. A far more eloquent presentation than one of Bernie’s favorite Buddhist aphorisms: Don’t be consistent. If you thought you knew Bernie, you were in serious trouble. If you thought you knew Omar Little, you were in worse trouble because Omar carried a shotgun.

“That’s the end, Aussie. What else has come up?”

“All the packages that prevent me from getting down the stairs. That driver comes round again, watch me bite him!”

I posted the Back-to-School 2021 list of school supplies needed by children of immigrant families (mostly undocumented) late Saturday. Some 24 hours later I received a message that the list had sold out. And late morning of Monday, Labor Day, an Amazon truck brought the first shipment of boxes and left them on the front steps.

“Don’t they believe in holidays?” Aussie growls.

Today I rushed them to Jimena’s house, who took a quick break from the schools where she works to meet me and take them in. She and her family will break those boxes down and put various materials in the new backpacks and give them to the children, all filled with paper, notebooks, calculators, pencil holders, etc.

And suddenly I have a flash memory of what it was like to be a young immigrant girl myself. I came to this country when I was 7. No language, no sense of American culture, no childhood TV programs, no slang. I was puzzled and disconnected. I looked funny, too. My clothes later on were often clothes discarded by my mother, I always seemed to have the wrong bags, the wrong covers on books (we always covered our books and notebooks), the wrong hair. I simply didn’t fit in at an age when fitting in is all that matters.

Now that I think about it, I can see that the issue of fitting in has been with me for much of my life and has led me down some interesting paths. At the same time, I’m glad that we could provide school supplies to Latin American children, strengthening their confidence and ability to be with their American peers. My parents did the best they could for us, but I always seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.

So thank you thank you thank you. It’s great to start the Jewish New Year with gratitude. While Aussie grouses all day about these obstructions on the front steps, I see the boxes as people connecting from around the world (yes, even outside the US) with a local community that needs help. They also connect with me and with each other. We’re often not aware of these connections—we tend to be more aware of connections by friends and family, folks we’re directly involved with—but these more remote relationships are going on all the time.

Bernie often quoted his teacher, Maezumi Roshi, one of the pioneers of Zen in the West, who said that there’s direct karma (causes and situations) that we see clearly, such as those arising out of our close relationships, work, and family, and there’s indirect karma, which arises from causes, situations and people that are invisible to us. And, Maezumi Roshi added, it’ the indirect karma that’s most important.

Finally, I got a text message from a non-Jewish friend: Le’Shanah Tova to you and loved ones. The first two Hebrew words mean: A happy new year. And it instantly reminded me of how he and his husband, also not Jewish, had sent Bernie and me a card some years ago saying: Le’Sanah Tova to you and Bernie. As you can see, I have kept that card all these years. Why? Because a Latino Texan and an Italian New Yorker wished us a happy new year in Hebrew.

It touched me very deeply then, and continues to touch me now. Not just the blessing, but the blessing in a language foreign to them and familiar to us. Reaching out to people in their language, not just ours. It continues to be a big lesson for me.

And finally finally (I told you there’s a lot), Roshi Wendy Egyoku Nakao and I did a podcast on our book, The Book of Householder Koans: Waking Up In the Land of Attachments, with Simran Singh on her radio program: 11:11. We had a good time doing it. Our book tour had been completely upended by the covid outbreak, so it was fun to do this together at least remotely, if not in person. I think it was very good. You can listen to it here.

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.

CORRECTION TO AMAZON LIST

Hi everyone,

It was wonderful to see how many folks began to respond to the Amazon list of back-to-school supplies that I posted for the children of immigrant families. I know that because I quickly got emails letting me know that my shipping address didn’t show up. So I called Amazon (for the first time ever!) and found out how to do it, and put in my address.

But–it does need a new link, which is this.

Please use this link instead of the first one, and I hope it will all work. Here it is again.

Many, many thanks for the most unsavvy tech person you’ve met yet.

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GOD IS LONELY

I drive with Aussie in the back seat to bring some cash for Hilaria, the deaf mother with sons who’s now home after treatment for a brain aneurysm. Thank you to all those who have helped her. Hilaria’s home now, waiting for the swelling of her brain to come down so that they could operate on her, probably at Worcester. A lot of issues relating to medical insurance are still being worked out. Meantime, she can’t work at all.

“You understand the challenges she’s facing, Aussie?” I tell Aussie. “Imagine someone can’t speak English, can’t hear Spanish, and has to lip-read the translator who’s talking in Spanish and translating from English. Think of all the troubles you and I have understanding one another, and now think of what Hilaria faces. Hard to imagine!”

“Given the situation she’s in, maybe it’s good she can’t understand too well.”

“Aussie, we have to fully face and understand our situations in order to take care of ourselves in the best way possible.”

“Ignorance is bliss!”

When we return home there is a conversation with my mother. “How are you, Chavale?”

“I’m fine, other than allergies. I walked the dogs and I can’t stop sneezing since. You know, mom, it’s Rosh Hashana next Monday, the Jewish New Year.”

“Chavale, do me a big favor. Talk to God.”

“To God, mom?”

“You have a good relationship with Him, talk to Him. He’s a lonely person, He needs socializing.”

For a minute I wonder if she’s referring to my neighbor, an older man who indeed lives alone. I had just invited him over for a cup of coffee this weekend. “God is lonely, mom?”

“Of course! Who does He have to talk with? Who’s there to help Him? Ask Him if He needs something from the store, He’ll tell you.”

“I never thought of that, mom.”

“I know, I know, He’ll tell you He’s okay, but who knows? If you could at least talk to Him, He might tell you the truth.”

“Mom, I want to wish you a happy holiday and a happy new year.”

“Can’t you come for the holiday? You’re not too far away.”

“Mom, I’m in a different country.”

Pause. “Since when?”

“I can’t fly just like that for a 2-day holiday. And Israel now imposed new quarantine restrictions even for vaccinated people like me, which makes a trip like that impossible. I don’t want to travel all the way just to go into quarantine and not be able to see you for 10 days. See?”

“Ye-es,” she says skeptically. Then she brightens up. “Well, look, whatever you do, whatever you can do, I love you. Whatever you can’t do, I love you too.”

“The same goes for me, mom. Whatever you do—it’s a good day, you understand things, they make sense—I love you. It’s a bad day—things don’t make sense, you confuse me with my sister, you confuse my father with your father, the present with the past—I love you, too.”

“Yes. But can’t you at least try to  come for the holiday?”

I can’t come for the holiday, but to celebrate this Jewish New Year I can at least post a list of back-to-school supplies that children of immigrant families need, like Hilaria’s sons.

I recently read that the average American family spends over $400 for back-to-school supplies. Obviously, not every American family can afford that, and certainly not the children of these families, whose parents work on farms, clean up restaurants after closing hour, or make pizza in the back of pizza parlors. So Jimena, with the help of teachers in the local schools, made up a list of what they need. It’s in the range of $2.47 (highlighters) to $42.99 (calculators), and many in between.

Many of the students from the previous year are still using last year’s backpacks and calculators, so this is for the new contingent of students. For these families, nothing—but nothing—is as important as going to school. The parents especially are well aware how critical that is for their children to make their way in this world, a way which is usually out of reach for the parents, who’re often not just illiterate in English but also in Spanish.

Whatever you can do, please do. You can find the Amazon link here. The boxes will come to me and I will bring them to Jimena, who will then distribute them.

The sun is beginning to set on our record-breaking hot, wet New England summer, which included major flooding. Ahead of us, I hope, are the beautiful colors of fall and the optimism that a new year often brings with it. Covid is still with us; the students all wear masks, not the best school experience. Let’s cheer them up, let’s give them a boost and help them at this critical time. Here is the link for the list for back-to-school supplies once again.

And to everyone: A happy Jewish New Year. If you can help—I love you. And if you can’t—I love you too.

 

 

 

 

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A NEW HOLOCAUST

“I still can’t get over how we left Afghanistan, Aussie.”

“It’s terrible!”

“You know, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, yesterday admitted that there were serious problems with the special immigrant visa program that was used to clear interpreters and everyone else who helped the army to come to the US, but it was cumbersome and took way too long.”

“Son of a bitch!”

“So I looked up that SIV program, which stands for Special Immigrant Visa. It was started over a decade ago and involves the State Department and a whole bunch of intelligence and security agencies whose job it was to vet whether the people coming in actually worked for the army or were terrorists.”

“Give me a break, f—ing a—–e!”

“They didn’t have enough budget or manpower, and even though Trump came to an agreement with the Taliban back in February 2020, and we knew we didn’t have much time, the program never took off. There was no momentum, nothing was rushed.”

“They knew back then! This is so shameful I can’t stand it.”

“Exactly, Aussie, and you know why? Because nobody, but nobody is taking responsibility; nobody is being held accountable. Why doesn’t Anthony Blinken—”

“Who?”

“The Secretary of State stand up, hold himself accountable, and resign? Or the head of Homeland Security, which was part of the process?”

“I’m heading off to Washington to bite them.”

“This was doable, this was achievable. What kind of government do we have that can’t do this? We left thousands of people there who should have gotten those visas and escaped with their families and their lives instead of leaving them there because our paperwork was so slow!”

“Thousands of people! Who cares about the people? What about the dogs?”

“Yes, I know about the dogs, Auss—”

“Fifty dogs were left in cages at the airport. It’s a new Holocaust!”

“Not just a minute, Auss—”

“Don’t just-a-minute me. Dogs are left on an airport tarmac after they faithfully served this country! Nothing, but nothing can be more brutal than that.”

“Look, Aussie, leaving the dogs behind was terrible, just part of a pattern of leaving people and dogs behind when we no longer needed them, but comparing it to the Holocaust is a little over the top.”

“Goddamn f—s sons of bitches, I hate them hate them hate them!”

“Careful, Aussie. I’m angry, too, but that kind of hate starts getting in the way.”

“In the way of what? You know they’re not changing anything. Just like you said, did that guy who said the program failed offer to resign? Did he say that he’d failed? Snookertail! Hateful, sleazy, yecchy yuck!”

“Aussie—”

“Gutless, spineless, yellow-bellied chihuahua!”

“I think you owe Henry an apology, Auss.”

“Rotten piece of carrion!”

“Aussie, what’s got into you?”

“They left those dogs behind!”

“Aussie. I think you’re very sad about this.”

“Sad? I’m jumping out of my skin. I’m furious!”

“That’s when we have to be super-careful, Auss. Sometimes we get angry because facing our deep sadness and grief is too painful. Many years ago a therapist told me: ‘Sadness feels passive to you so you quickly shift to anger because that’s more active, it feels like you’re doing something.’”

“Shitbag, dickface, ass—”

“It sounds like you’re sad, Auss.”

“Piss on you, jackass!”

“This is not a good way to express your grief, Aussie.”

“Lameass! Turdface! Man-slut!”

“Aussie, none of this helps.”

“Your mother likes it RUFF!”

“That’s disgusting, Auss.”

“Whew! I feel better already.”

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. 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.

OLD EGYPT ROAD

Sometimes I take the dogs to a nearby large lake and we take the path that goes all around. And somewhere on the western side of the lake there are two signs, one that points the way to going all around, and the other pointing you in the direction of Old Egypt Road. I always pause there and ask myself which way I’m going.

Long ago, Egypt was the land of slavery. Generation upon generation of Israelites were forced to build pyramids and tombs till a man called Moses led them out of Egypt and into freedom. God broke the will of the Pharoah, split the Red Sea, drowned the bad guys, gathered everybody at Sinai, and gave them the Ten Commandments.

That was followed by a Golden Calf and lots of moaning and groaning about how life wasn’t so bad in good old Egypt, the food was better for one thing, so God figured that people needed to wander for a bit in the desert to really get what he was offering. He gave up on the older generation and let them die, hoping for better things from the young ones.

Whenever I come by this intersection of paths I stand and look at the sign towards Old Egypt Road. Do I want to go back, or do I want to finish the loop around the lake?

Old Egypt is not necessarily about hard labor or a cruel taskmaster. How many of us spend our lives working really hard? True, we probably have more comfy homes and a car, wide-screen TV, video games, and Alexa. By the accounts of many sociologists, we pay for that by working much longer hours than people did long ago. We also don’t like our bosses, don’t like our presidents. Maybe Old Egypt wasn’t so bad after all.

I stand there and consider it. I met a man recently—

“Not another date!”

“Relax, Aussie, not another date. They come once every 10 years or so—”

“Good, then I’ll probably be dead when the next one comes around.”

–and he told me that he elected not to lead a conventional life. So, he got into his car and traveled all around the country, down to Latin America, then into Europe—

“Did he take the bridge or the tunnel?”

–and all around, including Africa and Asia, and he did many different things. I told him that I also decided not to live a conventional life, so I sat.

“In the same place?”

“Yup, Aussie, in the same place. I’ve visited different places, met different people, but in some way I never got up from that sitting, know what I mean?”

“No.”

Sometimes I want to go in the direction of Old Egypt Road. I want to get out of my skin, get out of my life. Go to the kitchen and scrabble around for chocolate.  Look at photos of Bernie and get nostalgic. Don’t talk to me about the One Body, it’s just Eve the little red blood cell racing around here and there, reaching fingers and toes, bringing blood and taking it away, full of her own self-importance.

“Sounds good to me.”

“It’s just half of it, Aussie, that’s the trouble.”

“Half is better than nothing.”

“Not necessarily, Auss. Go play with Henry.”

Or else I follow the path that goes around the lake and will bring me back to my car. We’ll pass a tiny beach with a circle of rocks marking where people have made a fire. We’ll examine how clear the water is, I’ll put a hand in to feel the cold and then spill the water across my face. Aussie will go in up to her belly; she could stay in all day.

Eventually we’ll make it all the way around and head out to the small parking lot that holds 7 cars max, I’ll open the back door and then the windows, check I have everything (including two dogs) and head back home. Text Jimena that the list of school supplies is not complete, a few questions about backpacks.

Like I said, I never got up.

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.

A DATE

“Aussie, I have to leave you for the evening.”

“Where are you going?”

“I have a date.”

“A what?”

“A date, Aussie.”

“What’s that?”

“A date is when I meet a man and we spend a little time together.”

“A man? But you had a man! You had Bernie!”

“That’s true, Auss, but in case you haven’t noticed, he hasn’t been around much lately.”

“So you want to meet a new man? How many men do you need in your life?”

“A couple.”

“Together or one at a time?”

“Aussie, don’t be cheeky. You know how a good friend of mine refers to you now? Cheeks.”

“Because I have a cute butt?”

“I’m talking about one man, Aussie. November will be three years since Bernie died. For most of that time, at least till Lori and Henry joined us, it was just you and me.”

“Poor girl, was that too much suffering for you?”

“No, Auss, you’re good company, for a dog. I miss someone to talk to—”

“You talk to me lots. And I talk back!”

“But you don’t listen, Aussie. I mean, listen deeply. And I miss being part of a couple.”

“You were a couple—with Bernie. How could you even think of being a couple with anybody else? I’m ashamed of you.”

“Aussie, I can’t feel guilty about not wanting to wake up alone in the morning. About talking to somebody over a cup of Italian coffee.”

“What do you want to talk about that you can’t talk over with me?”

“My internal life.”

“Oh, that.”

“You know, feelings, ideas, insights, questions.”

“Boring! With Bernie you traveled. You did things, you built things!”

“We had a great time, but Aussie, things change. There’s death and there’s rebirth. I want to find new meaning for my life, a new way of being in the world, a new way of caring—and also being cared for.”

“You’ll never find anybody like Bernie.”

“I’m not looking for anybody like Bernie, one Bernie is enough for one lifetime. But endings can be new beginnings.”

“You can have your new beginning alone, or just with me.”

“I’ve thought about that, Aussie. To tell you the truth, I have no idea if I can have a new beginning with someone else. Living like this for almost three years, I’ve learned to appreciate the freedom and independence. It takes a lot of effort to be with someone. But I miss having fun. I miss laughter and sharing.”

“You have fun, laughter, and sharing with me, and look what a pain in the neck I am. Besides, what’s everybody going to say?”

Good luck, I hope. I don’t recall jumping into the flames when we put Bernie’s body into the crematorium.”

“You know what you are? You’re greedy. You’re 71, time to relax, time to stop, but not you. You always want more in your life. More! More! More!”

“There’s some truth in what you say, Auss. But it’s not just more and more, I try to be more discerning about what I want in my life. For example, do I really want to live with a dog forever?”

“Are you kidding me? I’m the best thing you got! You’ll never meet a man like me: Funny, loves water, loves to run, lots of chutzpa and in-your-face bullshit, never sleeps in your bed—the perfect companion!”

“Don’t forget cheeky, Auss.”

“Yes, got a cute butt, too.”

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.

BUT THE PROBLEM IS

I drove to the dentist yesterday to get a fancy x-ray of my teeth, a preamble to root canal work.

On the way I called Jimena Pareja to ask about Hilaria. She told me Hilaria is still in the hospital and diagnosed with a brain aneurysm. The seizures have been brought under control, but the aneurysm is exacerbated by her deafness. Surgery has been recommended—

“But the problem is she doesn’t have real medical insurance, Eve,” says Jimena. “She has some coverage through the farms but very little, so we have to find a hospital and doctors that will do the surgery, I think maybe in Worcester.”

There is another medical program she could have qualified for—“But the problem is she doesn’t have a social security card, which is the minimum she needs.”

She is looking for other sources of help here in the Valley, “But the problem is they require her to work and she won’t be able to work for three months, according to the doctors.”

“Three months! What about her sons?”

“They are with the sister and a few others, we buy them food with the money you gave us, but the problem is there isn’t much room for them because people squeeze into apartments, you know.”

But the problem is . . . But the problem is . . . I am so used to this refrain from Jimena I could plug it in myself several times in our conversations. Nothing is ever simple. A child needs help, but the problem is his English is deficient. A family needs to move, but the problem is the father was deported and it’s just the mother with her children.

Bernie taught me a lot about living with But the problem is. Nothing was ever quick or simple. It often seemed as though every single thing about Greyston and the Zen Peacemakers was complex, with twists, turns, and meanderings nobody anticipated. I no longer get discouraged by But the problem is the way I used to be, a clear signal that my expectations have changed.

You do something, the results aren’t what you’d hoped for because something else came up, so you do something else, more karma is generated, more unknown factors suddenly come up, so you make new plans and do something else, and something else comes up: But the problem is . . .

Others say that they get overwhelmed.  I used to feel that way often. When Bernie died I felt overcome by shock, so I just did what was right in front of me. I could identify those things: sit, clean, make food, eat, walk Aussie, prepare a talk. And in some ways, I continue to do that. If I think too much further down the road (Climate change! Covid! Death!) I won’t function well at all.

We agreed that given all this, I’ll pause the food cards for a few weeks and help Hilaria as much as possible.

“Could you get the kids some school supplies?” Jimena asked me. She’s counting on an Amazon list of school supplies for kids going back to school, and yes, I said, of course I’ll post it. What they need is not expensive.

I got to the dentist and for the first time went through a 3D x-ray. I didn’t know they had something like that. When the nurse had told me how much it cost, I blanched. Insurance was covering none of it. “Are you sure it’s necessary?” I asked.

She hesitated: “You can say no, of course, but the dentist will know the state of the tooth and nerve better if he can see that ahead of time.”

I don’t usually question the competence of professionals I depend on, they have experience and education that I don’t, so I agreed.

She took me into a room I’d never been in before and had me step close to a machine with my chin on a chinrest. The machine whirred and different panels moved around my head, brushing my hair, the top of my head,and shoulders, catching a three-dimensional picture of my teeth on the lower right side of my mouth.

“Don’t move!” she warned me.

I didn’t move. But as the machine whirred around my head, I thought of how sophisticated this machine was, how other-worldly it would seem to most of the people on our planet, how extraordinary that I had access to such technology and expertise while not too far away lay a woman in the hospital who struggles to lip-read, hopes to find doctors and a hospital who will operate on her and finally return her home to her sons. Hopes to be able to return to work hard on the farms in three months’ time to support those sons. But there is a problem . . .

Yes and no. I don’t live in a world of problems, I live in a world of taking care.

I used to take to heart the difference between my life situation and others’, and I still think it’s good to remember that. But sometimes it leads to guilt and paralysis, and I don’t go there anymore. Instead, I live in a world of taking care, including myself.

This afternoon a couple I knew from our life in Santa Barbara, CA came for lunch. They’re a handsome couple and brought much needed sunlight to this cloudy Valley. They were traveling cross-country in a gorgeous RV which I peered into, ooohing and ahhhing, and we proceeded to talk, laugh and reminisce, evoking names of beautiful people we’d known. I cooked some corn (approaching its end this season) and made a terrific bean salad; even the dogs seemed full of joy.

They had more leisure than me, more laughter and light. I was so happy they’d returned to my life if only for a few hours, and I’m happy Hilaria is in my life, and even the expensive 3-D x-ray machine. All of us–excluding none– have our roles to play.

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.

HURRICANES

What Aussie does when it rains

“Boy, Aussie, did our Hurricane Henri fizzle out! After all the hurricane and storm mongering, after bringing up the two battery-powered lamps, filling up the bathtub and big pans with water, and generally hunkering down, we got no winds at all (so no danger of fallen trees, wires and loss of power), just a lot of rain. Big deal, we’ve had lots of rain all summer!”

“That might be nice for you, but I still have our private hurricane: Hurricane Henry. How come Henry doesn’t fizzle out like Henri? They have the same goddamn name, only Henry runs around from morning to night, never leaves me alone, barks endlessly, and worst of all, always brings his friends.”

“What friends, Auss?”

“Pinky the Elephant, Al the green Gator, Wabbit the yellow rabbit, and Turtle. What happened to us? We used to be calm around here, we were on our own, self-contained, and peaceful. Now we’re a menagerie!”

“You know, Aussie, it’s easy to be peaceful when you’re alone. I just finished our summer retreat, and most of that time was peaceful. Saturday night at 10 pm I left the zendo and saw light on the driveway. I looked behind me and there was the full moon climbing out of the clouds that seem to have been with us all summer, and it was glorious. Retreat ends and we go out to face Hurricane Henri.”

“Then you come home to face Hurricane Henry.”

“I come home to hear news about the family, other people, money, the house, my teeth, it doesn’t end. So yes, it’s not easy to be peaceful when we’re with people. But I discover far more about myself from interacting with people and the world than I do when I’m sitting on my own. I’m constantly challenged, constantly make mistakes, constantly learn from those mistakes. Everything feels alive, full of change!”

“I hate change! And why is it that the things you love just as they are are the ones that change, and the ones you wish would change—like Hurricane Henry—don’t?”

“Good question, Aussie.”

I’m tired today. It used to be that I’d get up from retreats and go right to work, but no longer. I needed to rest today, not run around.

I want to thank you from deep in my heart  for the donations that streamed in for Hilaria, the deaf mother from the Dominican Republic raising three sons on her own out of a salary she makes working in a local farm. Hilaria had many seizures even in the Springfield hospital where they took her. I didn’t have a chance to hear anything about her till last night, when I saw that $2,000 had come in to help her pay her rent and utilities and buy food for her boys while she’s ill.

This morning I got a message from Jimena that Hilaria has finally been diagnosed with a serious brain aneurysm that’s causing the seizures and is still in the hospital. I texted back asking for details about her situation and needs and haven’t yet gotten an answer. I probably will get more details tomorrow, but meantime, I was so happy to see what came in for that gentle, always cheerful and warm human being, it just made my day. Thank you.

I came home and caught up with the news, especially developments in Afghanistan, and then drove to our favorite pizza shop to pick up pizza for the evening. Bernie used to go there all the time. When I arrived, the Greek pizza ( feta, olives, and spinach) wasn’t ready so I waited. Bernie couldn’t imagine ordering Greek pizza,  but it is my housemate’s favorite.

In front were two young white men, students from the local Five Colleges, taking phone calls and interacting very courteously with customers. I looked towards the back and saw that the ones who actually made the pizzas were all Latinos and Latinas, a few maybe from the community we try to support. I watched a young man (to me he looked like a boy) toss the pizza dough up and down, manipulating the dough for the crust, while behind him others slid the pizzas out of the hot ovens and put them into the white boxes. A lively banter was going on even as they worked hard.

I thought of the Afghans coming to the States, those lucky enough to get here. The media focuses on how hard it is for them to get to Kabul airport and whether or not they will be able to fly out. What we still don’t hear much about is what awaits them here in their status as refugees: split families because they had to leave parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, even spouses and children behind, a very strange new culture and language, the challenge of building new communities and new lives—and finding work. I wondered if they, too, will learn to make pizza behind the American college boys, even pizzas with feta cheese, olives and spinach like the one I finally picked up and brought home.

 

You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. 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.