DUDDY-FUDDY

“Look at me, I’m running like the wind.”

“You sure are, Aussie. I begin a retreat this evening till Sunday afternoon.”

“What do you do?”

“Sit all day.”

“Who wants to sit all day? Does all this practice teach you to run like the wind?”

“No.”

“Chase deer?”

“No.”

“Jump out an open car window?”

“No.”

“Squeeze out through the fence and then run like the wind?”

“No.”

“I’m running out of the important things in life. Is there anything it does teach you?”

“It teaches me to get old, Aussie.”

“Most normal people do that naturally!”

“You’d be surprised, Aussie, how many people don’t get to get old.”

“You know why? Because getting old has no value. It’s the biggest waste of time.”

“There I disagree, Aussie.”

“I’m 6 years old and you’re 74. I’m in my prime and I’m stuck with an old duddy-fuddy like you.”

“What’s duddy-fuddy?”

“Henry, just because you’re an illegal Mexican chihuahua doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to learn English. Duddy-fuddy is a person who can’t run like the wind. Duddy-fuddy is old-fashioned, unable to deal with new things, and generally useless.”

“I think, Henry, that the term is fuddy-duddy. And what do you mean, Auss, that I can’t deal with new things?”

“You messed up the Amazon list of Christmas gifts for all Henry’s friends.”

“Actually, there was a bug in the Amazon system, Auss, but I took care of it. I think there’s a real value in being old. I settle back into myself precisely because I can’t run like the wind. Can’t run anywhere, escape anything, rush from one marriage to another, one project to another.  Alone as I am, I’m not into taking cruises or joining travel junkets. Instead, finally, I sit still—and not just in retreat.”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“I’ve joined a stream, Aussie.”

“The sitting stream? Doesn’t sound particularly fast to me.?”

“The stream of all those who get old. Yesterday, my friend Jeff Bridges called to wish me happy birthday. ’You’re old, Eve,’ he said. ‘We’re both old!’”

“(Groan.) Why didn’t he talk to me? I LOVE the Dude. Doesn’t he want a dog?”

“He has one, Auss. And Aussie, he’s old, just one day older than I am. He’s who he is, I am who I am; it’s easy to think we’re individuals—don’t we always think that? Now I’m more aware that I’m like everyone else who’s lucky to get old, and that gives a different perspective on things. I’m with Jeff and others, all part of a stream. I always loved to be part of the stream of spiritually-based activists, and now I’m part of another stream as well, the stream of life, Aussie. What do you think of that?”

“Does Jeff like to run on the beach? I like to run on the beach. Or walk on the beach. His stream is my stream.””

Dear Readers, Thank you for buying Christmas gifts for the children of immigrant families. We started with almost 90 gifts and only about a dozen are left, including 7 $25 gift cards which mistakenly showed up as $50 cards earlier. That has been rectified. Please consider buying the rest so that everyone gets something for the holidays. Here is the List again. Thank you. And–the blog will be silent till next Monday.

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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.

YEARNING

Tomorrow is my 74th birthday, the first birthday in a long while which does not take place in the middle of our annual December Rohatsu retreat. We’re doing a more abbreviated retreat this time, so I won’t be sitting on my birthday.

“What are you doing on your birthday?“ people always asked me.

Year after year I’d groan and say: “I’m sitting.” Meaning, doing sitting meditation, the thing you do that first week of December. I groaned, but it was good-natured; I liked sitting on the day of the year that marked my birth.

In the early days I’d wonder, when starting a retreat, whether I’d be the same person when I got up at the end. Something big was bound to happen, right? “One ping! and I have forgotten all I knew,” Xiangyan in 9thcentury China wrote. With all his learning and sharpness, he hadn’t been able to fully penetrate and experience the nondual. He left the monastery and became a groundskeeper at an abandoned temple. Sure enough, while he was sweeping one day, a broken tile hit a bamboo tree, and the sound caused a great opening.

Retreat after retreat, I waited for that same ping! It’s bound to happen, I thought, and then I, too, would forget all I know, everything will be crystal clear and fresh as dew, and I won’t be the same anymore.

I’m not the same anymore because I’m almost 74 years old. Just when I’ve lost the desire to be different, I find that I am different after all. Enlightenment, as someone said, is a back-door affair. Perhaps for a few it comes in with a loud bang on the front door, all lights coming on out front, Lori, the two dogs, and me rushing forward to see what’s happened, like when the big bear Boris arrives at the house in midnight.

For me, it comes through the kitchen door that leads to the garage that leads to the back yard. It finds its way from the cold outdoors, maybe after having a how-do-you-do with Ms. Kwan-yin in the back, then over the wet, muddy, concrete garage floor, avoiding the blue bins of recycled plastic/glass and paper. Maybe then it’ll come through the dog door, avoid the row of boots and slippers, the few unwashed dishes in the sink, the food stains on the oven.

Chances are, it won’t avoid anything. Regardless, that’s how it seems to come for me, through clutter and travail.

Sometimes, it comes through glimpses and experiences of visceral suffering. I think about that lately because I plan to travel to Israel in 8 days, right after the retreat ends, and am told that grief, shock, and depression await there. But also, life. I’m sure of it.

I feel a longing inside. For what or whom? Maybe for myself. No, not for my True Self, or for that self that is nothing and everything; I’m too old for Zen jargon. Just for myself. If anything, the longing stands on its own, with no object in mind.

I’m surrounded by great books, a magnificent calligraphy by the great Zen Master Soen Nakagawa of prajna, emptiness, hanging in the living room, two talkative dogs, and a gorgeous red twilight over to the west. Each is its own thing, an object of beauty, but in the end, not more than a gorgeous book cover. Where’s the real thing? The real deal, as Bernie would say it.

“What are you doing on your birthday, Eve?”

“I’m yearning.”

“For what?”

“For myself.” Or just yearning.

You don’t have to send gifts or even cards, though I’m deeply grateful for good wishes. What you could do is buy Christmas gifts for the children of immigrant families who live here, most of which are undocumented.

As I’ve written before, the farms were flooded this past summer, sweeping out not just seeds and soil but also the farm jobs these families desperately rely on (the water table is still very high here). Now starts the bad winter, all farm work ended for the season. I’ve already given Jimena Pareja a check for someone’s rent as well as $1,000 in Walmart gift cards for families who’ll struggle in the week of Christmas to New Year, when schools are closed and school breakfasts and lunches won’t be available. These things matter to them in ways that many of us can’t understand.

Therefore, there’s usually no money for Christmas presents for children. Here is an Amazon list of what the children requested. Almost all are in the $20-$30 range, none above, a few under $20. A few are gift cards, a few are electronics, and the rest are eye-poppingly gorgeous—dance mats, nail polish sets, tie-dye kits, bright yellow trucks, and even a few glittering bracelets and necklaces. What’s not to love?

Yes, I know there’s inflation, but Jimena and I have tried to keep prices low. So please, buy a gift or two for one or more children. Their yearnings are as important as mine and maybe yours. They’re children, after all. We’re all children.

The gifts will automatically be shipped to Jimena, and she and her family will then wrap them up beautifully. Please don’t add my address for shipping, I won’t be around to pick anything up. Everything on the list will go automatically to her. Here’s the list once again.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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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.

A NEW INVOCATION

Hunting season is always a good reminder that there’s no such thing as absolute safety. We don our bright orange vests (Aussie’s lost two already) and go into the woods. She hunts out the scent of two deer and runs after them, goodbye Aussie! Twenty minutes later a big buck crosses the road ahead of us, three minutes later a black-and-orange figure gives chase. “He’s got a big head start,” I tell a barking Henry by my side.

Hunting season implies lots of shooting, and both dogs get skittish, but this morning there were no shots with temperatures in the low 40s, which is warm for us. Eventually Aussie returns, her orange vest still on but wet and dirty—she splashes through endless ponds and brooks when she chases deer. I leash her, and we walk back to the car.

It was my first outing since Tuesday. I got a bad cold for a few days, which brings on its own sense of fragility. I couldn’t get out of bed before 4 pm. But now, Friday, the energy is coming back. I am grateful to Lori, my housemate, who got cold remedies that made a big difference. Those, and the refuge and comfort of sleep.

From Bernie I’ve learned that every situation calls for practice. The bigger the challenge, the more you have to take time to check in with yourself. When the brain or the emotions go crazy, check your breath, it doesn’t lie. Even if, like me, you have asthma, unless you’re in the middle of an attack the steadiness and depth of your breath, your ease of inhaling and exhaling, tells you a lot about your state of mind.

Last night I tuned in to an interview, sponsored by the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, of the veteran Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein, who talked about the similarities between writing poetry and meditation. I enjoyed what he said; mostly, I enjoyed his presence. I’d spent a little personal time with him on a few occasions, but not for years, and seeing him on the screen reassured me.

His is a very different presence from Bernie’s, in some way a different life. Goldstein is private, usually sticking to the teacher-student structure. He speaks in detail of meditative states and knows all the various facets of meditation practice, including traps and obstructions. He’s given to writing, living alone, and doing solo retreats. I appreciated hearing him express an open curiosity about everything, especially strange and unforeseen feelings.

Bernie was into taking action: developing one program after another, organizations galore, acting and speaking spontaneously with an emphasis on not-knowing, letting go of the grim, tight clutches of the self. He taught by example and was almost always in groups of people. “You want to really learn,” I heard him say very early on, “you live with your teacher. You see the whole person then, and you learn from everything.” You might say I did that. And while in those last decades of his life people didn’t usually live with us, they worked with us day to day, which was almost as good.

Teachers teach differently; students learn differently. Goldstein’s presence soothed me. He reminded me of how good this practice has been to me, how familiar, like family, the refuge and confidence I have found in it. It’s a cure for many things, including discouragement and depression. The strong back I’ve cultivated for decades actually holds me.

Also, gratitude for the compassion that I find in this world. For a long time, and especially over the last few months, I trudge off each morning, a stick of incense in my hand, to see Kwan-yin in the back yard and make requests: Heal him; take care of her; take care of Israelis; take care of Palestinians; cure this person or that, give strength to these people, etc.

And one morning I walked out there and said nothing but thank you. Thank you for the goodness in the world, which is infinite. For people’s kindness and care in difficult times, for the exceptionally bright nights we’ve been having this past week, for the heat in the house, for my eye doctor taking care of my vision, for the texts inquiring how I’m doing, for the butternut squash I have warming up in the oven, the turkey broth I made from last week’s Thanksgiving turkey that soothed me when I was sick.

Stop asking for more all the time, I tell myself. Open your eyes to what’s already here, always available.

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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.

NONVIOLENCE AND PRIVILEGE

Last remaining color in garden

“You are an entitled dog!”

“What do you mean, I’m entitled? I hate that word.”

“You are an entitled dog, Aussie. You do whatever you want when we go on walks, you run after deer, I call you, you don’t listen to me so I have to go looking for you. You just do your thing!”

“Of course, I do my thing—not because I’m entitled but because I’m FREE. This is a free country and I’m a free dog.”

“No, you are an entitled dog. The rules of the game don’t seem to pertain to you.”

“That’s because I’m free. Free to be me. Free to let go of all your rules and behaviors.”

“That’s not what freedom means, Aussie. It doesn’t mean being ignorant or letting go of everything you’ve ever learned, as if you’re living on an island instead of with people. You know, Aussie, after Bernie died, some people referred to him as the freest man they ever met.”

“Because he did whatever he wanted?”

“No. Whatever he chose to do, he always worked inside a framework of rules and regulations, he couldn’t have achieved anything otherwise. What they meant, I believe, is that at any moment he could let go of conditioning, bear witness, and respond in some unexpected way. It’s what often made him funny because he surprised you. But he didn’t run away or not face the consequences of his decisions. There are consequences to what you do, Auss.”

“Like what?”

“Like that I have a bad cold from walking you yesterday afternoon. It was very windy and cold, you ran away, I waited a while till you came back while the freezing gusts went right through me, and a few hours later I got sick. Didn’t get up from bed today till 4, and then only to feed you.”

“An excellent reason to get out of bed. But you didn’t walk me!”

“Because I’m sick, Auss. You reaped the consequences of your actions. Freedom doesn’t mean we’re free of consequences. For instance, it’s hunting season. You could get shot when you chase deer.”

“I’m wearing my orange vest. Besides, I’m into nonviolence, I’m a pacifist dog. Don’t kill deer, just like to chase them.”

“Many people nowadays say they’re into nonviolence, Aussie, like it’s the thing to do. But Gandhi and his followers went through strict training in order to engage nonviolently. So did King and his people. Nonviolence doesn’t mean disengagement or just commenting on social media, it means taking specific actions addressing the situation that don’t cause physical harm to others. That’s not easy to do.”

“But you’re a Buddhist, of course you’re into nonviolence.”

“Not this Buddhist. Some 20 years ago I was walking with a dog—”

“Me?”

“You weren’t even born then. No, it was a neighbor’s dog, and suddenly a big German Shepherd ran down the hill and attacked the dog that was with me. She was very sweet and gentle, and now she was yelping in pain. I was sure he would kill her and without thinking I grabbed whatever lay nearby—it was some dried corn stalk—and hit him on his back with it.”

“You hit the dog?”

“Aussie, it wasn’t even a stick, it was a stalk that you’d barely feel on your furry back, but it caused him to back off and return home. But it could have been a heavy stick that might have hurt him, I acted quickly and automatically to save her, and I could have hurt him, too. That’s how I realized that I’m not trained to act nonviolently. That takes discipline, which I didn’t have then and don’t have now, either.”

“You hit the dog? You’re a brute! You’re savage! You’re a killer.”

“I didn’t kill anyone, Aussie.”

“You could have. You could have.”

“Maybe, I’ll never know. But I got some insight into how I behave when push comes to shove, when I feel my back against the wall or someone I care about is in big trouble, and nonviolence isn’t 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.

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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.

THANKSGIVING

 

I spent the long holiday week (Tuesday through Saturday) in Takoma Park, Maryland, where winter had still not arrived. The temperatures hugged 60 for a few days and the leaves, while dry, still retained their red. Aussie and I arrived there after a long drive to a generous, loving welcome.

And to songs. Lots of them. My 11-year-old grandson blasted out the song Let It Go, from the Disney blockbuster Frozen. Over and over, he’d walk around the house singing it at the top of his lungs, or else he’d offer to do a show after dinner. We’d sit in the living room, he’d put on an instrumental version, leave, re-enter from the side doorway, spread his arms wide, and belt out the song, striding up and down the room like a macho version of Elsa in the show, swinging his left arm up and down, then the right, waving both arms to the sides as though pushing aside a curtain.

Not just Let It Go in English. After that he treats us to his rendition of the song in German, then Hebrew, then Portuguese, and finally, Turkish. Let it go! Let it go! he sings in his high-pitched voice, loud enough to be heard by the entire street. Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!

Letting go is a big practice in Zen, has been for well over a millennium, and refers to letting go of fixed ideas of all kinds, the scaffolding holding up a separate self and personality. But you know that it’s really finally made it when Disney makes of it a huge musical hit, topping all the charts.

In this American can-do culture, everything should be possible if only you’re ready to dream it, work hard, make friends with the right frog, rooster, or tiger, and when you yell that you’ve finally let it go, make sure the warm, black wrap you’ve been wearing to make it up the icy mountains (the movie, after all, is called Frozen for a reason) drops off your shoulders to reveal you in a silver, skin-tight dress. When you’ve let it all go you wind up wearing a strapless containing more jewels than Elizabeth Taylor ever befriended.

Elsa sings of letting go of her family’s training and expectations, their cautions on how to behave like a lady, and now becoming who she really is: wild, emotional, FREE! “The past is in the past,” cries Elsa.

Just make the right wish, maybe go through a couple of challenges and frustrations that you will, of course, overcome since you’re a star, and an hour later it’s done! Presto! You’re free, a hero, beloved and adored, and maybe have found a good-looking guy or gal to boot.

I was amused to hear my grandson sing the song in Hebrew, where let it go was translated into la’azov, which means to leave. As in: Leave behind your family, the people, the past. Leave everything behind you—and fly.

Trouble is, they don’t leave you, even if you think you’re ready to leave them.

Before driving down for Thanksgiving, I had tea with a friend at home. He reminded me that, after Bernie’s stroke, he and his wife would have dinner with him every once in a while, when I was traveling. The food would be ready, and different people, mostly my students or his, would come to warm it up and eat alongside him. At the end he’d thank them, bid them good night, and go upstairs, and they would wash the dishes in the kitchen and leave.

“He said something to me then,” my friend said, “that I can’t forget. He said: ‘There’s one life, and we all share that life.’”

Many years ago, I also wanted to put my family behind me, let it all go, start from scratch, pretend none of it existed. The best thing I’ve ever done was let go of that.

“Sometimes,” I told my grandson after hearing the song in six different languages some 300 times, “it’s imp9ortant to let go of letting go.”

He let go of that advice awfully fast.

Speaking of letting go, next week begins our annual Enlightenment Retreat. Participation is still open, even for part-time attendance, and there are scholarships. Go here for details.

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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.

HUNTING SEASON

“Time to put your phosphorescent green vest on, Aussie.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s deer hunting season.”

“You need a season to hunt deer?”

As white-tailed deer move fast in the forest and the plains, as shots erupt everywhere and Aussie can’t decide whether to stay in the car or join the hunt, we’re also entering a season, a season of thanksgiving. I don’t think I remember one as challenging as this year’s.

Later today I’ll head down to NY to stay overnight with friends and continue down tomorrow morning to Takoma Park, Maryland, right on the border of Washington, DC, home to Alisa Glassman and her family. Till Bernie died, the family always came up here for Thanksgiving. After he died, Aussie and I drive down.

“That means no off-leash walks till Sunday,” I warn her.

“But no hunters,” she replies happily. She hates the sound of guns.

Giving thanks isn’t coming easily. I feel a weight inside on account of my family living in Israel, as well as  Palestinian friends, and even the gut feeling that the Middle East is not past the worst, worse may still be ahead. Unless both sides crash into a wall.

Bernie, an American football fan, likes to tell the story of a not particularly smart fullback who got the football and ran with it to the end line for a touchdown, but continued running hard till he rammed straight into the wall separating fans from the field and got knocked out. He finally got up after a few minutes, dizzy and bleary-eyed, shook his head, and said to his teammates: “Boy, they’ve got some linebacker there!” He was convinced he’d run into a player from the other team when he’d really run into the wall.

Armies and militias fight and hurt one another, but on another level, they’re running into walls: the limits of what they can do without incurring huge losses, the limits of what any military can do when what’s at stake is a political, not a military, solution.

I give thanks not by mechanically rolling off all the different things I’m grateful for—my home, the dogs, family, practice, dinner last night with Jimena and Byron Pareja. It’s the small things, like holding Llama Louie when Henry brings it to me to throw for the 5,340th time on a Sunday morning, admiring its green and red colors and the squeaks (not in Tibetan) as I throw it for the little dog. I connect with Henry’s shiny, happy eyes, the soft growl in his throat, the sounds of Aussie gnawing contently on her Sunday morning marrow bone behind us.

I connect and laugh with Antonio, who came to help us finally get rid of massive piles of autumn leaves, and with the earth whose green color I haven’t seen for two months, long grass nuzzling at my shins. Being hugged by grandson Milo, who gives the best hugs.

My brain makes up an encyclopedic list of the ingredients constituting my rich and happy life, but my heart is into connecting with small things, including the voices of family and friends from across the country, across the world.

And the Middle East? Violence seems to have its sway now. I settle back, gathering my strength. Get the leaves out, clean the house, take care of people, prepare for retreat in December, and be ready, because there will be a change. There will be a change.

As part of this week of Thanksgiving, I ask you to please support this blog with a donation. I just wrote a well-earned check to Silvana Gravini, who manages my blog and website, and will be paying more soon. The blog is free to every reader—and it needs support, like everyone and everything else in this universe. I’m grateful for my usual three posts a week, they force me to look inside, clarify, and articulate emotions that are often mixed and jumbled. They force me to connect with readers and the outside world, rather than staying private and quiet.

The words aren’t always the right words, the map isn’t the life. What do I trust? Where the words come from.

So yes, on this day when I begin my drive south, feeling deep gratitude to you faithful readers who follow the crooked, meandering path of one woman’s life, please consider making a donation to this blog by using the button below.

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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.

TRAUMA

“Aussie, let’s play.”

“Get away from me, varmint Chihuahua. I’m traumatized.”

“From what, Aussie?”

“From going to the vet.”

“Oh oh. Did they give you shots, Aussie?”

“No shots.”

“I got 2 shots when I went and had to lie on my chair for the rest of the day. Any bloodwork? They stuck me all over because they couldn’t find my veins, they’re so small.”

“No bloodwork.”

“Did they find any parasites?”

“I didn’t give them any shit, Henry.”

“No shit sample?”

“I held it in and held it in, till finally it came out. Only guess what? There are so many dried leaves on the ground your Senora couldn’t find it. There she is, bent low over the ground, holding a bag in her hands. What are you doing, I ask her. I’m looking for your shit to bring the vet, she says, only I can’t find it.”

“No shit, Aussie.”

“That’ll teach her.”

“No parasites, no painful bloodwork, no shots, so what’s the problem?”

”I had to stand there and get fully inspected, Illegal Chihuahua. She opened my lips to look at my teeth, she peered through a telescope to look into my ears, she hung lights in front of my eyes and swung them around like it was Christmas, she felt my ribs, took a sample of my gorgeous, shiny black hair—it was agony, I tell you!”

“But what hurt, Aussie?”

“Nothing, but I was traumatized. I haven’t been this traumatized since I forgot where I buried my marrow bone last Sunday.”

“It’s right under the forsythia, Aussie, I dug it up.”

You dug it up? A little varmint like you dug up my marrow bone?”

“Don’t get upset, Aussie, the yard is full of buried marrow bones, the ones buried by Stanley, Bubale, all our ancestors. The Senora says that Stanley loved to dig up Bubale’s marrow bones and give them a last chew.”

“Intergenerational trauma! I knew it, I just knew I was suffering from that.”

“How can you tell, Aussie?”

“Things happen that have no explanation, varmint. I’m lying down on the leaves in back, taking a nap under the sun, and suddenly I feel cold all over.”

“Because a cloud came by, Aussie?”

“No cloud, just suddenly beset by existential questions: Who am I? Why am I alive? Or sometimes I’m running like the wind while you’re chasing me, and you catch me.”

“Because I’m fast, Aussie.”

“You—fast? With those tiny legs? No way Jose, it’s because of intergenerational trauma. One of my ancestors probably ran away from something, was caught, and eaten. Since then, I don’t feel like running too much.“

“What about eating, Aussie?”

“No problem with eating.”

“But who could it have been, Aussie? Not Stanley, not the pit bull Bubale, not the hound dog Muji, not the golden Wordsworth. Who did that happen to?”

“You don’t get it, do you, fly brain? I don’t know. That’s what intergenerational trauma does to you, Henry, you know it’s there even when you can’t figure how it happened, see?  When something doesn’t make sense, you just know it’s intergenerational trauma. Why don’t I like carrots? Why don’t I like potatoes?”

“I love carrots. I love potatoes when they’re fried.”

“I must have been traumatized by veggies when I was a pup because I don’t like any.”

“You eat grass, Aussie.”

“Or maybe one of my ancestors ate only veggies, didn’t get any other food, and that causes me now to hate veggies, see?”

“Wow, Aussie, I never knew you bore so much trauma. The vet told me I have a liver condition, but she said you’re healthy. Who knew you suffer so much?”

“Don’t ask, varmint. Trauma is a terrible thing. It’s EXISTENTIAL!”

“What does that mean, Aussie?”

“How should I know? Is my name Jean-Paul Sartre? But take my word for it, varmint, it’s worse than any liver condition.”

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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.

MAP-MAKING

Visiting Bethlehem in the West Bank with Sami Awad.

Earlier today I wrote a letter to The Montague Reporter, the wonderful local paper delivered to my mailbox every Friday morning, in response to a column they ran dealing with the war in the Middle East.

The columnist wrote about the importance of obtaining a cease-fire in Gaza. Beyond that, she wrote, it was crucial to work towards a permanent peace, with Israelis and Palestinians living in freedom and equality. So far, so good. But then she mentioned that Israel is, “like the United States, a settler-colonial nation.”

In my letter, I asked: Who are the people indigenous to the Holy Land? Both Israelis and Palestinians can trace their genetic origins to the old inhabitants of the Levant known as Canaanites, and to those even earlier. So, who is more indigenous than whom? There is clearly a travesty happening in the West Bank, encroachment not just by settlers but also abetted by government and the army. You can call it many things—highway robbery comes to mind. But colonialism?

I find myself shaking my head at the conceptual paradigms we’ve created to describe characteristics in our country, e.g., colonialism, racism, etc., and then applying them blindly to other parts of the world. I can sympathize with the dream of forming a global partnership of people who suffer from discrimination, food and water insecurity, the lack of medical infrastructures, and of course, war. But in doing that we run the risk of overlooking the big differences and complexities that come out of our various countries, religions, and cultures.

We start believing that labels matter. That maps are the world, rather than just maps.

Over 50 years ago I was in Jerusalem and went to the Temple Mount, where I was allowed to go (an increasingly rare opportunity), as well as to the Wailing Wall. At the entrance to the Wall was a booth selling tickets for a tour of archeological discoveries that had been made under the Wall. I joined the group.

The tour guide took us deep underground, passing by and pointing to various artifacts and spaces uncovered by archeologists depicting Jewish life in Jerusalem several thousand years ago. Finally, he brought us to a small auditorium, we took our seats, and he pointed to a diorama of old Jerusalem as uncovered by archeologists. Every inch of it related to ancient Jewish-Israeli life: the living quarters of the priests and Levites, holding pens for animals brought for sacrifice, and of course, the Temple itself.

At the end, the tour guide announced happily: “They dug and dug and dug, and they uncovered the entire city as it existed then, inhabited by the people of Israel at that time. No one can say we have no right to this land.”

I raised my hand. “Did they dig any deeper than that?” and I pointed to the diorama.

“Any deeper?” he asked doubtfully.

“To see what was underneath,” I said.

“There was nothing underneath,” he said brusquely.

Israel has highly professional archeologists, with the best survey and study instruments. But the tour guide had no real interest in digging up the past. He was interested in a map of the past, not the real thing.

When I told my sister the story of that underground tour, she laughed hard. “That’s you, Eve,” she said. “When nobody else says anything, you can depend on Eve to be the lone voice of dissent.”

You see, my sister also has a map of me. But it ain’t me, it’s just a map.

Actions relating to colonialism, racism, or genocide cause horrific harm. For that very reason we have to be careful about the labels we bandy about, the vast generalizations we make across nations and cultures. There’s nothing wrong with maps, we all make them up in our heads, but they ain’t life. They’re not the real thing.

I was moved reading about President Barack Obama’s talk with 200 members of his old White House staff a week or so ago, when he urged them to study and learn more about the history and sociology of the Middle East, especially the many threads and nuances that come together there. If you don’t do that, he warned, you get into “sloganeering.” His word, not mine.

And in that spirit, I got an email from the managing editor of The Montague Reporter, who took the trouble to look up census and DNA data to check on what I had written in my  letter, and found errors. He suggested I fix them, and he’ll publish it. I was thrilled. It’s nice to publish in a newspaper I love and subscribe to, but more so that someone took the trouble to check up and correct me. Thank you, thank you, Mike Jackson.

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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.

YOU BELONG HERE

I took a photo of the creek that’s part of the conservancy at the center of my small town. Even as the water temperature is slightly above freezing in the mornings, Aussie still splashes in, especially if she’s after deer. And indeed, today, the cold water rushed by, two white tails bobbed up above the brush and Aussie chased them, barking that high-pitched, overjoyed  bark announcing that she’s found her true calling and essence. Reminding me that she’ll come back only later, when she’s ready.

Around us are dark crimson leaves, as dry as could be, hanging on literally for dear life before calling it quits.

When you live in the country, it’s easy to feel that you’re the guest. That the winds, trees, sky, birds and even the animals own this, and you’re the guest. A blustery wind brought us cold weather overnight and the chimes hanging in the front didn’t stop ringing all night.

In the morning I get up, walk to the window, look out, and it’s as if I ask: Is it okay that I’m still here? And the answer is always Yes, you belong here. Joanna Macy says that a lot, that we all belong here. I am humbled by this generosity.

Precisely because I’m not the landlord, there’s often a sense of something that needs to be done, a relationship that needs to be cultivated with everything around me, as if we’re all living in the same building so we have to make it work, all of us together somehow. There’s no illusion of owning or dominating anything, it’s up to me to fit in and find my place.

Living in New York City, you want to make the city work for you. And the more money you have, the more youth, if you could walk faster, get more and more done, buy more, fit in gallery openings, concerts, nightclubs—you make the city work for you.

Why am I taking the time to appreciate all this now? Why am I doing this while a war rages on in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in Sudan, with a mass expulsion of Afghans from Pakistan? Why then feel deeper appreciation than ever for the shorter days and the longer nights, and the dogs’ mad rush through our carpet of colored leaves in back? They love the crackle and crinkle of it under their paws, and Henry will often pause in the middle of a run, lie on his back, and wave his paws gleefully up in the air.

Because, as my friend Russell Delman reminded me, it is precisely at these times that we have to expand our consciousness to include joy.

Till now I have wrestled with and written about how hard it is to keep more than one narrative in my heart. Every phone call to my family in Israel brings up stress and anxiety and, yes, shock, even now. I don’t have anyone to call in Gaza, I have to make do with online accounts, videos and photos, and those tug at me equally hard. The numbers of the wounded and dead are staggering, the lack of resolution discouraging.

But Russell was right, I have to expand my consciousness beyond events in Gaza and Israel, or at least center some of it here, with the change in seasons, the early sunset and late sunrise, the sight of Aussie proudly digging up a baby chipmunk and letting it go when I yell at her. Remembering that being shattered by certain events goes along with keeping the heart open, letting that heart respond to birdsong as much as it responds to videos of wounded children and wailing mothers.

It’s part of answering Annie Lamott’s question: How alive am I willing to be?

I’d rather derive my impetus for action from gratitude than from guilt, from richness of soul than from a mournful spirit, from a joyful realization of the immeasurable whole than from gloomy frustration and a self-protective shell.

Tomorrow, Thursday, at 11:00 am US Eastern time, the Zen Peacemakers will host a conversation on the Middle East comprising various peace activists. You can join for free by going to their website, www.zenpeacemakers.org, scrolling down to Community Events, registering, and receiving a link.

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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.

MORE TRAUMA

Happy Birthday to me!

“Aussie, you look terrible! What happened to you?”

“I had a big fight on my hands, Illegal Chihuahua, the biggest of all. It was an EXISTENTIAL THREAT! I struggled and fought like a maniac, my life was at stake. I almost didn’t make it.”

“Aussie, were you in Gaza?”

“Not in Gaza, Illegal.”

“I know, you were in Ukraine. It’s terrible there.”

“Worse than Ukraine.”

“Sudan? Niger? An English Premier League football game?”

“Worse. I was at the car wash.”

“The car wash, Aussie?”

She, your beloved Senora, took me to the car wash, Illegal, even though she knows it’s a place of shock and trauma. You know how certain humans get traumatized by what happened in death camps years ago? That’s how I was traumatized by the car wash.”

“What happened, Supreme Being?”

“Some time ago she took the car and me into the automatic car wash and left the back window open. Soap blasted its way in, and I turned all white. Your Senora looks at the rearview mirror and says, ‘Aussie, how did you get so white suddenly?’”

“What did you say, Aussie?”

“I said: ‘You left the window open, moron!’”

“You called the Senora a moron?”

“Imagine that you’ve been black all your life—after all, I am half German Shepherd, Henry—and suddenly you’ve turned white!”

“It’s beyond imagination, Aussie. A catastrophe!”

“Exactly my point, Chihuahua.”

“What did the Senora do?”

“She laughed, Henry, she laughed! Imagine that. I am traumatized, and she laughs.”

“But what happened now?”

“Today we started with the vacuuming. She tells me to go to the front seat and stay there while she vacuums the back seat. Have you ever heard a commercial vacuum cleaner, Henry? You would go deaf in a minute. I tried to escape but I couldn’t get out the door. Then she tells me to go to the back seat while she cleans out the front. Do I make trouble? I do not. I do just as I’m told. I tell her: ‘I’ll do anything you want, just don’t go through the Tunnel of Horrors, the automatic car wash.’ Does she listen to me?”

“Of course, she does. The Senora loves you.”

“She drives right into the automatic car wash. At least this time she remembered to shut all the windows, but you should see it, Henry. First, black arms open up from the sides and release a stream of water. There is thunder and a light show—”

“A light show, Aussie?”

“They use soap with different colors now, Henry, so the windows fill up with color while thunder crashes all around. Lucky for me, I’m mostly color blind. I don’t notice most of it anyway because I jump from the back seat to the front seat to the back seat to the front seat to the—”

“What happens then, Supreme Being?”

“A typhoon, Henry, that’s what happens. Monsoons and hurricanes. Walls of water, squalls of water!”

“Did you drown?”

“I was too busy hopping from the back seat to the front seat to the back, etc. Climate change is real, Illegal Chihuahua. I went through a Category 10 Hurricane in that carwash. No place to go, no place is safe.”

“Gaza may be safe.”

“Why, Henry?”

“Because they have no water.”

“Henry, Gaza is nothing like the car wash. No catastrophe is like the car wash. And you know what came after? Hot winds! Gales of hot winds came out of those black arms and almost blew all of us to Oz.”

“Where’s Oz, Aussie?”

“It’s where everything that’s lost ends up. I tell you, Henry, humans have come up with evil things, but nothing, nothing, as evil as the car wash.”

“The Senora says she doesn’t believe in evil.”

“She is not to be trusted, Henry. Now I must be off.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m off to see Fido Tail-Wagger.”

“The Medicine Mutt? Is he doing ceremony for you, Aussie?”

“He’s praying for me, Illegal. He’s praying that carwashes burn in hell.”

“Will we then have peace, Aussie?”

“I doubt it, Illegal. Leave it to humans, they’ll always think of something.”

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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.