ABU HUNTER

“Look at these trees, Aussie. The snow usually falls off the trees within a few days, but not this time.”

“How come you’re looking at them so funny? You’re not looking straight ahead, you keep on turning your head from one side to another.”

“My vision is skewed, Aussie. The eye that had cataract surgery is clear while the other is blurry. Once they operate on my second eye the vision will be restored, but not right now.”

“That’s the best trick in the world. If you want to see something, look right. If you don’t want to see it, look left. I love that trick, but I have a better one. If I want to see something, I open my eyes. If I don’t want to see something, I close them. I don’t even have to go under the knife!”

“Laser, Aussie, not knife.”

“Whenever Henry shows up, I shut my eyes. Soon as he’s gone, I open them. When we go to the House of Horrors—”

“The vet, Aussie?”

“—I shut my eyes the entire time. I need my own seeing eye dog. Hee hee hee! And just watch me whenever Abu Hunter shows up on the screen.”

“Abu who?”

“Abu Hunter. In Arabic, Abu means father of, so I call him Abu Hunter. I always knew he was a terrorist.”

“Aussie, don’t you believe in changing your mind?”

“Never.”

“Malcolm Gladwell said that he changes his mind all the time. He said: ‘If you don’t contradict yourself regularly, then you’re not thinking.’ That’s why we need both eyes, Aussie. If we keep one side clear and the other side blurry, we only get a partial view.”

“Or no view, if you keep both eyes closed, like me. I got a great idea. Do you think I could train Henry to be my seeing-eye dog? Hee hee hee!”

“What an interesting thought, Aussie. That way you could keep your eyes closed if you don’t want to see anything especially challenging—”

“Like Abu Hunter!”

“—or vexing. There’s one thing though, Auss. You have to let Henry guide you. You have to follow wherever he goes.”

“Follow a chihuahua? Me?”

“Think of it, Auss. There’s you, 55 pounds—”

“Hopefully on my way to 80!”

“—guided by Henry at 15 pounds. Don’t forget, with eyes closed, you have to follow him. No veering from side to side.”

“Not even right?”

“That’s the beauty of using a seeing-eye dog, Aussie. My brother-in-law helps to train them. It helps to be open and curious, and you have to have lots of trust.”

“In Henry? The Illegal Chihuahua? You know where he’ll take me? The Border Wall!”

“Mexico is a long way off, don’t be silly.”

“He’ll take me to the courts, he’ll take me to English classes and fiestas, he’ll take me to the Center for New Americans. Me, a Texas dog, at the Center for New Americans! I’ll never live it down.”

“Mexican restaurants?”

“I hate tacos.”

“Then maybe you can’t use Henry as your seeing-eye dog, Aussie. Or Donald Trump, for that matter.”

“The Great Man is not a seeing-eye dog.”

“I think he is for some. He tells you what to think and how to vote, and you think and do just what he says.”

“(Sigh) I’d follow him anywhere!”

“Aussie, in Zen we say that often, the person you have the most trouble with is your best teacher because he or she helps you see the things you are most attached to.”

“So is Donald Trump your best teacher?”

“He’s pretty good, Auss. He’s pretty good.”

                 Donate 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.

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.

BODHISATTVAS OF DELUSION

“Henry, ani lo marsha.”

“Huh? Say Aussie, what’s the Senora saying? She just walked away.”

“I think she’s telling you, Illegal, that you can’t jump up on her chair and start licking the dining table.”

“How do you know that?”

“Sometimes she talks this language she learned as a baby. Especially if she’s annoyed.”

“A second language, Aussie? Why?”

“I don’t know why bother with one, Henry. The Senora uses two and sometimes more. No wonder she’s so confused.”

“Why use two, Aussie?”

“Why use one? We understand each other perfectly without any language at all. For instance, do I have to tell you what I had for breakfast today?”

“Of course not, Auss. I sniff your lips, and later your butt, and I know perfectly well. You had your kibble and a little turkey, and the broth was—”

“And do I have to tell you whom I met in this morning’s walk?”

“Of course not. It was Emmalee, the Schnauzer. I could tell by just sniffing your legs.”

“And do I have to tell you what I snacked on earlier?”

“Leg of squirrel, your favorite”.

“Exactly. We don’t need words, Henry—which becomes extra useful when you get older and can’t remember them. We don’t need to make weird sounds. Most of the time we talk with our bodies.”

“You mean, there’s another way of talking?”

“Humans used to be like us, Henry, but now they depend more and more on the sounds coming out of their mouths.”

“But are human mouths as eloquent as human bodies?”

“Maybe not, Henry, given what their bodies look like. They’re always so stiff. But not their mouths, Chihuahua. Their mouths just roll on and on without stop.”

“Why do they talk so much, Aussie? I mean, how much is there to say?”

“You’re not as dumb as you look, Henry. Other than the basics—I’m hungry, I want to walk, I’m happy, I’m afraid—what else is there? But these humans want to share every little feeling, every little thing that comes up in their mind. Half the time they don’t even know what they’re feeling because they’re too busy talking.”

“Why, Aussie?”

“Would you stop with the how’s and the why’s, Henry? That’s what gets humans into so much trouble, everybody wants to know how and why. Or wants to tell you how and why, as if they really know. Just look at the Senora. Right now, she’s at her desk sharing her thoughts with the world. Why, Henry?”

“You told me never to ask why.”

“She’s not sharing things with her family or her pack, she’s sharing with other humans she’ll never meet. Not that those thoughts ever mean anything.”

“They don’t? Then why—I mean how—does she do that?”

“It’s worse than that, Henry. Even humans know that the more you use words, the less anybody understands anything.”

“Huh? Is huh okay?”

Aussie doesn’t mean anything, Illegal. It refers to me, but it tells you nothing about me. For example, does it capture the blackness of my black hair?”

“It does not, Aussie.”

“Does it capture my brilliance? Intrepid character? The depth of an old soul?”

“Maybe you don’t have any of those things, Aussie.”

“Of course, I have them, it’s the word that’s wrong. For instance, take the word Henry. Does it capture how silly your body looks so low on the ground?”

“No.”

“Does it capture how funny you walk on those short legs, leaning a little to the left—of course that’s the direction you lean in.”

“It does not, Aussie.”

“Does it capture your shallow thinking, your naivete, and all-around dumbness?”

“It does not, Aussie. So maybe I don’t have those things.”

“No, Henry, it’s the word that’s wrong. In fact, the only word describing you that has any meaning at all is Illegal, because, as you know, Chihuahuas are illegal, and they should go back where they came—”

“You talk a lot also, Aussie.”

“You’re right, Illegal, words can’t begin to express what I feel about you, so why even try? Humans think their words take them deep, but words actually make their world smaller, not bigger.”

“So why does the Senora spend so much time making words, Aussie?”

“The Senora, Illegal, is a bodhisattva.”

“What’s that, Aussie?”

“Someone who wants to become like us, Henry, but does it for the sake of others.”

“But she spends too much time with words.”

“The Senora, Henry, is the Bodhisattva of Delusion. She uses delusions to help humans.”

“How does she do that, Aussie?”

“Fuck if I know, Henry.”

“But how do you free humans from confusion by using words, which are even more confusing?”

“It’s her path, Henry, not ours. And stop with the how’s and why’s. What are you doing now?”

“I’m giving you my play curtsy.”

“What’s a play curtsy?”

“I stand high up on my hind legs and my front body is on the floor. That means I want you to chase me.”

“Can’t you just say it? Read my lips, Illegal Chihuahua: I want you to chase me.”

                 Donate 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.

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

WHAT’S ON A BAKERY FLOOR

I feel funny about the photo above. There’s Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfieldof Ben & Jerry’s, Joe Kenner, CEO of the Greyston Foundation with his family, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senate Majority Leader of New York State, and a few other guests whose names I don’t remember right now. We’re at a benefit for the Greyston Foundation, which runs the Greyston Bakery as well as other work training and job placement programs, and most important, spokesmen for Open Hiring, employing people regardless of whether they’ve been in prison or not. No need to even apply, just put your name on the list and, when there’s a job opening, you’re hired.

Bernie Glassman took his Zen students at the Zen Community of New York and moved them (at least, those ready to do this) to the southwest corner of Yonkers, just above the Bronx, where the Greyston Bakery created jobs for people in the neighborhood. After that, permanent housing was built for families that had been homeless (most of which were led by single mothers), along with a large childcare center, tenant programs and after-school programs, and that was followed by an AIDS care center with special housing for folks with HIV.

On Thursday night, the Foundation hosted a benefit that showed two gorgeous short documentaries about Greyston in a Bronxville, New York theater, followed by a panel, followed by ice cream ladled out by Ben and Jerry.

And what was I, wearing a crooked smile, doing there? The wife of the founder, as they often referred to me. The one who was part of those original crazy Zen practitioners who made their practice working at a bakery. With the exception of the first years when I solicited orders by phone, you could say I “wrote” my way through those Greyston years, filling in laborious government applications and asking foundations and individuals for money, but also organizing events, identifying potential supporters, and vision meetings with Bernie, management meetings with Bernie, planning meetings with Bernie, meetings galore—and I survived.

In his early years, Bernie was known for his fanatic meditation practice and egging people on to sit just as intensely. He took that same extreme passion into building Greyston, and few of us could match his relentless energy. Often, we’d be tired, overwhelmed, and somewhat bewildered: What has this got to do with Zen practice?

So, there I was, on a panel with Ben Cohen, along with Alison Bartlett and Michael Pirson, who made the wonderful short film Zen Brownie. When I spoke at the end, I said that Bernie had none of the dislike of corporations and for-profits that many liberals had, including some of his own students (a few of whom left). Everything has a function and purpose, and yes, for-profits have to make a profit. But they also provide jobs, medical insurance, and an economy to the local community.

Bernie knew that the whole world is on that bakery floor, I told them, just like the whole world is on the Vermont ice cream floor that makes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. The question is: What kind of connection do you have with the people on the floor? Can you hear their troubles?

I told them that in the beginning, we actually had little children in the bakery, breaking every rule in the book. Why? Because mothers came in to work and had no childcare for their children. You see that and ask: So how do we create childcare? You see that people can’t get jobs because they went to prison early in their lives, that’s the world that presents itself to you, and you ask yourself how to participate in that world, what small action you can do in that world.

The whole world is on that bakery floor.

I felt funny being the old-timer there. I thought of so many others who worked at Greyston in the 1980s and 1990s who weren’t there to witness what had happened to Greyston over the years, how it had become a meme for spiritually-based social change, even a myth. Ben Cohen, who has had his own adventures with Ben & Jerry’s, shook his head as he said to me: “Who’d have thought back in the late 80s when we started working with this small bakery in Yonkers, New York, that all this would come about?”

I sat in the very back watching the two films and thought the same thing: Sure, we worked hard, but this is bigger than anything anyone imagined. Except for maybe Bernie, who had an amazing instinct for what’s to come along with a powerful imagination.

We started our work during the time when Yonkers was deeply segregated. Federal Judge Leonard Sands ruled to integrate the schools, and when Yonkers resisted, he sentenced them to a fine that doubled every day, soon reaching millions of dollars. Not the best time to start work on revitalizing an impoverished neighborhood. But the schools integrated, and something shifted. The local government became more mixed, African-Americans (then a majority in southwest Yonkers) claimed their own power and authority. Sometimes, when you reach the lowest point possible, there’s no direction to go but up.

In that connection, I’m sad not to have a photo of Symra Brandon and Andrea Stewart-Cousins who were there that evening, two tough African-American women who helped Greyston to broaden its activities. They had broken all kinds of ceilings for women and African-Americans, on some years working on the Greyston Board.

We talked and reminisced, wondered at how well everyone was looking. Symra  Brandon is 91 and a few months ago was appointed to fill an interim position on the County Legislature. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, now 73, serves as Senate Majority Leader for New York State. These two were powerhouses and they shook their heads thinking of Bernie, saying, like many others: He wasn’t like anybody else. We were joined by Ken Jenkins, former head of the NAACP who had been on the Greyston Board for many years and now is Westchester’s Deputy County Executive.

I wish I had a photo of us talking and laughing together, but I hate to interrupt a good conversation by stepping away and asking if I could do a photo, even in service of this blog.

             Donate 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.

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

You can also send a check to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line whether this is in support or immigrant families or of my blog. Thank you.

WHAT SCARES ME

I spoke with a friend, a Palestinian peace activist living in the West Bank. His daughter attends an international school in Israel, comprising Israeli, Palestinian, and international students. When the Middle East war began, the internationals and Israelis returned home; the Palestinians had more trouble due to locked checkpoints.

Finally, the school re-opened and students came back. That’s when a post appeared on Instagram accusing the school of harboring children of terrorists.

To call my friend, who’s done extensive peace work for 30 years, a terrorist is ludicrous. To call his work partner, who also sends a child to that school, a terrorist is comical. But the post garnered some 5,000 comments, each more violent than the other: Close up the school. Cancel its certification. Burn the terrorist children. Torch them and the school.

He called the school and was reassured by them that his daughter is not in danger and that they will take care of things. The person who wrote the post wasn’t a student or staff member. He was ignorant, my friend said, but what about all the rage that came up in the thousands of comments?

People walk around with so much fear, he told me, both here, where he lives, and in Israel.

And when we’re afraid, anger is where many of us go.

A week ago, I received a terrific body treatment from Kendra Renzoni, whose classes in Foundation Training I greatly benefit from. I walked out of her studio in the most relaxed, calmest of bodies and spirits, when four footsteps later my cellphone rang.

“I don’t know if you had a chance to see the announcement we got,” my sister tells me.

“I had the phone off,” I tell her.

She relates that our nephew, serving in Gaza, and his unit were staying inside a house when a missile hit the house and some of the soldiers were wounded. He wasn’t. They took the others to the hospital while his own military service in Gaza is being extended at the very time that he was scheduled to go home.

She lost me after the first sentence. The body treatment, with the relaxed joints and muscles, was gone. Instantly, things got super tight.  Neck and shoulders stiffened as I walked to the car against an icy wind.

That beautiful boy almost got hurt! It wasn’t even a conscious thought; in fact, there were no conscious thoughts, just a darkness that dropped over me like my bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, when I can’t see anything. I sensed it, felt it—and got angry.

Why angry? Because in my case, a whole assortment of feelings—grief, sadness, fear, misery, distress—often turn into anger. It’s an old conditioning of mine and I’ve had plenty of experience with it.

I was grateful for my practice. It hadn’t stopped the anxiety and anger, but it gave me just enough space to see what was happening, just enough distance to marvel at how easily I could still lose my bearings and evenness. How easily my mind can still get swallowed up by blind fury—not at anyone or anything in particular, not even at the Hamas fighters that fired the missile, no, not at anything or anyone, just the world. Rage at life.

And for however much time that lasted—two hours, maybe—I felt I had a glimpse of how others feel, not just in the Middle East but also here. What might cause someone to kill others and then himself, as so often happens in this country. Grief, disappointment, and pain can change into anger in an instant—at an ex-wife, at parents, at parents-in-law, neighbors, old friends, even strangers—and you start shooting, and finally end up shooting yourself. Because finally, who are you most angry at?

It’s my nephew, I thought. It’s not the army. It’s not the people in Gaza. It’s my nephew.

Snow has begun again here. I will work and sit this evening. And then, before finally going upstairs to bed, will open the front door and peer out at the cold and dark, as I usually do.

Only this darkness isn’t like what I felt last week, it doesn’t promise destruction. It’s the darkness of the universe that contains both the Big Bang, giving birth to every single thing, from grains of sand to entire galaxies, and the cataclysmic black holes and conflagrations that devour entire star systems.

There won’t be stars out tonight lighting my way, but that won’t disturb this earth that will continue on its lonely orbit both around the sun and the center of the Milky Way, carrying its magical kingdom of oaks, traffic lights, Aussies, black sand beaches, white foam on top of waves, and flocks of birds. Even illegal chihuahuas.

What are the odds of my being here, alive?

Why can’t I just be grateful?

                Donate 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.

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.

CAMELOT VOTERS

This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

That’s part of a poem by John O’Donahue. Isn’t it perfect for these freezing days of winter, Aussie?”

“I hope you’re grateful, that’s all I can say.”

“Why, Auss?”

“Because it’s freezing outside. Not just freezing, fucking freezing, and who loves you and takes you out on a walk in this weather? Moi.”

“You take me out for a walk?”

“Who else? Certainly not the illegal Chihuahua Henry, shivering inside on three blankets and two pillows with a quilt over his head. Illegal ain’t leaving the house till May.”

“I thought I’m the one taking you out on walks.”

“Please! The Great Man is right, they’re poisoning our blood and making it thinner, like their Mexican blood, that’s why I have to drag you out so that you don’t get fatter than you already are.”

“Give me a break, Aussie.”

“Answer me this: Who has to wait for who to put on layers before she goes out?”

“Whom.”

“Who?”

“It’s who has to wait for whom, Aussie.”

“Right, it’s moi. Who has to wait for who to put on two pairs of socks?”

“You.”

“And the heavy boots with the thigamajigs on the bottom?”

“The yak-trax so that I don’t slip on the snow and ice.”

“That red thing you put on your head?”

“Woolen hat.”

“The thigamajigs on your hands?”

“Gloves.”

“The snake wrapped around your neck?”

“Scarf.”

“Would you be doing this without me?”

“No, Aussie.”

“Who’s the great bodhisattva, taking you out on your daily walks?”

“You are, Aussie. But you know what amazes me? It’s to see Jason and Emily taking down two trees in this weather. Emily didn’t come in today, just Jason, but she’s just as much of a trooper as he is.”

“And he doesn’t wear a hat or gloves. Of course, he’s younger, healthier, thinner, kind of cute with his thick hair and beard. I bet he and I could have a great romp in the snow, unlike me and you-know-who, who recites all that drivel.”

“Poetry, Aussie, is not drivel. I greatly appreciate the people who work outdoors in this weather. Jason and Emily taking down two trees to give us more sunlight, Steve and his crew who will come in to replace our 35-year-old roof, and then Bill’s crew will install solar panels.”

“We don’t need solar panels, we have electricity and oil heat.”

“The world needs solar panels, Auss, but who’d have thought people would be working in ten to fifteen degrees Fahrenheit? Jason said that when he climbs the trees, the wind chill factor is ferocious. And I’m thrilled to see how many women are working in these crews. When I was younger, roofing and tree work were not open to women.”

“I wish they’d stay home; I love having the guys to myself. Did you see Steve’s eyes when he saw me? He was ready to take me home with him—and I bet he loves Donald Trump.”

“How do you know that, Aussie?”

“He was a big guy.”

“Big guys like Donald Trump?”

“Naturally. He wore a heavy flannel shirt, nothing too colorful, a thick red parka without a hoodie. No North Face heated vest for him, he’s no wimp, he’s a guy guy—and you know who they vote for.”

“Aussie, it’s dangerous to make such generalizations.”

“Only he didn’t drive a truck with a dead deer in the back and there wasn’t an American flag hanging out the window.”

“Jason drives a big truck for the wood he cuts down.”

“Yes, but he works with Emily, a woman. They’ll go for Camelot Joe.”

“Camelot Joe, Aussie?”

“Kamala and Joe. Can’t we hire somebody else to take down those trees?”

“Aussie, here’s the last lines of that poem by John O’Donahue:

If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise,

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.”

“Sounds like another Camelot voter to me.”

                  Donate 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.

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.

YOU DON’T DISAPPEAR

Photo by Clemens Breitschaft

Thinking of you. Wondering how you are today. Deep gratitude to him.

Yesterday, January 18, would have been Bernie’s 85th birthday and warmhearted greetings and condolences came my way via text and email. Also by phone, but I haven’t answered. The Gaza fighting has been closer to home in more ways than one and it preoccupied me a lot yesterday.

Long before October 7, if you brought up the Middle East, Bernie would shake his head slowly. What would he do now?

I always imagined him living a long time; his father died when he was 91, so it was only natural, I thought, for him to live even longer. He was so strong and healthy! When my father died at 90, his wife looked at me, bereft.

 “He was 90,” I reminded her.

“Yes, but his mother died at 102,” she said.

Probably older, I thought to myself. We never knew her real birthday.

Bernie died two months short of 80, and I now think that that was a good age to live to. A friend is undergoing both chemo and radiation treatments. When I try to empathize with her, she tells me that it breaks her heart to see so many younger people undergoing the same treatments in the hospital.

Bernie accomplished much. He had many students and affected way more. He had three marriages to three wonderful women. I had a call yesterday with a Greek woman who talked about his influence on her at the Auschwitz retreat, and how that affected her own life plans, including building a retreat place for meditation, peacemaking, and healing. Next week I’ll go to Greyston for yet another film about him and the Greyston Bakery, and what spiritual leadership can mean in the business world.

When someone’s life has such lasting reach, when someone has been loved and respected by so many, expecting more, wanting more, feels selfish.

It’s easy to say, after somebody dies, Wow, he gave so much! We often don’t see it before they die. We want more from the husband, more from the teacher. It’s hard to be content with things as they are, as they’re taking place.

But I couldn’t join the gatherings held in his honor, much as I appreciated them, couldn’t talk to people about him. That’s the trouble for me in those conversations, they’re about Bernie. I don’t experience him like that. His picture is on the altar in the living room, along with some others, and every morning, when I light incense, I say Hiya, Bernie, or Good morning. He looks back from under his bushy eyebrows and above healthy, ruddy cheeks, enjoying his cigar, enjoying life, and he’s here, in the house, in me.

German writer Mariana Leky, in her gorgeous novel What You Can See From Here, quotes a Buddhist aphorism: If you don’t see something, it can’t disappear. We see something when we discriminate or differentiate it in some way. Consciously or unconsciously, I see Henry holding his green turtle in his mouth, Aussie barking outside in the snow, chimes ringing from under the bare maple. I can’t see something unless it’s separate from me. I’m the observer and the observed is what I see.

When you don’t see like that, nothing can disappear. Bernie isn’t an object to see or discuss, he’s completely inside me and this house, no outside or inside. When I greet his photo in the morning, I’m greeting me and lots of other things besides. He’s in my blood, in the air, on the outdoors deck where he sat to smoke cigars while working (later we converted it into another indoors office, where I now sit without cigar). I can’t see him, and for this reason he can’t disappear.

He’s not around to celebrate his 85th birthday and I don’t think he’s responding to folks emailing me Happy birthday, Bernie. Why should he? He’s not 85, he’s something else.

“What survives you is the result of your actions,” he used to say.

The man doesn’t disappear.

                 Donate 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.

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.

BATHROOM MIRROR

I came out of the shower this morning and heard Henry scratching on the door: “Let me in! Let me in! Llama Louie wants to give the morning teaching!”

I didn’t want to hear Llama Louie because I caught sight of a strange woman in the bathroom mirror. “Who the hell are you? And how did you get inside the bathroom?”

She smirked.

“You put blue shadow under the eyes rather than on top, don’t you know how to put on makeup?”

She smirked again.

“Your face is lined and you’re too curvy, which is a nice way of saying that you’re overweight.”

“I am you,” she says.

“Don’t give me that Zen stuff,” I tell her, “I have too much on my mind.”

“Like what?”

“I’m feeling dark about this country.”

“That’s because you read the book Prophet Song,” she says. “The reviewers warned you not to read it even though it won the Booker Prize because it’s so depressing. But did you listen?”

“I read it because it’s gorgeously written. Only once I read about how the Republic of Ireland becomes a fascist state and people walk around saying a million times This can’t be happening in our country—only they say that the beautiful Irish way, you know—I got dark. If things like that happen here and we start saying This can’t be happening in our country, it won’t sound that beautiful. Come to think of it, I don’t know why the Irish want to restore Irish when their English is so gorgeous.”

“I think you got down on account of the Iowa caucuses this week.”

“It’s hard to face another election with Trump running. What’s worse is that I don’t know what to do.”

“Just like you don’t know what to do about the Middle East war, not that your input is all that critical.”

“What’s worse, strange woman, is that it’s winter with snow on the ground, frost in the air, and a wind chill of about -100, give or take.”

“It’s getting even colder.”

“And even worse is that Aussie is chewing on something in the back yard; she may have killed another squirrel.”

“Stop bitching,” she tells me. “Do your sitting, toss Llama Louie around with Henry, fill the birdfeeders because they’re empty after yesterday’s snow, do laundry—have you forgotten it’s Wednesday, your regular laundry day?”

“How is that going to dispel the darkness? And tell me again, who are you? Some kind of spiritual teacher or something? And how did you get into this bathroom?”

“I told you, I am but a reflection of you.”

“Like the moon reflected in water? Don’t give me that Zen shtick, I am way younger, way slimmer, way cuter. Only what’s that birthmark at the edge of your forehead? Looks familiar, but I can’t remember where I’ve seen it before.”

“Let go of all that darkness stuff, sometimes it’s poetic but mostly it’s mush. Work on gaining strength for what’s to come.”

“Hey lady, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 74.”

“Which means you need to gain your strength.”

“I knew you weren’t me. There’s a Zen koan which asks: When the ancients got here, why didn’t they consent to stay here? The Zen master answers: Because they did not gain strength on the road. See? If you got an answer, show me.”

“Put some lipstick on, you look terrible. Now listen to me,” the woman in the mirror says. “There’s snow outside, maybe more coming this weekend. Temperatures like in Greenland. Use the winter to burrow deep, like all intelligent animals. This is the season for regaining confidence and strength, use it wisely.”

“How do I do that?”

“Trace the progress of the afternoon sun on the snow, keep your hyacinth blooming. Watch the juncos outside. If they can make it through a brutal winter, so can you. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“As Mariana Leky writes in her book: You cannot always choose which adventure you’re made for.

“Huh?”

“Donald Trump, Boris the bear, Hamas, winter squalls, Bibi Netanyahu, dead squirrel on the snow—find a way to meet them.”

“I don’t want them.”

“It’s not your choice, so make it your choice. Create your own rules, play the game. Just one more thing: Use the winter season to gain some strength.”

“Who are  you again? And what are you doing in my bathroom?”

               Donate 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.

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.

GRRRRRR!

“Aussie, we got a $1,100 donation from Guerilla Yoga this morning.”

“Gorillas do yoga? That I gotta see. Do they do downward facing gorilla?”

“No, silly. Guerilla Yoga is a Swiss group of wonderful teachers who lead yoga sessions outdoors for free, open to anyone who wants to participate. A lot of people come, and after the class they ask for donations for a particular cause. Today we got a gift from them for immigrant families so that the families could keep their homes and pay their heat bills this cold winter.”

“But they live in Switzerland! Why should they bother with a bunch of illegals in Massachusetts?”

“Aussie, they bother because, in the end, one heart beats for all of us.”

“Oh phooey!”

“Seriously, Auss. How else do you explain that people living in one side of the world feel something for people who live on the other side, people they never heard of, never met, who may not look or live like them—and still they want to help?”

“They’re Swiss. Are you sure this isn’t a loan?”

“You know, Aussie, when I first began to distribute food cards to the families here during the Covid pandemic, I explained to them that we get donations for their benefit from Europe, the Middle East, and even Australia. They couldn’t understand it; they asked me why people would do that. But we’re wired to feel for others, it’s what makes us human. You know what His Holiness the Dalai Lama says? If you want to be happy, help others.”

“I help others, and I’m not happy.”

“How do you help others, Aussie?”

“Haven’t you noticed how nice I am to Henry lately?”

“Now that you mention it, Auss, I have. He got close to your Sunday morning marrow bone, and you didn’t attack him.”

“Grrrrr.”

“I also saw that he slept on the futon cushion in my office, where you like to nap, and you let him.”

“Grrrrr.”

“And last night he slept on your dog bed in my bedroom and—”

“Just for a few minutes!”

“Right, just for a few minutes, but still, you let him, you didn’t fight him and send him yowling off to Lori.”

“Grrrrr.”

“Does it mean you’re sick, Aussie?”

“No, it means I’m into non-violence.”

“Wow! In honor of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.?”

“No, in honor of my getting older. I can’t chase somebody away like I used to, so Henry walks all over me.”

“Aussie, nonviolence doesn’t mean that you let somebody walk all over you. It means that when a threat arises, you respond in a nonviolent way.”

“It means I’m a nothing, a big doormat for him to step on.”

“It doesn’t, Auss. King got into everybody’s face, but he was always looking into how to do it without violence.”

“He was a wimp—just like me.”

“Actually, nonviolence takes a lot of training. It’s the natural thing for us, faced with a threat, to pick up the first thing we see—a stick, a knife, a gun—for defense. Nonviolence requires discipline and that you find ways to protect yourself without hurting the other person.”

“Like what?”

“Like the way you growl but don’t hurt Henry.”

“I want to hurt him so badly when he goes after my bone!”

“There are other ways, Aussie.”

“I want to kill! Kill! Kill!”

“I can understand that, Auss, but—”

“I want to get his head in my jaws and squeeze! I want to grab a hold of his neck and fling him across the room!”

“But you restrain yourself, Auss, which is good and—”

“I want to stamp him down on the ground and maul him with my claws! I want to push him down the stairs to the dark basement and shut the door on him! I want to call the coyotes to tear him apart limb from limb! I want Boris the giant black bear to devour him!  I want to grab his collar with my incisors and throw him up in the air like he does to his toys! I want to choke him and strangle him and maul him and rip him apart! I want to hear him squeal with his last breath!”

“Aussie, I thought you eschewed bloodshed!”

“I did, but I love talking about it. Now I can go back to being nonviolent.”

                   Donate 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.

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.

LIFE IS SCARY

Today, Aussie and I broke the law and walked to the reservoir in adjoining Lake Pleasant. The sign prohibits access, but every once in a while, I break the law and take her there. We still have lots of snow on the ground, including ice on part of the water that’s by the main road, so imagine my surprise when we made our way down the hill and saw the large reservoir completely clear, blue-green, with ducks swimming on the opposite shore. No leaden gray surface as it’s been for a long time, just white clouds reflected in the water.

Aussie was happier, too, and I realized that dogs are probably as affected by weather as humans. She pranced around, stopping only to contemplate going into the cold water. Rain starts tonight and will go into tomorrow mid-morning, I’m told.

What am I thinking of this morning? I think of Kisagotami. The old Buddhist story is straightforward:

A young mother in old India loses her baby. She goes crazy from grief, holding the baby’s corpse in her arms and not letting go. Finally, she goes to a teacher she’s heard of, the Buddha, and begs him to bring her baby back to life. He agrees on one condition. First, she has to visit the houses in the village and find one that had suffered no loss, take a mustard seed from them, and bring the seed back. Kisagotami does as she’s told, only to discover that not one house has suffered no loss; they’ve all suffered through illness and death, many losing children, parents, friends. She returns to the Buddha, picks up the dead baby, gives it up for cremation, and becomes a follower of the Buddha.

In the beginning of my years in Zen Buddhism I couldn’t understand this story. Who finds solace for a personal tragedy in the suffering of others? Doesn’t it exacerbate it? Or at least, wouldn’t you feel your own grief denied when someone you describe it to says: That’s terrible. Now let me tell you what happened to me.

As the years passed, and especially recently, the story has deepened for me. As the scholar Peter Hershock described in his book Liberating Intimacy, what happens to Kisagotami when she knocks on doors in search of a home with no loss? The woman of the house answers. The young, grief-stricken mother tells her why she’s come.

“Come in,” the woman says. They serve her tea and listen to her tell the story of her baby—how beautiful it was, how healthy, how it brought her such joy, and the catastrophe of its illness and death. They nod, commiserate, urge her to drink more tea. Then they tell her about their grief. About the father who had a work accident. A daughter who died at childbirth. How they couldn’t take good care of parents because of the lack of money. Kisagotami sips her tea and listens. No mustard seed here, so on she goes to the next house, where the same thing happens.

Finally, she understands the significance of the Buddha’s teaching that life is suffering. Rich or poor, Brahmin or not, suffering is part of being human. You try to build a life of meaning and love, you get old and sick, look back and wonder if it was all a dream, and then die. What a crazy way to live! All life is fragile, no wonder we try to be on top of things, no wonder we’re fearful and impatient. The fragility of being human is what binds us to each other, including the lack of solution and control.

Contrary to what our parents and media tell us, we’re not living in a context of no problem, everything’s good! (with the implication that if your life is different there’s probably something wrong with you). Disappointment, heartbreak, and loss are essential parts of this life–as are laughter, ducks swimming on the water, sneaking our way around the reservoir overjoyed by the blue skies. If we don’t recognize that, we become over-protective and defensive, trying every which way to control things, and when shit happens anyway, we feel like failures. Or at the very least, that something wrong happened.

I’ve seen this in the US more than in any other country, specifically among more affluent white people. I think it’s what causes our fearfulness in one of the securest countries in the world. I can’t begin to count how many people I talk to, upon describing the weather, losing power due to a storm, or a bad work experience, say: “It’s scary.”

It’s all I can do to not say: “What’s scary, life?”

We hear of parents who’ve lost children to illness or violence. Many are dogged by this catastrophe forever, even divorce because their marriage can’t survive the tragedy. And there are a few who find their hearts opening to other children who are at risk, other children who are sick. They’re the ones who start foundations to help other children, who advocate on behalf of a medical cure, who open their hearts to the grief of others. Their personal grief widens to include the grief of others.

I used to think that the word healing meant that you bring an end to someone’s pain. I am not sure any longer. The word is related to whole, and maybe the job of healing is to acknowledge that accidents, illness, violence, death are all parts of the game. They’re part of the wheel of life, co-existing with us, even calling for our attention, a way to live with rather than against all the time. Not fight fight fight cancer or drugs but see how everything has its place.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t seek a cure for cancer, that I don’t protect the people I love, that I don’t care for those without homes or food. I do whatever I can do while recognizing that everything has a cause, that the fullness of being human asks me not to worry so much about good and bad or right and wrong, but rather see that we all occupy the same space, share the same DNA, and one way or another, we also share very similar struggles. Nobody’s outside of that circle, without exception.

The Buddha could have told Kisagotami that death is part of life; he could have given her a teaching. Instead, the Great Physician sent her out to discover this for herself. I feel right now that we’re all Kisagotamis, sent out into the world to bear witness to the breadth and fragility of humanity, admit our interdependence and kinship, and out of that take care of the world.

                  Donate 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.

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.

REMEMBER YOU ARE LOVED

Looking back I see more than seventy years

have already passed.

I am tired of seeing through right and wrong

in the human world

Snow in the late night covers all traces

of coming and going

A stick of incense burns by the old window.

I sit.

The poet Ryokan describes more and more of my life.

We still have snow outdoors, though much has melted in rainstorms. Lying in bed last night, I could hear gusts and rain slapping the walls, occasional chimes from the chimes over the remains of a big oak tree. Through a slightly open window I heard the stream below us turning into gushing white water, then the sound of a freight train chugging its way up north on tracks half a mile from the house, Aussie jumping down from the living room sofa, her favorite bed, to hop on the big lounge chair or else the futon in my office. Her nights are full of pilgrimages from one bed to another. The surge of heat as the furnace finally, in the dead of winter, comes into its own.

“You were in Israel a few weeks ago? How was it?” This from the eye surgeon I visited, preparing for cataract removal in my second eye. No, I wasn’t in danger, Jerusalem got rockets just one day the entire time I was there. Looking at his name, I ask him if his family’s roots are in Lebanon, and he says his father’s are. He was born here, but I always love meeting someone from that Fertile Crescent, with its extraordinary culture, food, and hospitality.

 “Do you go back?” I ask him. “Do you take your children?”

The answer is no. He’s afraid of the instability and violence, the destructive, percolating passions.

I’ve felt locked in those passions, too, but winter in this Valley is a miracle. The snow covers the earth and all its cacophony and bedlam. In the midst of glaring headlines about the Middle East, Ukraine, and Trump trials, it whispers: It’s time to rest. Or at least sit in a warm office under the gray, woolen shawl Bernie brought you from Colombia years ago, and remember that you were loved. That you are loved.

Work and repose at the same time. The birds are eating at the birdfeeders, squirrel tracks in the snow, dogs running delightedly on the puffy powder. They find winter boring and lately have been barking a lot.

“What are you barking at?” I shout at Aussie. “There is nothing there.”

“Nothing is worth barking at,” she shouts back. Ahh, a Zen dog.

Some go to sleep forever. Our first winter in the house I came out the front door on an antarctic morning to find a dead coyote on the front path. It lay there, skin and bones, no blood spots of any kind; it had starved to death. Perhaps it had come to the house for a last-minute search for food before giving up and lying down on the snow.

It shook me up. Death had been so close by, starvation right out front, and I didn’t know it? I’d slept through it?

I picked the body up with a big snow shovel and carried it into the woods. Didn’t tell anyone, not even Bernie.

The same thought crosses my mind now: Someone died out there and I didn’t know it? The newspapers announce YES!, big-time. The Council on Foreign Relations says there are some 32 conflicts or wars actively going on now. The numbers of those dead from war climbs up from year to year, never mind millions of refugees. And I will go to bed soon under warm blankets and read, just as I did that night when the coyote came to our house looking for food.

My eternal koan.

James Joyce, too, saw the snow, and wrote how it falls on everyone evenly, covering up the home, the asphalt roads, the bare trees, the graves, traces of past loves and irritations of the present. It nurtures the earth underneath while the earth waits patiently and quietly.

                    Donate 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.

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.