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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Photo by Peter Cunningham

“Bernie, guess what? I had such a powerful dream!”

He lies there, listening.

“I dreamt that I was in Africa, standing in the veldt. The earth is flat, the sky is huge overhead, and I can’t see you or anyone there, I’m standing in the middle of the veldt, just me, all alone.”

“Oy Geveldt,” he says, without missing a beat.

“Isn’t there anything you take seriously?” I demand.

“Probably not,” he laughs, pleased with himself.

Even Bernie didn’t have much humor when it came to the Middle East. There was a period of years when few dinners passed by without his making a cynical allusion to the latest law the Israeli government had passed or the latest speech by Bibi, accompanied by a flash of anger, which was rare for him. The Zen master was Jewish through and through, from a Communist family. As far as he was concerned, Jews had to work on behalf of the underdogs at all times and the modern state of Israel was no underdog.

Someone said to me the other day that it was good that Bernie died and didn’t live to see this latest brutal war. I wasn’t sure. By the time Bernie died, he was tired; he’d seen a lot. He probably guessed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not going to be resolved anytime soon, at least not in his lifetime. His anger finally left him, leaving just a deep sorrow.

Tomorrow, at noon my time, the Zen Peacemakers will host a program commemorating Bernie on the 5thanniversary of his death, which is November 4, focusing on his favorite Order. No, not the Zen Peacemaker Order, the Order of Disorder. (You can take part by going to, scrolling down to Community Events and registering there.) His favorite clowns will be there, but the order wasn’t called the Order of Clowns, it was called the Order of Disorder.

You’d have thought the man loved disorder. He seemed to have such a high tolerance for it. And if you worked with him, you learned to deal with disorder, too.

He knew all about rigid retreat schedules, he knew all about the relentless work it took to build the Greyston companies and organizations, a bakery and apartments for homeless families and childcare centers and an AIDS center, not to mention a whole new dharma family comprising many sanghas in his lineage of Zen Peacemakers. He had his goals, all right—and he loved disorder; he couldn’t help himself.

He worked a lot, but he took the time to notice things sideways. After all, life was disorderly and he was practicing with it, not trying to control it. “Whatever you exclude from the mandala of your practice will come back to sabotage you,” he’d say. He couldn’t include everything, but it felt like he tried.

Working with Bernie was like driving fast with him on a highway towards some destination, say, stabilizing the Greyston Bakery. Only on the way we’d pass off-ramps with signs saying: Childcare for poor families or No housing for people with AIDS, and off he’d go, driving up those ramps to explore the need, see what he could do, include all those needs in the mandala. And if that kept the Bakery insecure, so be it.

It drove us crazy.

At times, the whole thing would be too much even for him. Sometimes our life together would feel too much for him. “You know what I want to do? I want to go on the streets and never come back,” he’d tell me on the way out the door. And I, reminding him of the creature comforts he loved, would retort: “And make sure you take your 50-inch TV screen with you.”

This driven man dreamed of having no responsibilities at all. He dreamed of meandering the streets around Tompkins Park in New York City, smoking a cigar butt, sitting on a bench in the sun, making small talk with street people, picking up a paper coffee cup and going into a bodega for a free cup of coffee. He wanted to be a bum.

He had a good, long run and I often run into people who knew him at some stage of his life of many stages. They still talk of him as they knew him then–the strict young Zen teacher in ZCLA, the tough CEO in Yonkers–as if that was who he really was. I knew him for 35 years and I can’t tell you who he was. Slippery as an eel; just when you thought you had him, he slipped out.

There are so many death scenes of Zen masters in the Zen literature. Just recently I thought of his dying in the ER, suddenly and unexpectedly, and saying to me: “Eve, say a word of Zen!”

But he had no time for that. Before I could say or do anything, death came, and he plunged into it like he plunged everywhere else. He lived bigly, and then just died. Not passed, died.

He’s still on the streets somewhere downtown in New York City. I don’t go down there much anymore, but if I did, I’d look for a pudgy guy wearing an olive-green sweater with holes in the arms, maybe a black rainhat in bad weather, a grizzled face, watching this world’s turmoil and trouble passing by. Not managing anything anymore, not doing anything anymore. Not thinking about the Zen Peacemakers or Greyston or what’s needed. Watching the people go by, maybe wondering why they’re in such a hurry. Why they look strained and stressed, why they’re unhappy.

It’s what I wish you, Berns.

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Photo by Peter Cunningham

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Last Saturday, right after our sitting schedule, I called Violet Catches. Violet, a member of the Cheyenne River Lakota, comes from a well-known family of medicine men, and I’ve thought of her as a medicine woman for years, though if she heard say  that she’d probably shake her head and berate me soundly.

“Violet, the war in the Middle East is so painful, I wish I could do something. My family is involved, I have friends both in Israel and Palestine. What do I do?”

“You know, Eve,” she said, “I’ve always said to pray. You have heard this from me before, I pray many times in the day. But lately I’ve done something else. I take a bowl of water, I light a candle and put it in the water. I am combining two different elements, you see. There is earth, air, fire, and water. Water and fire don’t usually go together, so I bring them together in one bowl, see?”

I have done this since Saturday. The bowl lies in the living room, not far from one of the plants I brought inside on Monday (good thing, since it snowed this morning). It’s also not far from a memorial altar I have for people I know who have died—my parents, Bernie, others. There is always an oil candle burning there, but this one has both fire and water.

There are many narratives going on in my head, but two in particular, and they’re like fire and water. One is my personal, family narrative that talks of catastrophe, always being on guard, rooting out enemies, vigilance. It was triggered big-time on October 7, to my great surprise. I hadn’t felt such powerful emotions of identifying with a family and a nation for many years.

Whenever I fly to Israel, I sense that big story arising all around me as soon as the plane lands in Tel-Aviv. The language, the buzzing phones, the crowd of family members with flowers and balloons—all as familiar to me as blood, beckoning to me: You’re part of the family, we love you, come on, see it our way.

I hold back because there’s another narrative for me, one arising from years of Zen Buddhist practice, and that story isn’t all about us. That story features Bernie’s One Body. It says that separation is a delusion, that differences are there to celebrate but not to judge or compare or discriminate, and that the best investment of your energy and work is to bear witness as much and as broadly as possible, and then take action.

“Whatever you don’t bring into the mandala of your practice will sabotage you again and again,” I heard him say many times.

In the Middle East and elsewhere, always the question is: Who are you excluding? What can you do about it?

That has not been my family story. It has not been the story that nurtured the next generation, and now, what with the war, it probably won’t be the story for the generation after. Already I hear more stridency in the air, more labeling, more name-calling. I don’t blame anyone, it’s hard not to fall into that when you’re being shot at, or sirens set off because of incoming rockets.

My niece’s husband was down by Gaza from October 7, among the first Israelis to get there, and he was involved in cross-border rescues and retrieval of bodies, even while being shot at. After a week of this he had his first family leave of 8 hours and everyone got very emotional, lots of tears shed by him, his wife, and their children.

After he left my niece said: “I don’t care about the truth, I care about family.” When it comes to family, don’t talk ideals, don’t talk truth, don’t say anything. Family is family. She knows the other narrative, her husband, too, but they have a close marriage and five children, and when it comes to family, little else matters.

 I put the pottery bowl on the coffee table and lit the small candle, letting it float on the water. The light never floats to the center, it seems to hug the edges. Right now, I don’t know how to bring the two together, though that has been a lifetime’s dream. What I’m doing is making space for each. In the beginning I felt as if they were banging at the membranes of my brain, trying to get at each other, trying to vanquish each other. No longer. Slowly I cultivate an internal space big enough to accommodate both.

“You have a right to exist,” I tell one.

“You have a right to be heard,” I tell the other.

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Temperatures dropped yesterday, still dropping today, and late yesterday afternoon I finally brought in the houseplants. I tend to leave them out to deal with the cooling temperatures of fall till the first freeze alert.

Bringing plants indoors is one of our seasonal milestones. First the plants, then changing to the winter tires that are stored in the garage, and when the earth really freezes, filling some 5 birdfeeders and hanging them in back. Which means that Boris, the 500-pound black bear, may return. He checked up on us 2 weeks ago, slamming two ladders on the ground and destroying the nearby fence. Which means that we’ll have to get the pans and heavy spoon ready by the back door so that Lori could run out at night and bang away to frighten him.

Boris doesn’t frighten easily.

A teaching method in Zen is the study of koans. The miscellaneous ones especially—How do you stop a rowing boat? Hide yourself in a pillar, and now my favorite one: Stop the fighting across the river—challenge you to collapse space and distance and become the very thing that is far away, or separate from you.

My question since the war in Israel and Gaza broke out has been: How do I collapse the distance between me, enjoying the last of a New England fall, and the brutal reality on the ground there? All the media in the world won’t make me the young people shot down as they run, children buried under rubble, entire families bloodied and dead in their homes or under their homes, bombarded and killed. Stop the fighting across the river. If we’re truly One Body, that fighting isn’t just across the river, or across two seas.

“Sirens are going on in Jerusalem,” my brother tells me on his car phone, on his way north. Incoming rockets.

“They must have known you were leaving the city,” I tease him. even as my heart beats faster and I hurry to look at news on I-Net, the Israeli electronic news, updating all the time. If rockets were coming here, I think, Henry would be shaking without stop, Aussie would be on her way to Canada, and me? I can’t even stand the sound of firecrackers.

My life isn’t at stake, destruction isn’t around the corner. But everything around me has turned permeable, as if I’ve turned into one of those European sponges that start out firm and thin, then plump up as they take in more and more dishwater. I haven’t gained weight, nor has my soul shriveled. But something is changing in the heartbeat of this world—because of wars, radical weather patterns coming out of climate change, mass destruction of species, the loss of curiosity and retrenchment in certainty.

How do you stop the fighting across the river?

There are other koans, too: How do I die in a blaze of glory at sunset (see photo)? How do I stand in the water, fur dripping blissfully, as if an enormous reservoir has become my private, personal pool?

It rained Sunday, temperatures diving, and I felt inside as overcast as it was outside. I went up to bed. Aussie, as usual, slept downstairs, but with my housemate gone for the weekend, her dog, Henry, the Illegal Chihuahua, came to my room and lay on the bed, warming it up for me. Once I’m recumbent and begin to read, he scratches the blanket above me, his sign that he wants to go under. I open up the blanket, he slides in, and settles down, all 15 pounds of him, on top of my belly.

“Henry, get off,” I groan.

He stays where he is. I hear the rain outside, sense the chill draft coming in through a slightly raised window, feel Henry on my belly, and it occurs to me that life gives me many wonderful gifts, that usually I notice just a few, like the last beams of sun hitting the yellow leaves at sunset, or the gurgling sound of water coming down the hill –and now a little dog lying on my belly, snoring softly, his small body rising and falling, the quiet house, the sound of rain.

This coming Thursday we’ll meet on Zoom again to share whatever comes up from the war in the Middle East. The Zoom will take place on Thursday at 14:00 (2 pm) US Eastern time. Please keep in mind that many countries in Europe and the Middle East turned back their clocks by an hour this past weekend, which may reduce the time lag between them and the US, so check what time that would be for you.

If you haven’t yet gotten the link by email, email me at and feel free to share the invitation with anyone you think may be interested.

Next week, November 9, Zen Peacemakers will host a forum on the war in the Middle East, featuring some of the people that have been with us on Zoom. The program is free, just go on their website (, scroll down and hit Community Events, and you’ll find it there along with registration info.

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Paul Gorman founded the National Religious Partnership for the Environment in 1991, back when he was working with Dean James Morton in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Episcopal flagship cathedral in New York City and one of the biggest cathedrals in the world. Paul had served as a speechwriter and press secretary for Eugene McCarthy back when the latter challenged Lyndon Johnson for the 1968 Democratic nomination for President based on opposition to the Vietnam War.

NRPE was the first interfaith organization, led by Christian ministers of all faiths, rabbis, Imams, Buddhists, Hindus, Native people, and other religious leaders, raising consciousness about environmental degradation, educating and training its clergy members not just to preach to their congregations but also to use the power of cross-religious partnerships to raise consciousness and push for political solutions. Clergy leaders would use excerpts from their own religious texts to illustrate that taking care of the earth and all species was a God-given mandate.

At some point in the first decade of this millennium, during the time of the George W. Bush White House, Paul started working with evangelical Christians, trying to persuade them to join this movement. A few welcomed him, but for others it was not an easy sell.

He told us over dinner that he was invited to a conference of evangelical leaders. He was an excellent speaker and a highly persuasive presenter. He went into some detail about what is happening around the world, with a focus on climate change, described the work of NRPE, and proposed that the Christian evangelical movement take part because there was no time to be lost.

They listened politely, he told us, then called a break. During the break, the head of the conference took Paul aside: “Paul, this was all very interesting, thank you,” he said. “But please tell me one thing: Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your savior?”

It was obvious to Paul that everything depended on his answer. By birth, he himself was both Jewish and Christian. He had collaborated with Ram Dass in the book How Can I Help, knew a great deal about various traditions, and I believe identified mostly as a Christian, though not as an evangelical.

“What answer did you give?” I asked.

He gave an answer that pleased his conscience, he told me. Nevertheless, it was clear that it wasn’t sufficient for the group of evangelicals, and his efforts met with no success.

I remembered that this morning, when I gave a talk as part of a Zen retreat. I thought of all the infinite stories of our universe, the narratives that shape us but also tear us apart. I thought of the humanitarian narrative around stopping to bomb Gaza and feeling horror at the thousands of people killed, including so many children.

I also thought of the conflicting narrative I carry as a Jewish woman, born in Israel to parents who went through wars and Holocaust, part of a family whose own sons discovered the gruesome murders that took place 3 weeks ago, all of whom are now in military uniform. The four of them came for a leave of 8-12 hours yesterday and my brother said it was his best birthday gift ever.

Day by day I bear witness to different narratives. Sometimes they’re so similar, you just have to change the names and pronouns and they’ll sound exactly the same. For years I felt as an outlier in the family due to my feelings about the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Now I feel more torn than ever before.

“Why?” my sister asked me.

“Because that Saturday Israel lost,” I told her simply. Suddenly, its military, technological and economic advantages were nothing to take for granted. And I think that with its ongoing bombardment, regardless of how much the army describes it as hitting Hamas targets, it’s still losing, its soul if nothing else.

There are political solutions to this, not military. The world has to step in.

Today was our last warm day; temperatures tomorrow will be lower by at least 25 degrees Fahrenheit. I took the dogs for a walk and Aussie waded into the water and stood there, looking blissfully around, perhaps aware she might not do this again till next spring.

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“What are you doing, Illegal Chihuahua?”

“I put Llama Louie where he belongs, right by the Senora’s Kwan-yin.”

“Why, dumb-dumb?”

“Llama Louie is my guru, so he should be by the Senora’s image for compassion.”

“Enough already with all these statues. Enough of the goddess of compassion, enough of gurus. Who needs them? Last I counted, there are some five altars inside the house, not to mention Kwan-yin outside, and now Llama Louie.”

“The Senora says we need all the help we can get.”

“From whom, Henry? Saviors? Gurus? Gods? What has any of them done for you lately?”

“Before Llama Louie came into the house, I was one pound underweight. He came, and in three days I gained a pound. All honor to Llama Louie.”

“And to the chicken and mashed potatoes that the Senora’s friend brought yesterday.”

“Before Llama Louie arrived, I had a terrible stomachache. He came and the stomachache stopped.”

“Maybe because you stopped eating grass, silly Chihuahua.”

“Before Llama Louie came, I was throwing the stuffed turtle and green alligator all over the house.”

“And now?”

“I’m throwing Llama Louie all over the house. But he is a great compassionate being who loves everyone, so he doesn’t mind.”

“You were an obsessive neurotic then, Henry, and you’re an obsessive neurotic now, which you can’t help because you’re a Chihuahua.”

“Llama Louie accepts me as I am. He has great compassion.”

“Here it is, the famous C word. Compassion compassion compassion. Everybody talks about it. What the hell does it mean?”

“It means—it means—”

“You can say it in Spanish, Mr. Illiterate.”

“It means—it means—”

“What? That you like everybody? That you’re kindly disposed to everyone?”

“That I act with loving kindness.”

“And where has that got you, Henry? What has that got any of us? What has that got everybody in the Middle East?”

“I don’t know, Aussie, but it makes sense. We’re all alike.”

“You and me—alike?”

“Llama Louie says that we all want the same things. We want grilled chicken if we can have it, kibble when we can’t get grilled chicken. We want water, walks, treats after walks, car rides, a warm blanket for the night, and marrow bones on Sunday morning. Don’t we all want that, Aussie? Have I missed anything?”

“Growling at the Federal Express truck. Scaring the hell out of anybody who comes down the driveway.”

“You see? We all want the same basic things. When we see that, we start working together.”

“That’s what I hate about all spiritual teachers. Dreamers, every single one of them. Not a practical bone in their entire body.”

“They’re completely practical, Aussie. If we all want the same things, why fight?”

“I hate spiritual teachers, Henry. What good are they? Loving kindness, compassion, deep listening, love, all a lot of hooey.”

“Llama Louie is not hooey.”

“All a bunch of do-nothings who live in a fantasy world. Humans are generally ridiculous, as you know, it’s why they get into so much trouble.”

“I love humans, Aussie. One day humans will see the errors of their ways and they’ll become more like us.”

“Listen, Illegal, do you know how humans refer to this world? Do you know how they explain it to their children when they teach them to beat up on the weaker kids and always, always come out on top? They tell them they got to do this because—get this, Henry—it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.”

“But we don’t eat each other, Aussie.”

“Damn right, pooch.”

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On Sunday I went out with the dogs into the forest. My mind is busy and we get lost. Correction: I get lost; Aussie always seems to know where she is and the path to the car. This has happened lots of time in the past, no problem, but bushwhacking your way down is not pleasant.

At first, I blame my mind’s distractibility for getting lost, but when I finally find my way, I notice that a tree had fallen. We’ve had lots of rain, tree roots get soaked and weaken, roads and paths get blocked. This one had fallen over the path right where another was crisscrossing it, and I followed in the wrong direction.

Circumstances and conditions of my life change, and I change with them. Often, I feel lost and unable to get back to my regular life. Maybe, as a consequence, I’ll find a better path, maybe I won’t. Regardless, I no longer walk in the same way I’ve walked before. What I have is trust that if I put one foot ahead of the other, I’ll find out. I have confidence in walking rather than standing, worrying, or opining.

This is how I start the days now: I call family members. Sister, brother, a niece or nephew. Nephews are all in the army, nieces singlehandedly taking care of lots of children. I need to know how they’re doing wherever they are—Jerusalem, south by the Gaza border, their homes, the West Bank.

I want to hear and listen to everything, uncensured by personal fears and apprehensions. I hear terrible stories, see horrific videos, and resist the impulse to turn away or close my eyes. Not because of an appetite for violence. You need to see things, I remind myself. You need to listen and see.

After family, I talk and listen to others.

Pogroms are mentioned again and again. I don’t agree, I tell my brother. What took place on October 7 was horrific, probably worse than anything done in East Europe and Russia many years ago. But those old-time pogroms were perpetuated on small communities of Jewish families, impoverished and powerless like their neighbors, often used as scapegoats by the aristocracy and local churches. They had no agency.

That’s not true here. Jews in Israel have had plenty of agency and need to question their assumptions and decisions. Context makes a big difference. He doesn’t agree with me, we have words but no blame. It’s an old, old argument in our family.

Luckily, both of us don’t take our own opinions too seriously. Something more important is at stake here, much more important than opinions.

I was puzzling over why it suddenly became important for me to help create spaces for different people to express feelings and views on what is happening in the Middle East. This afternoon I talked at some length with poet and teacher Peter Levitt. He described a meditation space as one where you actually witness thoughts and opinions come and go, one after another, identities and attachments coming up and leaving, followed often by more and more, sometimes not.

At some point you realize you are not those identities and statements, something else is at work here. Those tight opinions bind you like a noose, preventing you from seeing anything else. When you can ease yourself out of their clutches you see that life in fact goes on without them. There’s a life force at work, and if you can free yourself from that mental siege, you sense the direction of that life force more clearly and can align yourself and your life with it.

Talking about this with Peter, I realized that that is the space I try to create when a group of us, each one different, sometimes from different religions, cultures, or countries, meet on Zoom to talk. Views come and go, opinions are exchanged. One arises, then there’s quiet, another arises, more quiet, and another, more quiet, etc.

The more views, the merrier, I say. No need to be spiritually correct, no need to modulate anything. If you’re forceful, be forceful. Angry, be angry. You want to cry, cry. Here’s a space where everything is permitted. Opinions and feelings arise and fall, come and go.

Meantime, something else becomes visible, something that’s always there but in the background, obscured by the bedlam of the mind. Peter says that people think that enlightenment is when the Buddha comes in the front door to the sound of big trumpets and fireworks, but she usually comes in the back door, quietly. Sees who’s around, who’s paying attention. Who’s listening for her. When we’re very upset, we don’t listen or sense anything till we’ve had our say, expended energy. Only then can we see who else is in the room.

I’m so grateful to Peter for that talk. We’ll have another such gathering this coming Thursday, October 26, at 2:00 pm US Eastern time, or 14:00. I’ve already emailed the link to all those who’ve attended before; if you wish to attend, email me at

When Henry, Aussie, and I got lost that morning, things felt chaotic, certainty gone, absent sense of direction and therefore destination. In the middle of it, I looked out and saw a small pond with groups of ducks and mallards floating on the water. Many were males, with green heads and yellow beaks, unbothered by the dogs, unbothered by me, swimming in large circles, their young ones following.

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“I’m bored! It’s raining, we’re not going out, nobody’s walking on the road whom I can bark at. I hate my life.”

“Llama Louie says to appreciate this life every moment, Aussie.”

“First, Illegal Chihuahua, don’t call me Aussie, call me Supreme Being. Second, who’s Llama Louie?”

“Lori gave me Llama Louie yesterday. Now I have a guru.”

“You’re an idiot, Illegal. It’s a stuffed animal.”

“Llama Louie gives me good advice, Supreme Being.”

“Put an Oh there, Illegal. It’s Oh Supreme Being. And please share with me one of Llama Louie’s nuggets of wisdom.”

“Llama Louie says that life is beautiful, no matter what. He says to always have fun.”

“I’m coming right into the conversation, Aussie. Lama Louie’s right. Remember my cataract surgery?”

“When they took out one of your eyes?”

“Not quite, Auss.”

“Call me Oh Supreme Being.”

“I’m calling you anything but Supreme Being.”

“Oh Supreme Being. Don’t forget Oh.”

John Frangie replaced the lens in one eye. After the surgery the nurse put a translucent bandage over the eye. The next day the surgeon took it off, I took one look, and said: ‘OMG, John, you’re so good-looking! Who knew?’”

“You flirted with your surgeon?”

“And you know what he said, Auss? He said: ‘I see you’re still under the influence of drugs.’”

“Ha ha ha ha. Llama Louie likes that.”

“Shut up, Illegal. You flirted with your surgeon?”

“Aussie, I was just having a good time. And John is good looking. Flirting is fun, Auss.”

“With your surgeon? The person operating on your vision?”

“Especially with my surgeon.”

“You’re too old for this!”

“Llama Louie says you’re never too old to have fun.”

“Shut up, Illegal.”

“Stop calling each other names, both of you! Aussie is not Supreme Being or Oh Supreme Being, and you, Henry, are not Illegal. You’re both dogs.”

“Oh Supreme Being threw Llama Louie behind the tree. I couldn’t find him for the entire day.”

“Why did you do that, Aussie?”

“Because I’m the devil’s spawn? An ambassador from the dark side?”

“Get real, Aussie.”

“There’s only one guru in this house, and it ain’t that stuffed llama.”

“I’m sick of these quarrels, you two, especially when there’s a war in the Middle East which is frazzling me. Henry, you have to stand up to Supreme—to Aussie. Don’t let her put you down like that.”

“Llama Louie says that Supreme Beings don’t put down anybody. Llama Louie says Supreme Beings love everybody.”

“You know what Oh Supreme Being says? Always, always show your teeth.”

“Llama Louie says to be kind, show compassion.”

“I thought he was stuffed with synthetic fibers. Now I know he’s stuffed with something else.”

“Aussie, you are the darkest, nastiest dog I’ve ever met.”

“Llama Louie says it’s important to be happy.”

“How can I be happy? I was torn from my family in Texas, left to be a stray. Abandoned by my people, abandoned by the world. What’s there to be happy about?”

“You’re here with us, Supreme Being—”

“Oh Supreme Being.”

“You’re here in beautiful western MA, Oh Supreme Being, with the Senora, Lori, Llama Louie, and—”

“Shut up, Illegal. If there’s one thing I’m not giving up, it’s my unhappiness.”

“Why don’t you want to give up your unhappiness, Oh Supreme Being?”

“Because I like my unhappiness. I like remembering in vivid detail everything that happened to me. First, they left me on the street. Then, scary strangers picked me up and put me in a cage, Illegal. They put me in a cage!”

“That’s terrible.”

“Damn tootin’, Illegal. Then they put me in the cage with lots of other cages on a big truck. They kept me there for days till they finally let me out so that I could do my business, and then they put me in another cage!”

“Worse and worse, Oh Supreme Being!”

“Then the Senor and the Senora picked me up and took me home—”

“So finally, you were happy!”

“No, Illegal, because you know what happened? The Senor died. Just when I got used to the heavy way he walked and the big stick he used on the ground, what does he do? He ups and dies. I’m telling you, Illegal, the tragedies in my life have never ended. There’s grief and misery all around—and I ain’t giving them up!”

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“Did you find everything you were looking for?” asked the cashier at Trader Joe’s last Sunday morning. I believe they’re trained to ask that when you check out.

“I didn’t find peace on earth,” I tell her.

“Over in the bread section,” she says.


“Sure,” she says. “Cheese rolls are over there on aisle 2. That’s what you’re looking for, right?”

“No, peace on earth.”

“Oh that,” she says, looking a little deflated, and puts the milk carton and half a dozen eggs in my shopping bag.

There’s nothing you can’t laugh at, Bernie used to say out of unquestioning allegiance to the Order of Disorder. But even he would shake his head grimly when it came to Israelis and Palestinians.

Today I’m remembering my wizened old algebra teacher in my first year of high school. He was short, old, and looked like a walrus; I think we were his last class before retirement.

If you asked him: “Mr. Wallach, why does 3x+5=11?” he’d say, shaking his head gravely: “Because the cat told a lie.”

“Why, in the equation 13-2X=4x-5, does x=3?” You always got the same answer: “Because the cat told a lie.”

Perhaps, after a long life of teaching, he no longer gave a damn. We were pretty smart anyway and we taught ourselves algebra at home. I continue to be deficient in algebra, but I can’t forget Because the cat told a lie. Great Zen masters usually had a particular style of teaching, and that was Israel Wallach’s, though who knew anything about Zen at the time?

Instead of teaching us about proofs and equivalences, he liked to knock holes in mathematical certainty. Beware of asserting that x absolutely equaled y just because you proved it on paper. He would veer into philosophical discussions with our two geniuses in the back of the class, touching on calculus, musing on infinity and the perfection of zero.

I was not one of them, I sat to the very right of him, three seats in back, and while I couldn’t for the life of me follow any of that discussion, I was still intrigued. What immensity was the old man looking at as he peered through his big, thick-lens glasses? Dumb as I was in mathematics, even I could see that he was throwing us at a wall every time he answered Because the cat told a lie. He was supposed to know mathematics, but he seemed to know something else, too, and I couldn’t figure it out. Proofs were proofs, weren’t they?

Maybe I think of him today because of proofs that come in about who bombed the hospital in Gaza. Everybody has their proofs, distorted by the media as usual, but in the end, why? Because the cat told a lie.

But one of them is true and the other is false, people insist. There is truth, and there is lack of truth, right? Yes, if you want to pass the test at the end of the year and continue to second year of high school. Yes, if all you care about is pinning responsibility and guilt on one side and innocence on the other.

But if you care about something else—like peace on earth, or at least a real peace in the Middle East, one where everybody gives up something because everybody has a stake there—then proofs and solutions to equations have little value.

This evening I also think about friends of mine, Israeli and Palestinian, who have been peace activists for years. I hear from my brother that a member of the family has been called a hero for his work by the Gaza border because he retrieved bodies and worked to locate hostages. It’s very moving to me to hear about this.

At the same time, there are other heroes, too, heroes not so honored, certainly not recognized over many years, and those are the Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Muslims that have stood ready to hold more than one narrative in this explosive part of the world. It’s so easy to stay with just the one—We’re right and the others are monstrous oppressors, or we’re victims of unending antisemitism. So many, many narratives in the Middle East.

It’s especially horrible for them now. They’ve been mocked and derided for years, called impractical dreamers and spiritual wusses. What’s practical? Fighting is practical. Armies are practical. They get results. What results? What we saw on that first Saturday after Hamas’s attack on Israel? What we see now in the Gaza Strip? Other than cause death and destruction, what results are we talking about?

Now, with all the rage and passion, there’s lots of pressure to take sides. If you mention that the others also have a right to freedom and dignity, you’re seen as a traitor, a betrayer of your own people at a time of their greatest suffering.

And what about the ambivalence that is bound to come up when you go to the funerals of your friends’ children day after day? You prepare food, cry with them, share their grief. Tell me, who are the heroes who even then continue to hold more than one narrative, who know that the formula of one missile=another missile, or one missile= two or three or five hundred missiles, lead to nothing but more death. Proofs of who did what to whom don’t budge weeping hearts and inflamed minds.

These are the people who talk on the phone whenever possible with someone from “the other side,” or fly at their own expense to meetings in Europe or Dubai because holding those meetings inside Israel or Palestine is not viable and is even dangerous. There are so many, many stories in that part of the world and they’re ready to contain, recognize, and even honor each of them, trusting in the power that comes out of bearing witness, listening, speaking, and finally recognizing the other as yourself.

These people are heroes, too. They probably won’t get any models, but I remember them, think of them, love them. This blog post is for them.

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“Aussie, is that you?”

“Of course, it’s me. Who do you think it is?”

“You’re so beautiful, Aussie!”

“Darn right. Miss America.”

“I’ve had a large cataract in my right eye for so long, who knew? You’re so shimmering black, and just look at those ears. Henry has shiny eyes and such bright, golden skin.”


“What, Auss?”

“It’s not golden, it’s yellow. Like him.”

“Look at the way the lamp shines on those white walls. And what about the blanket on my bed with the peacocks? Did you know that that’s an important Persian image for prosperity and good fortune?”

“Persian, like Iran? They’re pure evil.”

“And look at the flowers at the feet of Kwan-yin.”

“They’re dying.”

“Not yet, Aussie, they still have their color.”

“Does cataract surgery help you see better, or does it make you stupid?”

“It’s such a joy to see a world of color and nuance. I can finally see the road signs. Did you know that Montague was established in 1754? That’s what it says on the sign. Could there be a new world out there, Aussie?”

“Nope. Same old killings, same old sicknesses, same old stupid humans. Shelling of Gaza, murder of Israeli civilians, trauma and rage everywhere. There’s nothing new out there, cataract or no cataract. “

“Look at the autumn colors, Aussie.”

“THEY’RE THE COLOR OF DEATH! Don’t you know anything? Fall here is a colorful presentation of death.”

“Why are you so intense, Aussie?”

“I LOVE being intense. When you’re intense your heart pounds, your brain rushes in all directions, everything matters. When you’re intense, you’re alive!”

“Do you ever get depressed, Aussie?”

“Never. I’m too alive to be depressed.”

“You know, Aussie, a senior Hamas official called for a Day of Rage last Friday, when people everywhere should express their rage about the Israeli counter-attack on Gaza. In Europe Jewish schools were closed and more police were out, especially outside synagogues.”

“Did anything happen?”

“Not much last Friday, but you know what I realized? I can get really angry, too. Not like in my earlier years, but anger is still there, and it especially comes up when I’m very sad.”

“I’d rather be angry than depressed any day!”

“It’s hard to be sad, Aussie. When you’re sad you’re just sad. No great energy there, no passion, no craziness, no feeling like you’re ready to fight. You’re just sad.”


“Not boring. Just sad.”

“It’s like death.”

“Not at all, Auss. It’s just sad.”

“What’s the use of feeling something if there’s nothing you can do? Do do do, that’s what I say.”

“I know, Aussie. It’s hard to just be sad. It’s much easier to get angry, have the illusion you can control things. The day will come—maybe tomorrow, maybe next week or next month—when I’ll have a sense about what, if anything, I can do in that part of the world where the stones are soaked in blood and the twilights are golden. But on the Day of Rage, I was just sad.”

Speaking of being sad: I am very sad about my blog of Saturday, in which I criticized participants in our Friday Zoom for talking so much about a broken heart. I owe all those who spoke, and those who listened, a big apology, which I am making now. I violated my own words above and became like Aussie: Don’t get sad, get angry. Get frustrated, get passionate, get crazy. I couldn’t do what I myself teach again and again: Just shut up and listen. I teach that because that’s what I myself have to learn.

The situation in the Middle East is deep in my bones, in my DNA, so much so that I have felt that maybe I’m the wrong person to gather people to talk and share, I’m too close to it. But I did, mistakes and all, and I am just sorry to have contributed to a space of intolerance and deafness.

Since I still heard that this was valuable for people, I offer this again this coming Thursday, October 19, at 2 pm US Eastern time, 14:00. It’s earlier to accommodate people in Europe and the Middle East. I will do all I can to keep the space as an open refuge for all. You can send me an email ( if you wish to attend. I will also send an email to all those who participated this past week and notify them.

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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.