HIS SPACE, MY SPACE

Happy Labor Day. Huh?

I open my Labor Day celebration by sitting this morning, stationary on the corner chair of the bedroom, my favorite room in the house, the room that had been Bernie’s and my bedroom till he died. After his stoke we had to make some changes, eventually letting go of the enormous king-size bed we’d shared. The stroke brought him a lack of control over his limbs as well as a lack of proprioception, and he’d often roll into me during the night without even feeling it.

Where does your body end and mine begin? An interesting Zen koan, one we practiced with over and over again. You love the person next to you, but you’re deeply asleep (exhaustion marked those three years) and you’re suddenly awakened by something crashing into your body, often pushing you to the edge of the bed (a couple of times over the edge). At first you make a joke of it:

“Bernie,” I’d say. I had to repeat his name, it took a while to wake him up.

“What’s the matter?”

“Look at where you are,” I’d say.

“Oh,” he’d say, feeling my shoulder, my arm, my head. “How did I get here?”

“You rolled into me,” I’d tell him. “I think you lost your sense of proprioception.”

“What’s that?” he’d ask for the hundredth time.

“I think it’s a sense of where your body ends and mine begins,” I’d say.

“And that’s bad?” A Zen master, after all. “Let’s sleep like this all the time.”

“I can’t,” I’d tell him. “I need space.”

And sometimes I’d say, “I need my space,” which is a little different.

Space. Bernie could fill every inch of it with words, ideas, suggestions, presence. Even when he was quiet the vibes in the room would be so powerful that I would hurry to find refuge in my own small office, or in our bedroom when he wasn’t there.

The following memory embarrasses me every time. I picked him up at Boston’s Logan Airport after he’d gone to Europe for 6 days. In the car, he bent over to give me a kiss. “What’s wrong?” he asked when I didn’t reciprocate.

“I could have used 3 more days of your being away,” I told him.

He got a little upset, but there it was, I needed space. Space away from that intense focus, the protruding, stubborn chin, the demanding presence, the beingness that enveloped the room.

We finally let go of that big king-size bed and got 2 beds for the room, one of which I sleep on to this very day. I, as usual, drowned in the practicalities of post-stroke life—finding the beds in a local store, negotiating price and access—leaving him to mark with sadness this big change in physical relations. We both knew it. He wouldn’t roll into me anymore or drive me to the edge of the bed, I’d have my space, I’d have my sleep.

One day he said: “It’s different now, isn’t it?”

And I said sadly, “Yes, Bernie, it is.”

His last words to me from the bed, struggling with sepsis and pain before the ambulance drivers took him downstairs to the hospital, where he would die quicker than anyone guessed, with only me in attendance, were: “I’m too much for you.”

He wanted to give me the space I’d always fought for. My space.

For a long time it didn’t do me much good, those words haunted me for three years. Did I really need that much space, I wondered. What would have happened if he’d constantly banged into my exhausted body or sent me to the edge of the bed? That’s his job as a Zen master, I’d remind myself, but not as a husband.

“I’m too much for you.” I can never get that last act of generosity out of my mind. Not I love you, which I would have preferred, but: Here’s your space again. I give it back.

My brother stayed with me the past days and slept in the bedroom. “What a beautiful room,” he said. “A wonderful space in which to rest.”

“It’s healing,” I said without much thought.

Now, 24 hours later, I think to myself that maybe that is the purpose of the room. Not just to serve as a reminder of what once was, but to be fully occupied as I enjoy the space that he so generously finally gave me.

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WHERE’S HOME, AUSSIE?

Photo by Peter Cunningham

I often feel rootless in comparison to other people.

My housemate grew up south of Boston not far from the ocean, and while she lives here with me in western Massachusetts, her family still lives near there. She goes to be with them on holidays and there’s a sense that somehow, she’s going back to be close to home.

When I was in Grand Manan, I stayed with a friens who was conceived in that very house 75 years ago. Other fisherman families had been born, fished, and raised their families there for several generations. Even some of those who didn’t live year-long on the island had some roots there or nearby, and therefore made a point of building a home on the island and going there for annual summer stays.

One of our conversations was about how to save Seal Cove, with its wooden buildings (many of them are on stilts to accommodate the high tide) that were once used to produce humongous amounts of smoked herring but are now dilapidated and in disrepair: start a non-profit, renovate, maybe create artist spaces there, etc. Be it Seal Cove or another place, the conversation often reverted to a building, an island, a lighthouse that was abandoned or not maintained, and how to keep it going. They weren’t fighting change, just expressing a deep appreciation for the past, the ways of parents and grandparents, and the wish to keep some of that alive and going.

The difference between us was very striking. I came from an Eastern European Jewish family whose homes and much of their lives were disrupted by the Holocaust. My mother’s father died in the 1940s and I barely knew my mother’s mother. My father’s parents survived but they were from an orthodox shtetl way of life that seemed unbridgeable. I wanted to talk to them about college and plans to leave home and write, but I doubt they knew what I was talking about. Their entire sense of safety was in huddling down with one’s family and honoring past traditions. My personal family did not feel safe and I had no interest in honoring the past, too consumed by forging new life paths for myself.

“Make a home wherever you live,” my old friend, Margery Meyer, once told me. At that time, she was referring to my studio apartment in Manhattan, with its faded used couch and toppling bookshelves. And indeed, I changed the furniture and throughout my travels learned to create a sense of home wherever I was. Bernie did that, too. If we only lived somewhere a short while, up would go the many pictures, the altars, the Buddha images unpacked, a million books, etc., and when we moved a short time later everything would be packed up once again. In between, we always felt at home.

Now Margery’s words resonate in a different way for me. “Make a home wherever you live.” What makes a home? Where do you find your roots if you’ve moved around a lot? I feel some distress at having so little connection with that old East European orthodox Jewish tradition, the generations of families that lived according to fixed rules and ways of life. My mother couldn’t understand how anyone would voluntarily step out of that world, even in a somewhat more modernized version. If I had found some way to maintain those connections, would I feel more rooted?

I was born in Israel, and whenever I go to see my family there, as soon as the plane lands and I hear announcements in Hebrew and Israelis’ phones lighting up and ringing, family members waving and holding up flowers in the airport’s big Arrivals area (before covid), something old that lay dormant for most of the year stirs in my blood, as if saying: I know you; I know this.

But it’s gone when I fly back to Massachusetts, and I can’t say I miss it when I’m here.

I have to look for roots elsewhere. I feel most deeply rooted in meditation. There’s something about starting the day that way that gives me confidence and purpose. Studying the sutras or other writings makes visible the long arc of this exploration, how a yearning that I thought began when I was 14 actually began much longer ago, that my roots and family include those men and women who have searched for peace and clarity thousands of years ago, people who also wondered what this life was about in the face of disappointment, suffering, and death.

Also included in this family are people who respond to life with creativity and laughter, who don’t just create works on canvas, in print, or in performance, but see each moment as an invitation to meet life creatively, as a new opportunity to let go, plunge in, and come up with a response you may not have  imagined before:

You can’t find a carpenter to fix he back steps behind your office? Make something pretty there, paint them different colors.

You were going to make salmon for lunch but you don’t have salmon? What can you do with hardboiled eggs, avocado, challah bread, peanut butter, and pineapple?

You were going somewhere and the car broke down? Sure, you can call AAA, but you can also call folks and invite them to give you a lift, creating companionship and helping yourself remember that life is interdependent, you can’t live without them.

Those are the folks who laugh even in the middle of tears, reply to a gloomy email with a funny cartoon, who look at recent photos of the universe coming through the James Webb Telescope and remember the true proportion of things.

This is where I most feel at home. Some of us know our home, it’s in our blood, our parents, our century-old house, our children. Others of us have to find it again and again; that’s my group. Right now, home for me is a place of clarity and rest, but also a space where life continues to quicken in me, new ideas, a fertile imagination.

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DEDICATED TO MOLL

“Don’t jump, Aussie!”

We were walking along Southwest Head, the southern tip of Grand Manan, the Canadian island where we spent a week with friends (was it just last week?).

“Why not? It’s a good day to die.”

“Aussie, you’re not Lakota. Besides, you have everything to live for!”

“Name one.”

“You’ll turn 5 soon. You have your whole life ahead of you.”

“Not if the FBI has anything to do with it.”

“The FBI? Aussie, is there something you’re not telling me?”

“You know those papers they took from the Man’s home a short while ago?”

“You mean the classified documents they got from Trump Castle in Florida? What about them?”

“They name names.”

“What names, Auss?”

“Intelligent operatives.”

“Intelligence operatives?”

“And guess who’s on that list?”

“You, Aussie? Then it can’t be intelligent operatives.”

“And guess with what home address?”

“Mine, Aussie?”

“Those boxes are full of communications between me and him. Mostly genius ideas from me on how to protect the last election.”

“Like what, Auss?”

“All Proud Pooches were under strict orders to bite any human in their household who was not voting for the Man. That accounts for why so many humans ended up in the Emergency Room on Election Day. Also, all Proud Pooches growled and snarled any time Brandon came onscreen.”

“You mean, Biden?”

“Brandon.”

“It’s Biden or no supper tonight.  What else, Auss?”

“I begged the President, BEGGED him, to take me to the White House and walk me up and down the Rose Garden. Almost half of all American humans have a dog. If they just saw me and Trump in front of the White House, he would have won in a landslide. Instead, he won in a landslide.”

“He didn’t win, Aussie.”

“I told him that while his fans loved his yelling, some of the others had no sense of humor. Instead, he should walk me up and down, waving and smiling, having the best time of his life with his best friend. My eyes would have sparkled, I would have wagged my tail, shimmied for the cameras, made him look so good! There would have been no contest.”

“I sure am glad he didn’t listen to you. And while you were having all these top-secret communications, Aussie, did you happen to remember that you’re my dog? That I’ve been feeding, walking, and taking you to Leeann all these years? You were ready to give up our Pioneer Valley woods for the Rose Garden?”

“You think I’m stupid? In a heartbeat. I would have done anything for the Man. I begged, I groveled, I would have licked him all over, but he wouldn’t let me, said I had germs, keep away from Florida. So that’s why the Justice Dept. raided Mar-a-Lago. And now they’re going to come after me.”

“You don’t think his lawyers will protect you?”

“No, he’ll just throw me to the dogs.”

“He’s done that to a lot of people, Aussie. Let this be a lesson to you.”

“How far is it down to the water?”

“It’s low tide, Aussie, you’ll get smashed on the rocks. Don’t be silly, no one is worth your life, especially Donald Trump. Life is precious. Your cousin, Moll, my sister’s dog, just died at the young age of 3-1/2. A massive infection took over her body. They did whatever they could to save her life, but in the end, she was gone. We were all very sad.”

“Was she a Trump supporter?”

“I don’t think so. She lived in Jerusalem and came from a dog shelter in the West Bank.”

“You mean, she was Palestinian? OMG, in our family?”

“You’re sounding like my parents, Aussie.”

“It’s not enough that we have Enrique the Illegal Chihuahua, we also had Palestinians in the family?”

“The world’s changing, Auss.”

“Not if the Man and I have anything to do with it.”

Dedicated to Molly.

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SOMEONE’S MISSING

 

My friend, Roshi Michel Engu Dobbs, recently lost his brother. A few days after the funeral he texted: “We all need a t-shirt that says: Someone’s missing.

I remembered what it was to go back to work after Bernie’s death, back to the community and the zendo, back to the supermarket and the gas station. Mostly I stayed home, but when I did have to go out it seemed as though life had just gone on without Bernie, unconcerned, everybody doing their thing: sun shining, trees waving in the wind, tiny pebbles crunching under the car tires.

You want to grip the lapels of everyone you meet and say: “Hey, don’t you see? Someone’s missing!”

Yesterday I was at Trader Joe’s, the big food store in Hadley, with a blessedly short list of supplies. I was looking forward to getting in and getting out quickly. As I entered the parking lot I saw a Latino man, black arched eyebrows and thick moustache, with a young girl and a bucket of red roses. He held up a sign saying he had four children and needed help.

I parked the car, passed him by saying “Hola” with the intention of giving him a few dollars on my way out.

The store was fuller than I’d ever seen it, a surprise on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I could see people buying charcoal and meat cuts for grilling this last week before Labor Day. They were marking the end of summer with carts overflowing with steaks, wings, and burgers, not to mention peaches, nectarines and berries.

I started picking up the things I needed, wondering how long the lines would be at the cashiers, when Michel’s words suddenly echoed in my mind: “We all need a t-shirt that says: Someone’s missing.” The man holding up a sign saying he has four children to feed was missing. He could have been there with an empty shopping cart, one hand holding on to his 6-year-old.

It hit me that this wasn’t a matter of a few dollars, this was a matter of feeding someone, feeding a family. I added several pounds of flank steak and a whole big chicken to my cart, along with veggies, melon, and other fruit, filling up most of a big bag for some $53.

I didn’t find him outside; someone from the store had probably told him to leave the premises. Very disappointed, I walked to my car, wondering what to do with the food, when I saw the man on the other side of a field of brown, thirsty grass. Quickly I walked there and gave him the bag. Delightedly, he asked the little girl to give me a red rose (see below).

I can’t put out of my mind the scene of the store filled with customers with carts overflowing with food. In the middle of all that abundance someone was missing. I remembered Jimena telling me that $50 food cards go a long way. “Of course, there are food pantries, but they don’t give you fresh meat and produce. They don’t give the children what they want. That’s why they need those cards.” She also reminded me that in the end of summer, as well as end of year and end of school year, the school meal programs are suspended for a few weeks. That’s a big deal for many families.

And seeing the little girl, I remembered how we sent 9 children to day camp for 3 weeks this past summer.

In our relatively placid, satisfied lives, what’s missing? Who’s missing?

Summer is slowly coming to a close, though you’d never guess it from the heat and humidity of today in New England. But schools are reopening and kids need school supplies. Newspapers are filled with articles about how expensive these have gotten. For the past few years, we’ve been buying such supplies for immigrant children, including those from undocumented families, and Jimena, bless her heart, made up a list for me earlier than usual. But I didn’t post it because of the problems with our subscriber database, which has really shrunk while we’re trying to rebuild it.

The Amazon list is here, and the boxes and packages are to go this time straight to Jimena Pareja, saving her and me trips back and forth. In the past some people made sure to send packages to my address, but that’s not necessary, the list carries her name and address and should automatically forward things to her.

Please consider buying something for these children. Their parents work hard in the fields so that their kids could go to school, which they themselves couldn’t do, and build a life for themselves and future generations. The American Dream, and I don’t say that lightly or tongue-in-cheek. These families have taken enormous risks to actualize that dream.

It’s harvest time here, plentiful and bounteous. In the middle of that, certain things are missing and needed. Please consider buying something from the Amazon list, or else using the button below, Donate to Immigrant Families, to buy food cards.

Thank you very much.

 

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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.

THUMPER AND FOGSEEKER

Once upon a time, on an island far to the north, there were two boats. Both were moored off a wharf called The Shed.

The big one was called Thumper because its engine thumped very loudly. Early each morning it would go out—Thump! Thump! Thump!—to get haddock, scallops, salmon, mackerel, and even small herring. Each late afternoon, as the light failed, it would Thump! Thump! Thump! its way back to the harbor with its catch. It liked to thump loudly to announce it was back.

The second boat was small and old. It didn’t have a big engine like Thumper, so it stayed on the quiet side. It was called Fogseeker.

Thumper would come back after a day of fishing, sidle along Fogseeker, and say proudly: “Look what I brought!”

Fogseeker would ask: “What did you bring, Thumper?”

Thumper would thump. “I brought lots of mackerel and salmon, Fogseeker. Thump! Thump! Thump!” Thumper would look down on the small boat and smirk: “And what did you do all day, Fogseeker?”

“I looked for fog,” said Fogseeker.

“What about fish?” asked Thumper.

“I don’t fish.”

Thumper started laughing. “Tell me, does fog feed people?”

“No,” said Fogseeker.

“Does fog make any money?”

“I don’t think so,” said Fogseeker.

“So what good is it? What good are you?”

And Thumper thumped self-importantly. Everybody knew that the only thing that mattered was fish. Haddock haddock haddock. Salmon salmon salmon. What else was there? Poor little Fogseeker, wasting her days always looking for fog. What a silly thing for a boat to do!

One day Thumper was busy fishing when the air started to thicken. Hmmm, Thumper thought. But it was still early, plenty more time to fish. Thumper fished some more, and the next time he looked up the sky was turning a thick gray. Oh oh, Thumper thought, I really should head home. But it was a good day for shrimp (it wasn’t always a good day for shrimp). Just a little more, thought Thumper, just a little more.

Finally, Thumper stopped, looked around, and said: “Where is home?” He didn’t know because around him everything had turned thick and gray. No sign of The Shed, no sign of the pier, no sign even of the sun. Thumper thumped and thumped as loud as possible, but he had no idea where to go.

Suddenly, a shape glided softly out of the mist. Thumper’s heart thumped loudly. “Fogseeker!”

The small, old boat approached and gave Thumper a friendly bump.

“Fogseeker, what are you doing here?”

“I’m home,” said Fogseeker. “I found fog! I love fog. I feel more at home here than anywhere else. What are you doing here, Thumper, are you fishing?”

“I’m lost, Fogseeker. And I’m scared because I don’t know how to find my way home.”

“Can you see me?” Fogseeker asked.

“If I stay close, I see you.”

“Then follow me.”

“But how can you see anything?” asked Thumper. “There are big and dangerous rocks out there and you’re just a little boat!”

“Trust me,” said Fogseeker. “Stay close and I’ll bring you home.”

Thumper stayed close to his little friend. He thumped loudly sometimes when he saw a sudden sandbar on which he could get stuck, or the sharp edge of a rock that peeked out of the water and which could put a big hole in him. But he stayed with Fogseeker while Fogseeker found his way in the fog, and after a long, scary time Fogseeker slowed down and finally came to a stop. Thumper looked up and there was the wharf! There was The Shed!

“We’re home!” thumped Thumper, mooring right between Fogseeker and the wooden posts of the wharf. “How did you find your way? I couldn’t see anything in that fog.”

“I think that’s because you’re always looking out for fish, so you don’t see anything else,” said Fogseeker. “I’ve been seeking fog my entire life and the fog contains everything: fish, rocks, islands, birds, other boats, winds, clouds, rain, everything.”

“I don’t see them.”

“If you’re just looking for fish, you miss everything else,” said Fogseeker. “I’m used to making my way through the mist, seeing many different shapes, but I don’t focus on them, see? I’m just looking for fog.”

“But how did you find The Shed?” asked Thumper.

“I could hear the gulls crying,” said Fogseeker. “Gulls live on the island because it has fresh water, so I just followed their cries.”

Thumper was amazed. He had been so scared of getting lost! He looked nervously at his little friend. “Do you think I should stop fishing?” Thumper asked.

“No,” said Fogseeker. “You’re a great fishing boat and you feed many people. Your job is to fish; mine is to always search for fog.”

Thumper thumped in happy relief. He gave Fogseeker a little bump. “Thanks, pal. You’re small and you don’t bring any fish home—or fog, for that matter. But you got a big heart.”

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

SILOS

I think we finally got the subscription tool working on the blog again. WordPress found an obscure problem at their end; it took a while, and I believe it’s successful. If you’re still not getting anything, email me (eve@zenpeacemakers.com). Many thanks to Silvana Gravini, the tech consultant who worked through weekends and evenings to rectify the situation. I don’t know what I would do without her help. And she continues to do her best to make things work. If you haven’t re-subscribed, please do so, it would be great to have you back, reading this blog at no charge (you can also read it on Facebook and my website).

Those of you who didn’t follow the blog this summer—there’s a lot you missed, but maybe not. I got sick for about a month, hospitalized for a few days along with 2 visits to the Emergency Room due to anaplasmosis, a tick-borne illness. Feel terrific now. Then drove with Aussie up to Grand Manan, an island off Canada’s New Brunswick coast, to visit friends Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald, and am still blogging from there. I missed one week of blogs when I was ill; otherwise, disloyal as ever. You’ll find those blogs on my website if you wish to catch up.

Now I’m writing from The Shed, the wharf which I described the other day, providing mooring to the faithful little motorboat Fogseeker as well as the bigger fishing boats. Grand Manan is not a resort island but rather a fisherman’s island, with people born here or else from over there or just plain visitors. A shipyard next door hauls up huge fishing boats for maintenance and repairs. I’m as comfortable as could be here among coils of orange, black, green, and yellow ropes, not to mention the buoys hanging from the wood beams above.

Which brings me to the topic of silos, which Ara and I got into this morning after Peter left to drive back home. You know how it is with friends, you get up to take your shower, Aussie banging her tail in encouragement and hope that after that it’ll be walk time, and instead someone says something, you say something back, and the next time you look at your watch two hours have passed. One of the bonuses of vacation.

I told the story of traveling cross-country, and somewhere on I-70, I believe, middle of the Plains, I see a sign saying “Downtown” with an arrow. I follow the arrow with my eyes and see it pointing to one silo in a sea of tall grass, nothing else. Tailor-made for a photo, only there were no I-phones at the time and stopping anywhere on I-70 in snowy March between distant exits was not congenial to one’s health and safety. But that picture has stayed with me ever since.

I think of the silo of my own life in the woods of Western Massachusetts. It’s a beautiful one: a home, a terrific housemate, lilac trees and forsythia, and a green cornucopia of trees we walk amidst with gratitude day after day. Health, too (with the exception of several weeks in July/August). No covid, no asthma attacks. Zooms with students and fellow teachers in the Zen Peaceker Order, phones with friends, brother, sister, throwing balls for Henry the Chihuahua and arguing with Aussie the whatever.

And it can all be a silo that reinforces thoughts and belief systems regardless of how often I chant the mantra: Let it go, let it go, it ain’t true, let it go. Habits and opinions form, voices like a dour Greek chorus (I told you to be careful! I told you so!), things get solid and unbreakable against all laws of nature.

Silos can be nourishing, Ara reminds me. They hold grain, they feed people. I think of Emily Dickinson in her Amherst room, rarely emerging from the house, content to entertain family and a few visitors, looking out the window at a world whose unrelenting mystery she caught in those silo-protected verses. I think of Solzhenitsyn hunkered down in a little Vermont town for years so that he could write his Gulag opus. Ara is right, we need silos. And some of us need something else, a flip of the page, a brand new street corner from which to cross.

I hesitated coming here. I haven’t traveled in years unless it was for work or family. And this time, I reminded myself primly, I’d been sick and lost all those days of work. What was I doing, going away for 9-10 days? After all, I live in a place where people come for vacation, I don’t need to go anywhere.

But I did, I did. I needed to go to sleep with the smell of salty water in my nostrils. I needed to walk in fog that brought sea and shore together. I needed to munch on cheese and drink wine over a table made of lobster traps (I don’t even eat lobster) and hear fishermen talk boats, catches, children, weather, and when the season starts. I needed to hear island poetry, peer at blue stones and orange shells that found resting places on the beach and remember that Native Americans warn you not to move things around because everything has its place. I needed to meet men and women who follow different clocks from me (we are in a different time zone from Massachusetts) but mark the passage of time in faces a lot more sunburnt and furrowed than mine. Who maybe don’t struggle against dying as I do.

I can almost feel the brainwaves change, my body’s lines and curves conforming to the lines and curves of the island.

Even Aussie, who at first wouldn’t set a paw in salty water, goes right up to her belly in the low tide under the pier, even takes a few sips, and will race the waves if we start walking along the shoreline again. She becomes an island dog and will give me a fight when we get back on the ferry, tomorrow or Friday, to go home.

Home. Right now, the word conveys a settling in, a narrowing down, a routine, homework. Sit feed dogs light incense make coffee check birdfeeders news emails calendar take dogs out blog prepare class teach write some more get things done done done done.

But how else to get things done? Discipline has its virtue, but where does it meet infinity? Wait till I walk out at night before bed, searching for the  moon? Hear a new language, or just a couple of words put together in a way I never imagined?

So much to do back home, including posting a back-to-school supplies list for the children of immigrant families. Have the list but didn’t want to do that yet because of problems with subscription tool, but mostly because I wanted to write about Grand Manan. I will do so soon, just wait a day or two even as the voices clamor in my head: What about the children? What about this country? What about losses and grieving friends? What about the climate? What about the world?

Not yet. Not yet. Soon, but not yet.

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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.

GRAND MANAN

Aussie’s looking into the fog. Does she smell something? Hear something?

Across the water, close to Grand Manan where we’re staying, is Ross Island, where we went the other day, carried by an ancient white motorboat called Fogseeker in blood-red letters. Aussie wouldn’t climb into the boat, so in the end Peter Cunningham and Ara Fitzgerald, my generous hosts, and I flew across the waves. Peter left us off, avoiding the rocks jutting out of the water, and Ara and I walked on the rocky beach towards an old lighthouse at the very point where Ross Island ends, only the lighthouse is no longer there, it decayed and finally collapsed. There we rendezvoused with Peter, who’d had a hard time getting the motor back on, but we got into the boat, motor was fine, and we returned to Grand Manan, Aussie waiting at water edge, flapping her tail loudly at our loud approach:

“You came back! You came back!”

She, whose life mission is to enter every freshwater pond and lake and sample it up to her belly, looked askance at the waves encircling Grand Manan. But this particular day we walked for a few hours along the beach, the fog lifting only at the end, and it seemed as though she discovered something new about herself she hadn’t known before. She rushed over to the waves, tail circling high like a flag, and as soon as they covered her paws she dashed back:

“Watch me outrun them!” she yelled happily. Never seen her so happy as I saw her then.

When she wasn’t running we’d both look out at the mist, grayness everywhere, no shapes, no objects, nothing to see or be seen by. Only the outcropping of rock and occasional screech of seagulls to remind us that we weren’t the only solid beings in a vaporous, empty world before Jehovah created light and distinguished between light and darkness.

I loved it. Always feel comfortable in wide, indefinable spaces, just gray or just white, nothing for my senses to latch on to and trigger the endless opinions and monologues of my mind. A world without attachment, quiet and serene, easy peasy.

And then we come back to The Shed, a 100 year-old fisherman’s wooden shed and wharf which Peter and Ara, together with a community of old friends and island mates, are raising out of decay and collapse. There’s a new floor with tangled-up wires and chains, hooks, an old painted drafting table and counters made up of throw-away wood, thick, stained gloves, a fisherman lantern, ancient photos from the time Peter’s father was here and raised a family, a leaky roof, multi-colored buoys galore, coiled ropes everywhere, a wood-burning stove for winter with attendant logs, and rectangular lobster traps on the perimeter that, draped fortuitously by wooden boards of various sizes, magically turn into tables, stools, and chairs where Peter and Ara entertain half the inhabitants of Grand manan.

Coming back from staring out at the mist, I found Peter seated in the Shed (see below), computer and projector aimed at a large screen blocking the empty doorway leading to the pier, looking at hundreds of photos that he was preparing for a show this evening at the island’s museum.

I watched from behind as slide after slide appeared, people I knew and most that I didn’t, places I recognized and many I didn’t. There were his and Ara’s fisherman families from the island, families he grew up with over many years. There was Bernie and other Zen Peacemakers, the guardhouse of Auschwitz-Birkenau and the corpses of murdered Tutsis in Rwanda, teepees under shooting stars in the Black Hills and the mad chorus of Manhattan lights.

There were children smiling, their blonde hair floating down to the ice cream cones in their hands, smoke enveloping the Towers in downtown Manhattan that day in September 2001, sheep ferried across the Bay of Fundy and basketball players rushing for lay-ups in a tournament held in memory of a young woman who played basketball and died. Old and new photos of the singers Janice Ian and Bruce Springsteen, birth and death so intertwined it was hard to tell the difference. You can see some of those photos on Peter’s website.

As I watched Peter look at his creations, taking this out, editing that, I saw the true cacophony of all that grayness in which Aussie and I had walked earlier. The fog (which Peter’s father had studied his entire life) had throbbed with life, perhaps that’s what Aussie kept sniffing at as she raced the waves. It seemed as though there, there was nothing, and here there was everything.

As always, in the beginning you have your preferences. What a great photo of that little girl—just look at the expression on her face! I love that pizza sign. And then, shock! Bernie, dead, lies on a mattress in the room that now serves as my office, lifeless face peering out from under a Pamsula quilt. No, no, not that one! A monument of skulls in Murambi, Rwanda—not that one, either! This is okay, but that one’s better. I don’t want to see this, but that one’s great.

It’s easy to run along the beach and feel unattached, free as a bird, nothing pulling you right or left. And then you enter The Shed where thousands of photos and lifetimes roll in front of you—his life, your life—fading one into the other. You tell him to slow it down a little, let the viewers on Tuesday night appreciate each more. But slow or fast, one fades into another and into another. Magnificent, memorable photographs disappearing one into another.

This morning I write from The Shed. It’s rainy outside, which doesn’t disturb Aussie from sitting out on the pier, wondering why her landlubber human isn’t taking her on another long walk. Raindrops come down through a leaky roof while, further up in their 2-century old home, Peter prepares to leave soon to be with a very sick brother back in Massachusetts. The gray was back this morning, but it’s begun to lift because I can see ducks in the water, floating in a line towards Ross Island.

NOTE:

We hope we got the subscription tool working again. Thank you for your patience. We’ll do whatever it takes to include you, at least digitally, in this wide wide world.

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

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

“What the F— am I doing here?”

“You look comfy to me, Aussie.”

“I’m not on land!”

“Of course not, Auss, you’re on a ferry.”

“You took me off land?”

“Just off the mainland, Auss. We’re going to an island. Islands are surrounded by water.”

“I don’t want to go there.”

“Once we get there, Aussie, you’ll be on land again. For now, you have to be on a boat which takes us across the water to the island.”

“So am I like what’s his name? The one who walked on water?”

“Jesus? Of course not, Auss, you’re walking on the deck of a ferry.”

“But the ferry’s on water, right? So I’m walking on water and HATING EVERY MINUTE OF IT!”

“Why?”

“Because I like to know where I’m standing! I like solid ground under my paws. I don’t want to sway, I don’t want to slide, I don’t want to think I’m standing someplace and then find myself someplace else.”

“But Aussie, that’s what’s exciting about life. We start out somewhere, we think we’re there forever, but if we’re open to new directions and opportunities, we end up someplace else. And then someplace else again. And then someplace—”

“STOP! I don’t want that. No Jesus, no ferry, no journey, just solid ground!”

“Aussie, you’re forgetting the most important thing of all.”

“What’s that?”

“You’re going on your first international trip. You’ve left the United States.”

“Where am I going, Italy?”

“No.”

“I know—Bra-zil!”

“No, Auss, you’re going to Grand Manan.”

“Grand what?”

“Grand Manan.”

“What’s a grand manan?”

“An island just south of New Brunswick, in Canada.”

“Canada? You call Canada international?”

“It’s our northern neighbor.”

“It’s boring. It might be more interesting if they sent drugs over, like Mexico, or if we had a war, like Russia and Ukraine. That’s what I call international.”

“Believe me, Auss, we should be grateful night and day that we live in peace with Canada. Too many countries live in enmity with their neighbors.””

“Just look at the people and the dogs. Do they look different to you? Same men, same women, same kids. Look at that Eskimo hound. Looks just like Leeann’s Willy, only no manners. Maybe Canadians don’t have manners.”

You are criticizing others for having no manners?”

“When we passed the border did you see anything different? It was flat on one side and flat on the other. No new mountains, no new rivers. One minute we’re in America, the next minute we’re in Canada. No guards with guns, no stupid beagles sniffing for you-know-what.”

“Speaking of the border, Aussie, you were rude to the young woman who let us through.”

“She asked me if I had my rabies certificate, so I said: DO I LOOK RABID TO YOU?”

“Aussie, please try to make friends. I hear you’ll meet a dog called Coco.”

“You mean, we’re going to be on an island and I will not be an only dog?”

“Try to be a good dog, Aussie.”

“I’m from America, nobody tells me what to do. If you didn’t have me on a leash I’d jump and swim back home.”

“The water’s salty, Auss.”

“You put salt in the water? How much?”

“Quite a bit, I’m afraid.”

“And we’re paying for this?”

SPECIAL NOTE FROM AUSSIE:

Hey, Aussie lovers. Are you having trouble subscribing to my blog? It’s not my fault, I’m surrounded by incompetents. They lost your email addresses! What world do they live in? I’m told you’ve been sent an email request to resubscribe. Or a confirmation. Or whatever. If you got my latest post (this one, silly), then there’s no problem. If you didn’t get the email, or you’re not getting confirmation, DON’T WORRY! Send an email to my human and let her deal with it, eve@zenpeacemakers.com. She’s untrustworthy and a fool, but it’s the best I got.

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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.

EVE PARFAIT

Yesterday the Zen Peacemaker Order did a Reflection on the Rule, and the group of us that met on Zoom, from the US, England, Switzerland, Germany and Brazil, focused on what it means to be stingy. Or, as Bernie used to accuse me often, of having a mind of poverty.

I’ve contemplated this precept often in the past, but this time we focused more on time than money. I realized that I’m way stingier with my time than with money.

I don’t buy expensive things, which is no big sacrifice because I live in a rural area, don’t travel much now or go out. No need for pretty dresses or sandals. I have a rule: I look at my closet and any article of clothing that hasn’t been worn in two years gets recycled. It does wonders for narrowing my wardrobe. For the same reason, I don’t get fancy things for the house. I’m happy with warm and comfortable, not grand and impressive. The only one I spoil is Aussie.

I also tithe, which has been in my bones since I turned 30, mostly due to my Jewish heritage.

But time—there’s the rub. I can be intolerant of people needing my time. Not students or close friends, and certainly not family members, whose lives I love to share.

Recently, a friend wrote me that she finds herself spending considerable time supporting people of her generation who need friendship, advice, and companionship as they age. I’m not that gracious. In the store earlier today, I thought about getting a watch with numbers that are easier to read, which tells you how often I look at my watch:

The woman with dementia who’d like to walk with me for an hour? I look at my watch. Someone who lost a husband recently? I bend my head imperceptibly to see my watch. Talk concerning a failed marriage or children who won’t talk to you? From the corner of my eye, I check my watch.

As for simple social talk, forget about it. I’ve practiced all kinds of subtle motions with my hand and arm so that I can glimpse my watch without anyone noticing.

I wish I could tell you that this only began as I got older; it’s not true. When I lived for 2 years near Woodstock in my early 40s, I loved to nap on the red sofa in the living room in a puddle of light created by the afternoon sun beaming in through a big picture window. But when I awoke, even after just 30 minutes, I’d quickly see how much the sun had moved, setting slowly beyond the trees, and my stomach would clench with anxiety. Time passed! Time passed! I could have done something valuable, could have begun this or finished that. Instead, I slept! I let time pass!

You’re not so important, I tell myself. Nothing you do will change the world! I’m aware of all that, and still, my mind of poverty, the same mind Bernie used to point out to me again and again, continues to obsess over time.

“Move your weight onto your heels,” Kendra Renzoni, my Foundation Training trainer, instructs us. Don’t rush forward, ahead of yourself, don’t sit with your head close to the camera in a Zoom call, none of that’s necessary. Sit and stand back, breathe, be in your body. Be in this moment.

Tomorrow early afternoon I will pick up Aussie and start the drive to Grand Manan, a Canadian island south of New Brunswick, to visit friends who generously invited me to stay at their home for a week. I look forward to it; I’m sure I will enjoy it. And still, there’s the familiar scratching in my stomach: Time will pass! Time will pass! You’ve had difficulties reconnecting with blog subscribers, you believe it’s fixed but you have to monitor it. Isn’t it better to do this close to home? (By the way, if you got an email asking you to resubscribe and then find your email address rejected, please email me: eve@zenpeacemakers.com).

Ahh, these odd meanderings of sanity! Such a concoction! When I was in the hospital some 3-4 weeks ago (and if you missed those blog posts, which were pretty good, check them out on my website), I noticed that dessert was always referred to as a parfait. There was banana parfait, chocolate parfait, peach parfait, orange parfait, etc. The food was terrible, but dessert was always referred to as a parfait. Each was a mishmash of some dairy with flavoring and occasional canned fruit, not to mention sugar. It felt like they threw in whatever they happened to have in the kitchen and just changed the flavoring.

I thought about the word perfect as I ate my banana parfait. I knew that I’d never be perfect; instead, I would always be a parfait, the Eve parfait, composed of many silly things the world has in supply, only occasionally—almost by accident—making up a decent dessert.

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

 

Make a Donation to My Blog Donate To Immigrant Families

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

GOING PUBLIC/STAYING PRIVATE

Relaxing at Lake Pleasant

People have asked me how many readers read this blog. How many hits do you get, they wonder. Once I looked it up, only for the life of me I can’t remember what it said. After that I decided I didn’t really want to know, I want to write, pure and simple, and I worried that if I start worrying about what people like or don’t like, what they want more of or not, it’ll get too complicated.

I think I got what I wished for, in spades. We’ve had big tech issues with the blog so that those who subscribe to it directly aren’t getting it, it can only be accessed through Facebook or on my website. I’d hoped it would be resolved by now, the redoubtable Silvana has tried to export a big list of names into WordPress, only to find that WordPress has locked up the subscription tool, so everyone is consulting with each other in an effort to work things out.

And me? I get to write to an emptier universe than usual, remembering the existential question: If there’s no one in the forest to hear a tree fall, did it fall or not? But fallen trees don’t need human validation, they make a big difference to all the neighboring critters and flora, they have for millions of years.

And if my blog falls? I think of writers I’ve known who decided not to seek publication but rather write (or paint, or photograph) for its own sake. I think of the many people who do origami, the Japanese paper-folding art, either giving away their creations or keeping them private.

Not everything needs to go public. Some things do, like the back-to-school supplies list I’d like to put up to help children from poor immigrant families get what they need for school opening in September. I’ve always bugged Jimena to get me that list earlier, and this time, when she has and I have it all organized, I can’t post it till the subscription is restored.

Going public/staying private. A lifelong push-and-pull for this writer who yearned in her early years to bury herself in books and writing her entire life, a female Philip Roth, only to find life going in very different directions.

I’m thinking about what Simone de Beauvoir said: “One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.” But is that what gives life its value? It makes us awfully reliant on others, on relationships, on interactions, on keeping that social web around us going however we can.

I think of Bernie after his stroke, when he spoke with difficulty, often slurring his words, when his hearing was bad (unless someone put his hearing aids in for him), when he could no longer rely on constant travel, meetings, and phone calls. Our own dinners were often cut short when he’d look at me, smile, and softly say: “I’m tired, I have to go upstairs,” and slowly he’d make his way up and into bed. Did his life no longer have value?

Instead, I think of the poet Maya Angelou’s answer to Bill Moyers when he asked her once: “Do you belong to anyone?”

She answered: “More and more I belong to myself.” And then she added: “I like Maya very much.”

Wow, I thought upon reading this, what does it mean to belong to yourself? And what does it mean to like yourself very much?

I think of Zen practice as a way of belonging to myself. Not the constructed Eve who walks the dogs, visits a grieving friend, teaches this or that, writes a blog (that right now very few access), talks to her family, reads, studies, and sits, not that one at all. That’s the one who relies on her interactions with others to feel alive, to feel that that constructed image is real, is actually who she is.

Daily meditation has taught me that that is not the case. That this person, constantly changing in response to an interactive world, can’t be locked up in any of those stories or social constructs. Impermanent as she is, she is absolutely herself and belongs to no one else. There’s no reason to look out there for definition or validation (unless I’m looking for stories, which in certain circumstances is a valuable thing to do, not in others).

But can I say that I like Eve very much? Not yet. Yes, I can look over my life and think: Not bad, kid. Did a lot, loved a lot, had fun, lived a life you never dreamed of. Only I don’t believe that liking myself depends on that. Maybe it depends on feeling no lack in me.

I’m reminded of how the doorbell rang one day, the dogs going crazy. I open the door to a shy young woman standing on the steps. She extends a brochure towards me, saying: “I’m here to invite you to a memorial service.”

“A memorial for whom?” I ask.

“A memorial for Jesus Christ. He died for all our sins,” she says.

I look down. The brochure is from Jehovah’s Witnesses. “I admire Jesus,” I tell her, “but I don’t see myself as a sinful person.”

“Still,” she says, “the least you could do is come to his memorial.”

                        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.