by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
February 2nd, 2016
I continue to watch closely as my husband, Bernie, does physical therapy to strengthen the right side of his body, afflicted by the stroke that sent blood coursing through the left side of his brain. He stands with some difficulty while holding on to a bar with his left hand, and begins to walk slowly while the therapist on the other side helps him step forward with his right leg. Like almost all of us, Bernie assumes that once he walks the legs will go by themselves, so he moves his chest forward thinking the legs are there, only the right one isn’t. He can’t assume that what worked before is working now. And without much feeling in the right leg, he has little awareness of where it actually is.
I stand behind the two men, feeling how each small scene paints such broad strokes. I myself, who haven’t suffered a stroke, also tend to move forward with my upper body ahead of the legs that carry me, ahead of myself, mind working out some future plan or scenario while the body lags behind. I remember Bernie often telling me that Maezumi Roshi, his teacher, used to caution him: “Tetsugen, when you move fast, people stumble.” I’ve stumbled. And now Tetsugen, or Bernie as he’s presently known, moves very, very slowly.
The therapist is also concerned that Bernie will favor the left leg, which he’s aware of, over the right: “Don’t stand on the leg you know can hold you,” he tells him. “Stand on the leg you don’t know can hold you.” Let go of what you know, the working limb that gives you confidence, and lean on the other side of the body, the side you don’t trust, that you can barely make out is there or not.
“Don’t wait for the brain to figure it out, you do it first.” And I remember 1986 when I participated in my first public interview. In that highly ritualized, public ceremony, one student after another approaches the teacher and asks a question. I approached and quoted a verse from the “Gate of Sweet Nectar” liturgy: “I am the Buddhas and they are me,” meaning that I am everyone and everything, and they are me as well.
“I don’t believe it,” I told Tetsugen Sensei, as he was known then, “so why should I chant the words?”
“You don’t have to believe it,” he said. “Just keep on chanting.”
More on Bernie’s Recovery on CaringBridge.org
More writings by Eve Marko on Eve’s Blog
Photo by Peter Cunningham: 1980, Bernie Tetsugen Sensei and Taizan Maezumi Roshi, outside of Greyston Mansion in Riverdale, New York.