One Year Since Bernie’s Stroke: A Letter of Gratitude

Dear friends,

Today, January 12th 2017, marks the one year anniversary of Bernie Glassman’s stroke. Next week will be his 78th birthday. While displaying equal indifference towards either anniversaries, Bernie is just eager to get stronger.

As I write this, he is finishing his afternoon exercises, showing off his marching and how high he can bring his knees while maintaining his balance. A year ago today, after Bernie collapsed during a ZPO International teleconference, his speech was impaired and his right side was completely paralyzed. Now, listening to his steady steps towards the cappuccino machine, recalling their sound as he marched into the center of council in Auschwitz two months ago, joined by eighty others in our 2016 Bearing Witness retreat, I reflect with gratitude on the tremendous support that enabled this healing – the support that Bernie, Eve Marko and his caregivers have received, and still do: local sangha members cooking meals and tending to their home in Montague MA, letters of encouragements and wellbeing and on and on. Your financial donations have allowed hiring trainers, assistants, doctors and special physiotherapies. This coming February, Bernie will travel again to Alabama for a special therapy focused on his right arm.

A third anniversary recently celebrated was Eve and Bernie’s 16th wedding anniversary, and below is her reflection from that day, placing the event of the stroke on much broader yet vulnerable arc. Together, these three anniversaries — one of life, one of fragility and one of caring for relationship with another — reflect, to me, how bound we are in the work of generously ministering, as so many of you have, the wounds of this one body.

On behalf of Bernie, Eve, Zen Peacemakers, inc. board of directors and our team of support, I’d like to offer deep gratitude to all who have supported Bernie’s ongoing recovery this past year and onward. Thank you.

Rami Efal,
ZP Executive Director

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, by Roshi Eve Myonen Marko

Two days ago was Bernie’s and my 16th wedding anniversary. It falls on the Winter Solstice (the darkest day of the year, as I like to quip), and we went out to dinner. For all intensive purposes, it was our first dinner out since his stroke over 11 months ago. We’d tried to go to dinner twice much earlier with friends, and it didn’t work. He couldn’t hear people from the noise in the restaurant, had little appetite, and was easily overwhelmed.

Many months later, on Wednesday evening, we went to an Indian restaurant. Bernie took careful steps with his cane on the snowy sidewalk and up the stairs. Told the heat wasn’t working, we sat down, I took this photo, and then we both had a curry.

I’ve known this man for 31 years, double the time we’re married. Before he was my husband he was my Zen teacher, my boss in the different organizations we worked in, a man who forged new paths in the worlds of Zen spirituality, social entrepreneurship (did you know that Bernie was awarded one of Business Week’s earliest Social Entrepreneur of the Year awards?), and peacemaking. His Three Tenets—Not-knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action—have been cited as foundational principles not just by leaders in different religious traditions but also in the worlds of business, education, and conflict resolution.

And like any man sorely tested, often led by vision against the current, he was tough. I watched him go through angry community meetings protesting our building homes for homeless families in southwest Yonkers even as he joined those same protesters in demonstrations against segregated housing. People disparaged his leadership, told him he wasn’t realistic. I heard him maligned as a Zen teacher because his students were so busy working they had no time for long retreats.

The funniest episode of all took place many years later, when he appeared at a book event. I came late. Standing on line outside to get in, I heard two men talking about a particular activist going through a hard time, and then one of them added: Now of course, Bernie Glassman always has lots of money. No money problems for that man.

If I hadn’t been so stunned I would have laughed out loud. Or I would have told them that Bernie had been broke more times than anyone could count, that he would start new projects on a dime in full faith that the universe would provide, that he and I more than once had about $3 in our bank account and lots of debt. That whenever a few old-timers and I got together, we’d compare favorite stories about being broke: Remember when the Bakery first began its production of Ben & Jerry’s brownies only Chase Manhattan wanted to shut us down? Or how about when we were down to the wire and that Mafioso from the Bronx offered Bernie money at 30%? Remember when the ceiling almost came down at the farewell dinner to the old Greyston Mansion? The van that broke down with no money to fix it?

Bernie had confidence that all effort grounded in the oneness of life, with nothing and no one excluded, was important not just for those of us who sat in meditation but also in business, social action, education, conflict resolution, and the arts—and he was ready to prove it. He also did this work because of his Brooklyn family’s Communist background and because he had no use for discrimination and intolerance of any kind. How does all this practice make you a mensch, a human being, he wanted to know.

For the most part, Zen masters didn’t do this kind of work, not much now and certainly not then. Mayors and business leaders looked askance at the bald man in his threadbare brown samu-e jacket (Japanese peasant jacket often worn by Zen priests and monks) worn over a dusty pair of jeans, with a jaunty smile on his face even in rough times. Well-known, he could have headed up a large Zen center, given teishos (Zen talks) and led retreats, and reaped support and admiration his entire life. He chose to do something else. And in the face of adversity and criticism, he often showed a tough, unyielding exterior, with a reputation for not backing down.

On the evening of the 21st it was just the two of us in a cold Indian restaurant, his first evening out in a very long time. We negotiated the long walk from the car to the table, then up the stairs to the bathroom and then back down (tougher and slower because the railing was on the wrong side). We talked of small things and he took satisfaction in the fact that he wasn’t tired at the end, that he could go downstairs and walk to the car, and didn’t fall in bed exhausted once we got home. Looking at this photo, I see someone glad to finally let go of so many loads, of the tools and inventions of leadership, and become a simple mensch, just a human being.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy Hannukah to all. May we uncover and celebrate our own menschhood this holiday season and in the new year.

 

Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is a co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order and the head teacher at Green River Zen Center. She has recently authored the novel The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx . This post was originally posted on Eve’s Blog on Decemeber 23rd 2016.

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Virginia Parkum

    Blessings to you both.

  2. Mary Gayle Selfridge

    Blessings and love to you and the Zen Peacemakers.My husband had a stroke and the tenets helped me through the challenging process.Thank you for your courage and fortitude ,Namaste

  3. I am one of certainly a great many who follow your life without communicating muck back. Please know that you are a great inspiration and that the intimacy of satsang – or sangha – is solid and powerful between us, even if few words are shared. The times my path crossed yours, Bernie, including in Auschwitz, have all been wonderful blessings. My love and admiration are with you always!

  4. Michelle Letherer

    I appreciate all you have written and all this website has given to me at two thirty in the morning. Another sleepless night. My husband had a stroke 7 years ago when our children were 5 and 8 years old. My dear brother froze to death on New Years eve and was found the next day 23 years ago. All endless pain. All the reasons I was looking for peace at this hour. And always. The article written by Cassie about the dinner served to the homeless on the streets of Santa Fe resonated within. I just wish to thank you for this site. And all of you and Bernie’s insight. Thank you

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