By Roshi Eve Myonen Marko
When Bernie first had his stroke he couldn’t talk at all. Then the words started coming back, all except for one.
“I—don’t—remember—that—word,” he’d say to me.
“What word is that?”
I remembered how much he loved The Big Lebowski. “You remember bowling, right? And what happens when all the pins go down?”
“Strike,” he said immediately. And then: “Stroke.” From then on Bernie, in talking about the early days, would say: “When I had my bowling—strike—stroke . . .”
I remembered this when a friend came over yesterday and asked Bernie what he thought of our political situation. “We’re all one body,” Bernie said. “And maybe back in November, this one body had a stroke.”
Yes, I thought to myself, maybe this is what we had. Each one of us who lives here is part of that one body called the United States, though we often don’t realize it. One arm feels superior to the other arm, one leg would like the other to stumble, oblivious of the fact that that would cause the entire body to stumble.
In some ways, we were so sure of our general health, weren’t we? We were sure of our values and of what we stood for. Everyone knew there were problems, but how many of us thought they were that serious? Serious not just to affect one part of the country, but everyone?
And then a stroke happens, a shock to the entire system, and we’re stunned. The body is more fragile than we supposed. Certain limbs were suffering, stresses were building up. Why did it? How could it? How could it happen to us?
After a stroke certain limbs don’t move right. There may be no speech, or we forget how to walk. It feels like we’re in a dark tunnel. Will we walk or talk again? What will come back? What won’t? Will it feel or look the same? Will I recognize this country? Will I recognize myself?
This is not the man you married, someone very close to both of us said to me. And in many ways, this is not the country I thought I knew, the country I called home.
But one never knows who and what will emerge from a stroke, only that it will be different. For the brain re-wires. New connections are made. Cells that were disabled are bypassed and other cells now do their jobs. Everything steps up and adjusts, and in the process, a new person may emerge.
Sometimes I think that’s already what’s happening here. We’re more vigilant, we don’t dare take anything for granted, There is something new each morning: new climate rules rolled back, new exclusions, what feels like a hardening of the arteries, which give the days an extra crispness. I feel as though my relationship with this country is starting from scratch, because we’ve suffered a stroke.
Maybe I now really need to pay attention, take care of the stressed parts of me, perhaps lose some weight, winnow out the unnecessary, and focus on what’s important. Rewire myself, and in the process, rewire the country. Awaken to the fact that this is all one body, no limb favored more than another. We had a shock, and something new will emerge. What it will be is all up to us.
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is a one of the founding teachers of the Zen Peacemaker Order and a principal teacher at Green River Zen Center in Massachusetts, USA. She has co-led bearing witness retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Rwanda and the Black Hills. Eve writes regularly in her blog and is the author of the novel The Dogs of the Kiskadee Hills: Hunt for the Lynx.