There’s a Zen koan made famous by the 18th century Japanese Zen master, Hakuin: What is the sound of one hand? Koans are questions or stories that sound quirky, but actually point to life as both clear and inexplicable. So we think we know the sound that two hands make when they come together, but what is the sound of one hand?

Bernie’s right hand, part of the right side of his body that was affected by his stroke, is always in a splint so that his fingers remain open rather than clenched. His hand must also be elevated wherever he is, placed usually on a cushion.

Bernie has not had an easy time with his right hand. It usually bends in the elbow and the fingers curve as the day progresses. At this point he is able to touch his second and third fingers with his thumb but no further, and lacks the strength to grab onto things and hold them. This is changing and improving all the time, but for now it means that he can only do things with his left hand (he has been right-handed all his life), unable to cut the food on his plate, remove his watch before a shower, or insert a charger into the phone.

Since he invariably prefers to lie on the left side of the bed, his right hand is always between us. If I’m not careful I’ll bump into it. On occasion he’s forgotten all about his right hand, not even feeling it when he rammed it into a wall, or had no idea where it is (Where did I put my right hand? I can’t find it). It lies between us like some strange, floppy object, an incomprehensible barrier, which in some way is exactly what a Zen koan is.

What is the sound of one hand? I’ve had a lot of meshugas (famous Japanese word) in connection with Bernie’s hand, at times making it a symbol of the stroke itself. What is the sound of my husband’s right hand? What is the feel, color, smell, even the taste of this one hand? It has attained vast proportions in my mind at times, especially in the middle of certain nights when I can’t sleep. I remember the therapists’ somber invocation (Usually the hand is the last to come back!) and see its ghostly outlines in the darkest corners of my agitated imagination.

But then there’s morning, when sunbeams alight on Bernie’s shoulder and there’s this one moment shared by two people in a fresh new day, the dog at our feet, infinity all around us. That’s my chance to let go of what the doctor said, the diagnosis and prognosis, and my feelings yesterday, last night and a few months ago. The right hand looks like I’ve never seen it before because at that moment my mind sees it freely rather than through my (or others’) opinions and fears. And when my mind is free, Bernie’s hand is free. It could be a barrier or a road into the hills, a magician’s hand shuffling a pack of cards, a teenage friend gleefully giving me the finger 50 years ago, the gauzy streak of an airplane plane or an arrow pointing nowhere.

What is the sound of Bernie’s one hand? What is the sound of mine?

Read more of Roshi Eve Myonen Marko’s writing on her blog at

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14 Responses

  1. Beautiful Eve. thank you for this heartfelt gift. After my mother’s stroke (at 91) she couldn’t move her right hand. I worked with her over and over to get those fingers to move. One two three four five, I would say, touching each finger and moving it gently. But no go. Still, it was like when she taught me to count when I was a little boy. How we loved those early days of life!

    Then one morning, I went inside to see mom and do our hand exercise, but when I got to her bed she looked up at me and then moved her fingers by herself for the first time. And she said, One Two Three Four Five. What does it mean?

    What a master! I send this to you and Bernie with love.

  2. thank you, Eve, for your posting. We follow the whole development from Belgium. gassho.

    1. The silent sound of weeping
      Longing,yearning, to meet itself again
      To meet the other hand
      Not knowing
      A stranger to itself..

      Embracing you both

  3. Nice Eve, My bro sent me this about Bernie’s hand. So important to be grateful, especially in times of change! I wish you both a wonderful journey and please continue to spread the joy and love that you hold in your heart and soul.

  4. Thank you for this posting, Eve. I’ve been wondering how you and Bernie are doing, not wanting to intrude and get in touch. You’re in my heart all the time, so I appreciate the update. Please give Bernie (and his hand) my dearest love.

  5. Dear eve ,,,thank you for expressing so beautifully your thoughts and experience ,,,what came to my mind is how fortunate you are , the two of you ,that you have each other at this moment ….much love And blessings ……

  6. Thanks for those words that directly point to the “matter at hand!” As a practicing neurologist who has met Bernie and yourself a few times (You may not remember), and who had the privilege of spending two weeks with Bernie in Africa in 2008, I can say that Bernie, in a way, has always been my teacher, guiding me at work and at play through the Great Matter. I wish you both continued happiness and health.

  7. thank you Eve for being part of your journey as a loving couple. Participating in a dreaming mode opens the view for me on the richness of life. And there is an incredible amount of touchiness in it. All my greetings to this wonderful right hand.
    participant Auschwitz 2015 retreat and member of your small group

  8. Oh, Eve; oh, Bernie—
    I know this one: the well-known and familiar that is suddenly, for a moment (or longer,) unknown and strange.
    Sending love, and blessings for a good shabbos—the truly restful kind, where healing takes place when we are not looking.

  9. Dear Eve,
    I am incredibly moved by this – and other Blogs – Blog, because you are weaving in the teaching of the koans and to open for not-knowing. As I awoke today with a fright and tenseness this morning, unspecifically, I was invited to let go and have a fresh look into the morning-sun and taste the crispness of the air, and Bernie’s hand, your words, the air were creating an openness to vastness, wonder, love. Thank you so much for this sharing. Have a beautiful day. Monica Jion

  10. Thank you for the beautiful thoughts and words.
    It’s particular of course to you and Bernie, yet universal.
    What you had to say helps me reflect on the losses big and small that I/ we encounter in the aging process and try to see them in s new light.
    Participant ,Auschwitz 2015 Retreat

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