WHO ARE YOU REALLY?
By Roshi Eve Marko, originally appeared on www.evemarko.com on April 27,2017
Bernie went to Vassar on Tuesday in his first real public appearance since his stroke. It was a big deal for him and me. He’d canceled various things after his stroke, but decided to hold on to a speaking engagement in Vassar in April 2017 as a benchmark. It would measure how far he’d come since the stroke, and how capable he would be of speaking and teaching in public. Rami Efal, Executive Director of Zen Peacemakers, accompanied him.
I didn’t go. Instead, I attended a workshop with John Tarrant on Zen koans (and for this reason also didn’t blog for several days). When the workshop ended yesterday, I drove to Lenox to buy gifts for my mother whom I hope to see soon, then to Hadley to buy some things for the house, and got home in mid-afternoon.
I walked to the back office where Bernie sat, along with Rami and Rami’s assistant, Jessie Zelisko, and stood by his desk. There are no more goldfinches at the bird feeders outside because we’ve stopped feeding them. How did things go, he asked me, and in his eyes was the knowledge of three days gone, three days of absence and change. I described my days to him: what I had learned about new ways of practicing with koans, the people, the weather both inside and out.
And how did things go in Vassar, I asked, and he told me. The trip was long, the first talk to a young class was fine, but there was no time to rest before he had to talk to a bigger and older crowd, then a late dinner, and by the end he was crashing. Luckily they stayed overnight, but yes, it went well, he’ll do more of these in the future.
He spoke slowly, unlike me, with more pauses to put words together. I watched the man sitting in his chair, right hand still close to his chest as if to hold his big heart in. And though we were talking lightly and easily, we were really looking at each other and asking: So who are you after these days away? Who are you, really?
And I realized that that’s really the question I ask every morning when Bernie gets up.
So much has happened, so much has changed. We spend most of our day apart. During the day he does his exercises and works some in his office. I put dinner out and we eat and talk together, I wash up, and he goes to bed to watch television or look at his computer while I continue to work at my desk. He’s usually still awake when I come to bed and we talk a little, laugh about Stanley wandering about trying out various beds, and strategize about how to get him to stop being the Great Obstructer, especially when Bernie needs to go to the bathroom at night. On occasion I help him a little with the blankets.
I get up while Bernie is still asleep, wash, feed the dog, meditate, and start writing right away. Till I hear sounds coming from the bedroom, the creaks of a bed and the scrapings of the heavy shoes he must put on to take just one step, and I hurry over.
How did you sleep? Fine. How did you sleep? Fine. But I look at the face, the body, the spirit, the man, and what I’m really asking is: So today, who are you? Who are you, really?
Roshi Eve Myonen Marko is 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.