30 August 2014

Life, Death, And Grief: The Story Of Kisa Gautami

By: Jon Katz
The Story Of Kisa Gautami

The Story Of Kisa Gautami

Kisa Gautami was a young woman from a prosperous family, she was happily married to a wealthy man. When her only son was one-year-old, he fell ill and died suddenly. Kisa Gautami was stricken with grief, her heart was broken, she mourned for days on end, alone and with her friends, she could not endure the death of her only child. Weeping and near collapse, she took the body of her dead baby and went from house to house begging everyone she encountered to help her find a way to bring her son back to life.

In house after house, she found disappointment and confusion, she would not give up. Finally, deeply concerned for her, her friends implored her to go and see the Buddha.  When she carried the dead child to the Buddha and told him her sad story, he listened with patience and compassion. Then he told her, "there is a way to solve your problem. Go and find me four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death."

Kisa Gautami was filled with hope, she went back to her village to find such a household. But instead, she was surprised  to discover that every family she visited had experienced a death of one person or another, one kind or another.  Suddenly, she understood what the Buddha had wanted her to discover for herself – that suffering is a part of life, and death comes to us all. When Kisa Gautami accepted the fact that death is inevitable, she began the process of moving past her grieving, of moving beyond it and into her life. She took the child's body away and buried her son and mourned her loss.

I love this story very much, I first heard it in a Quaker Meeting, at a memorial service for a much-loved elder of the meeting. It changed my life. In the culture in which I was raised, every death was mourned deeply, even savagely – mirrors covered in cloth, garments rendered, days of weeping with friends and family. Life stopped completely, was smothered in grief and sorrow. It always seemed a shock and a horror,  as if the world had ended or been turned upside down.

I was stunned to hear of this new view of death, just as Lisa Gautami was in the story. This notion of grief and life deepened in me, was internalized and embraced, became a radioactive seed of memory,  a part of me and my view of the world that has grown.

When we lose someone we love, we can forget that this is one of life's inevitable and universal experiences, everyone has suffered such a loss, or soon will.

I see this again and again in the people world and also in the animal world when people tell of their grieving – often for years – for a dog or a cat. I am asked every day why I don't mention Orson more, or talk about Rose, or mention Izzy, or mark their birthdays, or mention them in writings. People tell me they cry for my dogs all of the time, as well as theirs. They suggest that I am cold – one friend thought I must have Aspberger's or some other behavioral disorder to be so remote, even ruthless.

That is not the path for me, I do not wish to live in the past, to swim in the stream of loss and sorrow. Life asks me to move forward, to seek the light and meaning,  to learn to love, to know myself, to move forward until my end. Why would I mourn what I have lost, when I have gained so much – Maria, Red, Simon, my work, my blog, my photography, my friends?

For me the Buddha's understanding of death – and the Quaker's -  is the purest kind of compassion, not cold or remote. It asks us to remember that our suffering and loss is never unique, is never a surprise, is never an aberration of life. It is life itself. And life is always a cause for rejoicing and celebration. We have all felt death, every house on every street. I have lost so many people and animals in my life – parents, relatives, friends, I expect I will lose many more as I grow older. When this happens, I tell myself – find one house, one family, one household that has not lost someone or something they love – a brother, a sister, a mother, a dog.

This is not the absence of life, this is life, our glorious fate. Death comes to us all, and when it does, I wish to always remember that it is not mine to take for myself, to grieve for myself without boundary or perspective. Compassion is coming to understand how to put myself in the shoes of another. When I lose something I love, I never walk alone in those shoes, those are the steps all of us – every one of you – has taken, often more than once.

I remember the story of Kisa Gautami, it is embedded in my consciousness. I celebrate life, always. Suffering and struggle and disappointment does not belong to me.  For me, acceptance is the mother of compassion, the gateway to a spiritual life.

Posted in General

Windowsill Gallery: Saturday Dahlia

By: Jon Katz
Saturday Dahlia

Saturday Dahlia

Posted in General

Hay In The Barn

By: Jon Katz
Hay In The Barn

Hay In The Barn

Second cut hay is harvested in August, sometimes early September, you never know when the hay truck is coming, they never call and tell you. Sometimes, the farmers come right from the field to the barn, Nelson brought his son and a helper and it is always an astounding thing to see these men of steel toss hay  bales around. Maria stacked and she nearly collapsed after a half-hour, it was hard for me to have to watch – this is a chore I lvoe, but I dared not play with tossing a hay bale or lifting one. Next year. We got all 157 bales into the big barn, it will be easy for us to reach them.

Posted in General

Hay Man: Nelson Green

By: Jon Katz
Hay Man

Hay Man

Nelson Green is in his mid 80′s, he struggles with emphysema and other lung issues, he tore a ligament in his shoulder baling hay a month or so ago. Nelson is a giant man with enormous hands, he has been on his farm his whole life. He showed up early this morning – like the other hay farmers, he never calls, he just appears and trusts to the fates – with 175 bales of hay for us for the winter. Nelson hates the phone. He is around hay all of the time.  I wondered if he and trouble breathing. Not today, he said, but most days.

What, I asked,  do you take for it? "Budweiser," he son said, while tossing hay from the truck.

We all cracked up, including Nelson. "Yes," he said, "I suppose that is so." I love having hay in my barn for the winter. Around here, planning for winter begins in the Spring, we have five cords of firewood stored and stacked and hay in the barn. We are ready for fall and beyond. I usually put hay out when the first hard frost hits, and there is no nutrition in the grass.

We usually use two-thirds of a bale a day for three donkeys and eight sheep.  The hay cost $5.50 a bale, I am told it costs up to $50 a bale in Texas due to drought, one reason so many donkeys and horses are being abandoned and in desperate need of rescue. The barn carts love to sleep in the hay bales, they burrow deep inside where they are warm and safe. The chickens also sit on the hay in the winter, sometimes they lay eggs in there. I have a few more things to do before snow. I want to have a frost-free water line built out to the pasture, it's not far and it's a straight line, we'll see if we can afford it.

I also want to dump more dirt in the pole barn, softer for the animals to lie on and also helps with drainage in wet and snowy weather. We'll see what all of this costs. In the meantime, we are ready for winter, it is a warm, sweet and rich feeling. Nelson shows up, he writes out his bill with a pencil on a paper, asks me if there was any bad hay from the year before (if so, he deducts it from the bill, his hay is quite wonderful), shakes hands, tells me about all of his problems with his health, taxes, the rising cost of things and the weather. Farmers never ever say they are having a good year, it is a superstition with them.

Have hay and wood ready is a sweet feeling, I cherish it, it comes once a year, it is a harbinger of Fall, my favorite season. It tells me that winter – the challenging season here – is closed behind.

Posted in General

H.M.S. Flo

By: Jon Katz
H.M.S. Flo

H.M.S. Flo

Cats don't inhabit space as much as they preside over space. Flo hid in our woodshed for a year or so – we never once saw her, except fleetingly, in a blur – until she chose to reveal herself and one by one, take over the farm. First she swatted each of the dogs on the nose for good measure, then she wooed Maria – not hard – and undertook the longer project of winning over me, a dog person. It took her about six months. In the cold, she sleeps inside, usually on my lap, in the summer, and late Spring, she hunts outside and sleeps there. She loves the back porch, the haystacks in the barn, the front porch, and lately, she has been presiding over the Dahlia garden.

Posted in General