28 May 2017

The RISSE Soccer Team: Is Friendship Necessary?

By: Jon Katz

The Meaning Of Friendship: Coach Amjad And Sakler Moo

The RISSE soccer team loses many games. They are smaller than their American born counterparts, there are fewer of them, they have only one coach, no cheering section, and very little in the way of equipment or supplies. Some people on my blog generously paid for their training jerseys and colors.

At the game last week with Williamstown, Coach Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed) was shocked to see the entire opposing team pulled off of the field to rest and replaced. "My God," he said, "they all get to rest!" No rest for the RISSE soccer team, there are not enough of them.

The RISSE team had to go the full way. When the team came to Bedlam Farm Sunday, I asked them about what the team meant to them. "it is so important to us, said Thet Naing Min. "They are bigger than us and stronger than us, but it is not about winning or losing, it is about friendship, what we mean to each other. It is about staying together, playing together and supporting each other."

Another player nodded, "this is about our staying together," he said. "It is not about winning."

This is Ali's idea, really, the goal is not to win, although the team loves to win and works to win. The goal is to stick together, support one another and be a good friend to each other.

I went to the game in Williamstown last week and was taking photos and forget to cheer – Ali did all of the cheering. Thursday, I'm going to a game in Clifton Park, N.Y., and I'm bringing Red, we are going to make some noise. And take pictures. It didn't really occur to me that the kids would care if I was there.

I get it. We will show up.

Here, the Army of Good has sent money so the team can go on Saturday excursions to parks and the ocean this summer. We have raised money for birthday celebrations and gifts. I am shortly going to ask for help in paying for a weekend retreat for the team at Pompanuck Farm.

I did not really consider that my presence was important.

But they did care, almost every one of them mentioned that I was there, that I showed up, and thanked me.

The team is very important to these kids, and I did noticed how out manned and out gunned they were at that game. The opposing team had a small army of team players, the snazziest uniforms, two or three coaches, and score of parents yelling from the sidelines. The  players loomed over the RISSE kids. Nobody quit or gave up.

As sports sometimes is, the team is a metaphor for the lives of these children, their journey here has been long and hard.

The team – I am going to work to get them to a retreat at Pompanuck Farm over this summer – is all about friendship, and they have already taught me a great deal about friendship, something I have always had trouble with.

"Friendship is unnecessary," C.S. Lewis wrote, "like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself…it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival."

I do not really know what the term friendship even means, I have had few friends in my life, they seem to melt away, or I melt away. We just don't seem to stick to one another.

The soccer team does stick together. The powerful experiences of being a refugee child bonds them to one another, perhaps for life. They have seen things and experienced things that few people understand, but that everyone on the team viscerally understands.

The team gives value to endurance and survival, two qualities these kids need as they enter their new lives in a troubled America.

Friendship matters to them. People notice. People care. The team is awaking me to the power and necessity of friendship, and I will strive to be a good friend to them, as they already are to me. I see that I am one of them, without quite noticing it.

Emerson wrote that friendship was more powerful and important than romantic love. "The emotions of benevolence," he wrote, "from the highest degree of passionate love, to the lowest degree of good will, they make the sweetness of life."

In their friendship with one another on their soccer team, I see the Risse refugees, these children, discover the emotions of benevolence, and rediscover the sweetness of love. Next to that, winning hardly matters.

This is not about politics, it is about people.

Posted in General

Post Script: Robin’s Visit, Back To Gotham

By: Jon Katz

Robin's Visit: Emma and Robin catch their train

Emma and Robin left Albany today on the noon train for New York City. By this evening, Emma, Robin and me all had  fevers, some of the wonder of being around babies. We did, however, all have a wonderful and meaningful weekend together.

Emma was, as I expected exhausted, and by Sunday, so were the rest of us. Maria and I snatched Robin early each morning and gave Emma as much of a rest as was possible – about three hours. My diaper-changing, formula preparation, and cajoling all came back and Robin and I spent much of the weekend smiling and making faces at one another.

I think our bond deepened.

She has certainly brought Emma closer to me.

On the way back to the train, Emma encouraged me to embrace my role as a grandfather, and to accept the idea that I would be important to Robin. I agreed to do that. It is not clear to me how all of this will work out, but I tend to overthink things rather than accept them.

It will be what it wants to be. I told Emma I imagined I was preparing myself for the disappointment of not being present for the vast majority of Robin's life.  My experience with family has been difficult.

I also see what wonderful parents Emma and Jay are, and I have no interest in injecting myself too deeply into that.  Robin will be well cared for. There is such a thing as being too cautious, and I do understand that, so I will just go along with the flow.

What Robin and I – and Emma –  have together now is quite lovely, I have been working on it, and if that grows and deepens, all the better. I believe in acceptance and practice acceptance in almost all of my life, I want to apply it here as well.

Robin and I did a lot of laughing together, and by today, we were both quite comfortable with teacher. A good result for any weekend. I don't expect to see Robin again for several months, unless I take that train myself down to New York City for a day. When I see her again, she will be walking and starting to talk.

She is a lot of fun right now, easy-going with a lot of mischief in her eyes. She knows how to laugh and how to dance. Maria and she also bonded quickly, and danced together through the weekend. Maria is a natural.

Having Robin and Emma here deepened the pleasure of hosting the RISSE refugee soccer team. That was a groundbreaking experience for me, and I will remain committed to supporting these very worthy young people.

I was sad to see her go, but also thoroughly exhausted. I forgot just how hard it was to raise a baby and spend days with her.

And also working to show that the vast majority of refugees and immigrants are no threat or danger to us, but a part of our very national DNA.

Posted in General

Celebrating The (Inseparable) Three Sisters Garden, Year Two.

By: Jon Katz

Three Sisters Garden, Year Two

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of mixing corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is believed to create a healthy,  sustainable system that provided  soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations of Native Americans, and colonists.

Growing a Three Sisters garden has also become a kind of feminist symbol and garden, it was named to evoke three inseparable sisters, or more broadly, women's unflagging support for one another.

We planted our Three Sisters garden last year and successfully grew corn,  squash, beans, cucumber and sunflowers. Today, Maria and I dug out the weeds, watered and raked the soil (closely supervised by the ever-curious Fate, who must be a part of everything) and put up the fences again.

I checked the Farmers Almanac for nutritional details:

  • As older sisters often do, the corn offers the beans needed support.
  • The beans, the giving sister, pull nitrogen from the air and bring it to the soil for the benefit of all three.
  • As the beans grow through the tangle of squash vines and wind their way up the cornstalks into the sunlight, they hold the sisters close together.
  • The large leaves of the sprawling squash protect the threesome by creating living mulch that shades the soil, keeping it cool and moist and preventing weeds.
  • The prickly squash leaves also keep away raccoons and other small animals, who don’t like to step on them

Mostly, the deer and rabbits left our garden alone last year.

We are also adding a sunflower garden to the farm this year, and turning a section of lawn into a natural grass/sunflower growth. Maria re-planted the Dahlia garden as well.

A reminder that our Spring Open House is coming up the weekend of June 10-22, ll a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. I will herd sheep with Red and Fate,  read and sign from my new book "Talking To Animals."

Maria has another great art show planned, more than a half dozen talented artists selling affordable art, including her own potholders and hanging pieces.

Ed Gulley is coming with a young and friendly calf, there will be some poetry reading, some talks, donkey visits and good feeling. You can follow the details on Maria's blog, on the events page.

We don't promote the Open  Houses anywhere but on our blogs, and the Open Houses have taken a soft and comfortable tone, they are more of a family re-union than anything, intimate and low-key, but the art is increasingly popular and central to the weekend. We have lots of fun. Ken Norman will also becoming on June 10 to trim the donkey's hooves.

Please, no dogs. thanks.


Posted in General

The Cambridge Community Band

By: Jon Katz

The Cambridge Community Jam Band

After we dropped Emma and Robin off at the Albany Train Station, we drove back to Cambridge and stopped at the Farmer's Market to buy some bread and one of Scott Carrino's thin and delicious pizzas for lunch. (a white pizza with vegetables and some sausage bits.).

The Cambridge Community Jam Band was playing and it seemed timeless gathering to me, another example of community where people come together and know one another. It doesn't matter to me if I am loved. I need to be known.

The music was good and fit the day and the place. Community is made up of a million small things, but the essential element is being seen and known to one another. It is much harder to hate someone you know that someone on Facebook or Twitter.

Posted in General

Leroy Is Relaxing. A Very Good Sign.

By: Jon Katz

Leroy Is Comfortable

We, we know Leroy can relax.

Robin Gibbons, his breeder, sent me a text photo of Leroy taking a nap this afternoon on his back, exposing his stomach to the world, which animals only do when they feel safe and comfortable. He looks great, we are hoping to visit him tomorrow if Robin is home and available.

Robin, a first time breeder, works at a local American Legion, she is thoughtful and conscientious, it was nice of her to send us that text. Leroy does seem calm, I have a good record for choosing puppies, I remember how calm Lenore was in the litter, Leroy is the same way.

I look to see how calm they can be, how comfortable with people, how responsive to eye contact and touch. I don't want a puppy in the middle, one who is active but not crazy, calm but not lethargic. And I want a puppy with a good and loving mother, a great indicator of temperament in my mind.

This ability to relax is a good quality for a dog in a household with Fate, and also with me. This is also a dog who is a candidate for therapy work. I believe the litter has a profound impact on the temperament and demeanor of a dog, and most people never get to see dogs in the litter.

Good breeders always are happy to show their dogs at any age, and their parents as well. They are invariably open and eager to answer any questions. If they don't, be careful.

Robin is open and quite thorough, she won't accept any deposit or money until she is certain her dogs have no hip or other health problems, another thing good breeders do. I have had rescue dogs and dogs from shelters, and also dogs from conscientious breeders. Those are all good ways to get a dog for me.

Red and Fate came from a wonderful breeder, Karen Thompson, of Thompson's Border Collies. Lenore came from another wonderful breeder, Gretchen Pinkel of Kee-Pin Labs. I am lucky to know both of them, and I feel the same way about Robin Gibbons.

I don't ever tell anyone else how to get a dog, unlike many people on social media. It seems an arrogant and unthinking thing to do. I belong to the Church of Minding Your Own Business. Like the Quakers, we are a tiny and dwindling faith. Beyond that, getting a dog is a serious and very personal choice, depending on so many factors we cant know or see.

The best thing I can ever do for a dog is choose is thoughtfully and wisely. For me, it is not a moral decision, an opportunity to feel good about myself. It is a very practical decision Will the dog be happy and safe? Will the people be happy and safe? That's where I start. Then, the gathering of all the information there is to know about the dog, the breeder, and the source of the dog.

I have a good feeling about Leroy, call it an instinct. He is four weeks old, he's coming home to us in four weeks. We bought a small crate at a yard sale, and I'm boning up on Boston Terrier nutrition and training. A different kind of challenge for me, I am eager for it.

Leroy will be the first small dog I have ever had.

Posted in General