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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
4 May 2016

Soul Portrait: Kim

By: Jon Katz
Soul Portrait

Soul Portrait

Kim, our only Karakul sheep, is also our most skittish sheep. The others have gotten used to the dogs and our comings and goings, Kim is shy, she always hides in the flock if she can. Sadly, lambing season last year began with her lamb being born very early and dying in the ice and the snow. She is a beautiful sheep, her wool is especially beautiful.

Posted in General

Responsibility: “I Am Sorry. I Was Wrong. I Failed. I Made A Mistake.”

By: Jon Katz
"I Was Wrong"

"I Was Wrong"

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that human beings are condemned to be free, because once thrown into the world, we are responsible for everything we do. It is up to us, he wrote, to give meaning to life. I sometimes want to cry when I think of this beautiful ethic, I wonder where it has gone.

And I ought to know, I lost it myself.

When my life broke apart seven or eight years ago, I went for help and a therapist asked me what my goals were in my remaining life. I did not hesitate to answer. I said I wanted to shed the fear that was choking my life, I wanted to understand the role of money and security in my life, but most importantly, I wanted to learn how to take responsibility for my life, and for everything that I did.

Looking around me, I see a culture in which everyone else is blamed for everything that happens to us. If a politician loses an election, it is never because he or she failed or was rejected.

It was the media to blame, or a "rigged" system. We grow angrier and angrier at them, they screwed us again and again they forgot about us, they don't care about us. Many people blame the government for their troubles.  When we get divorced, it is often the other one who was at fault, we are not to blame. If we can't pay our taxes, we hate the IRS for asking for them, we hate them for existing.

The problems of the world are caused by the left, or the right.  Or the billionaires, or the bureaucrats.

This is a very personal issue for me because I did not know how to say those rarely heard words "I was sorry," or "I made a mistake," or "I failed." I never heard them spoken in my family, I never hear them spoken now. The lawyers worry that we can be sued, we might get scorned on Twitter. It seems an old and hoary idea, admitting mistakes and taking the consequences for them.

A month ago, I was pulled over by a state trooper for speeding, I was going 10 miles over the speed limit. When he asked me if I knew why he had stopped me, I started to say I had no idea – I was always told to never admit to speeding.

I decided to take responsibility and I said, "I was speeding, I was driving ten miles over the limit, and I didn't notice until I saw your lights flashing." He looked startled and he said that was right, and he smiled and said he wasn't going to give me a ticket for speeding, he gave me a ticket for failing to use my wipers in the rain, no points for that.

In January, I found myself in a disturbing conflict with people I thought were my friends, it was one of those Facebook arguments, I think there is a translation software there that turns discussions into misinterpretations, insults and arguments. She was furious with me, and I couldn't quite understand it, and I apologized if I had upset or offended her, I hadn't meant to. I was sorry, I said, perhaps we could talk about it. But she couldn't talk about it, she clung to her rage and victimhood for months, still does for all I know.

She simply could not admit the sad truth that it always takes two people to have a bad conversation like that.

Being sorry or admitting a mistake doesn't always seem to be enough, more blood is demanded, more drama. After my divorce, I blamed my wife for not sharing the life I wanted. I blamed my daughter for not understanding why I broke up our family. Over time, I worked to understand this in a different way. I was not responsible for them, I was responsible for me. What had I done wrong? Why hadn't I listened more and seen more?

My wife had a right to live a different life than I wanted to live. My daughter had the right to see it in whichever way made sense to her. The person I had to look at was me, not them. The person I had to learn from was me, not them. And we were all responsible for the choices and decisions we made.

Sometimes, I think we are living in a cloud of blame and denial. Personal responsibility is a lost faith, it seems.

I know so many people who can never stop pointing the finger at others. Everywhere I go I hear people raging at politicians, institutions, politicians, banks.

But I am not responsible for them, I am responsible for me, and I am happy to stand in my truth and fight for my identity, but I have also learned to value these precious words: "I was wrong. I am sorry. I made a mistake." When I started learning them anew, they seemed almost foreign to me, I hear them so rarely.

Taking responsibility for my life was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and I still work at it every day. I don't think there are any more difficult words to speak than "I was wrong. I am sorry."  When we declared bankruptcy last year, I started to blame the banks and publishing and lawyers and the recession for my troubles, and there is a good case to be made for some of that.

But I chose a different path instead and have worked hard at it. In my very wonderful marriage, there is sometimes conflict and confusion, hurt feelings and poorly chosen words. There is nothing more healing or loving than to say "I am sorry, I was wrong," there is no shame in it, only love. And every time we say it, we love one another all the more.

I am responsible for my life, no one made me get divorced, no one made me try to sell my farm in a bad market, no one kept me from saving money 30 years ago, when everyone was doing it. Those were my choices, my responsibility, my life.

I always liked Eleanor Roosevelt's idea: "In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility." Confucius suggested that we blame the devil that is in ourselves rather than the devil that is in others. The devil loves me, he visits often.

A long-time reader messaged me after I asked for support in buying a new camera, he said he would never read the blog again because I was asking others to indulge my "hobby." I did not apologize to him, I was not sorry. I wrote that I was responsible for what I chose to ask for, not him, and the people who helped me were responsible for their choices, not him.

Responsibility is not always about surrender, quite often it is about affirmation. It works both ways, and  your heart and your bathroom mirror tells you which is right and which is wrong. Responsibility is about honesty and authenticity, it literally builds character and strengthens the soul, emotion by emotion.

The only face in the mirror I have to please is my own. It is not what others think, it is what I think.

In this year, this presidential year, candidates come and go, and there have already been many defeats and withdrawals. Everyone single defeated candidate has blamed the system, his party, the media, the pollsters, the consultants. it is the Cult Of Sore Losing.  A chorus of whines and finger-pointing. Was this me for much of my life? It will not be me for the rest of my life.

I have yet to hear a single leader stand up and look into a camera and say "I accept the process, I failed, I have been rejected, and I will take responsibility."

If they can't do it, how can we? If lawyers and marketers shape our ethics, how will we ever find them?

When our leaders fail to guide and inspire us, where are we to go for inspiration and direction? Back to the bathroom mirror, I guess. That was my choice.

There is no more effective antidote in my experience to hate and frustration and disconnection than personal responsibility.  The more responsibility I take, the less anger and frustration and fear I feel. I was wrong. I made a mistake. I am sorry.

Responsibility is strength, it is purpose, it is meaning. It is the ultimate way in which I have learned to stand in my truth. And it is hard, every single time. It is was a great relief for me to stop blaming the world

For me, nothing has been more important.  It gives meaning to my life.

Posted in General

Statue’s Hand

By: Jon Katz
Statue Hand

Statue Hand

We aren't sure who our statue in the back yard represents – St. Therese or St. Francis – but I have always been drawn to the hand of the statue, it is so weathered and poignant. In our minds, this is the statue of the animals.

Posted in General

Red Healing, Red Watching

By: Jon Katz
Red Watching

Red Watching

Red can't work for now, he has an injury to his spine, perhaps caused by a stomp from Chloe when they collided near the fence. I bring him into the pasture, and tell him to "stay," he watches closely as we move the sheep around with grain or our own movements and shouts. Fate does her runs around the sheep, and looks to Red for guidance, but he seems a bit sorrowful to me.

I don't, as a rule, project human emotions onto dogs, but I do think Red would rather be working than watching. I'm keeping him from running the week week or so and then we'll give it a try.

Posted in General
3 May 2016

Nutrition: Dinner, My Veggie Casserole

By: Jon Katz
My Veggie Casserole

My Veggie Casserole

I am always learning about good nutrition for me and for Maria, our food choices and habits are always changing. We are eating very lightly at night, sometimes just cottage cheese and fruit. We feel better, sleep better.

I have lost about 10 pounds, always a good thing for heart patients, have given up bread and turned even more to vegetables and fruit, and lean meats – turkey, chicken, and also fish.

I think we will end up eating two meals a day with some light food in the early evening. Lots of protein, few carbs. It feels good and my blood tests results were stellar, my blood numbers are fine, my cholesterol is low. Tonight, I prepared one of my new staples, a veggie casserole.

I layer it. Sliced sweet potatoes on the bottom, firm Tofu, then a layer of beets, squash, sliced red pepper and kale, sliced pears, topped with cranberry goat cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Cooked at 425 degrees for an hour. We will have some of it tonight, some of it for lunch tomorrow.

Eating well is not simple, fast, or cheap. I have to really think about what I buy at the market (I do the shopping and cooking in our house, Maria is a committed chopper, as all obsessives are). I have to plan early, prepare early and get it in the oven early.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are not available everywhere, especially in the country.

Fresh food is more expensive. Sometimes I buy organic food, but not always. I think it has been somewhat overblown and used too often as another marketing tool to jack up prices. I love shopping for food, it feeds the nurturing part of me, and I love cooking for Maria, she is hopeless about food. If I didn't shop and cook, she would eat corn chips and salsa for dinner every night. When she is working on her art, the real world recedes.

I have come to love this veggie casserole, I love the taste and the lightness of it.  For the past seven years, ever since I was finally diagnosed with diabetes (my grandfather was a diabetic), I  have been learning about nutrition. It has not been easy, it is very rewarding.

Posted in General