28 February 2015

High In The Sky

High In The Sky

High In The Sky

It was – 5 this morning when we went out to feed the animals, the sun is high in the sky it is bright and clear. Eager to get to New York and see the Gee's Bend quilts, the carriage horses and my daughter. The sun tells me Spring is asserting itself, nudging the everlasting winter out of the way. Good to see.

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With all of the snow and paths, there are logjams all over the pasture. Red takes up his position every morning and waits for commands, the donkeys have to tiptoe around him delicately to get to the hay feeder. I am always touched at how careful these animals are not to harm one another. With Simon, it was different, he would try and push Red out of the way. But no one every got hurt.

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27 February 2015

To Gotham: Kids, Horses, Kids

Quilts, Horses, Kids

Quilts, Horses, Kids

(Spring is coming, Flo demanded to go outside today and sit on her porch steps in the sun. Maybe kill something running under the snow. She demanded to come back in an hour or so later.)

Tomorrow, off to New York City early to look at quilts, horses, and my daughter and her fiance. We're leaving early to go to the Lehman College Museum Of Art in the Bronx and see the Gee's Bend Quilts on exhibit – "The Gee's Bend Tradition" – at the museum there. these are the quilts and the now famous artists, all descendents of slaves in Alabama,  that have inspired so much of Maria's art and helped spark her decision to become an artist.

I have never seen these quilts up close and we are both excited to get close to them. After the visit to the museum, we plan on visiting the New York Carriage Horses and attending a rally if one is held in Central Park. We're having dinner with my daughter Emma and her fiance Jay at a restaurant on the Lower East Side. We might slip another museum in along the way, maybe MOMA, which is my favorite.

New York is supposed to have temperatures above 40 on something, that would be something to feel.

We'll be  back Sunday in time, I hope, to great the latest "wintry mix" promised for Sunday evening. All good stuff, I have accepted the loss of our beloved frost free water line, this winter's cold weather was too much for it, although it did last for several tough months. Back to hauling buckets, we are game, if Deb Foster, our house sitter doesn't quite and move to Florida. I think she would miss Red, we are counting on it. If she moves, we are following her.

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Portrait: Mary Kellogg: A Great Transition.

Mary Kellogg

Mary Kellogg

I was so grateful to see Mary Kellogg, we sat in her living room, we talked, I felt the spirit in the room, I felt Mary standing in the light, she is in the great transition, and she knows it. I have to gain weight, she said, they want me to gain weight. Her eyes have lost none of their fierce spirit and glow, she seemed tired to me, worn down, perhaps by the harsh winter, which she had endured alone, as always.

I felt a holy spirit in the room, as if Mary was being held in the light, her spirit was presenting itself to me.

But Mary does not complain about her life or tell struggle stories about it, not ever. You mean so much to us, I said, you mean so much to me, she replied.

I remember when we met, we took a walk together in the woods, what was it, six or seven years ago?

I remember it, Mary, walked on the path. I was troubled, I was in so much trouble.

I knew, I could see that you were troubled, that it was a difficult time for you.

But I always liked you Jon, from the first, I always did. And I am so happy for you. You look so good, so healthy,

and so happy. I am 85 now now, I can't have too much time left. I want to stay here, I hope I can, right on through.

I remember how happy you were when I told you I was in love with Maria, you were the first person – maybe the only one –

to say that was beautiful, that was good. She will take care of you, you said, she will keep you in line.

And she has.

I know she has, said Mary, she is such a good and sweet person, I am so happy for you.

I want you to know, Jon, how grateful I am to you and Maria, for encouraging my work, for publishing my poems. I don't think it would ever have happened without the two you. I hope you know how much it means to me.

Can I ask? Have you chosen a title for the book?

Yes, we have. "How To Dance." From one of your poems.

Oh yes, I like that, very much.

Have I thanked you for encouraging me?

You have, Mary, you tell me often enough, every time I see you.

I think we all need encouragement.

Yes, I suppose we do. I might take your writing class at Hubbard Hall, I think that might be good for me.

It will sure be good for me, Mary, I would so love to have you.

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The Boundaries Of Compassion. Helping, Not Helping.

The Boundaries Of Compassion

The Boundaries Of Compassion

I wrote about Richard and Jenny yesterday, and about the very tough winter they are having, as are so many people in rural America – a place the cameras never go unless someone is getting shot or something explodes. Since then I have been nearly overwhelmed with messages from people wishing – sometimes even demanding –  to help this couple.

This a curious case, different from the requests for help and crowdsourcing projects that have been launched here  – for Ken Norman, the farrier, George Forss and his book, me for my camera and book and Maria for her sewing machine. There are many good people out there and it is good to see how thoughtful and generous people will be if given the chance. We have ways of helping people that never existed before.

Many thousands of people have been helped in profound ways through sites like Kickstarter and Gofund.me. In an age when government and politicians are abandoning the poor and the needy, and turning their backs on them, millions of people are rising up to help.

But as I am learning this week,  this is a double-edged sword. The technology that can help also brings many people into the lives of people whether they seek this recognition or not.  Help in this universe can sometimes be threatening as well as healing.  Richard and Jenny's plight raised some interesting questions for me:

What if people don't want help? What if they don't want money? What if their wishes are ignored? What are the boundaries of help, the ethics of help in this very new culture? Can we hear people as individuals and respect their choices, even when they are not ours? Is the help about them or us?

And there is this, there are lots of people who are needy, and lots of people who have figured out how to manipulate people into giving them money – they are in crisis regularly. And are given money regularly. Life is rarely simple or black and white.

Jenny and Richard have never asked people for money in their lives, or taken any.  And they would cut their fingers off before going on Facebook to share their troubles. They are having a tough time. The winter is eating up their money and much of their house. I contacted them and talked to them because I realized I kept seeing winter as a beautiful and spiritual challenge, and knew there are people – especially in rural areas – that are suffering greatly from the effects of this winter, and have been completely ignored by government and the media.

So I heard about about Jenny and Richard and called them. They were never seeking financial or other aid, just trying to help me in my writing and blogging.

When I heard their story, I quickly offered to do a crowdsourcing project for them. There are people out there who will help you, I said.   I have had great luck with the four projects I have worked on, you have to be clear and honest. I expected them to say sure, we could use the help.

But they surprised me, they were both very clear. They politely but firmly declined. They did not want money from strangers or outsiders, they did not want to be identified publicly as being needy. Life was easy sometimes and hard sometimes, they said, you have to handle both. They did not want people in their life approached and asked to aid them. They supported charity, they did not wish to receive any. They wanted to help themselves.

They are proud and independent people, and have a great and enduring faith. They believe that help is something for God to offer them. Or not. They are in a dialogue with their God, I was not invited to participate.

And for all I know, they may have inn or outer resources or access to resources I am not aware of. It was not my business.

I thought that was the end of it, the piece went viral and I was pleased at the response to it. A lot of people said they didn't know how hard the winter had been on so many people, and that was the point of my writing it. But it was not the end, of course, this is the age of Facebook.

I see that many people are not at ease accepting or respecting their wishes. I've had a hundred or so messages and posts from people asking, sometimes pleading, begging, even demanding, that I accept money for Richard and Jenney, or agree to turn over the name of their heating oil company, their church, pastor, neighborhood grocery store or firewood dealer. Some of the messages turned angry. "You need to do this! Please, please, please, give us the name of their pastor or we will start calling every church in upstate New York!," was one message.

I was surprised by the pleading, frankly, it reminded me a bit of the messages I got last week pleading – sometimes demanding – that I only get a dog from a shelter. Was it the same impulse, I wondered?

I was touched by the generosity, by the impulse to help. I was also increasingly troubled by the refusal of many people to accept Richard and Jenny's statement that they didn't want this kind of help. They didn't want people contacting their pastor or church – this would have instantly identified them, of course – they didn't want to be seen as people in need of rescue.

In the other instances I have worked on, people have been very clear that they needed help and wanted it. People were quick to give it.

Richard and Jenny  don't want to go on this path.  I called them again this morning to be sure.

To me, this is another instance of the need to create our own boundaries and respect for other people, despite the new access we have to strangers on social media. If this couple says they won't want people to send money or aid to them, then that is the boundary for me, that is the end of it. I will not disrespect or ignore them by violating my understanding with them or forcing help down their throats. I see that is hard for some people to do.

For me, the boundary works this way. If people want help, I try and give it. If they say no, then I stop. If I go farther, then it becomes something I need, not something they need. Generosity is a beautiful thing, so is respect for other people. We are living in a new kind of world with new kinds of communities, asking us to create new kinds of boundaries. I know many people are losing respect for other people's privacy. I know they are losing respect for disagreement, and for the very idea that we can make our own decisions and be responsible for them

It is not a simple line. So many people are anxious to do good when given the chance, and it feels good to do good, as many of us know. Perhaps too good, sometimes. But respect for the individual lives of human beings is a sacred thing, at least to me.  Taking responsibility for oneself is the essence of identity and authenticity. Sometimes we really need help – the farrier Ken Norman comes to mind as he faced surgery for two knee replacements  – and it is very healthy and nourishing to accept it. Sometimes we don't, and that is powerful and valid choice as well.

I respect Richard and Jenny's decisions. I will not give out their names, or the names of their pastor or church, or their firewood supplier or neighborhood grocery store. I will not look for ways to sneak around their stated wishes, and help them through various back and side doors.  I will honor the boundary they have set forth.

Richard and Jenny have always taken care of themselves, they are farmers, they have always made their own decisions,  and they want to take care of themselves and make their own decisions now. I believe they can and they will. That is a beautiful idea also, just as poignant and beautiful as doing good for others.

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