9 April 2017

Greg And J.D. Must Be Spring, First Wood Delivery For Winter

JD And Greg

I've written before that Spring is the signal to begin preparing for winter. You don't want to be looking for hay or firewood in October or November. I have become obsessive and compulsive about my firewood and hay, you have to be thinking about winter the minute Spring comes.

Last week I called Greg  Burch, the owner of his beloved pug J.D. and put in my order for seven cords of firewood, we heat by wood from November to May, we burn little heating oil and the heat is even and comfortable. next week I will call Sandy Adams and order 100 bales of first cut hay for the sheep and donkeys next winter.

Greg drops a cord at a time, over the next few months, we let the sun dry it out and then we stack it in the woodshed. One of the most interest things up here is to see how much the big tough men in trucks love their dogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers,  French Bulldogs, Long-Haired Chihuahua's.

The dogs go everywhere with them. Greg Burch has been chopping and selling firewood for many years, his wood is reknowned for being dry and carefully chosen. We would not dream of using anybody else. He is a tough logger, working in all kinds of weather, but at the mere mention of J.D., he just melts.

J.D. is getting old and deaf, Greg doesn't even want to think about it. When Greg and J.D. pull onto the farm – he just drops a load and I send him the check later if we're not  here, we still do things that way in the country. Maria and I are fond of wood stacking, and Maria has all kinds of systems and protocols for the stacking, I just get out of the way and toss some logs to her.

I love photographing J.D. and Greg, a tough man in a big truck and his faithful dog. When you see these men with their dogs, you see that the nurturing instinct is strong within them. I love Spring, but I never forget that winter is not far behind.

Posted in General

Art Kits On The Way To Refugee Children: See What You’ve Done

Art Kits To Albany: See What You've Done?

Tomorrow, I will got to Albany to take a radio interview on behalf of my new book "Talking To Animals," out May 5. Then Maria and I will drive over to Risse, the Refugee and Immigrant Support Services Center in that city to deliver 80 art kits to the refugee students in the RISSE  after school program.

You contributed more than $1,200 to Rachel Barlow, the Vermont artist, illustrator and painter who created this kids for traumatized, foster and refugee children, they are stuffed with pencils, crayons, sketchpads and ideas. They were carefully designed to ease stress and encourage voice and creativity.

Rachel started the draw.paint.create program a month ago, and she has raised more than $3,000 so far to create these kits and sent them out to refugee children and kids in foster care. She hopes to expand the program in the next weeks and months, I will be keeping you up to date about it.

Rachel has come up with something wonderful, she will join Maria and I at RISSE tomorrow when we drop off the kits. Maria and I went to Rachel's home in Vermont today to help her put the kit together. You can check out the program or donate if you wish here. The Army Of Good has not wavered yet, and I thank you.

You can support Rachel's expanding program here.

RISSE is doing extraordinary work on behalf of the refugees and immigrants who have come to America and are still coming, at least for now. RISSE offers English language training, day care, legal and financial counseling and help with paper and job searches. Last year, arsonists burned down their headquarters, which just re-opened. They need support.

I will be visiting them regularly, talking to them, figuring out what they need and assisting where I can. I will also be taking their photos, my mission is to show that they are human beings, just like the rest of us. They have suffered enough, I hope to help them see the true spirit of America, generous and welcoming.

If you wish, you can donate to RISSE here.

Posted in General

Beautiful Babies, Hollow Symbols, God’s Children.

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Beautiful Babies: At The RISSE Refugee Center

It was Eleanor Roosevelt who asked when our consciences will grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than to only avenge it? I asked that question all through the weekend and tonight. I am a bit lost, I cannot find an answer.

It was difficult for me to look at the pundits, politicians and journalists exulting over those "beautiful" missiles that went sailing so hauntingly over the ocean to strike the Syrian airbase that had launched the plans that dropped the bombs that poisoned God's children.

I've seen this movie before, more than once, it is a horror.

Lord, I keep thinking, how much the pundits and journalists and politicians and retired Generals in Washington love war. Once again the eager analysts with their pointers were praising the precision strikes and "proportional" attacks that only killed a few Syrian soldiers and some innocent civilians. A made for TV war.

It was about time, the pundits said, excited and celebratory. America's role as a moral force in the world had been re-established, the President had come of age. And all it took was 59 missiles from the best military force on the earth.

It is often said of war that we never learn from it, Margaret Atwood once wrote that wars are a failure of language. I see wars as a failure of imagination, but I am a Quaker by faith, and you will never see a Quaker talking about war on CNN or Fox News, or working in the White House.

What I saw on television was to me a hollow and transparent symbol.

We seem to love our wars, perhaps the penultimate rite of male political power. If you kill some people, then you finally deserve the right to be taken seriously, you have come into your own.

More than 55,000 Syrian children have been killed during that country's horrific civil war, if you watch news in America, you may not know that.

Sunday, just one day after those beautiful missiles  struck their long overdue and very "proportional" targets, the same town was struck again by planes from the same air base. And more of those beautiful babies were killed, but the Generals and politicians had nothing to say about that, neither did the awestruck TV anchors. There were no jazzy graphics, no Generals, no special reports.

I will dream for a while of those missile launches, a staple of our high-tech, remote-controlled new wars, offered eagerly by the military to news channels as a new kind of authentic gee-whiz and easy-on-the-eyes bloodless war. The tape of those missiles streaking through the night sky was shown scores, if not hundreds of times on TV.

War has never looked so good, or so remote, the wars we love are about as menacing as a game on Facebook.

Not a drop of blood.

There was much talk of God on Friday and Saturday. The dead children were all God's children, we were told. I can't say for sure, God doesn't speak to me as directly as he does to some, and for all that sacred lineage, nobody lifted a finger to save these children or rescue them, not God  himself, not us.

One might think the children of Good at least serve some food, water, shelter and shoes.

It was only glancingly mentioned in the news today, but some other beautiful Syrian babies – no one knows how many yet, every one of them God's children – were killed in airstrikes on Khan Sheikhorn  Saturday by planes flown from the very same airbase that was struck by the missile strike hailed all day on television as being so wise and just and necessary.

Residents of the town, journalists and human rights observers said Khan Sheikhorn was bombed 24 times in the hours following the missile strike, rescue workers are still combing through the debris there. The people who live there say the town is being destroyed in retaliations for the missile attacks.

"Yesterday, Donald Trump became president," a CNN commentator observed gravely on Sunday morning. He was quivering with gravitas. A pundit's moment.  I did not understand that this was the criterion for being a great leader, I would love to have the chance to ask Thomas Jefferson about it..

Last week I spent time at the RISSE refugee and immigration center in Albany, New York and met some of those beautiful babies, now beautiful children, many of whom would not be alive today if they had not been taken in by America.

I am not the President and will never be, but a Syrian refugee father named Raffat  (I wrote about him on Friday) asked me in an e-mail what I would have done if I were President and those children had been gassed during my time in office.

I said I would exact the gravest and most compelling revenge, an act from the heart and the spirit. I would send a truly powerful message:

I would open the doors to my country and try to save as many of those beautiful babies as possible, so they might live to be the beautiful children I saw at RISSE last week and will be bringing art kits to tomorrow in Albany.I would show the world the soul of a just and compassionate countary.

I can't imagine a more forceful or inspiring statement to the world. We could save more lives in a week with a boatload of food than by launching 100 missiles and we could show what it really means to be moral. Think how good we might all feel this morning if the faces on the lives were of those beautiful children given a chance to be safe in a free and generous country. What more powerful statement could anyone make to the world than that?

I hope none of the refugee children I am seeing this week ask me about the missile strikes on Syria.

I am not sure what to say to them, perhaps I would talk to them about the idea of hypocrisy. We are a great country, I would say, but we are often drawn to hypocrisy. 

Hypocrisy, says Wickipedia, is the contrivance of the false appearance of virtue and goodness while concealing real character or inclinations, especially with respect to religious and moral beliefs; hence in a general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another.

The hypocrite's crime, wrote the moral philosopher Hannah Arendt, is that he bears false witness against himself. "What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. "Only crime and the criminal, it is true," wrote Arendt,  "confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is rotten to the core."

I wonder if the children at RISSE will understand hypocrisy, I have the feeling they will, they left so many beautiful and doomedl friends and family members behind, and they know too well what fate awaits them. I guess I see the world differently that the very important journalists in Washington. I saw nothing but sham and pretense.

Those beautiful babies cry out to use for mercy and compassion.

If we are speaking about symbolic acts, what about sending millions of dollars in aid to those beautiful babies, hundreds of thousands of them now, languishing, starving and freezing and living in filth in refugee camps all over Europe and the Middle East. There is not a one in the United States or on the way, here,  God's children, who we are supposed to love without qualification,  have been banned and forbidden to apply?

Instead of missiles, food and blankets and medicine and shelter. We abandon them to their fates and tell the world how much we care.

For me, this is a new understanding of the idea of hypocrisy and of moral force and leadership in the world. What message, exactly, are those children supposed to taken from America's proud embrace of missiles? Am I so ignorant that I simply can't see it?

Mooning over photos of dead babies on television and invoking God's name again and again  is not compassion. Without empathy or commitment, this flexible and highly selective empathy is simply another form of artifice. Ask the dying children and grieving parents and the blood soaked-doctors and rescue workers in Khan Sheikhorn what compassion might mean to them.

Is the lesson that it is okay to slaughter 55,000  children with horrific military weapons that often set them on fire,  but it is unacceptable, a red line to kill them with chemical gas because we forbid it? But we don't forbid the wanton slaughter of children any other way? And be universally praised for it. Boy, am I out of step with prevailing wisdom.

Really? Is it  okay to drop barrel bombs filled with burning oil and shrapnel onto helpless children by the thousands for years on end,  but not okay to kill 20 in a way that disturbs American in their homes  with graphic videos?  And then resume killing them the usual way the very next day?

I am not really a praying man, but tonight I will say a prayer for the children trapped all over Syria and those camps all over the world. I don't know who God considers to be his children, and who he does not consider to be his children, but I am wary of the people who claim to speak to God and invoke his name when it suits them, but haven't heeded his commands or values.

I will also hope and pray the children of Syria are not his.

Because if they are, and he exists,  his wrath upon us will be difficult to even imagine.

Posted in General

The Lost Art Of Listening

The Lost Art Of Listening

When I joined my Quaker Meeting in New Jersey – I am still a member – I worked on a conflict resolution committee, we offered ourselves to the community and to one another in the Meeting to help resolve conflicts and arguments. The Quakers have been doing this for centuries and they are scholars of listening, and I was amazed at how well thought out and effective their practices were and are.

The first lesson was about leaving some space in between one thought and another. When someone said what was bothering them, or offered a thought or opinion,  at least a minute of silence, often more,  was required before the other party of person could speak. That way, they had no choice but to listen, to slow the discussion down, to make sure one side was heard and the other was listening.

It was really stunning to see how much a difference this made, how any conflicts were quickly resolved.

In our culture, listening is rarely taught or practiced, especially in the new forms of communications online and in the political world and on various social media. Ideas are given macro-seconds to live, before they are challenged, exploited, co-opted, disagreed with, misunderstood or ignored.

I want to admit right a way that I am often a poor listener, so full of my own ideas and experiences and so anxious to express them, that I do not listen as well or as often as I would like to.

True listening is an art, it is a very difficult thing to do well. Many people are concerned and upset over the state of our political system, but what troubles me the most is not the election of Donald Trump, but the feeling that no one is listening: not him, not the people who hate him, not the people who love him, not the left or the right, not the people who vote.

Cable news is a horror, a gladiators death dance to the very idea of listening. How would people learn to do it?

The people in politics don't listen to one another, they certainly don't listen to me, and when I labor to listen to them, I am always grateful for it, i always learn something and grow in some way. I am always working at it. But is also a lonely and disconnecting experience.

We rarely think about listening, but we sometimes think listening as easy because it looks passive and instinctive, but in reality it’s hard work. Really listening (and not just appearing to listen) requires intense concentration and a good deal of mental energy.

Listening can be difficult for a few reasons. Perhaps the hardest is that  we think three to four times faster than people speak. That means we could listen at a rate of up to 450 words per minute, but the average person speaks only 125-175 words per minute, making it easy to become impatient or let your mind wander.

Social scientists also have found that when we listen, most of us tend to do one of four things; judge what someone is saying, and agree or disagree; ask questions from our own experience and frame of reference; offer unwanted advice, solutions and counsel; analyze the motives and behavior of others based on our own motives and behaviors, not theirs.

On my Facebook Page, many people don't even bother to read posts, they are most often simply launching points for their own thoughts and experiences. For their ideas, not mine. If my dog dies, they tell me about the death of their dog, if I am unhappy, they tell me about my unhappiness, if I have an idea, they tell me about their idea or the ideas of other people.

In a sense, this is a new and very democratic medium. But is is awful for the understanding of others and their ideas, it is revolutionary for the ease in which thoughts can be expressed, devastating for the meaning of thoughts and ideas and their survival. New media teaches us to seek out people who share our ideas and shun or attack people who are different or who differ.

i love the ideas of other people, I breathe them and soak them up, it is my work, but I weep for my ideas sometimes, they do not live long or go far in this kind of world. They hardly get to breathe.

Essentially, Thoreau went to Walden Pond to think and share his thoughts. He could never have written  Walden in our time, because no one has that much time to think.

His ideas would not have lived long enough or survived long enough to make it to a book, or even been noticed  in a culture that  worships screaming and conflict, elevates the sound bite,  and has abandoned the very idea of listening for the idea of arguing and shouting and messaging, at no cost, at any time, on any subject.

I am often asked to do interviews for media about the things I write books or blog posts about, and last year, I began telling producers and bookers that I would not participate in their shoes if they were set up as screaming matches rather than genuine discussions. I have turned down an awful lot of interview requests, producers are just stunned when I say that, they don't traffic in discussions, they are fight promoters.

They don't really want my ideas, they want an argument. There is no circus any longer, we are the circus. For me fights kill ideas, they don't nourish them or celebrate them, I won't be a part of that. On my Facebook page, I often tell people they are free to disagree with me, but not to attack me. That's my boundary.

It is sad that most people do not listen to understand, they listen to reply. If you look at our political system, the wisdom of that thought is instantly apparent. The nicest – and rarest – messages I get say thanks for making me think. The most common always start with I strongly disagree with you, or I read  you even though I often disagree with you, unconsciously acknowledging what a rarity that is.

This is so rare a phenomenon that people are proud of themselves for saying it.

I often feel my ideas and the ideas of others are stillborn, caught in the womb of thought, unable to live, see the light or breathe. How can anyone really listen to an idea when they are bombarded by thousands every hour in so many forms?

The Quakers know what many Americans, cable news panelists, spouses, family members,  politicians and the members of the left and the right have forgotten: that listening, an art under any circumstances, is critical to a civil society, it is an art that is dying and fading from memory.

German analyst and philosopher Erich Fromm  wrote a classic, largely forgotten book on the subject, The Art Of Listening,

In his book, which consists of a series of lectures, Fromm details the obstacles, mindsets and dynamics that helps us to listen as an art, as a path to good relationships, as a way of growth and learning and living in harmony with one another.

Listening is difficult, we have few role models or sources of encouragement in our lives.

Yet listening is essential to peace of mind, intellectual growth, compromise and understanding. It is central to love and life in a democracy. When we fail to listen, our structures begin to break down, as is happening now.

When we fail to listen, we fail our personal as well as political connections, our children, siblings, lovers and friends. Almost every relationship I know of that has collapsed has been lost partly or entirely because of a failure to know how to listen.

I worked hard to be a good father, but I deeply regret that I did not listen to my daughter as carefully as I should have, too often I spoke to her rather than listened to her. She suffered for it.

Drawing on his 50 years as a practicing therapist, Fromm offered six guidelines for mastering the art of unselfish understanding.

1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener. One can't pretend to be listening, or just  be waiting for the chance to reply.

2.Nothing of importance must be on the mind of the listener, he must be free from anxiety as well as from greed.

3.He must possess a freely working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words.

4.He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it was his own.

5.The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him – not in the erotic sense but int he sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself.

6. Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.

I believe if I cannot learn to listen well to others, then I am incomplete as a human being, and cannot be the man I wish to be, the father I wish to be, the writer I wish to be, the husband I wish to be, the friend I wish to be, the citizen I wish to be.

I am well aware that the world seems to be going in the other direction – just watch the news, see the people we elect, or look at what passes for dialogue and listening on Facebook or  Twitter.

How many listeners do you know?

My hospice and other therapy work with Red has helped me tremendously, this work requires listening the purest and most active level. Maria and I have always listened to one another, but I still sometimes talk over and around her, still sometimes seek to reply and declaim more than listen.

But when that happens, we stop and truly listen to one another, and that is an experience filled with joy and connection for me. I hope one day to fully practice the Art Of Listening, I can hardly think of a nobler thing to do.

Posted in General

Easter Sunday At The Mansion. One Week Away.

Next Sunday

Easter Sunday is one week away. Some of the Mansion residents will spend the day with their families, many will spend the day with one another at the Mansion. The residents are still talking about the Valentine's day party, they are still sharing the letters and cards and gifts they received.

Some of your Easter messages and gifts have begun arriving, and I hope and imagine there will be more coming this week. Your letters and thoughts have an enormous impact on the residents of the Mansion, life there can be emotionally challenging and isolating.

For those of you inclined to write to the residents, thanks in advance.

Your messages matter.

I will be there at the Easter party Sunday morning. Here is a list of the residents who wish to receive your letters and messages: Jane, Bruce, Allan, Charlotte, Sylvie, Jean, John Z., John R, Alanna , Peggie, Ellen, Joan, Brenda, Connie, Alice, Madeline, Mary Barbara, William H., Brother Peter, Diane D, Helen, Jean A., Tim, Gerry, Dennis R., Anita, Richard.

Your gifts are wonderful, and much appreciated. Your letters touch the spirit and the soul and remind this good people that they are loved and not forgotten. You can sent your messages to The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Posted in General