14 July 2017

Me And The Woman At The Well: Can I Never Be Thirsty Again?

Get Jon A Drink

I am not a Christian, but Jesus and the Woman At The Well is one of the most compelling spiritual stories for me, it is laced with meaning and mercy and grace. It is one of the most studied and well known encounters attributed to the life of Jesus.

He was thirsty and weary, he stopped by a well asked for water,  he was not supposed to speak to this woman for many reasons. He asked for a drink of water. She was wary and suspicious of him.  He said to her: Be like me. Tell the truth. Be true to who you really are. If you drink from the well, you will be thirsty again, but you drink my water, my living water, you will never be thirsty again.

It seems an instinct for those of us mortals drawn to vengeance, we would all like to even the score when we can. All my enemies are drowning and it's the best day of my life. This is why I like to read about Jesus and study him, I am touched by his real message, lost in the fog of power, greed,  and self-righteousness.

Anne Lamott writes about this parable in her book Hallelujah Anyway: Jesus says, "that's fine, honey, nice try: I still love you, but maybe you would consider restarting this forgiveness stuff?"

Last night, a man angrily demanded on Facebook that I post a photo of a picnic table that he had donated money to help buy for the residents of the Mansion, an assisted care facility. I bristled, as I sometimes do when told what to write or how to think. He said I had mentioned the table a number of times and I was obligated to post a photograph of it within 48 hours of any donation.

I testily replied that I didn't take assignments, there were no strings attached to gifts like that, we offered them with no expectations or obligations of anything in return.  If he wished, he could ask for a refund.

I knew I could never survive doing this work in any other way. I have fought hard for my life, and will not give away pieces of it to anyone.

The man responded even more angrily, insisting I post a photo, demanding that I apologize, almost literally spewing moral outrage, ordering me to delete the parts of my post he didn't like or agree with.

He wanted to send more things to the Mansion, he said,  and he wanted me to go and pick them up for him at a store of his choosing. He said I was ruining his plan.

I was tired, it was late, blah-blah, and I have learned to stand in my truth, it is healing and important to me, since I couldn't do it for much of my life. I don't let people abuse me any more.

I wanted to tell him I didn't take assignments from him, he didn't get to tell me what photos to post, what words to change, there was no chance of my going to pick things up for him at a store of his choosing.

Buried in his long and ranting message was a line about having experiences as a youth that made him want to help the residents.

Ah, I thought, I get it, I see it now. Now, I am listening, not just reacting.

And I thought of the story of Jesus And The Woman At The Well. It was really about finding one's spiritual truth, it was not about water.

This argument was not about a photograph or a donation.

And I paused and listened to my heart. And I said, this man is angry and a part of him is broken. Do I wish to be arguing with him on Facebook? Is this what my life is about? Is that who I want to be?

Almost instantly, almost reflexively, I forgave him this very small trespass, even though he could not forgive me mine. I didn't need to win, I didn't need to argue or answer. There was no way he could listen to me, or needed to. I needed to forgive myself first.  Perhaps I could consider this forgiveness thing and drink from the living water of mercy and empathy.

I deleted the partial message I had written and wrote a simple reply, explaining we had enough supplies for now, and thanks. I let go, spoke my truth, was at least momentarily the person I wished to be. It felt quite wonderful. It felt light and free.

I was not looking to get even, or to wound the stranger back.  There was no score to settle, no last word to have, no pouting or stewing before bed. I was letting  him go in peace, and in so doing, found peace for myself. He went away, I did not hear from him again. If I can learn to drink this water, I will never be thirsty again

Posted in General

At The Mansion, Dogs And Books For Connie, Goodness Everywhere.

Dogs And Books

Gus came of age as a therapy dog today, he fell asleep in Connie's lap.

Some good things happened to Connie today. I mentioned the other day that she was running out of mysteries, and I brought her over my first mystery, "Death By Station Wagon." I got a call from Battenkill Books that a member of the Army Of Good, Denise from Indiana, had called and ordered five mysteries by Louise Penny, a great choice for Connie.

I took them right over. Connie has some long days to fill in that chair, even when she starts knitting again. It will be easier now.

I know that some other mysteries are on the way, so I think she's okay for now, and thanks. Soap and shampoo and body wash are still pouring into the Mansion, I think we're okay there also, and thanks for those things as well. They really matter.

Connie was surprised to learn that I wrote a mystery series once, when I was trying to survive as a writer back when government functioned some of the time.

We also brought Gus and Red into see Connie, she and Red have a beautiful thing, Connie pets and rubs his shoulders and eventually, he just plops down at her feet and goes to sleep. It is his favorite place in the Mansion. Gus lay down on the floor next to Connie, and then she leaned over him and picked him up, and she cradled him in her arms and rocked him to sleep.

He lay in her arms for a long time, until we had to leave, and I could see the pleasure and peace he brought to her, he will, I think, be a fine therapy dog. He loves to be touched, he loves people,  and he seems able to sleep almost anywhere.

I appreciate the way people respond so quickly and lovingly to the Mansion's needs. I like that we react but not overreact. We can send too little, we can send too much, we are getting it just about right. We give what is needed, no more, no less, and we do it when we can.

I am learning what the residents really need, I am learning what people can and will send. It is working so well. There is no reason to change it for me. My work at the Mansion is a departure, after a decade of therapy work with dogs. I usually came and went quickly, and rarely came to the same place more than two or three times.

I didn't really get to know people, either they were sick and dying (this was hospice work) or perhaps I was afraid to get to know them because they were sick and dying. I would often show up at someone's home and find them gone.

At the Mansion, I committed to focusing on this one place, getting to know the people well enough to write about them, learning what they really might need to make their lives better. This age group is  rewarding, they are elderly but still active, still engaged, still interested in life, even if some are frail.

This was a gamble, it is common for people like me to burnout in this work. But at the Mansion, I was welcome from the beginning and felt comfortable and came slowly to know and love the people there. They came to trust me, and I guess I came to trust them. It feels good, I do not ever feel drained by it.

I never envisioned anything like the Army Of Good, I couldn't have even imagined it. I believe the November election began to connect the dots for me. Everyone around me was anxious or angry, the poisons of the left and the right began to fill the air and enter our consciousness. I didn't want to do that or be a part of that, and so I thought of this idea of doing good rather than arguing about what was good.

It was a selfish impulse, I wanted to feel better, I wanted to feel grounded and meaningful in the middle of sometimes frightening change.

I never imagined Red would be such an intuitive dog for this work, or that a little puppy like Gus could slide right into it.

I did not know so many other people were looking for the same thing, and in some small measure, we are finding it with the Mansion residents and the refugee children, we are touching lives and bringing light to darkness. Yes, it is noble and good to do this everywhere, but there is powerful mojo behind this and I am sticking with it.

Know that this weekend people will be clean and refreshed and regain their dignity because of the simple things you rushed to send them. That is grass-roots conviction and activism at its finest and most productive.

The residents have their soap and shampoo, Connie has mysteries to read, Jane is drawing in her coloring books, Art will be getting letters from people of faith, the residents and is getting a table to write on in their wheelchairs, two people will have good clothes to wear.

The Mansion staffers struggled to find the clothes they want for two of the residents at Wal-Mart yesterday, so the shopping will continue. On to thrift stores.

They did buy a shirt and pants, they'll get the rest over the weekend.

The drawing and reading table for wheel chairs is coming on Monday, I thought of Jane the artist at first but I realize half of the Mansion residents will be able to use it, so I'm turning it over to Julie Smith, the Activities Director when it comes, she can give it Jane, but also share it with others.

Thanks for your donations towards the table.

I think this overbed table is a fairly new product – the Mansion staffers have never seen one – and those of you with friends or family members in wheelchairs who like to read or paint or use puzzles, or who are using wheelchairs yourselves, might want to know about it. See it here.

Connie got some more letters today and she read them to us. It seems many people who are coming to the Open House in October hope to meet Connie there. We will certainly invite her.

So I think we're good for the moment, if you can keep the cards and letters and photos coming, that would be wonderful. Connie proposed to Maria and I today that she collect the photos she is getting and put them up on a big board to show at the Open House. It's a good idea.

Posted in General

Portrait: Gus. A Small Dog Is Different Than A Big Dog

A Small Dog Is Different…

Gus is growing up, getting bigger, heavier. His ears are sticking straight up now, he is able to focus on training more, he is more confident around Red and Fate, and her torments Fate mercilessly, which he seems to love.

A small dog is different than a big dog. When trainers tell me Gus needs to be treated and trained like a dog, not like a toy stuffed animal, I now know what they mean. Small dogs are, by nature, "cute" and they bring out nurturing and protective and emotional impulses in people that bigger dogs do not.

We've stepped on Gus a half-dozen times. Red has run him over daily (when Red is working, he is distracted or deterred by nothing. Otherwise, he mostly ignores him). Once, the sheep bolted and ran him over in the pasture (Maria was not happy with me), he yelped, rolled over and got up. He is durable and flexible.

Small dogs are dramatic, when they feel threatened, they shriek. They find tiny spaces to crawl into when they are tired or have stolen a bone from a bigger dog.

It is important, I think, not to treat them as vulnerable or piteous little things (as people treat so many rescue dogs). Emotions like that derail training quickly. One woman keeps writing to me complaining that I am putting pressure on Gus.

You bet, I told her, that is my job and is no less than he deserves.

But I never ask him to do anything he is not ready to do, or that I know he can't yet do. Our training is positive. And successful. Gus is flowering, he is growing, he adores Red and follows him around, he now torments Fate, stealing her food and toys and chasing her around the  yard. She thinks he's a big dog, too.

In training, cuteness, like pity, is a disaster.

This morning, I continued our work to get Gus to sit and stay. I take a cookie, hold it over his head and tell  him to sit. If you do this long enough, the dog will eventually sit, and Gus does. Then I praise him and reward him for sitting. It takes patience, I hold the treat over his head until he sits and waits for me to bring the food to him, he never gets it when he jumps.

When he sits quietly for a a minute or so, he gets the treat. It is working, and is not much more complex than that.

As far as I am concerned, Gus is another dog, he is not my furbaby. Maria as taken the same stance, we ask a lot of  him, he is around big farm animals and intense people, he seems to be having a blast. We love him and are grateful to Robin Gibbons for the great job she did in breeding him.

I think her dogs will soon cost a lot more than $800, they are worth it. So the small dog experience is cruising along for us. Gus is almost fully integrated into the life of our family. He is part of the back now, and his therapy work at the Mansion is promising.

He is not wearing clothes, riding in a stroller, or wearing slippers. Ever.

He does have a stare that seems to melt people's hearts though.

Posted in General

A Kiss For Fanny, From Gus

A Kiss For Fanny

I take Gus out into the pasture every morning, I keep a leash on him in case the sheep come running, they would run right over him. Most of the time, I let the leash drop onto the ground and he drags it. The donkeys are still curious about Gus, but very friendly, Fanny in particular seems to like him.

This morning, she came over to sniff him and Gus came up to her and licked her on the nose. It was a sweet thing to see, Gus is going to be a great farm dog.

Posted in General

Dollar Day For RISSE: In Honor Of The Great Escape, And Of Our Great Values

Dollar Day For RISSE

Tomorrow, another landmark for the Army Of Good. Thanks to an angel named Kimberly, who lives far away, 20 RISSE refugee and immigrant children, led by Ali and some teachers, will spend the day at the Great Escape Amusement Park in Lake George, N.Y.

The trip will cost more than $1,500 was weeks in the planning. It began when Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed) told me he had been unsuccessful in negotiating a discount rate for his kids in the RISSE (refugee and immigrant support services) based in Albany, program.

This puzzled me, so I volunteered to do the negotiating and I must admit it was difficult and time-consuming and complex. I can see why it was hard for him.

The planning just really ended a few days ago. We did well, though,  I love negotiating and used to do it when I was a media hotshot. i found the right person and we went to work to make it happen.

We got free lunches, souvenir soda bottles, photos from the rides and free parking as well as two complimentary tickets. A blog reader insisted on paying the full amount, she wished to remain anonymous and wants nothing in return.

I was planning to go tomorrow, and was excited to be going, but then came to my senses a week ago. Why should I go? My tickets ought to go to two more kids, so that is what is happening. I really wanted to take some photos, but there will be other chances. The refugee kids are returning to Pompanuck Farm for a one day visit a week from Saturday. They may visit Bedlam Farm first.

This is a big deal for these kids, most are new to America, and from what I see of them, they will love the Great Escape, it is true to its name, it is a great escape in many ways.

In their honor, I'm sponsoring another RISSE dollar day today, in which everyone who is so inclined donates $1 to RISSE, which desperately needs the money to fund it's many adult and child education and training programs for America's newest citizens. We have already given these kids a three day retreat and sent a $1,000 projector for the classes.

I have set up a Children's Refugee Fund to pay for our new scholarship program – two kids have been chosen already to join an international sketching program conducted by the Brooklyn Library Of Art. We are also buying uniforms for the RISSE soccer team and have sent 90 art and creativity kits to the afterschool program.

This is a stark conflict in values, part of the schism that feels sometimes to be tearing the country apart.

You either celebrate America's openness as a destination for the needy and the yearning, or you see it as a threat and a drain. The people I am meeting are precious, they are no drain and no threat. For one dollar,  you can tell them so, and if a lot of you do it, it will matter.

I do it two or three times a week, anytime I feel down or discouraged. It is a tonic.

The idea behind the dollar day is simple. For $1, we can help this valuable and seriously underfunded program at a critical time. Last year, their building was burned to the ground by arsonists.

This year, we are telling them a different story. We are Americans,  and so are they. We love our country, we embrace the immigrant experience and we wish to send a clear signal to this worthwhile organization that we support what they are doing, and we support our brothers and sisters, the refugees and immigrants who have come to partake in the American experience.

While the government moves to ban some refugees and restrict immigration, we hope to send RISSE and the people it serves a different message: we are the real America, we seek to be open, welcoming and generous. We believe you are important and we hope to support your work.

A big message for $1. This morning, I sent RISSE $500, all money donated by the Army Of Good. More to come. You can donate your dollar (or any amount you wish) here. They take Paypal and major credit cards.

Posted in General