8 August 2017

At The Mansion: Praying With Art. Angels, Bibles And Boomboxes

Praying With Art

I went to see Art at the Mansion, we have a curious connection and he loves dogs. I wanted to ask him what he needed and also I had this impulse to pray with him. I came in with Red, the door was closed and the TV was on. Art, a man of great faith, spends much of the day in his room. We got him an air conditioner last week.

Art is eager to receive letters from people of faith and when I mentioned that on the blog, a number of people began writing to him. Art was excited, he took a cab to a printer's today and came back with some tracts and stories he wants to send back to people. "I have a ministry now," he told me yesterday.

Red came in and lay down at Art's feet.

Art has had a challenging month. He was living in Montana, a state he loves very much. He was an avid hunter and fisherman, a lover of the outdoors. He left his home and moved into the Mansion to be near his brother, from whom he had been estranged for many years.

His brother John was very sick, and Art wanted to be with him. He moved into the upper floors of the Mansion, John was down below, in the room Art now lives in. John died two weeks ago, and Art moved downstairs.  He helped to bury John last week. He says this is not where he wants to be, but God sent him here, and he will love it because of that.

"Do you want to pray?," I asked Art.
"Are you a believer?," he said, startled and delighted.

"No,I think not in the way you mean, but I am a seeker."

Art nodded and smiled. We lowered our heads and I prayed silently, he prayed out loud.

He asked God to bless me and thanked him for taking care of his brother, and now, of him. I think he sensed I might need some help from God in becoming a true believer.

He asked for blessings for his new ministry and asked for guidance and support forgiveness for his father. When he was done, Art raised his head, and I said "amen." He then told me the story of his life in Montana, and it was harder than I had imagined, especially his childhood with a savage father.

He is very excited about his new ministry.

Some years ago, he said, he fell gravely ill, was taken to the hospital in Missoula, and was expected to die. He lapsed into a coma, and hovered near death for a long time. He remembers an angel, a young man, appearing and telling him to wake up, he would be all right. And he did wake up.

Soon after, he was in a dinner outside of Missoula, eating a huge steak and he saw the angel again, smiling at him.

I felt a great peace and powerful stirring as Art and I prayed. I am not religious, at least not in the conventional sense of the term, but I love contemplation and prayer, and Art's faith was palpable and strong, I could feel it in the room and see it in his eyes. I believe in angels, I felt there was one present with us.

It was my birthday today, yet I felt called to be there, in that room.  I felt this was where I needed to be. I will not ever be a believer in the sense Art uses the term, but it didn't matter. I felt right at home there, and in the presence of such faith.

Art invited me to come back and pray more with him, and I accepted.

As I got up to leave, I asked Art if there was anything he needed. He said he would love to have a Bible, but his eyes are poor and he couldn't read one. He wondered about a tape of the Bible.

"What about a CD?," I asked.  His eyes widened.

"I would love that, it would help me fill my days, now that John is gone and I am far from Montana," he said.

But then he frowned."I have nothing to play it on," he said.

"I can fix that," I said, "I'll get you a CD player." And he said that would be wonderful.

So I went right home with Red and went online and I ordered a CD recording of the Bible, The Complete Audio Recording Of The Bible, and a Sony CD Boombox with a radio. I have the money to pay for it. They will be here Friday and I will bring them to Art and we will pray some together.

You can write to Art at this address: Art, The Mansion, 11 S.Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. You don't  have to join his ministry, but he would love to hear from people of faith.

Posted in General

The Queen Of The Bog: Community And The Vanishing Neighbor

Pride And Prejudice: Kelly Nolan. Knowing Our Neighbors

Sociologists believe Americans are becoming a lonely people, social change and new technology and fear and disconnection are are destroying community and keeping us from every getting to know our neighbors. Are Americans getting lonelier. A highly respected sociologist says that we are.

Our society is becoming fear and anger driven, we read about other people but increasingly, we don't get to see them or talk to them. People flock to cities, but  have little interaction with the people around them. Social media is teaching us to hate people who are different and hold different political views.

To me, it seems many would prefer to tweet at one another and make "friends" they never see or know on Facebook. According to social scientists, the social isolation that now characterizes the life of so many Americans is unhealthy, it flies in the face of the way human beings were meant to live, and have always lived, until recently. New studies suggest that one in five Americans are lonely.

I think in a way this is why Kelly Nolan is so important to me. She is a social creature, the Queen of the Foggy Notions Tavern, otherwise known as the bog. She is a friendly face, a courteous, empathetic presence in a world increasingly characterized by anger, argument and polarization.

We almost always see our neighbors there.

Even in rural America, community is under siege. Small businesses, where we often meet and see one another, are being  replaced by online shopping and chain stores. The jobs that bound us to our towns have gone overseas. The politicians and economists have forgotten us. Cities are faring better, but seem to be getting even lonelier, according to surveys.

Kelly is not interested in my politics, she has never asked me about them. She connects with people on a personal level, without judgment or intolerance.

One of the reasons my community is so important to me is that we struggle to know one another. I always think of this when I think of the fierce battle to keep the Round House cafe in business on Main Street. And when a merchant tells me not to worry, "I know where you live" when I forget my wallet or run out of money.

Or when someone comes up to me on the street to tell me how much they admire Robin Gibbons, Gus's breeder. They just seem to know us.

I feel community when I call an electrician for help and try to give him or her my address and he says, "I know where you live. You bought Florence  Walrath's place." I don't in paradise, we are not all brothers and soulmates here,  there are plenty of difficult and combative and suspicious people. Small towns can be small.

In my life, I have embraced and appreciated the rise of new technologies. I welcome change. I don't believe the good old days were so good. Facebook is important to my work as an author. But I have no illusions about people being my "friends" because they click my user name on a computer.

In New Jersey, where I lived before moving here, I almost never saw my neighbors or knew who they were. I felt quite isolated, and the the feeling of community was a major reason I loved being here, and ultimately moved here. I do not always feel loved and welcome here, and my politics are usually different from my neighbors and many of my friends.

But I do feel know here, and that feeling is transformative, healthy and important. As I gaze out sometimes at the grating and angry social and political divisions tearing the country, I see and feel the damage loneliness and social isolation can cause.

To care about one another, listen to one another, we have to first know one another. We have to know our neighbors.

At the Bog, and under Kelly Nolan's gracious and warm eye, we are known. For many years, I didn't set foot in the Bog, I thought it was a biker's hangout, I was certain I would not be welcome. Now, I go there almost every week, and there are many biker's there, and it is perhaps the friendliest place in town.

Posted in General

Gus Moves The Flock! Herding Dog.

Gus Moves The Flock

There are times when I am especially grateful that I have a camera, as I often see things I wouldn't believe if someone told me about it. As you know, Fate, my wonderful border collie from Wales, loves to chase the sheep but won't move them against their wishes. She is the Ferdinand of border collies.

Here comes Gus, who doesn't way nine pounds and two weeks ago, the sheep ran him over and he has been keeping his distance. Today, he decided he was bigger than a border collie – he has been watching them closely – and when the sheep started moving towards him in front of the Pole Barn, he didn't run, he just stood his ground and stared at them.

To my complete bewilderment, they backed up, turned and ran into the Pole Barn. Fate has never done this or wanted to try. Gus didn't even blink. I'm not sure exactly what happened, since Boston Terriers are not herding dogs and don't have the herding eye.

Gus is quite pleased with himself and has a lot of presence for a little dog. As near as I can make out, he just puffed himself out and stared the sheep down. Even Zelda turned away and headed for the Pole Barn. Even the imperious Romneys didn't want to fight Gus. Maybe we can get Gus to Ireland and show the border collies some moves.

He certainly isn't intimidated by them.

Posted in General

Looking Ahead On My Birthday: “How Terribly Strange To Be 70…”

How Strange to be 70

This morning, Maria greeted me with a bouquet of flowers (above) that she picked in the middle of the Full Moon night and in the dark while I was sleeping. The flowers are all from our own garden and she presented them to me as a Happy Birthday greeting this morning. I love having a pagan artist wife who walks and dances barefoot in the moonlight with her beloved dog Fate. Tomorrow, Maria is taking me to the Saratoga Racetrack and then to a play in Dorset, Vt.

Today is my 70th birthday, and my ex-wife Paula reminded me in a sweet message of the Paul Simon song "Old Friends," a somewhat melancholy story of two old men sitting on a park bench along with the lyric, "How Terribly Strange To Be 70."

It is a little strange to be 70, it wasn't so long ago that I considered 70 to be inches from the grave, a benchmark of decaying old age.

Paul Simon turned 70 a couple of years ago, and he was not brooding on a park bench about the good old 60's, but releasing a new double album and setting off on a 50-day, 31 city book tour.

Yesterday, I wrote about my freak- out over changing my modem for the first time in some years. A woman promptly posted a message on my blog comments saying "at our age," such fear of technology is quite common. God, I dislike old talk. I wrote back to her, urging her to abandon what I call "old talk," the debilitating and self-destructive language of lament that so often accompanies getting older.

I believe it actually kills people. So does talking about health care and medicine all day.

I told her that I had a near nervous break down when I threw my typewriter away and started writing on the first Apple Computer more than 30 years ago, I have used new technology for years to expand and prolong my work and writing career, and the new modem was a step forward, not a nostalgic dirge. It was my idea to get it so I could continue to expand my footprint on social media and new websites.

Technology and the passage of life are not my enemies. Fear is my enemy.

Getting old has nothing to do with my being crazy or afraid, I am, in fact, just beginning to be sane.

Like Paul Simon, age 70 is not a time of retrenchment or downsizing or nostalgic lament or old talk. I see the news media commentators frequently say that President Trump, at age 71, is simply too old to change, and I wish our thin-skinned President would do some tweeting about that.

Like him or not, he could be an exciting role model for the many people who think turning 70 means moving into a one-story trailer in Florida and waiting quietly to die. People thought he was too old to run, let alone win. People were wrong.

This is a time of great change for me, change is essential to a meaningful life. Stasis,the downsizing of the mind and expectations, is the first death, the death of the spirit. Old talk is the language of the hopeless and bereft.

At 70, I am in love for the first time in many years. I am working on my 26th book, taking thousands of photographs every year.  I have having sex more frequently and happily than ever in my life. I just got a new small dog for the first time.  My blog is growing rapidly and has millions of followers, young and old, and I have entered into a whole new direction for my life and my writing, I am surrounded by an Army Of Good, something that never once even occurred to me until my 70th year.

My work with refugees and the Mansion residents have given me a powerful and very new way to use my writing and my blog.  I welcome Ali and the RISSE soccer team into my life with great joy and gratitude.

This week, I wrote a check that paid off the very final debt from our bankruptcy a few years ago, and for perhaps the first time in my life, I am debt free, other than our mortgage, we owe nothing to anyone. What a light feeling that is.

For me, growing older is not a time to look back and think of all the things I used to do, and of how much better the old days were. It is a time to think of all the things i am doing now, and to look ahead at all the things I plan to do. I will die when my time comes, but so will you, and everyone else who reads these words. They call if life.

My goal in life is to make my heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match my nature with Nature.

I don't pay all that much attention to birthdays, but I suppose one's life is a thing to celebrate. I made it to this farm, I throw my arms open to the next chapter, to open, open, open to the mystery of my own self.

Posted in General