2 October 2017

Needing Kelly Tonight

When People Need Kelly

Late this morning, I got an e-mail from a blog reader asking me an odd question, she wondered if I was going to eat at the Bog tonight. As it happens, we did have plans to eat at the Bog with friends tonight, i asked her why she needed to know.

She said she was undone by the massacre in Las Vegas Sunday night. " I love the photos of Kelly," she said, "she just grounds me, she just seems so comfortable with  herself. Her smile seems so real. I want to get there, she inspires me."

On the surface, Kelly had nothing to do with the tragedy in Las Vegas, but I knew what the reader meant. I wanted to see Kelly too, she is, in fact, grounding.

I told Kelly the story tonight, and she laughed and shrugged. She said she was flattered, but she didn't really know why her photo would ground people. We got to talking, and I asked her why she was so comfortable being photographed.

I even had a rare drink, a Scotch on the rocks, my longtime favorite drink.

I am always grateful to Kelly for letting me do  her portrait almost every week, but it never occurred to her that she was also getting something out of it.

She said she didn't used to be comfortable having her picture taken, but that my work with her had helped her get over that. Why?, I asked.

"Because I love my life," she said, "I love who I am. I love my family, my husband, my daughter my friends. I am okay with who I am and what I am."

That is a great gift, a life of meaning.

And that, I thought, is precisely why I am drawn to photographer and why so many people find meaning in her radiant smile, and her generous and compassionate persona.

This photo helped to ground me as well. I hope it does the same for others tonight.

Posted in General

Can Bill Find Rebirth At The Mansion?

Seeking Rebirth

I went to see Bill At The Mansion today, he was out sitting in the sun at a construction nearby. He seemed tired to me, a bit less focused than before, a bit less jubilant than when he was able to read a letter – or anything – for the first time in more than a year.

Bill is seeking to re-connect with the gay community, so important to him. He is getting letters and messages and candy and cakes and cupcakes, and his morale has soared.

He is no longer saying he has little to live for. And he is smiling. Still, there are good days and bad days.

I have worked with stroke victims before, and I know recovery is not a straight line, there are many ups and downs and twists and turns. There were two very significant developments in Bill's to get his life back today.

One was that I received a long and quite wonderful letter from his daughter (I can't reveal any of it or her name without her permission). The other was bringing him a new hardcover mystery from one of his favorite writers.

Bill's daughter was thanking me for helping her father and also filling me in on some of the details of his life so I might be able to understand him and help him. Bill's life is a roller coaster in many ways, filled with difficulties and conflicts with his family. His daughter was estranged from him for some, time and re-connected with him after his stroke in 2014, which left  him paralyzed on his right side, and unable to walk or speak well.

Bill's New Book

He was re-united with his  two daughters after the stroke, "he burst into tears when he saw  us and told us he was afraid he would never see us again." The family needed to find a new home for Bill after his long rehabilitation in a special nursing home. "I wanted to keep him in close proximity, yet I wanted  to make sure it was a nice place where he would be happy and well cared for. I finally found the Mansion in Cambridge and reached out to them and moved Dad in February of this year. I feel so lucky to have found the Mansion. The home is beautiful and the staff are just incredible. I sleep well at night knowing that Dad is so well cared for."

I appreciate the  letter about Bill, it is powerful and helpful. It speaks to the great trauma of stroke victims and their families, the difficult choices they make, the great struggles they must try to overcome together. Bill has many difficulties with his family, I can't really talk about them. He was fortunate that they rushed to his side after the stroke.

If I'm permitted to, I will share some more details of Bill's life, with his permission and that of his daughter's. There is no need to share all of it. He is grateful for his daughter's presence in his life. I hope to meet her soon, her letter was thoughtful, compassionate, honest and impressive.

I went to the Battenkill Bookstore today and bought Bill the new James Patterson novel, Haunted. His daughter says he read three to five novels a week before the stroke. As I expected, the sight of the book made him nervous, but the experts say stroke patients need to be pushed a bit.

I said if he could read letters, maybe it was  time to return to books. He seemed hesitant and  uncertain, I left the book on his dresser and suggested he give it a try later on. He stared at it with some trepidation and said a book was different from a letter.

Yes, I said, it was, but the first paragraph of a book was no longer than the first paragraph of a letter. How about one paragraph at a time? I'm not sure if Bill is ready for this or not, he will decide. I just wanted the option to be there. As a voracious reader, that is a powerful incentive for him to try reading again.

Bill's daughter was brave and loving, sending me that letter. It will be a tremendous help in supporting Bill.

I'll see Bill again in a day or so. The Army of Good is funding an Octoberfest meal and celebration at the Mansion just before November. Details to come.

If  you wish to write  Bill – he is especially looking to  hear from gay men and women – the address is Bill, c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. If you wish to donate to the Mansion program, you write send your donation to Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected]

Please mention The Mansion.

And thanks, Bill is working hard at rebirth, with new support from the gay community – some very  beautiful letters are coming to him – and the Mansion staff. Reading would mark a huge breakthrough for Bill in his struggle to regain his life. We'll keep at it, in a day or two I'll read some of the new Patterson book to him.

Your support of this work is much appreciated. Today, more than ever, I felt the pull to do good, for my sake as well as the benefit of others.

Posted in General

Breathe. Coping With The Unimaginable

Imagining The Unimaginable

Grief does not change me, it reveals me.

In my life, writes Anne Lamott,  I will lose someone I can’t live without, and my heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that I will never completely get over the loss of something I loved, or the shock of something I could not imagine.

But this is also the good news.

The people and things I lost will  live forever in  a broken heart that may not ever quite seal back up. And I will come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but I learn to dance with the limp.”

I did not know a single one of the hundreds of people killed, maimed and wounded in Las Vegas last night. I do not have enough empathy in my soul to grasp what they are enduring and must endure.

This was a horror I never quite foresaw or imagined in my country, although I knew quite well that it happens again and again, all over the world, and has for centuries.

I can't really mourn people I don't know, but I can feel for those they left behind, and I can grieve for the idea of a country where I always felt safe.

And I can lament the loss of a government that will protect its weakest and most vulnerable people, that will protect me.

I mourn for my smugness and privilege and certainties. These are not the things that could happen to me here, in this wonderful country.

Today, I have lost something, an idea I never thought I could or would live without, and my heart is broken, and my sense of my world is shattered. The bad news is that I will never completely get over the shock of it, something I could not imagine.

But there is good news, and this is what it is. I came through it and will come through it. It may be a wound that never heals perfectly, but I can dance with a limp.

Posted in General

In The Woods. I Don’t Want To Get Used To It…

In The Woods

I covered the police in several cities – Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C..

I loved that beat, so enthralling for a young man starting out, escaping and unhappy life.

I saw so much of the world most people never see. I was important, I had a window seat on the world, I covered grisly traffic accidents,  rushed to the scene of drownings, murders, suicides, gang killings, beatings, robberies,  assaults and horrific accidents.

After some  years on the beat, I was sent to a dreadful car crash outside of Philadelphia, a family of eight people were dead, strewn all across an expressway. There were blood and bodies everywhere.

I had a police scanner in my car and got there early, i talked to one of the dying children, held the hand of the mother as she died, took some photos before the police came, and tried to close the eyes of the father, whose body was contorted.

When the police and ambulances arrived, I was standing by the bodies whistling and taking notes. My friend, a young and idealistic police sergeant, took me aside when the bodies were all gone, and said, "listen, friend, you need to get off this beat."

Why?, I asked, shocked, I was winning awards, scooping the competition, loving my work, my boss could not sing my praises enough.

Bill put his arm on my right shoulder, and looked me in the eye. "Because it isn't bothering you any more." And he walked away. I woke up and saw that he was right.

I moved to another newspaper and became a political reporter. In a sense, that decision saved me from the fate I later saw in the older police reporters and the old cops. They often seemed dried up and dead inside, unable to feel much of anything.

I tell this story because I had this same sinking feeling living in America in 2017.

I am no longer surprised when someone uses a machine gun to murder hundreds of strangers for no reason. I am no longer surprised when the President attacks people every morning or when he says this isn't the time to talk about machine guns that slaughter children and country music lovers. I personally can't imagine a better time.

I am no longer surprised at the dance between our leaders and the media, both gorging themselves on attention, division and the money it brings, all the while pretending to be enemies. None of them could live a second without the other.

I am no longer surprised that nothing is done about horrors like Las Vegas, or Middletown. Few of our leaders even mention it, they invoked God and the Bible instead and ask us to pray. This is not the time. Good Lord, when might the time ever be?  I think they better pray that Jesus is not resurrected again.

I am  afraid I am getting used to this. I write on the blog, take some black and white photos, go to the Mansion, do something good for a  resident, get back to work. Will people even be talking about this in a week, nobody has enough reporters for all the dramas and crisis and conflicts and tragedies erupting around us.

This morning, watching those images, I was taken right back to that highway outside of Philadelphia, the blood on the streets, the mangled bodies, the moans the screams. Was I getting used to it?

I know the media will show disturbing images of this butchery  a thousand times this week, a never-ending loop of horror and trauma. Who among us is healthy enough to watch those videos over and over and over again and not be disturbed by it.

No wonder there are so many angry people on Facebook and Twitter. I must not ever be one of them.

We wouldn't do that to a dog or a laboratory rat, expose them to noise and fear and violence a thousand times, the animal rights people would be hysterical. Where are the human rights people?

And then the waves of panelists come, the endless debate, the ghoulish abuse of the dead and wounded for money and ratings, as if they hadn't suffered enough. Then the debate begins, the rationalization, the outrage. And then, a few days later, another outrage, another tragedy, another hurricane, another cultural war, another  bitter conflict without end or resolution.

And is there anyone reading this who believes it won't happen again, or who accepts the ramifications of living in a society and under a government that doesn't really care?

We are sick, we are hurting. We need help.

It's too much for us, but there it is, every day, there seems to be no escaping it, no avoiding it, our country and common,  public sphere has become a great whirlpool that sucks us all mercilessly into the muck, every single day.

I won't accept that, I will do better than that, I will not follow their script, I will write my own.

I don't want to get used to it. I don't care about their arguments and rationalizations, I pay no attention to the left and right, they are getting what they deserve.

I don't want to know the script – theirs and mine – before it even unfolds. I don't want the death of my fellow citizens to be a shared ritual, one of the very few.

Today, i went out into the woods, I sat down on a big old trunk, I have sat there before  All around me, the leaves are falling, spiraling down on my hat and shirt and boots.

Every man is haunted by the shadow that is his death, and I watch the leaves, they are my brothers and sisters, we both are decaying and fall and spin, it is their fate and my fate.

I feel sometimes that only my sight is left untouched, days, hours, shadows, winds, cries, pass over me as I sink beneath the leaves. Soon, the leaves are a bed beneath me, and I rest easy,  there I find the ground under me.

Sometimes I think this is only possible out in the woods, alone or with Maria, away from my brothers and sisters in the world and all the noise they make and the harm they do

It is all right again. I am at peace. I know where I came from, where I am, and where I am going.

I accept the world I live in.

I rise up, out of the woods and back into the world.

Posted in General

Find Your Tribe Dolls: At The Open House

Find Your Tribe Dolls

Artist Karen Heenan sent up a box filled with her new Find-Your-Tribe dolls, which she is selling at our Open House this weekend. The vibes get better and better all the time, we will have art, belly dancing, spinning, great weather, fall foliage, sheep shearing, sheep herding, poetry reading, talks, dog and donkey love.

The dolls have stories to tell: There's a "strong" doll, a "resist" doll, "peace" and "rise up" and "persist" dolls.

The art show is central to our Open House weekend,  a celebration of art in rural life and of Maria's popular fiber works.

Affordable and original art from rural artists from our area and different parts of the country. The dolls cost $30 a piece and will be sold at the Open House. Mindful of those who can't come, some will be available to people who e-mail Maria at [email protected], the price would include shipping.

I might get one for Robin, I'm thinking the "persist" tribe doll. If you wish to resist one of these dollars or order one, [email protected]

The Open House runs this Saturday and Sunday. Great forecasts, the leaves are beginning to turn, we hope to be an antidote to the awful and sad news. The Open House is free, donations to defray expenses are accepted. Saturday and Sunday, 11 to 4 p.m.

Belly dancers will be here, the RISSE refugees, a sheep shearer, and some of the Mansion residents. Gus will join Red and Fate for our sheep herding demonstrations. Purists and snobs, bring your medication.

Posted in General