16 February 2018

A Letter: Dear Students At The Marjory Stoneman Douglas School

Dear students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School In Florida

You will not, of course, have heard of me, I will never be on cable news or write as a pundit or influential commentator.

I write books and publish a blog, and I do have a lot of readers – four million last year – and a good number of them are in Florida, so I imagine one or more of you might get to read this.

It isn't important, really, I'm writing this more for myself than anyone. Something I needed to do. The pain inside of me was great and growing today, and so was the anger, I needed to reach out to you in the only way open to me.

I live on a farm, I am not a farmer, but a writer with a farm, and my heart is broken today, and again and again. I guess my heart is getting used to it, it's still going. And yes, I have a gun and wish to keep it. I need it.

Like you, I keep thinking they will do something about this, they will have to act this time. Hour by hour, I see that they won't.

I suppose there is something wrong with me, I simply cannot get used to what happened at your school yesterday.

I felt especially helpless watching all those videos and reading all those stories about the killings at your school, it feels so familiar, even predictable, the sirens, SWAT Teams, shouts, texts and messages, the terror and tragedy, the shattered dreams, the weeping and ceremony, the devastated mothers and fathers,  the visits to the wounded and First Responders.

We know the script by heart now. It's a time for prayers, not politics. It's too soon. It's not about guns.  I suspect many of those poor children in your school died praying.

I see a lot of people are getting used to it, I can't.

I went right out and brought clothes to some elderly people in an assisted care facility.

It was all I could think of to do, and it felt good and grounding. I don't wish to be one of those angry raging people on Facebook, that is a killing thing to me.

Whenever I get angry, I try to go out and do good. I wish I could do some good for  you.

I reject the labels of the right and the left, labels are for people who no longer wish to or can think for themselves, as some of you are beginning to see, from your comments today.

As a father, I can only barely imagine what you and your parents are feeling, I would not presume to even address it, and you don't need me to tell you about it. I have nothing worthwhile to add to it, a writer out of words.

I can tell you that a bright spot in the darkness for me was reading the quotes and interviews and comments by you – the other very brave students who got in front of those cameras and stood in their truth. You just cut through it.  There seems to be an army of polished liars out there, they block and color and hide from the truth at almost every turn. You just blew them away like milkweed on the prairie.

Our country was founded by people like you, people who stood about the lies and the fray and the corruption and spoke truth from the heart. My wish for you is that you never stop, and if you don't, good will come of this, as some of you have vowed already.

One of you vowed that your generation will fix this. I pray you will do better than mine.

I've seen too many reports from too many shattered schools to count any more, but I have never seen more eloquence, truth and heart than I have seen coming from you today. You are making a revolution, something different. Like you, I believe change can come, and I believe it will come, all the more so for watching you today.

Many of us out there in the ether are hearing your comments and moved to tears. You are, in many ways, a Godsend, because the young will inherit the earth, even as my days are growing shorter.

I'm not especially political, but it is horrifying to me that our country abandoned you and your murdered friends and so many other children in this awful way. John Locke  wrote that the primary function of government was to protect its people.

As one of your teachers told a reporter yesterday, your government has failed you.

When the politicians look you in the eye and tell you that you will never be alone, I wondered what they imagine happened yesterday when you were  all hiding beneath desks with your cell phones and shaking in  terror,  as alone as any human being could be, and as children ought never be.

Can they believe what they say? Where were they then?

Not too long ago in my lifetime, the idea that disturbed and broken people of any age could buy unlimited killing weapons made only for the slaughter of people and permit them to be used again and again in schools where children sit helplessly and innocently as targets was simply unimaginable.

It had never happened. It could not be imagined, because we lived, for all of our divisions, with certain common truths. One was that we protected our children, by any means, an at all costs. Period. This sacred value has been brushed away.

Now the murder of children is commonplace, just another story story riding up on the never-stopping cable news conveyor belt and out of sight and mind in a day or so, or a week at most. After all, the stock market is up, the corporate profits are high. America is happy.

The people who manufacture guns are smart and savvy.

They gave $3.3 million dollars last year to one of your senators, the one who said the issue is complex and that such slaughters of innocents are not really preventable. There is really nothing we can do, he said. At least we know now what a U.S. Senator costs.

Not so, one of you said on television. We can prevent it. We must prevent it. We will prevent it. Good for you. No one your age has said that before, or so eloquently. We are kids, said another,  you are grown-ups. You have to fix it.

I had this awful thought that as our political leaders squirm and evade and finger point again and again to vulnerable refugees and immigrants as great dangers to us and our way of life. Hiding behind prayers is especially disgusting to me.

We have been so distracted by lies and tricks that we have failed to grasp who the real  terrorists are, and where they live, and who they can buy with their unlimited money. They don't have to steal trucks and plow into people and  kill themselves.

They can just write checks to the people who have sworn to protect us, and let the broken and lost people buy their guns and  do the rest.

They have killed more of our children than any terrorist from any other place. You might want to know that since the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, more than 400 teachers and students have been killed in America in school shootings.

I was impressed by the clarity and strength of your comments. You cut right through the bullshit like a knife through jello.

Several dismissed the politicians's call to prayers and scoldings for mentioning guns so soon, they called for thought, rather than action, and they said the problem wasn't guns, it was mental health. If they can't blame the refugees for this one, they can blame the mentally ill, another class of handy and helpless scapegoats. When will be stop looking for people to blame and just fix it.

One of you told the politicians not to dare to tell you when to pray or what to think and when to talk, or what this is about,  they were not, as you were, lying under a school desk while your friend and classmates face was blown off. How dare they indeed.

I admire your thinking for yourself, for not succumbing to lies and political cowardice. I hope you can find the strength to keep speaking truth to immoral power. You are up against a big wall of money and greed and ignorance and hate.

This story belongs to you, as the future belongs to you, when people say this is hopeless and things will never change, I thought of your powerful statements today, your promises that it can change, and that it will change.

I believe that, and I believe you.

You are the future to me, I I don't have the time ahead of me that you have. It is my fervent wish to live long enough to see you be right.

If people like me can assist you in any possible way, I will be there. And I will be applauding you and rooting for you as you seek the courage and purpose to heal this great and awful wound.

No culture that sacrifices it's children in this horrific way, and for money, can survive. You are the hope and the future and I send you all of the strength in my heart and soul, I hope the spiritualists are correct and that energy can be sent to another person or people..

I needed to write this, I suppose, because like so many others, I hate feeling  hopeless.

We are all deafened and numbed by the arguments of the left and the right, and saddened at the paralysis and cowardice of our government and its leaders.

We are sickened by argument, and exhausted by false rationales. I don't they even they believe what they say. The entire civilized world looks at us in shock and horror, and gives thanks for not being us. We are covered in shame.

I'm afraid it's really on you now, all I can do is stand on the sidelines and wave a handkerchief and make sure to vote, maybe wave a flag or two and march. And in your honor, I will continue to try and do good every day, to perform small acts of great kindness wherever I can. Thomas Paine wrote that his faith was to do good, and I see that is yours and I hope that it is mine.

I guess, if you'll permit one observation, the challenge is to stay that way.

There are many good people out there, and we know right from wrong and truth from lies and compassion from callousness. You are heroes to us.

I am proud to say that the people who manufacture weapons would never dream of giving me a dollar, let alone 3.1 million dollars. You won't get a penny either.

For that, at least, I am proud.

And for you, I am prouder.

Posted in General

Going Green: Re-Imagining A Fish Tank (And The “Black Panther?”)

Re-Imagining A Fish Tank

My fish tank gift to Maria for her birthday was a success, she loves watching the fish and plotting the aesthetics of the fish tank. We have two fish and two bumblebee snails, the Pleko didn't survive the transition, despite a stream of algae tablets.

When I bought the tank, I got some colorful plastic plants and a couple of natural green real plants.

We both soured on the plastic plants quickly, we went back to the fish store and got more real plants and went all green. And we are thinking of Mother Earth these days, she doesn't need more plastic.

Surprisingly, the fish seem to love the new aesthetic, they swerve in and out and around the plants, nibble on them, it is meditative to watch Frida and Diego swirl gracefully slipping in and around the green, they do seem to know they are real.

I think we may go back and get a few more natural green plants.  I'd like to see more tall plants along the back of the tank, and Maria, ever the artist, agrees.

The new tradition is to sit in front of them after dinner and sip some sherry. How snooty of us, but how nice. I've never had sherry  before, it's kind of neat. And I never thought I'd be sitting around starting at fish again.

I canceled my writing class tomorrow, I don't want to get anyone sick,  Maria has given me the gift of her cold, and fortunately, there is a bit of syrupy cough medicine left, perhaps enough for one small sip.

I'd love to go see the "Black Panther" movie tomorrow, I'd like to write about it. I hope the cold is a one night thing.

Posted in General

Opening Your Mail On Valentine’s Day

Opening Mail: Guerda, Sylvie, Brenda

Thanks To The  Army Of Good, everyone at the Mansion had some mail to open, and more than one letter. They had a blast reading them. Thanks Cathy, for your gift bags and beautiful letters.

Posted in General

Threads Of Life, Taken For Granted. Notecards For The Mansion Residents

The Small Things: Threads Of Life

This week, I was sitting with several of the residents talking – we were doing some reading exercises – and one of them (I'll call her Sheila, not her name)  asked if I could talk to her privately.  We went off to a nearby sofa, and she spoke hesitantly, and seemed about to cry. She was a very shy and quiet women, I had not spoken with her much, I told her it was okay to talk to me, I would listen.

Sheila was in her 80's frail and soft-spoken. I didn't know much about her.

She said had been getting letters from people for months, from all over the country and she loved them. Every morning, she took them to a hallway with bright light and read them, shared them, they were all in a pile in one of her drawers.

Then she was still.

So is there a problem?, I asked, curious.

She said she couldn't answer them because she didn't have any envelopes, or enough envelopes, nor the money to buy more. She needed the money she got each month, she send some to her granddaughter, who was always in trouble.

___

Working at the Mansion this year, and with the RISSE refugees and immigrants, my philosophy about helping has evolved as I have come to know the patients. At the Mansion, people still find me odd and a bit confusing. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a staffer, or a family member, or a typical volunteer. 

In a way, this is the story of me life. I guess I'm somewhat odd. I'm my own category. I'm not sure how to categorize myself, but I can tell from everyone's reactions that they are still getting used to me, the staff as well.

i do feel very welcome there now.

The residents were shy at first, very reluctant to acknowledge need or vulnerability, wary of asking for anything. I think many are afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, they get embarrassed. Red is a great ambassador, even the residents who don't know my name know of Red and open up to him.

Part of this is pride, these are people who have worked all of their lives – just about every one – they are used to taking care of themselves, even though they have experienced some hard times as they age. These are usually people who never asked for anything in their lives, country people who are fiercely independent, now almost completely dependent.

Part of it is fear – it takes time to trust a stranger, even one with a dog, some worry that they will have to pay for the things I get for them, and they don't have much if any, money. Typically, they get some cash once a month, either from family or Social Security, much of which can go for room and board. This is not the old age they expected to have.

They get used to giving up things they once took for granted.  They have lost almost everything they loved.

My idea is to look for the small things, the threads of life, the holes that appear when there is little disposable income and a growing list of needs.

The Mansion takes care of the basics – food and comfort and daily activities, medications, but they don't have the resources or the staff to do much more. The residents can often become passive and accepting.

____

 

You could ask the people in the office, I told Sheila.

They would give you envelopes. Sometimes I do, she said, but I hate to ask them, they are so busy, and sometimes they run out, and people send me beautiful letters and I would love to send them a nice card back from time to time.

I translated in my head: Sheila was shy, perhaps embarrassed. She doesn't ask for things.

Would it be possible, she asked?, for me to get her some nice notecards, she said she would pay me back over time when her money came in monthly. She knew I had helped another resident get some brassieres.

I told her she didn't need to pay me back, and I thanked her for telling me what she needed, it was helpful. She seemed surprised, but didn't argue. Sheila told me she always loved to write letters, she was, she said, once the family historian, keeping everyone informed of the news about one another.

Over the next day or so, I saw this was a common problem. Most of the residents didn't have envelopes or stamps, some could not afford to buy them. The staff at the Mansion is always helpful with things like that, but there are many needs and expenses and some of the residents had just given up on responding to people. It bothered them also that they didn't have special notecards.

This is one of those things that I had completely missed, and would not have noticed until Sheila asked. It's one of the things I take for granted in life, one of those basic necessities I have never been without. Life is not like that in elder care facilities, they lose many things the rest of us take for granted.

People were almost desperate for notecards with envelopes. Monday, I'm going to go get some stamps, in case that is a problem.

Some people in the Army Of Good sent me some notecards to pass out and when I brought them in, I was swamped with people who saw them in my hands and wanted them, they spotted them from yards away. This is something they need, a civilizing and connecting tool.

These little things are the threads of life, messages and letters are a way to connect to the outside world and not be forgotten. These are the holes in their lives, usually small, that I try to fill and look to fill. I went to Battenkill Books and bought some nice notecards.

I'll bring them in Monday and hand them out discreetly. There are a lot of letter writes in there who don't get to write letters.

Along with books, writing letters is also an especially healthy activity, it gets people away from the ever-intrusive TV's and thinking and creating.

I'll also start looking for less expensive ones than the one I bought, I wanted these to be special.

If any of you have extra notecards lying around, please free to send them to me: Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

I used to drive around with Red to visit different elder care facilities, but I see now that this work was limiting for me. I never got to know people well enough to help them with the lost threads and small holes in their lives.

I understand that it takes a long time for people to trust me enough to ask me for the things they need.

The people there will love these cards and appreciate the stamps,  and I will have the pleasure of seeing them sitting all over the Mansion and some of you good people may get the pleasure of receiving letters back.

Posted in General

Checking Out Uniforms For The New RISSE Girl’s Basketball Team

Shopping For Uniforms

Ali and I went shopping yesterday to look at some uniform possibilities for the new RISSE (refugee and immigrant support center in Albany) girl's basketball team, not taking on players. The league games won't begin for a month or so, practice will start sooner.

Ali liked this black and red uniform shown above, Todd Van Epps of Wicked Smart Sports Apparel, the owner of the company, which sells sports apparel all over the country,  will send him some page proofs and he can show the uniform to the girls. Todd is giving us huge discounts (thanks, Todd) and we expect teach uniform will cost about $25, a radical discount.

If you would like to support the RISSE girl's basketball team, also to be named the Bedlam Farm Warriors, and also over my objection), you can contribute by sending donations to me at my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

If you care to thank Todd for his generosity and support of the Refugee Children at RISSE, you can e-mail him at todd@wickedsmartapparel.com. He is a very good human being.

Sports is essential at  helping these children acclimate to America, and form and strengthen their own community. There is only one girl on the RISSE soccer team, that is Maya, expected to be the next team captain. Most of the girls at RISSE do not care to play soccer with boys, they are fired up about basketball.

Posted in General