13 August 2017

Updates: Hastening Back To Life: Jorsein Mayo And The Army Of Good

By: Jon Katz

Hastening Back To Life

When I was young and quite unhappy, I attended a Quaker Meeting In Providence, Rhode Island, and a gentle Friend took me aside – I think I was 13 or 14 and he said that people could try to tear me down and knock me down at any time, but they could never keep me from getting back up.

He also said that the best response to evil was to do good. The more evil, the more good, until someone stops us.

Today, I take that message to heart and offer updates for the Army Of Good and their great works. The news knocks us down sometimes – often – but we just get back to work and hasten back to life.

Today, I introduce you to Jorsein Mayo, who is 13 years old and is from Thailand. He lives in a tough neighborhood in Albany, New York and has some severe learning challenges, his teachers worry that he is falling too far behind, his parents speak no English at all and love him but cannot  really help him.

The staff is RISSE is worried about the dangerous choices troubled kids can make on those streets. And many of the families cannot pay the 4, 888 tuition. They try to keep the kids in school either way, but they are struggling too. They have to pay for supplies and teachers and transportation.

Jorsein is enrolled in the RISSE summer and after school program, where they know him, and he is comfortable, and he can get the tutoring and special work he needs, RISSE's staff is worried about him because when refugee children turn 13, and the federal subsidy that pays for their tuition at RISSE runs out.

I know Jorsein, he is a sweet and generous young man with a ready smile, and I see he does need some help, and urgently.

RISSE has  more than a score of refugee children in that circumstance, they face a shortfall of $73, 320 dollars this Fall to keep these children in their school after they turn 13 where they can keep off the streets,  supervised, and receive the tutoring and special teaching they desperately need, if they are to keep up in our public schools.

RISSE does not boot needy children out of their schools,  but they need help in order to keep teaching them. They are advising me as to which children have the most urgent need.  Jorsein Mayo is the first one they have asked me to help.

The federal government does not provide any support for these children after the age of 13, and the programs that do exist may be severely cut or curtailed by the new administration.  At this age, the need is especially great, because their scores very much affect their future, and some of these kids simply drop out of frustration or failure. They can get lost.

I am not asking for $73,000 or anything like it, I respect your boundaries as well as mine. I think we can help, is all.

That is well beyond the big hearts even of the Army Of Good, but I would like to focus on a few of the children who are the neediest and try to offer several of them some help, so they can stay in school. My philosophy is one at a time, we fill one hole at a time.

Today, I am more dedicated than ever at fighting for some of the values we share. There are two ways to help Jorsein, who is also a member of the RISSE soccer team. You can contribute directly to RISSE on their website through credit cards or paypal. These contributions to RISSE are tax deductible.

Some of you are more comfortable sending me contributions to support these refugee children and the Mansion residents, and I will see that a portion of those donations also goes to Jorsein and some of the other refugee children in great need. I hope to support RISSE in a number of ways, but I am also getting to know the refugees well and wish to support them personally, apart from RISSE. Both are good ways to help.

It costs about $99 a day to pay for RISSE's educational programs, we can't pay for all of these kids, but we can help some, the ones whose educational needs are the neediest. You can also send your contributions directly to me, as some of  you prefer. I am always looking for opportunities to help the Mansion residents and the refugees, young and old. Some of these activities are out of the scope of organizations and institutions – boat rides, clothes, amusement park and museum trips language and music classes,  upcoming books of stories, air conditioners, retreats, trips to the movies, money for special tutoring and scholarships.  

Please mark all contributions to me on your checks or paypal messages depending on your intention: some are for my blog, some are for the Mansion residents, some are for the refugees, some are for me to do as I think best for both. I like having that freedom – things change very rapidly in this work –  and I will use it well and share the results,  but it's up to you. Every penny goes where it is supposed to go, and if for some reason that isn't feasible (death, change, etc.) it will go somewhere similiar.

You can send those donations to me, c/o Jon Katz, P.O.  Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] Out of those funds I am seeking to pay down Devota's loan, to buy all the carving tools Maliwulidi (and some other adult male and female refugees need),   to send some Mansion residents outings like  a boat ride around Lake George (something they have been dreaming about for a long time), to buy ice cream for their outings, household supplies, blankets and silverware, soccer balls, prayer rugs,  parties, birthday celebrations, books, art supplies for Connie, Jane and the residents, to publish a book of their stories (Tales Of The Mansion)  picnic tables for outside on the lawn, purchase soap and shampoo (we have enough) and support the individual needs of the residents – like a Bible CD set and CD player for Art.

We all have to manage our own lives and take care of ourselves first, before we can help others, so I do not expect miracles, or even success every single time. We do the best we can for as long as we can, and today I re-dedicate myself to that work. The more evil I see, the more good I will try to do. Thanks for coming along on this amazing trip.

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My Five Steps To Life: Dreaming Of Charlottesville. The Opening Flower

By: Jon Katz

My Five Steps

I have pretty much devoted much of my life these days to staying grounded, trying to do good, trying to use my writing and photos and blog to be creative, to uplift and inspire, daunting tasks for so flawed and humbled a human being. I am no saint, I am not always even very nice.

I do always wish to be better.

But my heart broke a little bit watching the news this morning, and I wanted to share my Five Steps For Dealing With Awful Things. Our idea of old age in America is deceptive, even though my energies are not those of my youth, this is the time of the opening flower for me, the time of fulfillment, the bringing for of what I have prepared myself to bring forth as I approach the next phase of my life, or my death.

I do not see life as a loss, but at as a blooming. Every day brings us a choice: are we standing at the locked gate, or at the open door? Everything we face is one or the other, a gate or a door. I choose the door, light and darkness are not different things, but one thing.

Today, another opportunity to grow. To turn away from anger, hatred, division and self-righteousness.To cleanse ourselves of poison.

That is how I feel about the shocking and awful scenes from Charlottesville, one I never imagined I would ever see in the country that saved me and my family from the very ideas and hatred others are marching for. Such scenes mean different things to different people, we all live on our separate paths.

I am grateful my grandmother and grandfather did not live to see Nazi's parading down an American Main Street, I don't know that they could have survived that. I am thinking of African-Americans and their families watching in great suffering as broken people celebrate slavery and slaughter.

It is never my wish to divide, but I will gladly share the steps I take to stay hopeful and hopefully, helpful. I believe that truth and compassion are stronger than hatred and evil. They might not always prevail, but they will always ultimately prevail, or the world cannot survive. I think it is not the duty of my God to give us perfect lives, only hope.

I first think of the person I most love, and express my gratitude for them. I think of Maria, sleeping so peacefully in bed, of her great heart and loving spirit. I think of my friends, my work, my daughter, and of Red and his healing work, and Fate and her energy, and then of little Gus and of the sunshine he has brought to my life. This softens my heart, and reminds me that life is good.

I think of prayer and contemplation and meditation, the pathway for me away from hatred and anger. I go to my sacred space. There, I turn inward, to my better angels, and think of the ways in which I can be better, more loving. I think of the art of listening, of walking through the door that has appeared. How to be more human? More just. More empathetic. Better than this.

I connect with another human being. This morning, I think I will go see Art at the Mansion Assisted Care Facility and pray with him for healing and comfort to those who were hurt or killed. Art and I are so different, yet that is the point, isn't it? We can sit together and pray together and speak to our own Gods and plea for a better world. The world is a mess. The world has always been a mess. The world is a glorious place.

I create things, I wrote and take pictures that remind myself and some people of the color and light in the world.

I am training myself in the quality of love.  Love is the point, said God in the Kabbalah, said Jesus in Jerusalem.

There is only one way to enter the mystery of the Open Heart, wrote the mystics. You love your God to the extreme, whoever he or she is,  not abandoning devotion for any reason, for any sad or troubling or hateful news. You attend to the demands of your heart and soul, the remainder of your time on the earth is for whatever else you need.

Healing comes from within, not without. First, take care of yourself. You can not save the world, but you can make a joyous noise.

When it comes to weakness or tragedy  – through old age, disease or the hatred of others – we free ourselves from these awful wounds just as a mango or fig or apple releases itself from its bond, and we hasten back to life. Just walk through the door.

Those are my steps this morning, they are the only things I can offer. I don't presume that my own wisdom works for anyone else, I am not a priest. I can just be open about what works for me. Another chance to do good rather than lament evil, I suppose that is the devotion I will not abandon.

So I offer that, and a photo of Gus, which seems to make everyone smile. Today is another door, and I will walk through it.

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12 August 2017

Sacred Space, Saturday Musings: Finding Joyous Things To Do

By: Jon Katz

Sacred Space

A sacred space is a place where I can find myself again and again.

Joseph Campbell says you don't have a sacred space, a rescue land, until you find somewhere to be that's not a wasteland, someplace where there is a joy that comes from inside, not something external that puts joy into you. A place that let's you experience your own will and your own intention and your own wish so that, the Kingdom is there.

Campbell thought everyone needs such a place, whether they know it or not or accept it. I went to my sacred space today, it is a private place, I am not able to share it, there is something sacred about it and to photograph it would be a blasphemy. I believe as I share my life so openly that I need one place that is mine alone.

It is fashionable in our culture to bemoan getting older as a time of loss, generation and disorientation. Aging men and women in particular love the old days, when the world was perfect, children were polite and worshipful,  there was no cable news, the center was bigger than the left or the right, health care was rarely mentioned,  and life was secure and dependable.

Nostalgia is our own personal sinkhole, we can slip into it without even thinking.

Every person who gets older faces an inevitable personal odyssey as they tire and so many of the bad genes simply die off.

Is aging a loss, or is it just possibly a radically new, fulfilling and joyful time marked in love and generosity,  the blossoming of life. In my sacred space. That is how I feel it, that is how I see it.  When I was young, I had no idea who I was and where I was going. Now I know who I am and am only too aware of where I am going.

In part, I realized in my sacred space, the older man is a kind of receptacle, people can cleanse and heal themselves by bring me their anger and confusion. That is perhaps one of the gifts of our new technology.

Sacred space, says Campbell, and sacred time and something joyous to do, are things we all need, I think.  Older people play with life experiences and realizations or with thoughts that they like to entertain, sometimes secretly.

The great thing about growing old is that nothing is going to lead to anything, everything is of the moment.

In my sacred space, I was trying to decide if I will resume my writing class in September, there is so much going on in my life now. I am drawn towards doing it, this class has been with me for more than three years, they are like family now, and they are doing wonderful work.

When writing, I told them last year, don't criticize the words or thoughts coming out. Just let them come. Let go of the critical voice in your head. Don't worry about making money, or wasting time, or if you are any good? I tell them this ever year, and once in a while, they listen.

The creative adventure is always reckless.

Earlier, I posted a photo of a new frog "Conductor" tile Maria bought me Saturday. Peggy Ormasen sent me this message:

"If Frog is your Animal Totem;
You are a great listener and advice giver. You know how to relate to others and always know exactly what to say. You have genuine empathy towards others and always do your best to provide healing for those around you by allowing them to release old negative energy onto you in order to help them cleanse and renew their lives. Often travelers use this totem to give them a little reassurance while traveling."

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The Army Of Good Tour: Next Spring

By: Jon Katz

The Conductor

Maria bought this green tile, it's called the "conductor," and we saw it at an art show, and I will hang it in my office.

Maria and I had an idea this morning, we are very excited about it. In the Spring of 2018, we plan to rent a small van, and Maria, me and Gus will head out on a month-long trek into the American heartland to meet some of the members of the Army Of Good.

We haven't gotten into the details yet, but how wonderful it would be to meet some of the good people who have brightened so many different lives in so many different ways. People ask me about them all the time – they are in every state in the Union and some foreign countries.

I always have to say I don't really know most of them, haven't talked to them, met them, or know a thing about them. How nice to travel West and stop and meet some of these people in there home towns, we would write about it every day on our blogs.

We are thinking of calling it the "Army Of Good Tour."  The rental vans are comfortable and have Internet connections, we can blog as we do. Gus seems like the right dog to take, he is small enough to be okay in a small van (it would drive the border collies mad). We have a new person in our lives, Mandi Mulready, she works at the Mansion and is going to pet sit for us when we go to New Mexico.

She is loving and conscientious and is delighted at the idea of staying at the farm while we travel. Seeing Mandi with the Mansion patients, I don't  have to worry about our dogs.

We are fortunate to have found her, she already knows Red and Gus and will take great care of them. I have no problem with Kennels, but I do think dogs are less stressed at home. How great to travel the country, meet these angels face to face, and deepen the ties to our community. Over the next few months, we'll pick some people to visit and plan a route.

I think heading through the midwest, and then into Minneapolis and out to California makes sense. Maybe get to California, and then turn around.

The Army Of Good has become a powerful and cohesive community that has done a staggering amount of good. Meeting one another seems the logical  evolution of this idea.

More later, this is one of our better ideas.

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For Robin

By: Jon Katz

On The Way To Brooklyn

I saw this dress at an artisan's collective in town this morning, I thought it had to go to Robin in Brooklyn, a sunny dress to match a sunny disposition. Buying stuff for a grandchild in Brooklyn is not simple, they have lots of good stuff there. But artists can always come up with classy ideas, no matter where they are.

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