Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

10 December

Zinnia Gets Another Godmother With A Huge Heart

by Jon Katz

Melissa Ortiz, a Mansion aide signed up today to be one of Zinnia’s Godmothers in her mushrooming Circle of Love. We might just change the world.

Counting the people who have e-mailed me,  Zinnia now has about 40 Godmothers, many scattered all over the country. Sue Silverstein of Bishop Maginn High School was the first, followed by Robin at Jean’s Place, and Maria here at the farm.

Melissa Ortiz has a great big heart, her love and enthusiasm for the Mansion residents are very powerful to see. Melissa is a single mother who lives about an hour from the Mansion, she works hard every day and brings great energy and love to the Mansion.

We have become good pals, in addition to her big heart, she has a wonderful sense of humor.  My plan is to surround Zinnia with strong people of a big heart.

She will rise to that and return the love to the world.

You can’t do much better for Godmothers than the very strong and loving women who have signed up so far. Tomorrow, I’ll post a photo of our next Godmother, Kassi Garmley, the Mansion director.

So far, Zin, you have a cordon of great hearts and strong role models. Maybe we can go on tour one day and meet all of your Godmothers. What a hoot that would be.

10 December

The Purpose Of Life

by Jon Katz

The purpose of life, wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

That’s the purpose of my life.

Anne Frank, who was 14 when she died, wisely reminded us in her diary that no one ever became poor by giving. It was Charles Dickens who said no one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of others.

My cardiologist asked me a few months ago what was the best exercise for my heart after my open-heart surgery. I surprised myself a little bit by answering quickly – my subconscious seemed to know what to say –  that there is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down to the needy and vulnerable and lifting them up.

She was startled, but she said it made some sense. Doctors, she said, are not trained to think that way.

Well, she added, just be as active as you can, ok? I am, I said, I am.

You can walk 10 miles a day if you want, but I believe there has been nothing better for my heart than the work I am doing with the good people we call The Army Of Good. I am told that my heart is strong, perhaps it’s stronger than my brain. I feel that it is strong, I don’t need a machine for that.

Getting old can be a trap if I start to think I have superior wisdom to pass along to others, especially the young.

I am not wise, but I am experienced. Experience is worth passing on, advice almost never is.

I am learning to give cheerfully and accept graciously. Not for ourselves alone are we born, said Cicero (Non-Nobis solum nati sumus.)

We have nothing but what we give. Charity isn’t about mercy, it’s about love. I see that at the Mansion every day.

Zinnia has come into my life, I believe, to show me how to make joy.

I got an e-mail from a reporter last week asking me what I have learned about life that I would like to pass along. Nothing, I’ve said, I have no wisdom to offer other people, we all have to find our own way. I don’t give advice about how to live, I’m the last person who should.

The most important lesson I can remember learning is that only the strong get help. The weak almost never do. And I came to understand also that help helps.

10 December

Hey, The Mansion Aides Want To Thank You

by Jon Katz

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

The Mansion aides and staff gathered today for a staff meeting, and since they are all rarely in the same place at the same time, I took advantage of the meeting to get a rare photo of them together.

They wanted to say thanks to you.

At the meeting, each of the aides got a $50 bill in a special envelope,  contributed by the Army Of Good,  presented to them by Mansion Director Kassi Garmley.

The aides were also told that the Amazon Mansion Aides Christmas Wish List sold out after just a few hours Monday night and early Tuesday.

It was a warm and lovely exchange all around.

We wanted to appreciate them and the work they do, they wanted to appreciate us and the support we are offering this holiday season. How nice if the whole world worked that way.

We are setting up a new Break Room so the aides can finally get some rest and eat lunch or dinner in peace and privacy.

We provided the $50 Christmas gift and the wish list so the aides can give the gifts they want to give to their children and their loved ones.

I got a lot of hugs today from aides wanting to thank me for this support, although not nearly as many hugs as Zinnia got. She was eager to horn in on the celebration, she found Tia’s lap. If you want attention, don’t hang around with Zinnia.

I get embarrassed by thanks, flummoxed,I never really know what to say, except “thank you.” One of the aides wrote me a text message saying “I love you,” and I was completely tongue-tied. When she asked me later why I didn’t reply, I said I didn’t know what to say.

And I don’t.

It has been a great privilege and inspiration for me to see these special and very dedicated people do their work, which is loving, rewarding, difficult and often unpleasant. I feel a very powerful connection with them.

Until a few years ago, I had no idea such people existed or what they did. I am richer for the experience.

The group photo of the aides is a beautiful tableau of heart, soul, and compassion.

Health care workers are notoriously underpaid, but that never shows up in the work they do and the dedication they provide.

I’ve never heard an aide complain about the hard work they do caring for the residents in the most personal and demanding ways.

These are loving people who become very attached to the people who come to the Mansion to live, and they see so much discomfort, sickness, and death. The relationship between these aides and the residents is often intense.

They often have to say goodbye to people they love over and over again, but they learn quickly to be resilient and dedicated. They learn to feel, but also to let go.

Some have become good friends, some I rarely see and hardly know.

But I know from the residents how loved they feel and how grateful they are for the care they get.  They help people to shave and shower, go to the bathroom, clean up after accidents, help prepare for bed, bring medications.

I am hoping to give some of the residents small amounts of cash so they can buy the aides Christmas presents. Some have told me this is the worst thing about having little money of your own.

Over the past year or so I have tried to adjust my energy and our Army Of Good work to include the aides, they make the Mansion possible.  I have seen firsthand just how much they sacrifice, how hard they work, how difficult it is to keep up on the salaries they make.

I am privileged and thankful that we were able and willing to support their Christmas this year. I wish them all and their children the happiest of Christmases.

I hope to keep up this work with the aides, they are needy too, and they are valuable and essential. Not everyone can do that kind of work. I couldn’t.

So they got together to offer you their thanks, and I don’t know about you, but it got pretty emotional for me. How lucky I am to know people like you.

One of the Mansion executives asked me some months ago if I had any good slogans in mind for the Mansion or for the staff who care for the residents.

As it happens, I did, and I do. It’s a quote from Roy Bennett, author of The Light in the Heart:Be mindful. Be grateful. Be true. Be kind.” If the aides had a flag, that might be woven onto it.

10 December

Video: The Mansion: Georgianna Lights Us Up With Pig Latin

by Jon Katz

It was a gloomy dark day and Maria and I were both restless, so I suggested she join me at my weekly story-reading at the Mansion.

Maria was great, she connected with the residents and she got into a lively dialogue about language and we all forgot about reading.

Georgianna went on a great Pig Latin riff, and I hadn’t heard Pig Latin in years, Georgianna remembered it well from her school days. We had a blast. The story language session was fun, interactive and very healthy I think, for the residents, for us.

Towards the end, I thought to do a video recording some of the conversations. Come along.

The weekly Mansion story-telling was special today, it made me rethink how the sessions should be structured. Rather than have me read stories, I could invite Maria and other guests and see if we can’t have more interactive sessions like we did today.

Take a look. The visit sure cheered us up, as I thought it might. Afterward, we drove to the Bennington Museum where we spent a very quiet hour looking at some neat art.  Zinnia came along, she slept in the car and sat quietly for several hours

She also came to the Mansion discussion, visited people and took a nap.

10 December

Portrait: Car Dog

by Jon Katz

At times, Zinnia still looks like an adorable puppy, at other times, she is beginning to look like a handsome dog.

She is puppy’ish still, she likes to chew on people, but is also calm and poised, as when she rides in the car.

Zinnia is a car dog. She is very quiet in the car and always wants to come along. Her recall is now 85 percent reliable. She is beginning to grasp the “stay” command.

So far, she has chewed on nothing but her own toys.

Next week, I’ll begin training her to “lie down,” which is more complex than the other commands. “Lie Down” is a submissive position, most dogs resist it. We’ve had her for just about three weeks.  I think we’ll keep her…:)

Zinnia is a photographer’s dream.

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