16 January

Quieting The Soul

by Jon Katz
The Psalms: In Orlando

I’ve been reading Norman Fischer’s “Open To You,” a Zen-inspired translation of the Psalms, and it is as compelling to me as the Kabbalah, in many ways. The earliest Jewish and Christian writers were amazing writers, and their words and images have touched a lot of hearts and souls. The Psalms were sung by Thomas Merton at the Abbey of Gethsemani and by Rabbis at the Old Temple in Jerusalem.

They are disturbing as they are beautiful. As Fischer writes, what is challenging about “God” is exactly that is so emotional, metaphysically emotional. In the Psalms, he adds, the relationship to God is “a stormy one, codependent, passionate, confusing, loyal.” Still, they are, he says, among the most beautiful poems ever written. For me, the Psalms challenge me to open up, to give up my sense of control and petty worries and share my life with whatever it is that God comes to mean to me. To love something in a whole and giving way. Last night, I sat up and read from Psalm 19:

“The Heaven express your fire,

The night sky is the work of your hands

Day after day is your spoken language

Night after night your perfect knowing

There is no speech, there are no words

Their voice falls silent

Yet the music plays everywhere

To the end of the earth its clear notes float out

To the end of the words the words pronounced

Become a tabernacle for the sun

That come out like a bridegroom in his chamber

A robust runner to run his days’ course

To the end of the heavens he races

And back again he returns

And there is nothing hidden from his heat.

Your pattern is perfection

It quiets the soul that knows it

And its eloquent expresson

Makes everything clear”

Even in Orlando, the Psalms quiet my soul.

16 January

Child’s Night Out: Orlando

by Jon Katz
Sea World: Artist


In Orlando, money flows like water through your fingers. The fees at Sea World do not cease. See the Dolphins. Feeding them is extra. The Dolphin Tour is $50.  The shows are cheesy and have little to do with animals, much to do with costumed divers doing low-budget Esther Williams routines. Snacks are Cheese Doritos, Potato Chips, Cheetos. Oysters with pearls are $15.99. Shrk food is $3.  But what can I say? It was fun and the people around us were having a blast.

One of the connections Maria and I have is that the five-year-old inside each of us is very much alive. We wandered all over Sea World looking at turtles and baby dolphins and catching the Sea Lion show – it was funny – and then to Downtown Disney for King Crab Legs and Oysters. Afterward, Maria took me up on a balloon ride that sailed up 400 feet at night – magical- and then we danced in the plaza to some outdoor mandolin music and sat on benches and watched the very rich parade that moves through Disney World. There were lots of musicians out and we took most of them in.  I am a lucky man in so many ways. I have feared many things in my life, but I never feared a loveless life, even though I was living one for a good long while. Even if he blew Tomorrowland – there is no Tomorrow in Tomorrowland – he was right about one thing. Dreams do come true. My feet have been heroic. We must have walked 50 miles by now. And we are not done.

Tuesday we head for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. To Epcot for dinner, maybe the Chinese Pavilion. Maybe back to the Magic Kingdom. I might take a crack at Space Mountain.

16 January

Orlando Notes. Psalms, Communists, Henry Beston, Animals

by Jon Katz
Orlando Notes

Heading to Sea World this afternoon. Hoping to surprise Maria with a Dolphin Tour. She gave me a Walt Disney/Mickey Mouse pin that I love.  Maria will love the Dolphins. Orlando, as always, is a provocative and mystical place for me, incorporating many of the threads and ideas and experiences of my life. Orlando is the quintessential and mystical place of the American imagination, for better or worse. Orlando is an invented place, a corporate place, a place of imagination, wealth, poverty and loss, immigration and change, illusion and reality, an environmental catastrophe. A fun place.

– People often ask me if I miss the animals when I travel. Curiously, the answer is yes and no. I do not miss getting up early and walking and feeding the animals in sub-zero weather. I enjoy time off from them, and I consider it healthy. I’ve never had an animal suffer separation anxiety and neither do I, although I suffer from other things. Maria and I both miss having animals around us. We go visit the fish, the baby alligators, look at the birds. Animals, I see, ground me. Caring for them focuses my humanity, instincts of empathy, nurturing. I miss the experience of having animals around, so I see that I am seeking them out.  Maria feels the same way.

– Communism. Karl Marx wrote that capitalism was a system that created artificial need for profit. More than 90 per cent of the things Americans buy, eat or use are not really necessary, he said. As a result, there is enormous waste, environmental destruction and economic equity. He saw communism – to each according to need- as a more humane system, yet that surely did not seem to work out. Still, when you walk the convention floor, you see a lot of things for sale and on display that animals have never needed in their long history in the world. Pills for all sorts of emotional disorders, sophisticated scanning and diagnostic devices that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, complex health insurance systems, new chain veterinary medical centers,  hundreds of new and expensive tests and procedures. All in the name of progress and being humane, all involving profit. Marx would have had quite a time here.

– Animal mysticism. A vet asked me if I didn’t think my animals grieved for Rose and Orson when they died. I said I did not know. I do not believe animals have the vocabulary or narrative structure to imagine or conceive of grief the way we do. I remembered the Henry Beston quote I love and that many people often send me:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

I do not know what animals think. I will never know. On to Sea World.

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