19 March

Eggs. The Two Ends Of Life

by Jon Katz
The Ends Of Life

I brought Robin a box of plastic eggs when I saw her last Saturday, and Emma sent me this photo of her banging them together, they are her favorite toy of the moment, she has lots to choose from. Sometimes I think the Creative Gods are up in the sky spinning their magic and showing me the wonder of life, and of death.

As I have been writing about the life and death stories and dramas of the Mansion, there is this new granddaughter, and every other day, these photographs of the beginning of life come to my phone, and I put them on the blog. They uplift people, bring smiles to them, it is a miracle to see a new life progress and learn and change.

It is also a miracle to see others at the other end of life grapple with their lives and search for their own humanity and connection.

It is amazing to me, that these two threads have appeared right in front of me, just at the right time, balancing one another, and reminding us that life and death are not two things, but one thing, and as life ends, so it begins and that is the story of our world.

I appreciate both, I am drawn to capturing both and here they are, right under my nose.

Robin likes her eggs, eating them and banging them together.

19 March

Portrait: Christie And Her Time

by Jon Katz
Christie And Her Time

We all have our times, I think. My time was in Hebron nine years ago when I found myself going to pieces, terrified, broke and alone. I had a choice, either give rebirth to myself or perished, there was no one to save me or comfort me or pull me through, at least not until Maria came along, out of nowhere, to take my hand and lead me back to life.

I have the sense that this is Christie’s time, and I am happy to share some of it with you. Her next chapter is hers to live.  Sometimes we can come along, sometimes we can’t. She is seeking to give rebirth to herself and to no longer hide the realities of her life. As always, I wanted to take a portrait, she looked strong and healthier to me than she had the other day.

I’m humbled by her trust in me, and by the power of encouragement that is so important and healing for me.  Empathy, not sympathy,  compassion, not pity, are the noble spirits, the path to our greatest human potential.

So, it’s Christie’s Time, the next chapter for her. Gabriel Garcia Marquez says we are not born once, when our mother gives birth to us, but life requires us to give birth to ourselves again and again.

I wish Christie luck and hope the angels sing for her and send the wind to her back.

19 March

Christie’s Time. “I’ve Hidden Long Enough

by Jon Katz
Christie’s Liberation

The other day, I wrote about Christie and our dialogue with one another, and she told me it was time to stop hiding, and I wanted to talk to her about that, if she wished to talk to me, and understand what she meant. She said she did want to talk to me. She looked gravely ill to me the other day, and I wondered if she would be able to return to the Mansion, which she very much wishes to do.

She described the Mansion as a very special place where everyone cared for each other and watched out for each other. She intends to return, if her medical condition permits. She is having trouble walking, she has dealt with cancer and a number of strokes and now has had a bout with pneumonia and fluid in her legs and body, caused by various medications.

Today, Red and I went to see  her again in the hospital and I was happy to see she looked so much better, she said she felt much better. Her nurse said the doctors were pleased.

On Wednesday, she expects to move to a rehabilitation center in Glens Falls, N.Y. It is called the Pines and she will try to learn to walk more than a few feet. She would be happy to receive letters there, she expects to be there for two weeks or more. She has to learn to be mobile and walk more easily, or she can’t return to the Mansion.

Christie is working hard at that, I thought the improvement in her was distinct, at least to the layperson’s eye. She gave me permission to give out the address of the Pines, it is Christie L., 170 Warren Street, Glens Falls, N.Y., 12801.  One caution: these movements are unpredictable and subject to change. If her move is delayed or she goes to another place for some reason, her mail will be forwarded.

The Pines is just four blocks from where her 86-year-old mother lives, the two are close and her mother is in good health. She refused a chance to go to a rehab center in the Adirondacks, where a bed has opened up. She wants to stay close to her family.

I am not qualified to judge the odds of her returning to the Mansion, she seems determined to get back there and I have the feeling if she wants to, she will. But that is just a guess, I’m not a doctor or diagnostician. I can tell from Red that her spirit and energy are high, he reacts to both and was making strong and close contact with Christie, as he does with Connie and a number of Mansion residents. His tail was wagging and wagging.

Red was a big hit in the hospital, he was, as usual, surrounded by doting nurses. He loves nurses.

Christie and I had a long and open talk, she walked me through her life, she was a nurse for many years, an RN in the very hospital where she was staying. I asked her what she meant about coming out of hiding and facing the truth, and it was a sad and hard story. She asked me not to repeat it, she wishes to not upset her daughters, and I agreed, of course.

“I’ve hidden long enough,” she said, “I’m not going to live like that any longer.”

Maria sent along one of her “Show Your Soul” posters as a gift, and Christie said she would treasure it. Her nurse wanted one. If anyone is showing her soul right now, it is Christie.

Christie has been through a lot, and there the feeling of coming out in her life now, she said she was afraid to face people and talk about some of the issues in her life. That is changing, she said, and she thinks this is very much tied to her health. It is clear that she has some real physical challenges ahead of her, she seems strong emotionally and clear about what she wants. She does not seek or want additional help. If she needs it, she will ask for it.

She said the Manson is her true home now, she did not wish to burden her children any longer, she wants them to be free to live their own lives. It is a story I often hear from Mansion residents who suddenly found they need more care than their families could easily provide.

Christie told me she had a baby doll collection – she liked dolls of babies – but her father destroyed her collection.

The conversation was very real, and it was easy and comfortable for me, and I hope, for her.  It was important, she needed to say it out loud, something many women understand. Having Red around opens a lot of doors, and a lot of souls. I am rooting for Christie, and am reminded once again that we cannot solve all of the problems of the world and change reality and the nature of life.

I – we-  can’t save Christie, only she can do that, and she is off to a strong start. I admire her generous spirit and strong will. I often see that the people who suffer the most complain the least. She does not speak poorly of her life. She has been through enough to sink lesser people.

But I have to know what I can do and what I can’t do. Christie herself is very bounded. She wants nothing from me but my attention, she asks for nothing.

Sometimes you have to step back and let life take its own course, there is always the danger of getting over-involved and playing God. It is important to be self-aware. At one point in my hospice work, I was seeing five patients and when they all died within days of one another, I was sent to see a social worker and learned a valuable lesson. Do what you can when you can. And then stop. The danger is burnout, the boundaries are fluid, but also critical.

I think my dialogue with Christie is extraordinary, for her perhaps, for me for sure.

Christie knows there are people rooting for her, and I think she would appreciate messages and letters of encouragement (Christie L. 170 Warren Street, Glens Falls, N.Y., 12801). I have a feeling encouragement gives her strength.  I am not a praying man, but I will light a candle for her, perhaps light it every day. And she and I will stay in touch, we are friends now.

It is really up to Christie now and the Gods, I see that her spirit is strong and she seemed quite vital and determined to me. Unless she asks me, I think I’ll keep away from the Pines and let Christie handle this next phase of her life. We will continue our conversation online.

I hope the next photo I take of her is at the Mansion.

19 March

Herman: The Journey Of A Special Angel

by Jon Katz
A Special Angel

I got hundreds of messages about the unexpected death of Herman yesterday, he was in the hospital and expected to come back to the Mansion Monday or Tuesday. The staff was shocked and saddened by his death, he was much loved there, and it seems, elsewhere.

One message stuck out on my Facebook page, it was from his daughter Marlene, thanking all of the people who loved her father and cared for  him, inside and out of the Mansion. She said something that stuck in my mind, she said “a special angel had gone to Heaven.”

I don’t know about heaven, but somehow, the term “special angel” fit Herman. i smiled, I cannot imagine my daughter describing me in that way, I do not have Herman’s innate and very transparent sweetness. His love for the baby goat was a convincing metaphor for the love in his heart, even as so many hearts seem to be turning to stone.

What was it about Herman that touched so many people, that was so evident from just a handful of photographs. I suppose special angels have the power to do that. The Mansion is a compelling, even fascinating place, although few people come to look inside.

The residents talk often of the sense of community there, how the residents look out for one another, care about one another. They feel save there, but they are keenly aware of having left the outside world behind, and of how the outside world often seems unaware of  your existence.

Herman gave me a gift in that he was so grateful for any attention paid him, his smile, for all his fragility, was deep and wide. He just seemed to have that gift of being loved by everyone around him. I saw right away that Red was not as at ease with him as he usually is, and I have seen that before, it sometimes – not always – means the person is losing their spirit and preparing to let go. Therapy dogs are not mystics or psychics, their instincts are so keen they just sense when someone is beginning to fade. It throws them off.

Herman was eager to tell me his story, I so appreciated hearing it. This work is all about stories, really, everyone I meet has a powerful story to tell.

When Red sees Connie or Christie, he rushes to them, makes eye contact, stays close. He couldn’t do that for long with Herman. The baby goat, on the other hand, melted into Herman’s arms and went to sleep, she was completely at home there, the two of them made some kind of connection of the heart, and Herman responded to it.

I really saw very little of him, an aide told me I ought to see him, he was “just the sweetest man.” That was true.

I think the gift people gave him was the gift of being known, recognized, worth writing letters and messages to, worth sending stuffed animals and tin sculptures and photographs. I think we all need to be known, especially at the edge of life, we need to be told that our stories are important, and that people want to hear them.

There is much emotion and change inside of the Mansion, the lists of residents changes almost every other day. They are all disparate and at different stages of life, they are not all the same thing. But there is one thing that connects them, they all want to be known and seen.

Thanks for giving Herman that gift. I think Marlene was right about Herman, he was a special angel, and they have their own power to be heard and  felt.

19 March

Coming Soon: Potholders From India

by Jon Katz
Potholders From India

When Maria was in India, she taught the women of the House Of Hearts community outside of Kolkata how to make potholders, and they eagerly agreed to make some to sell in America, so they can earn some money and make good and safe choices about their lives.

Today, they sent her a photo of the potholders already made and soon to be shipped her. Maria will sell them on her blog for $15 plus shipping and send the money back to India. Some poor and rural women in India are at risk, they need to find ways to earn a living to support their families. Their potholders are exciting, which is not surprising. You can follow this very exciting and worthy project on Maria’s blog.

If they sell, as I imagine they will,  they will make more and Maria will sell more, and this cycle could save and alter lives. This was the point of the India trip. Coming soon.

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