5 April

Refugees And Immigrants: Accept It If You Need It. Finding My Humanity.

by Jon Katz
Accept It If You Need It: Classes at the RISSE Refugee and Immigration Center.

I had barely posted my story and photos about my visit to the Refugee And Immigration Support Services Center Emmaus (RISSE) yesterday when a  reader of my blog named Amanda  – she was from Iowa –  replied on Facebook and informed me very respectfully that our President was simply trying to protect us from the people who wanted to come to our country to hurt us.

Of course, she said, it was wrong to have burned down the RISSE office building last year, but there is hatred and anger on both sides of the issue, her priest has made it a point to offer dinner to refugees.

She was very nice.

I told her I didn’t really know the President, or what he thought or didn’t think, I was not as certain about it as she was, but my writing about the children and students at RISSE was not, in my mind, about politics, it was not about the left or the right or grievance or complaint.

It was very personal, it was about my own idea of humanity, and what it means to be a human being.

Amanda was just doing what more and more Americans are doing. She was not listening to me, or hearing what I was saying, she was simply telling me what she believed because I wrote what I believed, and thus, we were going right over one anothers head, as is the disease crippling our political system. Just watch the news.

For me, my feeling about refugees and immigration is not something that I am right or wrong about, it is just something I have lived and I believe and is a part of me.

Going to RISSE, listening to a teacher explain English, watching the children love  and play with one another, I felt something very powerful, I knew I was in the right place, doing the right thing, taking the photos I ought to be taking, writing what I have wanted to write and am drawn to write, taking the pictures I need to take.

We are all children who lose our parents, every one of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us. This, says author Moshin Hamid, is the loss than unites all humanity, unites every human being, this very temporal nature of our existence, and of our shared sorrow, and the heartache we each carry and yet so often are unable to see or acknowledge in one another.

This acknowledgement, I believe, makes it possible for me to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, for treating one another with dignity and compassion, even in the face of certain death for me and for every living thing that I love. When I welcome the refugee instead of slamming the door, I am reaffirming my faith in what it means to be human. It is selfish thing, a gift to me. It is good for me.

What, after all, are we here for, to save up money for our IRA’s, so we can live longer than we wish to live in places we don’t wish to be?

Amanda, you are not listening to me, and I am not listening to you.

And that is a big problem for many people besides us, and for our country, and certainly for the very frightened and bewildered people coming to us for refuge and compassion and comfort, for me, the benchmarks of humanity.

For me, the refugee question is not a political issue to be argued on Facebook. It is very personal and individual. And I would not argue with you or disagree with your idea of what is happening and what is right.

That is the truth for you, and the truth of you.

For me, it is simply a matter of accepting life, and everything in life is a gift, I cling to as little of it as is possible.

I give some of it to others, if I can. One should be able to share things with other people without worrying too much about how they like it, or whether they will agree or disagree, or how they accept it.

I assume people will accept what I say, if they need it. And if they don’t need it, they won’t accept it and why should they?

That is their choice, their decision. Let me accept what is mine and offer people their share to take, if they wish, and we will each go our own way and live our lives.

My life grows in mystery enmeshed in paradox and contradiction, I could not possibly know what is right or wrong for everyone else.  I embrace the Christian idea of divine mercy. If anyone asks, and no one has,  I will accept the risk of people coming to hurt me if we can save so many thousands of people who are not a threat to me or to anyone else. That is the risk of being human. Every day I accept the risk of crossing the street or driving my car or getting up in the morning.

There is no life without risk. Statistically, I have a much better chance of having an airplane land on my head than being harmed by a refugee or immigrant. Yet we drive and walk.

My philosophy does not consist of statements or beliefs about a truth that is absolute, because there is no such thing to me. Without mercy, there can be no humanity, no unity, no simplicity or peace of mind in our lives. Imposing our ideas and beliefs and political systems on others is not peace and almost never justice.

That is the paradox.

In the laughter and joy of the RISSE children, I found my way, and my humanity, and that is all I can truly offer you. You can take what you need and leave the  rest with me.

And go in peace.

5 April

In Contemplation. The Moment Of Great Decisions.

by Jon Katz
In Contemplation

Life is a great adventure, an experiment undertaken involuntarily.

It is, in many ways, a journey of the spirit through the material world, the world outside of us.

There have always existed interior souls, we call them mystics or contemplatives who have lived more intensely, knowingly, truthfully, than most people, who have lived purely externally and outside of themselves.

In our society, we no longer are given time to think, we have to scramble for silent moments, like mice after cheese.

We shut ourselves off from understanding who we really are or how we wish to live. Because for much of our lives, we have no idea, we wander from one place to another, and then, are astonished when our time runs out, and it is too late to think.

Like everyone else, my life is a struggle with the exterior world, with too much information and argument, too many messages about nothing, too little time with myself. The spirit travels through the material world, and it is the spirit that is hungry and starved of peace and meaning, too often anxious and unfulfilled.

We have created powerful tools that can do everything but leave us along, or show us how to think.

Fifteen years ago, I ran to a mountain and spent most of a year alone writing, and it was one of the most powerful and valuable experiences of my life. It changed my life, I saw myself in a completely different way. Here on the farm, Maria and I fight for solitude, for time to think, for contemplation. For an internal consciousness.

We both honor contemplation, we respect it and encourage it. We invite our spirit inward and we settle in ourselves, sometimes in the woods, sometimes out in a pasture, sometimes sitting with a dog or donkey, sometimes silently with one another. Life is a journey of the spirit through the material world, and since it is the spirit that travels freely, it is the spirit that feels and hears and sees the most.

Whenever I am in the external world, I ask myself if what I am saying is useful, and if what I am hearing is useful or meaningful. Does it matter. This morning, I received a half dozen messages on Facebook asking me how I was today. I get these messages almost every day, all of them from strangers.

I wonder at these messages. What are they about? Who are they for? What is expected of me? What is the meaning of messages that say nothing and mean nothing?

If our life is poured out in useless words,  wrote Thomas Merton, we will never hear anything, never become anything, and in the end, “because we have said everything before we had anything to say, we shall be left speechless at the moment of our greatest decision.”

The moment of my greatest decision is, I think, ahead of me, and when it comes, I wish to have something to say.

5 April

90 Art Kits For Refugee Kids: Another Victory For The Army Of Good

by Jon Katz

Another victory for the Army of Good, Rachel Barlow informs me that she has received donations for the $1,200 she needs to put together 90 art kits for the refugee children at RISSE, the Refugees and Immigrant Support Services of the Emmaus Methodist Church in Albany, N.Y. (Rachel has also put together 50 additional creativity and art kits for refugee children in other parts of New York State under the auspices of the U.S. Committee on Refugees And Immigration (UCSCRI).)

These kits, assembled by Barlow, an author, painter and illustrator, are designed to boost confidence, find voice, reduce stress, promote creativity. I will visit the kids who are using them and take some photos. Thank you so much,  you are an Army Of Good, you have done real good.

I hope to continue supporting Rachel’s wonderful art kits program as she expands it. You can follow the campaign and support it here. And thank you. It feels so much better to do good than to argue. These children have suffered enough, it is time to support them and help them through one of the most difficult transitions of their lives.

Your generosity has helped to do that. Thanks also to Rachel Barlow, a beautiful spirit and a gifted artist. You can follow her work at rachelbarlow.com

5 April

Video: Starring Maria, Red, Lulu, Fate, The Sheep: Selling The Last Of The Wool

by Jon Katz
The Last Of The Wool

Maria and I shot a raucous video this morning offering the last 20 skeins of wool for sale, one roving and Bedlam Farm three-pack of wool. Red tried to keep order, the sheep wanted to eat their wool, Fanny tried to eat the grass basket holding the wool, and Fate ran in circles around everyone.

Still, Maria got to show the wool and the sheep and talk about it. It is a classic entry in our successful video sales channel campaign on You Tube. Maria was a pro, a bit edgy at moments, trying to answer me, fend off Lulu and the sheep and talk lovingly about her wool. Check it out. We have great fun doing these videos, I get to be a producer again and Maria does seem to love the camera.

This is the first time Maria has sold the Romney, Gang Of Four wool, some of it mixed in with our other sheep. People are liking it.

Most of the wool is gone, if there is any left over, Maria will offer it for sale at our June 10-11 Open House at Bedlam Farm. The wool is $25 a skein plus shipping, the Romney 8 oz.  roving is $30 plus shipping and Maria is also offering a three-pack of wool from different sheep for $25. If you are interested, you can watch the video or e-mail Maria at maria@fullmoonfiberart.com. The video does show the wool at close range.



5 April

Refugee Lives: Safe At RISSE. Inside World, Outside World

by Jon Katz
Inside World, Outside World

The refugees tell me they live in two worlds, an inside world and an outside world.  I have seen refugee children when they first arrive in our world, seeing them at RISSE is different. There, they are together with one another uninhibited, playful, open and trusting.

In the outside world, they still have to be guarded, careful, watchful. They are friendly to me and open, more so than they might be yet in the outside world. Their friendship and joy and love for one another are infectious. This bustling empire is president over by a gentle and quiet man named Francis Sengabo, who came to America a decade ago after ten years in Rwandan refugee camp.

He understands the beauty and power of being open. These kids are all open to creativity and drawing, they are not yet submerged in the social media culture of the American young. Next week, we are bringing 90 art kits to RISSE. (We raised the $1,200 we needed for those kits today.)

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