3 December

Red And Me. Understanding Beyond Consciousness

by Jon Katz

Red is one of those dogs who is always there. He and I are symbiotic now, we move together, anticipate one another. Red is always there, behind me when I write, in the car when I drive, in the pasture when we are outside. When I think of Red, I think of the writing of the famed analyst Dorothy Burlingham

She writes in her book “Twins” about the fantasy twin that children conjure up when they are lonely or frightened or  upset with their parents.

The twin is very often an animal, “meant to fulfill many of the daydreamer’s longings, above all to keep him from solitude and loneliness. The child with a fantasy twin has a constant companion, just as the child who owns an imaginary animal never lacks companionship.

As in the case of the animal fantasies, the two share everything, good and bad experiences, and complete understanding of one another either speech is not necessary or they have a secret language; the understanding between them goes beyond the realm of consciousness.

I have often written about humans who always talk about their dogs (and often at great length) but who are reluctant to look at themselves to understand their own needs and wants when it comes to dogs. I understand that so many ways I am (or was) that lonely and frightened child, as is true of so many loves of dogs and animals. We are always looking for our companions and fantasy twins.

I used to turn around all the time and ask “where’s Red,” but then came to learn he was always there. We almost never speak to one another, words are unnecessary, we speak a secret, and often, unspoken, language, our understanding goes beyond the realm of consciousness.

I believe that dogs like Red come when they are needed, and leave when they are ready, we don’t have nearly as much to say about it as we like to think. I feel no guilt when a dog dies, he or she goes when they need to go, and I look for another dog to love as soon as I can.

Red is ten years old now, he will be here with me for as long as we have work to to together, that is my belief. He will go when he is done.

I do not spend much time or energy mourning for dogs who have gone, I would rather be grateful for the gifts and joy and companionship they gave me when they were alive. Every time Red is sick, I understand that I must begin to prepare for his absence, and do him the great honor of being grateful for his presence rather than mourning his loss.

3 December

The Sweater And A Woman At The Mansion

by Jon Katz
The Sweater

There is a woman at the Mansion, she is sweet and loving. An aide there told me that she did not have many warm clothes to wear in the winter. I brought her two articles of clothing, I don’t want to mention them here. She was grateful. I know she would love a sweater for the winter, I know she won’t ask for it..

Browsing the aisles at Good Will today in Bennington, I realized I am becoming something of a shrewd shopper, checking prices, looking for bargains, gauging sizes. Shopping for others is different than shopping for myself.

I will call this woman Carol (not her real name) and I think I am debating whether to slip this sweater into her room when she isn’t there, or ask her if she would like to have a sweater. My inclination always is to be direct and open. I also usually consult the staff, who know what everybody needs or could use.

The Good Will visit opened up a whole new range of possibilities for me working with the Mansion residents. I know I have to be observant and not just make assumptions about things. I like the idea of small acts of great kindness. I loved passing out the wool hats for winter, time for some heavier stuff.

I should point out that most of the Mansion residents have the clothes they need, and many do not go outside in the winter, the Mansion has plenty of heat. There is no necessity for people to buy clothes. A few do need them, and I have the funds to help them, especially now that I am tapped into places like Good Will.

We can always use help in supporting the Mansion residents and refugees, if you wish to donate to this work, you can send a check to me at Post Office Box 2915, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. All donations are kept in a separate account and used for no other purpose. If you do donate, please mark the payments either for “The Mansion” or “The Refugees? or  both. Thanks much.

3 December

Good Will: The Purpose Of Life Is To Be Useful, A Proactive Human

by Jon Katz
The purpose of life: my basket was full

Emerson said that the purpose of life 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 loved well.

I woke up this morning thinking I need to practice what I preach.

So I drove to the Good Will Thrift Store in Bennington, Vt. – it is a big one – and bought $60 worth of scarves, sweaters and jackets to distribute to the refugees for my winter clothing fund drive and my continuing work with the residents of the Mansion, a Medicaid Assisted Care Facility in Cambridge, N.Y.

At most clothing stores, $60 wouldn’t buy a good sweater. At Good Will, it fills a basket.

I am hoping other people will do the same and send winter clothing – new, used, child adult sweaters, snow pants, winter socks and boots and jackets – to RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center in Albany, N.Y., at 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208

I am new to Thrift Stores – Maria came with me – and was happy to find warm jackets and sweaters and beautiful scarves for shockingly little money.

Maria’s clothes all come from Thrift shops, this is not new for her. I am into it now.

I got a lot of good stuff, a few of the Mansion residents could use some sweaters (please don’t send any there now, thanks) and all of the refugees, especially the kids, can use warm winter clothing (please do send new or used winter clothes there, thanks.)

Most of the Mansion residents have the clothes they need, just a few need some assistance, I am noticing. I’ll take care of it. My trip to Good Will, the first of many I think, helped me to see again the selfishness of giving. It felt good.

Earlier, I was reading an ancient sermon by a religious mystic who said that the purpose of life is spiritual transformation from a reactive being to a proactive being.

It struck home with me, that is what this year is all about for me. These are disturbing times for all of us, no matter what our beliefs, and I decided this year to not live a reactive life – other people’s anger and opinions and tweets and posts are not going to define my life, that is a reactive life.

A proactive life is to set my own agenda for being useful and, in my own way, righteous. When I allow outside forces to influence and shape my feelings, positive or negative, left or right, then I have surrendered control of my own peace of mind and soul. I have built a wall around the angry and the cruel, they can make me sad, but they cannot define me or the reason for my existence.

When I argue and scold and judge, I am not sharing my values but just feeding my ego, which is large enough.

I don’t wish to be an effect and not a cause, I don’t wish to be reactive, but proactive. To live my life well and meaningfully, I set out to create new spiritual levels of existence for myself, not to wallow or stew in the values and beliefs and anger of other people.

Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, and there are mobs of people out there waiting to jeer and taunt, to be hurtful and angry. They have to make their own decisions about life, but they will not make mine.

So I began the Mansion and refugee work in earnest. And the people we call The Army Of Good, rose up like ghosts in the ether and decided to be proactive also.

Walking down the aisles in Bennington at the vast Good Will store, filling my cart,  grabbing sweaters and jackets off the racks for the Mansion residents, and scarves and sweaters and jackets for the RISSE refugees, listening to the Christmas music, watching the poor and the threadbare and the working class families struggle to pay for $15 of clothing for the winter,  I remembered Anne Frank’s observation that nobody has ever become poor by giving.

Charles Dickens: “No one feels useless in the world who lightens the burden of another.”

I will go back to the Good Will as soon as I can to focus my basket on the refugee children, many of whom have only flip-flops and sneakers for the winter. It makes me feel happy and useful, it helps me to feel honorable and compassionate, as if it makes a difference that I have lived in the world.

3 December

The Mansion: The Small Things, Light & The Circle Of Life

by Jon Katz
Circle Of Life: Peggie and Maria

My work at the Mansion has been transformative.

I am coming to see that we are all part of this circle, around loving and caring we have formed enduring connections with one another.Our paths are crossing in the most poignant of ways.

I call this feeling the Light, it is the feeling of doing good and giving and empathy, of encouragement and support,  these things feel good, sometimes joyous. This work is not about the big things but the small things – a hug, wool hats, some books or socks, a ride on a boat, trip to a farm.

The big things don’t matter, the small acts of great kindness, things we can all do and make possible.

At the Mansion, the residents read me cards from people whose names I know.

A woman from California has become a beloved pen pal of Sylvie, another resident writes to people in Florida, she was deeply concerned about their surviving the hurricanes. A friend of mine drives hours to sit with the Mansion residents, talk to them, bring them gifts.

An architect I knew in a former life sends books and sketches to Bob, a former builder, who pores over them like sacred texts. The work spawns all kinds of connections, a Circle that spans thousands of miles, even pulling in different countries. Gay men and women wrote to Bill, and then to me, we trade ideas for getting Bill to read, we have become friends in the Circle. I call it the Army Of Good, it is a movement, spawned in response to hatred, argument and division.

A social worker in Ohio sent Connie yarn and patterns and the two exchanged letters and notes no one else saw or knew about.

This circle idea is powerful, a knitter who sent the residents yarn loves Maria’s potholders and buys them every Christmas. A friend who visits sometimes has begun volunteering at the Mansion, and loves doing there, and is a very natural in her work.

This work connects us, bring us together. A blog reader who funded the refugee children’s day at the Great Escape is also an animal communicator and regularly confers with Red. We are all connected now, one thing, a whole coming together in the light.

I cannot imagine where it will go,  I hope it never ends.


I don’t really believe that a human being can change who he or she is, I don’t think our souls are that fungible or transferable or fickle.

People often tell me these days that I have changed, they say I have become a different person. Many attribute this to Maria, others to my determination to change and live a different life.

I smile when I hear that I am a different person, in part because i don’t believe it is possible, or even worthwhile. I suppose it’s meant to be a compliment, but to me, it really isn’t. I was never that bad, I am not nearly that good. The soul is eternal, it can not be erased or cancelled, or painted over, or replaced or given away. It is one of the very few things no one can ever take from us.

I don’t think people can eradicate who they are, they can only work hard to understand themselves and listen to their better angels, and grow. My life was shocked by setbacks and storms, and I was awakened,  like a long dormant volcano.

I believe I can change, be but not that I can become someone or something else. For better or worse, the core will always be me.  I hope I never am someone else, I have to make do with me, and more than anything, I have learned that if I don’t love myself, I can’t love anyone else, including Maria.

You cannot throw yourself away.

All around me, my life has changed.

But I am still me, living in my idea of God, the Light. Throughout the ages, the infinite force of life and energy has been called God in many different ways. It seems that we are, all of us,  often seeking the same thing.

The Quakers call God force the Light and I guess I do as well.

The Kabbalah, another part of my faith, uses the “Light” as a kind of symbol or code word, a metaphor, says the scholar and author Yehuda Berg, to convey the broad spectrum for the meaning and fulfillment human beings like me long for.

In the Kabbalah, every conceivable form of fulfillment and pleasure that a soul can yearn for is contained within the idea and rubric of the Light.  This includes the joy of sex and love – a significant element in the Kabbalah. It also includes healing, security and the bliss of loving and passionate relationships.

Light also  consists fo the force we call tuition.

The magic that attracts the right people to one another,  the right paths and opportunities for our lives. Light  includes the inner spirit that sparks creativity and arouses hope and optimism within us each morning of our lives. It refers to the drive that motivates us to seek more out of life than making money or living in slavery doing work we hate.

For me, the Light is the force that creates the circle that is forming around work with the elderly and the refugees. I am seeing that it is all connected, all part of the Circle, the Light. I don’t with this to be a passing or temporary part of my life.

I want these ambitions and this fulfillment to be constantly fulfilled and renewed. This continuous, nonstop flow of connection and meaning is precisely what the Kabbalah defines as light.

So the Circle deepens, and the Circle grows. And the work goes on and on.

3 December

The Short Visit Of Mawulidi’s Guinea Hen

by Jon Katz
Mawuludi’s Guinea Hen

On Monday or Tuesday, the Guinea Hen of Mawulidi Diodone Majaliwa will be shipped out to the person who bought her. In the meantime, I put her out  on the back bench to keep Flo company.

The Guinea Hen, like the crane, is just passing through. She was also sold instantly, as was all of Mawulidi’s work.

The Guinea Hen is not listed in any of the animal totem or spirit books, she has a different vibe than the (heron/crane/egret) now the subject of some debate on Facebook. She is more homey, more of a protector I think.

Lots of people h ave different ideas about what the heron carving really is, I will have to ask Mawulidi. As the creator, he gets to say what it is, and that is right. It could very well be a mix of several things, a creation of the artist.

I feel fortunate to have these beautiful creations gracing our home for a few days. There is a special quality about them.

Twenty-five per cent of the  sales goes to RISSE, the refugee and immigrant center in Albany, the rest goes to Mawulidi. He can use the money, he has four small children at home.

Please consider supporting the urgent winter clothing drive started on Friday here on the blog for the refugees and immigrants who have come to the Northeast in recent years and months. Details here.

Email SignupEmail Signup