18 January

I Am Building A Cathedral, Not Just Laying Bricks

by Jon Katz
Building A Cathedral

I wrote yesterday about the task of reconstructing one’s ego when it has been fractured early in life, and this morning, i got a lovely message from someone named Crystal, she liked the post, and she wrote “you are a cathedral builder.”

The message struck a chord in me, and I remembered that this idea of building a cathedral was something I had heard before but forgotten. It was a parable, I recalled, and then found,  about a traveler who came upon three men who were laboring.

He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks and would be glad at the end of the day.

He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall and was tired and eager for the work day to end.

He got to the third man and he asked him the same question, but this man looked up smiling, and said “I’m building a cathedral.”

There are numerous websites devoted to this quote and its inspirational history and meaning, it is a favorite among motivational speakers. No one knows where it came from, but many spiritualists and life coaches seem to have found and embraced it.

The parable was even quoted by Harvard University President Drew Faust during a motivational lecture at the Harvard Business School.

“The third stonecutter,” she told the business students, “embraces a broader vision. Interesting, I think, that the parable has him building a cathedral – not a castle or a railway station or a skyscraper..The very menial work of   becomes part of a far larger undertaking, a spiritual as well as a physical construction. The project aspires to the heavens, transcending the earthbound – and indeed transcending the time bound as well, for cathedrals are built not in months or even years, but over centuries.”

I was surprised to see this much-loved and quoted parable used in relationship to me and to my life.

I was flattered, and also wary, I am not often moved by motivational speeches at Harvard aimed most frequently at helping people make more money. It seems something of a contradiction.

The Harvard Business School is not known for turning out creativity visionaries who seek to help the poor. They are better known for killer-sharp Hedge Fund Managers who clap politely at speeches urging them to find their better angels, and then go out and rape and pillage.

Online, I saw that businesses use the parable to encourage their sales forces to think more broadly, or as President Faust might say, to “embrace a broader vision,” a/k/a, get even richer by claiming that making money is the noblest of callings if you think broadly.

The truth is, skepticism aside, I would be lying if I didn’t love the comparison and accept its truth and meaning for me. I am building a cathedral, I am  not just laying bricks.

I believe Crystal spotted something very important in me, something I don’t often recognize in myself. I am trying to build a cathedral, a cathedral life. Stone by stone, just like the stone cutters, and with gratitude and meaning and joy, just like the third workman.

For some  years now, I have been pursuing a broader vision of my life. I am not just here to exist and pay the mortgage and go to the pharmacy every other week. I am  not just here to make money. I am not just here to lay bricks and salt money away for my old age, I am not her to shout at the left or the right or stew in the juices of cable news.

Every refugee I touch or help, every Mansion resident i reach out to and bring some comfort and compassion to is a stone, and in this sense I am a stone cutter, taking the trowel to one stone at a time, building something bigger and more important than me.

But I can’t wait to do my work, and find great joy in it every day. Blessed are those who love their work, for they are few and often alone.

I have a bigger vision than surviving, I want to look forward to more than going home when my work is done, I wish to commit small acts of great kindness and feel better about myself each time I do. I am putting my busted ego back together one piece at a time, learning how to live meaningfully in a conflicted world, to find and accept love, to stand in my truth, and also in the shoes of others.

Fame and riches are nothing, I am seeking to build a life of openness, patience, listening and receptivity, solitude and thoughtfulness. That is my cathedral. I’m not just laying bricks.

18 January

Meet Frida (Before Maria Gets Home)

by Jon Katz
Meet Frida The Goldfish

Maria is out at her belly-dancing class, and then is going to help a friend move. I thought I’d write this before she gets home, she knows nothing about Frida The Goldfish, who I brought home as a gift to her. I suppose if she doesn’t want Frida, I can bring her into my study.

I was at a feed and pet store buying fish for the refugee kids who are coming to Pompanuck this weekend, (they are prizes in a voluntary reading contest I’m sponsoring)  and I saw Frida swimming in a big tank by herself. I liked the looks of Frida, I named her on the spot after Frida Kahlo, one of Maria’s favorite artists, I just have the  feeling she belongs here.

I bought a small tank, some rainbow  gravel, and a plastic plant. Frieda doesn’t need a filter or a heater, she likes cold temperatures and eats little. There is room for a companion if we want that, or she can swim happily by herself. I sat and watched her tonight for awhile, she is calming.

THe backdrop to this story is that I used to breed tropical fish in my life as a known strange child, I have four or five big tanks with heaters and filters, I bred several kinds of tropical fish, including Betas, (Siamese Fighting Fish) and guppies and mollies.

I got Maria goldfish when we lived in Hebron, and she enjoyed having her. I asked the fish clerk for a female, Maria is not wild about men. Anyway, she’ll be home soon and I have more blogging to do, so I’ll just put this up and wait to see her reaction. Generally, she loves taking care of plant and living things.

But I doubt she was expecting a fish. More later.

18 January

Gus’s ME Journal: Huddling With The Vet, 1/18/18. Steady…

by Jon Katz
Gus’s Me Journal: Examining Gus, Planning For the Future

Gus has a rough two days – severe vomiting and regurgitation starting at noon Wednesday, it was intense and alarming. Fortunately, we had an appointment with Dr. Fariello. I came in offering my research into Gus’s condition and my thoughts about gastroenteritis.

During the snowstorm, we let Gus out into the pasture – there was so much snow on the ground I thought he would be safe from the many things he eats. That might have been a mistake, the wrong food can set off his intestinal troubles.

She listened, but said she was certain Gus did have megaesophagus and she was certain he also had gastroenteritis as well. The two were linked together. We told her that we found some sheep waste pellets in his vomiting and she said it was quite likely that this set off the latest round of spitting up food and bile.

We had a good talk about Gus’s condition, she said it was true that he was not a typical megaesophagus patient, it was also true that Boston Terriers rarely got this disease. She knew his symptoms were also atypical, but she said the disease is very individualistic and modern medicine just didn’t know a great deal about it.

She suggested we stay on our course – which was working well until yesterday. She also gave him another acupuncture treatment, and this one was amazing, some of the needles actually moved around in a circle, a sign his body was reacting to the treatment. I had never seen that before.

So once again we learn there are no miracles here. Gus might grow out of the disease, it might just go away one day, or it might simmer or get worse. You have to get used to the unpredictability, she said, that was our future with Gus. We will be feeding him small amounts four times a day.

His weight is stable, a very good sign, that means his body is getting the nutrition it needs, which is often not the case with megaesophagus. She urged me to continue my research and said we were both learning a lot together.

The last two days were rough, and Maria and crashed a bit, but that is part of this also. We are committed to Gus and his treatment, nothing that has happened has pushed either of us to the edge or made us want to quit on him. We have no intension of giving him away, or even considering it.

I will have to be more vigilant than I’m used to being with my dogs. I suggested to Dr. Fariello that we put a soft muzzle on Gus when we go outside, and especially to the pasture (or anywhere around chickens and sheep) she thought it was a great idea, one is coming tomorrow.

That way, Gus can remain a farm dog and be part of our family naturally,  he won’t have to be a shut-in and he’ll get the exercise he needs and craves.

Once again, she thought our feeding arrangements were appropriate and, up until yesterday, effective. She saw no need for a Bailey Chair or other custom-made eating equipment. Neither do we. As with almost anything, it might come later.

She wants to do another X-ray in a few weeks to see if there are any changes to Gus’s esophagus. His, she said, was no nearly as bad as some.

Once again, the acupuncture treatment had a marked impact on Gus. I believe in it.

He calmed down, and seemed to settle down. No incidents this afternoon. I guess the lesson is that Gus has both megaesophagus and gastric issues from the megeasophagus. His stomach is continuously being upset. More to learn.

Gus is doing well again this evening, setting down. I think our protocol is on the right track.

We are learning to be steady, this is new terrain for both of us and we mean to handle it well.

18 January

New Home For The Mansion Parakeets

by Jon Katz
New Home For The Mansion Parakeets

There are not a lot of stores that sell bird cages around here, and I didn’t want to buy one online. I did find a feed store outside of Bennington, Vt. – its called Whitman’s and the staff is helpful and friendly. For some time now, the Mansion residents have been asking for a bigger parakeet cage for their two parakeets, who are much loved there.

The second I saw this one at Whitman’s, I knew it was the perfect one for the Mansion. It is about 40 per cent higher than the one now, and I found some great activity toys for the birds – mirrors, a ladder, swings and some other good stuff.

I think the residents will be pleased. Every time I visit the Mansion, I see someone singing to the birds or just watching them or listening to them sing. It is so important to have living things there, they represent life itself and are stimulating and soothing.

The residents deal with all of life’s lessons – caretaking, responsibility, death and comfort. They squabble over care, sometimes somebody opens the door and the birds get out (this one will be harder to open) and they give them names and talk to them.

I’ll bring the cage over in the morning, the  staff at Whitman’s helped me assemble all of the activity toys and tools, so we can just bring it in and set it up. The staff will move the birds, they know how to do it.  I love bringing life into the place, I’ll check on the Geranium garden as well.

18 January

The Soccer Refugee Kids Retreat. An Affirmation Journey.

by Jon Katz
The Retreat: Everyone in this photo is coming.

This weekend, The RISSE soccer team is coming to my county and to my farm and Pompanuck Farm Institute for a two day retreat – Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

There will be 14 kids, two counselors – Ali, center, and Molly, bottom. They will be staying in the beautiful old Round House, sleeping on mats and sleeping bags in the big gathering room on the second floor.

I’ve been negotiating with Pompanuck all week about the cost and food. We will pay $800 for the retreat space –  a substantial discount for the refugees. Pompanuck will prepare dinner,  and breakfast Saturday and Sunday. Maria, Ali and I will prepare lunch Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday night, I’m taking the kids out to a buffet dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby. The Pompanuck Farm Institute and Retreat Center occupies 90 beautiful acres and adjoins a 900 acre state park.

I bought 7 plastic sleds for the team to sled on ($9 apiece). I’ve purchased 16 copies of the best-selling book “Outcasts United,” which tells the very uplifting story of a group of refugee kids who formed a soccer team in Georgia and helped turn their small town around.

In the book, there is a remarkable woman who coaches and guides them, she reminds me much of Ali. And she will remind the soccer kids of Ali, they both devoted themselves to the welfare of these refugee children.

Soccer transforms and shapes the difficult lives of the children in the book in much the way Ali and the team shape the kids who are coming to Pompanuck. I got the books from Battenkill Books, they were $9 apiece and we got a 40 per cent discount.

I have a book for each person attending, and I’ve got to notes ready, we hope to all read some of the book and talk about it. I also got a CD called McFarlane, USA about some refugees and immigrants who turn to running as their way of acclimating to America.

I’m thinking of getting two small goldfish (and tanks) and  offering them as prizes to the two kids who have the most interesting things to say about the book. Bribery yes, but in a good cause. And they love to care for animals.

Saturday morning, Ali and I will go food shopping for the lunches we are preparing. We’re thinking turkey sandwiches with fruit and chips and an apple pie.

Saturday or Sunday, we’ll go and see a movie of the team’s choosing at a nearby cinema which has agreed to charge $5 for a matinee performance. The Chinese restaurant has agreed to charge $10 per person. Thanks to these kids, I am getting lots of chances to do something I always loved to do in my other life – negotiate. And I think I’m still pretty good at it.

Some people in Washington and elsewhere might not care for refugees, but many ordinary people and businesses want to welcome them in every possible way.

Maria and Fate have offered to take the kids on some snow hikes in the woods – Fate is a guide and tracker. Gus will guard the warm fire with Red, who will be with me. The kids always want me to tell scary stories at bedtime, but I don’t think they really need scary stories, they have enough of their own.

Still, they will persist, and I will cave, and just in case, i have a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s scariest stories with me. The Tell-Tale Heart and the Cask of Amontillado should do the trick. They say they want the scariest possible stories.

Maria and I will be there much of the weekend – the kids are screaming for Gus, Fate and Red to come also. Red is the official team mascot. If I don’t bring the dogs, there will be a rebellion.

Fate loves to chase the soccer ball – we will be cooking, and cleaning up and keeping an eye on things.

This time together, in a safe and beautiful place, is so important for them, their lives are often harsh and spare, and they face considerable indifference, poverty, trauma and hostility. A woman on Facebook today wrote that with our refugee work, we are “building a cathedral,” and I love that idea.

At Pompanuck, they will be free, a heady thing for all of them. No hostile taunts, no acclimation struggles, no homework in a foreign tongue.

For these hard-pressed and very sweet and caring children, a window into the true America, a generous and loving place, and a chance to be free and unguarded and support. I am so lucky to be able to participate in this, and fortunate as well to have a wife and a partner who loves this kind of work as much as I do.

And on behalf of these kids, thanks, thanks, thanks, for your support and encouragement. The Army of Good is…well…good.

If you wish to support this work, you can do so by contributing via my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge,N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

I will of course, be taking photos and will write about the weekend. I’m very excited. I hope this will be a special weekend for these worthy people, I will do everything in my power to make it memorable and soothing and uplifting.


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