8 June

A Night With Aloneness. Down Into The Abyss, Seeking The Treasure

by Jon Katz
Into The Abyss


Sadness is necessary, sadness is a cleansing of the soul, or, as one priest/author put it, the carwash of the psyche.

Maria and I went to the Mansion to run the Friday night Bingo Games, with our hardy and growing band of players. It is sometimes painful to run this games, sometimes joyous. There is great satisfaction for the winners, it is somethimes hard to  watch those who struggle to hear, see, or move their fingers.

In many ways, aging is about learning what you cannot do any more, and that is what the residents often learn as they try to listen and react and keep track.

They sometimes struggle bravely to win their games.

After the game, I went into the activity room to put away the Bingo game, and the room was dark, all the residents had gone to her rooms, and suddenly a shadow appeared in the doorway, moving slowly and erratically. It was someone I recognized right away.

I’ll call her “Bea” and I saw she was struggling and looking at me.

I saw she was frightened, she was whispering to me.

I got closer to hear her, and she said “please help me,” and I saw she was struggling to stand up. I knew her well, she is well into her 90’s and growing very disoriented and frail. I took her arm and guided her to the sofa, she had a hard time sitting down. “I’m frightened,” she said, “something is wrong,” and her eyes look vacant and out of focus.

There was nothing for me to do other than to go quickly and get help.

An aide on the evening shift came quickly to help her, she said she needed no help, and I left.

It was not my place to stay and witness what happened next. In the morning, she may be at the Mansion, or she may be in a nursing home, or she may be gone. One poet wrote that death is either the last sleep or the great beginning. I don’t know which.

Maria saw “Bea” also, and when we came home she cried a bit, she said “she just seemed so lonely. There was such a great sense of loneliness in the room.”

There was, and I could feel it too. Maria said she didn’t want me to hide my sadness from her, and I told her it was too deep for me to raise.

The sense of great aloneness gave me a chill.

“Bea” was very frightened, she knew something was wrong, but I also know she no longer has any control over the way she might be ill, or the way she might die.  She is too  weak and confused to make those kinds of decisions to control the end of her life.

She has been to the hospital several times in recent months, she will probably go many times more. No one on these many trips will ask her what she really wants.

She is losing  the ability to understand what is happening to her. Everyone is too busy to talk about what is happening.

The country just doesn’t want to face up to death, or what we owe the elderly. There is great alarm about the growing suicide rate in America, and it is a troubling thing.

Yet I often see another side of it. “Bea” has told me several times, as our friend Connie did before she died, that she wished to go, she was tired of feeling  poorly, of being rushed to the hospital, of being given more pills, and having more surgeries, and healing more wounds that cannot  heal.

“Why can’t they just let me go?,” she asks me when we are alone. Because they can’t, I tell her, it isn’t up to them to make those decisions, they can’t  violate the law. They care, and they do the best they can.

I know Bea wants to face death with dignity, she is simply exhausted from a long and sometimes difficult life, and from all of her pills and procedures. There is no family around, and as loving as the staff and  aides are, it is a lonely time for her, the loneliness comes from within, and no dog or activity can resolve it.  She is close to the end, but has nothing to say about how it will occur or where.

I empathize with her fear.

There is talk of a new national suicide prevention program to dissuade people from taking their lives. But is that always a poor choice for everyone?. If you work in elderly care you see people hanging onto life for years, often against their wishes. It is sad to see them suffer so, when many are ready to let go of life and pain and loss. I don’t have an answer for this, but I would love to see a conversation about it.

Who gave us the right to tell people who have lived their full lives how and when they must die? Bea can tell us.

“It is by doing down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life,” wrote Joseph Campbell. “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” That is my  belief, and my faith. But sometimes this just seems too dark for me.

When we left “Bea” sitting on her sofa, she seemed to me to have fallen into the abyss. I suspect they have called for an ambulance by now, as they have before, and as they are supposed to do. I hope she finds some treasure there. I hope to see her again.

When we got home, we saw a new post from the Gulleys on their Bejosh Farm Journal, they have come home after their 18-day trip and Carol wrote about the meaningful trip they took together and their precious time with one another.

It was also apparent in her piece that Ed’s cancer is rapidly advancing, it is clearly “winning,” she wrote.

She said he was unable to get out of bed on Saturday, his left side is no longer permitting him to stand on his own. Some members of her family brought a motorized wheelchair over to Ed tonight.

I will  admit this made us sadder,  and I write often about accepting life as it is, but this news is difficult, not what I hoped to hear. I see the abyss, I don’t get to see the treasure, although I sometimes feel it deep inside of me. I have not spoken with Ed for awhile, this does not  offend me, I understand it.  What is he supposed to say?

I have avoided messaging the Gulleys too often or rushing to see them, Carol seems overwhelmed, as she has every right to be, and their first obligation is to their family, not me.

I don’t come from the farm world, where the habit of dropping in is so ingrained. At times like this, I wait to be invited, anything else to me is an invasion of privacy. Carol texted me tonight, worried that I felt unwelcome, she asked me to forgive her if she made me feel that way.

This was awful to hear, I am in no way upset with Carol, she has never made me or Maria feel anything but welcome. Neither has Ed.

I just was waiting for her to tell me it was okay, perhaps  I should have just gone on over. That is my issue, not hers, I always back away rather than rush in.  I see this is a sacred family time, I just don’t feel easy assuming I can intrude on it without permission any time I want.  It may not be time for good cheer.

I guess you can do too much or do too little, there is no handbook for this.

Carol and I sent messages of love back and forth, and she said of course they want to see us, they are just trying to get used to a situation they never imagined.

And of course I understand. I think Carol knows that now. We are coming on Sunday if it still seems right for them, and I told Carol I will text her or call first to make sure the timing is good.

Ed owes me nothing, and I want nothing for him other that to be free of pain and fear and at peace. He has his hands and body and mind and soul full. He can do what he wishes.

I can only imagine what he is thinking and feeling. I imagine there is also a  great sense of loneliness, even though he is surrounded by people who love him.

It just sucks, is the best way I can put it. It is hard for me to imagine Ed, the most active of men, unable to stand up to go outside and kiss a cow on the nose or pull a calf out of one.

I want to give only what is needed and wanted, not one thing more. I am eager to see Ed on Sunday. He was and is a treasure, long before the abyss. I pray that he finds peace and compassion. We will be there first thing on Sunday, the fates willing.

So tonight a night of some sadness and thought. I just don’t have any positive magic to waive the sadness away.  This, of course, is an opportunity to find deeper powers with in my self when life seems most challenging. That is where my treasure waits.

8 June

The Death Of The “Toilet Bowl.” Maria’s Car Dies, A Red Car Appears

by Jon Katz
Maria’s Car Dies

We got the news yesterday from Charlie, our very honest and empathic mechanic. Maria’s Yaris, which I have obnoxiously referred to as the “Toilet Bowl” for years, was pronounced dead yesterday (Maria told me to knock it off.) The rear axle was rotted out by upstate New York snow and ice and, said Charlie, could no longer pass a state inspection, and was beyond repair.

This sent us into a momentary panic, we need some serious maintenance on our blogs, especially Maria’s, as the traffic to them mounts, and now we need a used car.  Maria didn’t even think of a new one.

This was not in the budget, nor something we anticipated. But this is life, and ten-year-old cars will die, and blogs need updating, and things change. I ribbed her about the little Yarus, but it did well by her all these years, even in the snowstorms that made me so nervous.

There is no stasis in the world, not for the rich, not for the poor. And then this strange thing happened. For the very first time in my life,  I pulled into one of those tiny used car lots that I’ve avoided like the plague. It was an impulse, some kind of change within me.

Why not?, I thought. I dreaded the in-your-face rituals of the big car dealers.

I’d heard good things about this place, people said they sold pretty nice used cars at low prices and stood behind them. The salesman was sitting in his office and I told him Maria was a minimalist when it came to cars, she wanted a nice reliable one, but didn’t need any bells and  whistles.

She was actually put off by the fact the car had four doors. Who needs that?, she sniffed.

The dealer said I should go out into the lot and look at the Hyundai Accent, a 2014 model with 93,000 miles on it It was owned by one person. He didn’t get up or ask me  any questions. Take your time, he said,  when I came back to talk to him. There was absolutely no pressure, no sales chatter, he didn’t even take my phone number.

I liked the owner of the lot and his son. They didn’t bother us when we looked at the car, they told  us to drive around in it, they were happy with our taking it to Charlie on Monday and letting him take a good look at it.

Once again, I confronted all of the prejudices and conventional wisdoms in my head, and once more, I found that I needed to open up and learn.

Whether we buy the car or not, these people seemed honest and hard-working to me. There was nothing sleazy about them. We form smug associations about things, and often for good reason, and we no longer bother to think about it or check it out.

When I asked about an older car on the lot, he shook his said, and said, no, he didn’t think I should buy it. He was still checking the car out. Not for your wife  as you describe her, he said.

That impressed me. And it was all so pleasant! When has buying a used car ever been pleasant?

If this works out, it will have been 72 hours since we learned Maria’s car was a goner, and we’ve possibly found a new car for her without going more than two miles from the farmhouse. The car lot owner told me that everyone who buys a car from his lot is local, and few of them have much money to spend on repairs.

He doesn’t want his neighbors mad at him, he would go out of  business in a flash.

Let’s  hear it for small towns and community. But we’ll see how the dickering goes, if it gets that far. I love to negotiate, but this is Maria’s car, and she has her own ideas about it. I will sit by and smile, offering silent support. She even checked out the tires.

I liked the looks of this car, it seemed like something Maria would like, but it is her car and her choice, so I told her about it and she came down to see it.

We took the test drive together. The ride was smooth and quiet, the car was clean, the finish on the outside looked brand new, suggesting it hadn’t been ridden hard and was probably garaged. The wheel had a tendency to pull to the right, which we asked Charlie to check.

Charlie told us he just bought a  car from this very same tiny car dealership and was happy with the transaction and the car. There weren’t even 20 cars on the lot.

Maria is doing her homework, checking out car fax and the Blue Book and on Monday, we’re bringing the car to Charlie for him to check it out. She grilled Charlie today about the maker and model and cars with lots of mileage.

Maria likes it, feels comfortable with it. She went online to check out the car and its mileage reports and reviews and she liked what she saw. The price is higher than we wish to pay of course, and so if she decides to get it, there will be some bargaining. We are within range. This is all up to her now, she can handle it, of course.

Wouldn’t it be astonishing if we had another car by Monday or Tuesday? I love where I live. And the new conventional wisdom is right. In a small town, you need to treat people well. If the word gets out and you don’t, you’re done. I never looked at it that way before. Buy local means something.

If Charlie likes it and everything checks out, Maria will think seriously about buying it.

We might even be able to pay cash for it, or at least most of it, and not have monthly payment. That would nice.  It is an older car with lots of mileage on it.

This so far has none of the tension and angst of going to the big city car dealership, which I have always endured. The salesman are either terrified or on powerful  steroids, they make the process uncomfortable. They are under pressure, so the customers are pressured.

I have bought so much stuff on cars that I don’t need. Maria is smarter than that.

The owner and his son were almost hilariously low key, I almost wanted them to pay more attention. So wish  us luck, I’ll keep you posted.

8 June

Gardening With A Three-Legged Barn Cat

by Jon Katz
Gardening With A Three-Legged Barn Cat

Minnie loves to garden with Maria. She is our three-legged barn cat, she was attacked by an animal we never saw, her leg was amputated. She had a long hard recover and I doubt I would want to subject an animal to that  again, but she has recovered, I think, and gets around well. She hunts successfully out in the marsh and sleeps on the hay bales in the big barn. She is loving and  easy-going.

8 June

Herb Mound, Coming To Bedlam

by Jon Katz
Herb Mound: Photo by Charlie Bargamian.

We had dinner out our friends Kitty Farnham and Charlie Bargamian’s house in Bennington the other night, and Kitty showed us something I had never hard of or seen before: a herb bound. This is a mound of dirt (or fertilizer) covered in herbs: thyme, oregano and rosemary.

Maria and I both loved it and we also have the tools to make it – year-old, cured donkey fertilizer and plenty of rocks to shore  up the base. So we’re going to build a herb mound – there are also herb spirals –  this weekend next to the Dahlia garden.

This is the year of the gardens at Bedlam Farm, flowers and plants and vegetables popping up all over the place. Photos this weekend, weather permitting.  We use fresh herbs all the time in our cooking, it will be a treat to eat our own.

Many thanks to Kitty and Charlie.

P’S. We are getting the sheep shorn in the morning.

8 June

Shaheen’s Life And Death Struggle To Live A Free Woman’s Life In America

by Jon Katz

To me, Shaheen is an American hero.

She was 16 years old, teaching children in an elementary school in western Pakistan, and studying computer technology – her chosen field of work – when her father died suddenly. Her brother came to her and told her that he was now her guardian and he had decided she would marry a cousin she barely knew but disliked intensely.

Her cousin belonged to the Taliban, and he frightened her. She knew well what marrying him would mean for her life, a lifetime in bondage.

I met Shaheen in the Pine Hill neighborhood of Albany Thursday. She was warm, with a ready smile, and anxious. It took a half an hour to negotiate taking her photo, as it often does with some Muslim women I am meeting for the first time.

In the village she came from, being photographed by a strange man without the permission of a husband or father could be a death sentence. By now, I am familiar with this fear, and have learned  how to talk it through.  I proposed she draw part of her hijab over her nose and face..

I told her I had a contract with my readers. If I ask for money, they must see where it is going and what for. I never ask them to help people they don’t get to see. That is the trust between us that has worked so well.

We both agreed, and eventually laughed about the idea that she was a free woman in America now, and no one could tell her when to be photographed, including me. But I told her I understood the great fear she carried, especially  about her mother, who, she says, was left behind is in grave  danger for helping to free her.

I agreed to not use her whole name, or address or phone. I promised.

Just after her sixteenth birthday, Shaheen’s older  brother came to her to tell her that she would be married in a few weeks. He was in charge of her life in the absence of her father, he said, and he had chosen a husband for her.

She must leave their home and give  up her job as a school teacher and abandon her studies in computing and information technology. There would be no career outside of the home.

Shaheen had already drawn attention and suspicion for her independence, for working outside fo the home as a teacher and aspiring to a career in computing outside of the home and without the approval of a man. Those were dangerous decisions for a woman.

Shaheen is a feminist, it is apparent in almost every thing she says, and she fell apart and said she would refuse to marry her cousin. She was beaten severely, as was her mother, who defended her and tried to protect her. Her mother, she said, understood and fought for her. That was also a dangerous thing for a woman to do.

“It is as if I am two years old,” she said, “that is how I feel about being a free woman in America. My life began when I was free here to live my life.” She intends to get healthy again, return to school,  take computing classes, and work in the computing field. But it is not an easy life here, and will not be for some time.

In Pakistan’s Shaheen’s mother took her into her room to hide her and protect from the marriage neither of them  wanted to accept. She even made her sleep with her in the same bed so she would be safe.

Before the wedding, her mother helped her to escape the house and get to UNHRA, the United Nations  Refugee Agency. In September of 2016, she was given a visa to come to the United States as a refugee. She knows she would not have been permitted to come today. Her sister came to America also, and Shaheen shares her apartment with her and her children.

Her brother and cousin blame her mother for her escape from Pakistan and the arranged marriage and  her mother has suffered terribly, she has suffered beatings and been ostracized and confined to her  home.

Shaheen is very worried about her, and is trying desperately to get her out, but given our new government’s policy towards refugees, it is almost impossible. For now, she is trapped there.

Shaheen suffered several experiences I would prefer not to write about.

When she is in a crowd, or hears loud noises, or if there is much movement, or thinks of her mother, her hands begin to shake uncontrollably and she can’t stop the shaking. She sometimes suffers from debilitating depression. Refugee officials who have worked with her say she can’t work now, she is in treatment for PTSD and depression.

She insisted on working, and had a job at a major medical center in Albany, but her office was so crowded and loud her hands began shaking more and more and she was let go. When she lost her job, she was not able to pay her share of the rent of the apartment she shares with her sister.

She believes she will have to work in a quiet office until she heals.

She owes $2,100 in back rent and yesterday, and is facing eviction. We got on the phone and began negotiations with the landlord to see if the fee is negotiable, or if it can be paid off over time.  We don’t know yet.

I wrote her a check for $600 yesterday so that she can make the first payments to the landlord  and we can negotiate the rest of her overdue rent. I hope they will be patient. I know she also borrowed some money to survive when she lost her job. As a rule, Ali and I have agreed not to pay off large personal debts.

When Shaheen lost her job, all of her subsidies and support payments were dropped.

Ali and I have been talking about how to help her.

I thought about it all night, I told Ali we should stand where we are for now, and do nothing further. He agreed. As I have  written before, we operate on a small and restrained scale.

We can’t save lives or take them over, we can only offer help. Small acts of great kindness. If I gave Shaheen, $2,100 that would almost obliterate the refugee fund, and deprives others in need of help.

Shaheen is in treatment, getting counseling for her depression and shaking. We will stay in touch with her.

I am coming to learn that the refugees left good lives behind, few of them were poor or unemployed. The myth that they have come to harm us or take our jobs and money is a scandal.

They will make good citizens of our country, they love America.

But in the past year or so, their lives have become so much more difficult, as the government that admitted them no longer takes any responsibility for what happens to them, and in fact, has made it clear they don’t want them here at all.

There is no way Shaheen can or return to her country, and in a just world, her mother, who is a hero of this story, should be safely with her here. But it is not a just world, we can only do the best we can for as long as we can. She wants to be free in the land of the free.

Her courage and determination to live the free life of an American woman is inspiring to me, and is the very essence of being an American patriot as I understand the term. For all her struggles, she loves her new country very much and appreciates freedom in only the way someone who nearly lost it can understand.

I told her women everywhere in America are speaking out for one another and for themselves, and I was glad she made it here, where, no matter what else happens, no one will  force her to marry someone she doesn’t love.

I need to think small and in a disciplined  way to make this work. I’d love to give her all of my money, and Mawah and Saad and Omnarosa too. That would bring this all down. So we do what we can, we have no miracles in our pockets.

So at the moment, I’m not asking for contributions for Shaheen. I had the $600 in the refugee account.

Let’s see what happens.

I will accept contributions and donations for the refugee work Ali and I are doing. If you wish to contribute, please send your contribution to the Gus Fund, Jon Katz, Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

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