18 January

Video: The Happy Bud Series

by Jon Katz

It is a great gift every morning to see a new and happy Bud evolve. We didn’t see that for the first few months that he was here. Bud loves to play and have fun, and in the frigid weather, Maria goes down into the basement to feed the barn cats Flo and Minnie, who come inside into the basement – it’s warm and there are mice to hunt. Bud doesn’t go down into the basement, he waits eagerly at the top of the stairs, and tries to spring out and surprise Maria when he comes up.

He barks and springs out in this surprise, a new game he has invented. Maria seems to love it too. Bud does this to me when I come downstairs our out of the shower. This inventive and playful side of Bud has only emerged in the last couple of weeks. He came to us as a very serious and wary creature, this Happy Bud is a lot of fun. Come and see, the Happy Bud videos are getting very popular.

I can see why, this is our news.

17 January

Let There Be Water

by Jon Katz

At 6 p.m., I came home – I was at the Mansion dropping off some new DVD’s for the residents there – and Jay Bridge was just packing up his tools.

“You have water,” he said, in his understated way. I was very grateful and appreciative of my friend Jay Bridge today. I was frantic this morning, the plumbers I knew of either wouldn’t call me back, were about to go to Mexico on vacation, or wouldn’t work on the old point wells, like the one in our basement.

Some were busy with other jobs, several just didn’t want to take the job on now, for what I am sure were good reasons.

We definitely felt out in the cold, and quite vulnerable for a night and a day. I texted Jay at 7 a.m., and he answered me quickly (I had to call the plumbers five or six times just to hear a “no.”). Can you fix a pump on a point well, I asked?

Sure, he said, I’ll be over at 10.

He came to our house, examined our point well and pump, went out to buy a new pump and spent the next six hours in our cold and dark basement installing a new pump. It was hard, cold, dirty work, lots of  wrench and pipe and wiring work.

Four different plumbers declined to come and help us get water on the eve of advancing brutal cold front and what appears to be a massive winter storm that could dump 15 or more inches on the farm on Saturday night and all day Sunday.

When Jay left, I texted Maria who was leaving her belly dancing class: “We have water!” She was as relieved and happy as I was. This water thing took up the whole day and threw us off-balance.

I admit to being alarmed at the prospects of spending those weekend days without water or hot water heat in the farmhouse. I was happy to go pee outside but that was getting old. And I didn’t relish not showering for days, or finding a friend’s shower to borrow. I didn’t sleep much last night.

We do have two wood stoves, but they would have been pressed to keep the farmhouse warm in the fact of sub-zero temperatures, high winds and so much snow. We would have been hauling containers and buckets up from the creek for the animals, and for us, and our toilet and bathroom.

I thanked Jay, he is a shy man and thanks embarrass him, I think. I remember that he built our beautiful little Free Library and wouldn’t accept payment. It was, he said, for the community. Jay is like that.

I don’t believe I have any other friend who would have come over here so quickly and spent so much time putting a pump in. He will give me a bill, and I will be happy to pay it. He doesn’t work for free, and I wouldn’t let him. He is so careful in his work, so thorough and diligent. There were lots of moving parts and wires.

It is a gift to have a trained engineer/geologist put a new pump on our humble little old point well. It is humbling to see such a good man do such good work. I know he wanted to help us, Jay doesn’t need the work or the money.

I ran and washed all the dirty dishes, gave water to the animals in their heated bucket, emptied out the water buckets stacked up in our bathroom, I stoked the fires until they were both roaring.

Now, I’m going to sit with Maria and read Mary Oliver. I’ll play piano music on my Beats speaker – Solitudes, Piano Notes, Healing Music. And light a candle to this great poet and thank her for her work and for all the pleasure and inspiration she brought to us.

On and off today, I thought of the federal workers without their pay, I thought of the people who built this house who would have been lucky to have two good cast iron wood stoves roaring. Hauling water from the creek was just part of the day.

We, lulled by the false promise of technology and devices, are so different from them.

I am happy to ride out the storm now. It was almost something more than that.

I’m lucky to have a friend like Jay.

17 January

Thanks, Mary Oliver, Observer Of Life

by Jon Katz

As many of you perhaps already know, Mary Oliver, the poet and a beloved spirt to me and to Maria, died today She often described her work as the observation of life, and she considered the love of nature and the love of life to be her faith.

Critics compared her to Walt Whitman, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, and she was the most successful and loved poet in America. I doubt you will see much about her on the news today or tomorrow she was the antithesis of the news, gentle, kind empathic and deeply spiritual, loving the small things in nature, loving animals.

Tonight, Maria and I will dedicate an hour or so to  her. We will sit in the dark, light a candle, perhaps listen to videos of some of readings. And we’ll honor her beautiful poem “Mornings At Blackwater,” which we had a friend read at our wedding.

I want to share the last three verses of the beautiful poem. Soon after we married, we drove to Provincetown, Mass, to walk around Blackwater Pond, which Oliver did every morning of the 40 years that she lived in Provincetown before moving to Florida a few years ago.

What I want to say is

that the past is the past

and the present is what your life is,

and you are capable

of what choosing what will be,

darling citizen.

So come to the pond,

or the river of your imagination, 

or the harbor of your longing,

and put  your lips to the world,

and live your life.”

And that is what we did, and do,

every day of our lives. She was our poet,

our anthem, our spirit.

She helped us learn to love nature

and observe it closely,

and to love our loves,

and put our lips to the world,

Which is what we have done,

or tried to do. Every day.

Thanks Mary, and godspeed to you.

In the “Spring,” here in its entirety, she wrote:

I live my face to the pale flowers of the rain. They’re soft as linen,

clean as  holy water. Meanwhile my dog runs off,

noses down packed leaves

into damp, mysterious tunnels.

He says the smells are rising now

stiff and lively; he says the beasts

are waking up now full of oil,

sleep sweat, tag-ends of dreams.

The rain rubs is shining hands all over me.

My dog returns and  barks fiercely,

he says,

each secret body is the richest advisor,

deep in the black earth such fuming

nuggets of joy!”

I can’t mourn Mary Oliver too deeply,

after all, she lives on in so many ways,

we will never forget her, she is

in our hearts and souls and love,

in the nature of the world,

in our coming to the pond

or the river of our imagination,

and our putting our lips to the world

and living our lives.

17 January

Growing The Muscles For Living: Talking To The Sick And The Dying

by Jon Katz

Something I’ve learned in recent years.

The more time I spend in the presence of aging and death, the less i fear either. My time talking to the sick and the dying has greatly enriched and enhanced my life, despite the fact that for most of my life me and everyone around me was taught to avoid doing either.

We are taught that death is our enemy, but I no longer believe. It is living an angry or meaningless life that is the enemy, or living for money, which is the new slavery.

Somebody – I think it was Shakespeare – said that we all owe God a death. That’s the deal, that’s the toll and the contract for living. We can hide from it, whine about it, run from it, but it will always be there, just around the corner, waiting for us to show up.

And we don’t get to choose when.

In her beautiful book on hope, Anne Lamott writes in her honest book “Almost Everything: Notes On Hope,” that the people we lose on this side of eternity, “whom you can no longer call or text, will live again fully in your heart and the the world. They will make you smile…”

In our culture, we are taught from our first days to hide from death and run from the elderly at they approach the edge of life. The dying are hidden away in hospitals and hospice rooms and  nursing homes for the most part, the elderly locked away and hidden from view, all in the name of protecting their privacy from us.

But in my hospice and assisted care therapy work, I learned that anything that is scary or disturbing becomes much less scary and disturbing once I confront it, investigate it, and approach with it. My therapy work has been my spiritual work, it has opened me up to life.

I have had some of the most beautiful conversations and moments in my life in hospice, as liberated and spiritual people prepared to leave the world. And I have come to love the elderly people I work with at the Mansion, they are funny, warm, loving and wise. Some of them are deliciously odd and unpredictable. They love to sing, they love to dance, they love to laugh. Some of them even love me, a kind of love and connection I have rarely felt in my life.

And believe me, they know what love is and isn’t.

Talking to the sick and the elderly has given my life a much wanted spiritual depth and dimension.

It has taken away my fear of aging and dying, my discomfort with the sick and the very old. The wrinkled faces are beautiful to me now, it is a joy to photograph them, talk to them, help them. I used to find them ugly, even repulsive. I was blind to them, in part because I rarely saw them.

Today, I went to the Mansion and Ruth gestured to me to come over and talk to her.

“Do you still give away those envelopes and cards  you bring here?” Yes, I do, I said. “Can you get some Valentine’s Day Cards for me, there are people who I love.” Of course, I said, I can’t imagine a better thing to bring.

They love, too, just like the rest of us.

It is not a healthy or spiritual thing to run from death or hide from the elderly, where almost all of us will be in a blink. I spend a lot of time with old people now, and we have fun. They know a lot of things, and yes, they need help sometimes. They teach me something every time I see them. That’s the core of it, I want to know what they know and see what they have seen.

I understand that the young have no great need to think much about death, or get too close to it. Death is creepy when you have so much to live for, so much life ahead.  But they don’t  have to hide from it either. That just makes the inevitable awakening all the harder.

A half century ago, young people saw death all the time, their parents and grandparents died in the next bed. We don’t do that anymore, and when the mask comes off, it is often a hard and terrifying place to be.

My spiritual breakthroughs have almost all come from what I  have seen of sickness, struggle, loss and death. That’s when we open our eyes and hearts.

“The reason to draw close to death,” writes Lamott, “is to practice living and finding in the soul.”

This, she adds,  grows our muscles for living.

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