Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

7 December

Lesson Three In The Bishop Maginn Sewing Class: Potholders!

by Jon Katz

I suppose it was inevitable, today Maria decided to teach her very committed sewing students at Bishop Maginn how to make potholders. Several did it on their first try.

The class is enthusiastic and attentive, they listen to Maria and they are quick to help one another. They share everything intuitively and support each other again and again.

Maria loves this class (she will write about it tomorrow, and I love walking around and taking photos. Jayla was the first member of the class to make a finished potholder, which will be offered – along with some quilts –  to the refugee families, including those coming from Afghanistan.

Tayla (above) with her potholder. She is really into sewing lessons, and under Maria’s kind but attentive eye, is learning fast. This is a beautiful thing to watch.

 

As to Zinnia, she loves coming to Bishop Maginn, where she first learned how to be a therapy dog. Life has gotten sweeter since we started coming at lunchtime, and the Secret Society of Zinnia admirers discreetly drops a french fry here and there for Zinnia to find. This is forbidden but unstoppable.

This is dog heaven for any Lab.

Zinnia is completely at home at the school, the kids lean over and touch her, scratch her, pet her. And there are the french fries.

After a while, and after she has greeted every single person in the room, she just lies down and goes to sleep. She is the most wonderful therapy dog.

 

7 December

Back In The Country

by Jon Katz

After spending several hours in the noise and bustling classrooms of Bishop Maginn High School, Maria and I were ready to head for home and the quiet of our loves.

About 40 minutes out of Albany, we turned off a highway and almost magically entered the peace and beauty of the country. The sun was coming down and it was getting dark, the beautiful road would soon be invisible to us.

But I asked Maria – she was driving –  to stop the car so I could get out and take a picture.

We both let out a sigh and looked at one another.

We have always loved cities; I lived in the towns for most of my life.  But we could not live in them anymore. The country is beautiful, peaceful, full of nature and life.

People are no better or worse than city people, but we usually come to know each other, which softens life in many ways.

There is no paradise; our farm is not one, our town is not one. But it is home for us, and we need safety, beauty, stillness, and solitude. We need the natural world; we need beautiful roads like this to tell us we are close to home.

7 December

The Greatness Of The Great Pyrenees

by Jon Katz

We pass a beautiful sheep farm on the way to and from Albany (we were at Bishop Maginn High School). There are about 40 sheep in one pen guarded by two Great Pyrenees livestock protection dogs. These are beautiful and wonderful animals, and we pulled the car over to watch.

The dogs challenge and sound the alarm when any strange person or animal shows up and it was fascinating watching them move back and forth to stay right between me and the sheep, even though I was up on the road a good distance away. They live outside with the sheep and are with them day and night.

The breed shows us what dogs are capable of doing and how they help us live their lives. Like border collies, this breed desperately needs to work, they are not meant to be house pets.

They never took their eyes off me, moving when I did. There was no charming or distracting them. I think humans could use dogs like to protect themselves from nasty or greedy humans.

These dogs are born to protect livestock and be dogs, and it is beautiful to see them given the freedom to meet their destiny. Nothing dangerous is going to get close to these sheep as long as these dogs are around.

7 December

Bless You Back, Barbara. On Being Human, On Knowing What Being Human Means.

by Jon Katz

“Jon, I have followed you for at least 14 years. Sometimes I have been amazed by your caring, loving, and generosity and sometimes appalled at your insensitive comments. Most of all, I stay because you are truly human and there for us all to learn from. How I wish I could sit down and truly meet you, but I must settle to be invited to YOUR blog where I am the guest, not the one with the microphone. I continually will admire you and hopefully see my humanity through yours. Bless you and thank you.” – Barbara N.

I love this message I got this morning from a long-time reader named Barbara Neely. In a time of anger, shameless dishonesty, and cruelty, she is wise, honest, and deeply insightful.

I felt love and gratitude when I read this message; she permits me to be a flawed human being (I’m not running for Saint) and accepts me for who I am, not who she might be or might like me to be.

That is a rare thing in our culture today.

She says nothing about me that I don’t know and haven’t said many times about myself.

When I started my blog, I made a vow to be honest, not slick or self-aggrandizing, and to show my bad side as well as my good side, they sometimes trade places with one another. I am a deeply flawed human being, that is what drives and defines me.

I always said if you read my work, you’ll get the good Katz or the bad Katz, but you will always get the real one. That’s my moral code as a writer, and I understood it upsets people, who sometimes expect something else. Our society rewards the false and punishes the honest.

My salvation is learning to be honest. It is sacred to me.

I am sorry I can’t give everyone what they want, but not very.

My blog has put me on a path to authenticity, long and hard, as Barbara surely knows. I have a long way to go.

As I see it, I am not much different than most human beings, except I am not pretending to be something I am not. And I don’t hide what I feel. And I feel a lot of things.

I am not a perfect or one-dimensional person, all one thing or another. I am not patient or gentle. Except when I am.

My blog is part of the process of understanding myself and learning to be authentic. It is never easy, but always rewarding. At least once every week, someone discovers that I am not an angel, or sometimes insensitive, and is shocked and betrayed, and demands that I be better.

I don’t really know anyone who isn’t a mix of things, good and bad. Isn’t that what it means to be human? Why does it shock and anger so many people? Can anyone reading this look in the mirror and see a perfect human looking back? Are any of us so pure that we have the right to tell other people how to be?

I’ve learned not to judge them, especially when I face the truth about myself.

I’ve learned to accept that complexity in others, but I can’t expect everyone to accept that in me.  That’s the trade-off, I get to write and way what I believe, and not everyone will like it. I can take it.

Even the Dalai Lama concedes he can be a nasty and ill-tempered monster around the people he works with. And Gandhi was a miserable human by all accounts.

What is special about Barbara’s message is that she understands what it means to be human. And she accepts me for the kind of human that I am.

That is a rare gift. The whole point of meditation and contemplation writes Thomas Merton, is that we face the truth about ourselves, however painful that can be. We are all broken, we are all imperfect.

I get to be honest about me. I don’t tell other people what to do or how to feel.

Every word of Barbara’s message is true, I believe, the good and the bad. That is the mix of me, my DNA, and only recently have I come to realize that I need to accept that about myself and do what good I can around it.

Barbara has captured the core of me and captured it eloquently and beautifully.

I am not all good, I am not all bad. Take what you need and leave the rest behind.

There is no hiding the truth.  That is a great gift you have, Barbara, and I thank you for it. And thanks for hanging in there with me for 14 years, poor thing, you are the saint.

And most of all, thanks for loving me for who I am, not for who I am not. Stick around, the best is yet to come.

 

7 December

Dog Love. Their Only Fault Is That They Don’t Live Long. Send Them To Congress.

by Jon Katz

I have only one complaint about dogs. They don’t live as long as we do, so as much as we love them, they make us grieve over and over again, sometimes for too long.

On the other hand, this is a gift. We get to love more than one dog, and when a dog dies, we can value another one just as much. All in all, I would instead love a dog than mourn a dog. It’s a better use of my time and suitable for dogs. I feel sorry for the people who say they miss their dogs so much they will never get another one.

To me, that is not dog love but self-love.

Fate is an incredibly loving dog, and it turns out to be the perfect dog for Maria – not clingy or aggressive, respectful of fabric, and up for a visit to the pasture or a walk in the woods any time day or night. She also loves to be loved, and Maria has plenty of love.

I have been blessed to have had a string of extraordinary dogs, from Orson to Rose to Izzy and Red and now, Zinnia, among others.

It is a precious gift to love a dog, I often give thanks for it,  and wonderful to feel that love returned. Animals teach us many things; one of them is being a better and more merciful human. Thomas Aquinas said that the real purpose of dogs and other animals was to teach us mercy and compassion.

I think every day how the world would be different if dogs were permitted to roam the halls of Congress.

 

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