Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

27 February

Finding My Sanctuary

by Jon Katz

When I was much younger, I thought a “sanctuary” meant a towering Cathedral, or perhaps a monastery, or a Quaker Meeting House, or even Thomas Merton’s tiny hermitage, where he could be alone.

Sanctuaries were where people prayed, or lit candles and sat quietly and talk to God. Sanctuaries were sacred places. I thought I had to go outside of myself, to a special place.

Today, I have a very different idea of sanctuaries. I live in a world that is glorious and unspeakably cruel at the same time. I need sanctuary.

I find my sanctuary is inside of me, not outside, my soul is my cathedral, my temple.

I find sanctuary in my living room chair where I meditate, in the hills around the farm, in our walks in the woods, in my visits to museums with Maria, as I lie awake frightened in the night.

As I wrote this, I texted Maria a message, it said: “you are my sanctuary.”

And that is true. But I am my sanctuary too.

Sanctuary is where I feel grounded, look inside of my self, get my bearings. It’s about hope and promise, the drive to move forward, to never quit on the beauty of life and the goodness of people. It’s where I bring my anger and my fear, where I quiet down and regain myself.

Our world, our politics, our news, our communities are violent and divided. We are obsessed with money, getting the new Alexa, runaway consumerism, climate change, political conflict, greed, and hatred and bigotry.

We are, of necessity, desensitized to a daily barrage of assaults, if we didn’t step back, we would go mad. But I’ve always needed a sanctuary, sometimes more than I need one now, and the idea that the sanctuary is inside of me, not outside, has been a kind of revolution for me.

Once or twice a day, almost every day, something happens that makes me shudder and worry for my soul. Some days I feel unfit for life in this world, I wonder if I really belong here. I don’t fear dying, but I worry about death by a thousand cuts, about being nibbled to death by the steady downpour of conflict and anger, falling like hail on a tin roof.

Everybody deals with it in their own way.

Some turn to politics – the left and the right – for comfort. Some find religion, some become detached and isolated, living lives of grievance and suspicion and lament. I care a lot about truth, but it seems that truth is forever under siege, being pecked away like a tree with a family of woodpeckers.

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence,” wrote Thomas Merton, “to which the idealist….most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work..it destroys the fruitfulness of his own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Inner wisdom, I think, is what I mean by the sanctuary.

I don’t need to flee the world or to drink it all in and exploit it. I can love my life with all of its many ups and downs and failings and flaws, seeking, again and again, the best of the human possibility, in me and the people I meet.

I know to look inward, not outward for sanctuary.  I don’t need a sign, just a soul.

All of my life, the night has brought nightmares and terror. Maria asked me this morning if I wanted to do something different – meditate, get up and walk all night. You don’t have to lie awake shaking, she says.

It’s okay, I said. I just let it flow through. It’s how I heal.

I don’t need to find sanctuary in a book or out in the woods. I just have to close my eyes, as I always have, and walk inside.

It is all right there if I look for it, right under my nose, at my fingertips. I am my own sanctuary, it lives deep inside of me, waiting for me whenever I need to go there.

27 February

A Great Week For Love And Good. Zinnia Emerges…

by Jon Katz

It was a great week for Good, perhaps the best week in several years, if not ever.  The Army Of Good is a light unto the world, a model and an inspiration.

I understand the news from the outside world was bleak and disheartening, but here, we make our own news, and the stories were uplifting and reaffirming. We are not defined by them.

“At times like this,” wrote Monica, “your blog restores my faith in humanity.”

Thanks, Monica, my blog and the Army Of Good restores my humanity almost every day, I can’t begin to explain how these small acts of great kindness have helped me to grow and open in difficult times.

Another remarkable thing emerged this week, the students at Bishop Maginn High School embraced Zinnia as a white spirit animal, with great powers to bring about change and good.

Zinnia has come into her own. I’m not sure how to deal with it.

I am not one to put supernatural powers and other projections onto dogs, but Zinnia’s ability to lift people is not something I have witnessed before, and I want to be careful about what I make of it, and how much I embrace.

I want her to be a content dog, not a mystical spirit. I also want her to do as much good as a dog can do; that’s why I worked so hard to find her and bring her home. But I don’t need for her to be a saintly dog.

She is a dream come true for me, one I need to keep in perspective.

I never thought of Zinnia in this way, and I am reluctant to put all of that on a sweet and fun-loving puppy.  She seems like the best of the Lab – gentle, forgiving, loving and fun.

Zinnia is nothing if not innocent. We project too much onto our dogs, but I am amazed at the impact Zinnia has on people wherever she goes.

There is something about her I can’t explain,  but I see how people react to her, perhaps she is a magnet for good. And I respect the wisdom of children, they know a lot more than we give them credit for knowing, especially before they learn to hide what they think.

The students helped me to understand that in multiple cultures around the world, various white animals have been designated as sacred based on legends and myth. While the animals differ, in many cultures, the birth or appearance of a white animal is an indication of a new era of peace and restored balance.

How great that would be.

These animals are believed to represent purity, spiritual fulfillment, and attainment. The mystical white animals range from bears to lions to peacocks to dogs to buffalo, even to the white elephants of Southeast Asia.

This week, we answered every request from the seniors at Bishop Maginn High School for the things they want to make their graduation memorable and festive, but could never afford on their own.

I wish I had to words to say what your generosity will mean to them, for the refugee children, graduating high school in America is a seminal event in their lives. Thanks to you, they will mark it well and in a respectful and festive way. This is so important to them, and you made it possible.

Many of the items are symbols of graduation customs in their native countries. Graduation is a huge deal o these children.

Your generosity is a loud and clear vote for compassion and love and empathy.

Earlier this week, we also sold out a Mansion Wish List for dance and other music. It got less attention, but it will get some of the residents to dance, and that is a beautiful thing.

The graduating seniors only asked for eight CD’s; the list sold out quickly, the music is on the way. I love to think of the Mansion residents dancing.

I almost forgot to mention that we also got scrubs for each one of the Mansion aides. This will not only help them be comfortable and efficient, but it will also save them a good chunk of money. When the scrubs are unpacked, I’ll take a photo of them. (I’d like to refresh the Mansion/Refugee Fund, which got a pretty good workout these past few weeks), you can contribute, if you wish via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com or by check, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Please mark payments “Mansion/Refugee Fund.”

I am humbled by what we have done in the past few days. This week, we also raised about $2,000 to take care of Susan Popper’s dog Sally’s medical problems, and also to get her to her new home.

One very generous blog reader offered this morning to make up the difference between what we have raised and what we need.

It was beautiful, the way people all over the country reached into their pockets to help a terrified little dog without a home. You didn’t know the dog, you didn’t know the owner, you could have simply looked away.

The plight of the dog helped me understand just how sick Susan was, I feel sorrow and compassion for her, I am relieved we got a place for her dog to live (Donna found the home).

Thanks for your help with that. Dogs are among the most adaptable of creatures. Sally has adjusted well to her temporary home, she will find another human being to love. This is the last chapter of the Susan story, I think, the last thing to do for someone who needed so much help.

Wherever she is,  I hope she is resting easier now.

Thanks for giving Sally the chance for a new and better life.

We also found a way to help Susan Popper, who died a week ago today. Many of you know from her writing and photography online. We made sure she died in comfort and peace, and with dignity.

Humanity lives, even thrives, given the chance.

I know this is a hard time for many people in many ways, but I see us as a movement, keeping the idea of empathy and compassion alive. I am a bit spun out but very proud.

This was a good week for good.

27 February

Wish List Sold Out. The Students Send A Message

by Jon Katz
 The Bishop Maginn Amazon Prom And Graduation Wish List sold out yesterday, and thank you. We are helping to give them a celebration they richly deserve.
I also wanted to share a message I received this morning from Sue Silverstein on behalf of Bishop Maginn and the seniors you helped:
I just wanted to send all of our heartfelt thanks to the Army of Good for their overwhelming generosity. Our students are a source of great pride for us. Some of them have traveled very difficult roads to get to this point and as we near the end of their journey with us, we will, with your help, be able to give them an, even more, special send-off. We feel as any proud parent would feel as their children prepare to leave the safety of home and make a better world.  We delight in all they have accomplished and can’t wait to watch them impact positive change. Your help and love will allow us to say goodbye in a joyful celebration! Thank you all for that!
With much love and gratitude,
Sue and the BMHS Students.”
Thank you, Sue, to you and the students and Mike Tolan, the principal at BMHS, for letting me in, and letting us help. You are helping a lot of people by letting us help you. Bishop Maginn is the real deal, a place of comfort and safety. I am proud to know you all and work with me, and with Zinnia of course.
You are a gift to us, and I am grateful every day for all of you, and for the very big hearts of the Army Of Good.
27 February

The Last Chapter: Sally’s Long Journey, Just Beginning.

by Jon Katz

I was sorry to learn of the rough shape Sally, Susan Popper’s dog, was in and is in still.

I know that Susan loved Sally, but she was too sick and too distracted to care for her towards the end, a sign to me of just how ill she was.

I will never quite understand why Susan didn’t ask for help; I suppose she didn’t know how to do it. “I am stubborn,” she kept telling EMS crew while they pleaded with her to go to the hospital, “I can’t help it.”

Susan told me once that when she was critically ill in Long Island, she ended up neglecting Sally, and she felt terrible about it.

But it happened again, Susan couldn’t take care of Sally in the last weeks of her life, and she couldn’t ask for help.

Susan’s friend Donna rose to the challenge as Sally’s plight became clear and took responsibility for her; she came up to Donna’s house to rescue her and got her to a beautiful animal lover named Bette Parslow in New Jersey.

Bette did a remarkable job of fostering and calming Sally, who always hid from other people and dogs. She also began treatment of her sores and infections.

Susan had a big heart, but she ended up being so alone, I don’t think she could see other people or her dog.  She had no will, had made no plans or preparations for dying, had confided in no friends or family.

I was shocked to learn how sick Susan was; I was taken back by Sally’s awful condition. She was hungry; she smelled, her fur was matted and dry, her skin itchy and infected.

I felt myself getting angry about Sally but then caught myself.

This was how I know how sick Susan really was.  At long last, she deserved love and compassion, not judgment.

She could never share her vulnerability or ask for help, not even for the living thing she loved so much, more than any other living thing in her life.

Dogs, in their loyalty, suffer for us and with us.

Donna sent me this photo of  Sally taken a few days ago, and I could hardly believe it was the same dog, cleaned up, brushed, groomed. The Sally I got to see was a wreck. Thanks, Bette, who says Sally is a sweet and loving animal.

Betty did a wonderful job with Sally, she got her to a vet, is treating a number of skin and yeast infections.

She got her to eat, eliminate outside, brushed her, got her to play with her two small dogs. For various reasons, Bette can’t keep Sally and Donna has been talking extensively with a dog lover from Oregon named Cathy.

Cathy knows Sally’s story and her problems and issues, she very much wants to adopt her.

Donna has known Cathy for a while. It’s a long way to send Sally, but Donna has made sure it’s the right place for her.

Cathy wants Sally so badly she is flying from Oregon to get her and buy her a seat on the plane next to her flying back. We’ve raised nearly $400 for vet bills and another $900 to get Sally and Cathy to Oregon, a promising home for her with one mature person and no dogs. Donna, who loves dogs very much, is certain that this is the best permanent home for Sally, and that’s good enough for me.

Thanks for your support.

She now has to pay a number of vet and airline fees for Sally to travel, she said she could use another few hundred dollars. Her e-mail and Paypal ID is dnicosia5@comcast.net. Small contributions are welcome.

I want to see this through, it was on Susan’s mind when she died, and it is the last thing I can do for her.

I guess for me, it’s closure.

Susan’s brother Steven arranged for her cremation, and I have no idea what will happen to her new home, which she loved. It’s not my business either. In the Spring, we will invite her friends from work and in her life to the farm for a brief and simple Memorial Service.

Donna and I have teamed up to get Sally to a permanent and loving home, and we are a good team. She’s managing Sally’s care with Bette, and I’m raising the money to get Sally settled.

This is the last chapter, I think, for the sad and complicated friendship I had with Susan. But we all got to a good place, in the end, Susan died peacefully and with dignity and comfort.

Donna and I won’t rest until Sally is safe and sound, we both know we owe that to Susan, who worried a lot about Sally in her last days. (We are aware of volunteer animal rescue transport organizations. They don’t take dogs 3,000 miles across the country. This is the best way for Sally and Cathy to go.)

Susan felt bad about herself, but couldn’t help doing things that made it all worse, physically and emotionally. I’ve read that abused children often end up abusing themselves.

I promised Susan before she died that she need not worry about Sally, Donna and I would get it done.

This is my goodbye, I hope Susan has finally found peace and acceptance.

We will get Sally to Oregon, Susan. Find some peace.

I am pleased to share these photos of Sally, looking so much better, more alert, her coat rich and shiny. She still has bouts of anxiety, even terror. She will need a lot of care and a lot of healing in yet another home.

I’m sorry she has to be uprooted once more.

But I think this will be a happy ending, and Sally deserves that. I have this feeling Susan’s spirit will rest when Sally is okay. She deserves that too.

Please help make it so if you can.

Donna has been a wonderful friend to Susan, but her trips up North and her work with Sally have drained her. She says a couple of hundred dollars will take care of it all. dnicosia5@comcast.net.

26 February

The Red Hot BMHS Graduation Wish List. Sold Out!

by Jon Katz

Friends, the Bishop Maginn High School Amazon Graduation/ Prom Wish List sold out shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, about 12 hours after it was posted. I thank you, on behalf of these grateful young people, and in the name of empathy and compassion. I am so glad to be a part of this.

I am proud and happy to report that only one item remains on the Bishop Maginn Amazon Graduation and Prom Wish List, two Beauty And The Beast Romantic Roses in a Glass Dome ($15.99 each) with an LED wooden base for Prom tables.

The list was announced around 10 a.m. Wednesday.

We have $31.88 to go to purchase the last two pieces and sell out the list in a matter of hours, not days.

I am going outside to offer a prayer of thanks to whatever Gods and spirits will listen to me.

A generous blog reader is buying Zinnia flowers – yes, Zinnia the flower,  in honor of the Princess Zinnia, the dog – to give to the female Bishop Maginn Students at graduation and also at the prom.

I mentioned that they have only had paper flowers at the school graduations, that will change. There will be paper flowers that they will assemble themselves (they love to do that), and some real flowers as well.

The students tell me that Zinnia, as a white animal that they love, is a spirit animal and thus a prophet of change.

They believe she is drawing good people to the Bishop Maginn Amazon Graduation Wish List, which is almost sold out as I write this. If people wish to contribute, they might do well to do it tonight.

I am starting to believe in Zinnia’s special powers myself.

The students, mostly refugees from Asia and Africa,  have chosen her as their mascot and spokesperson. There is much love between Zinnia and these students.

She is so happy to go there, they are so happy to see her.

This is what I hoped and dreamed of when I got Zinnia, it just happened so much faster than I imagined.

She is a great spokesperson for this Wish List.

And for Bishop Maginn High School and its students.

The Army Of Good is one of the most extraordinary things to ever enter my life.

They simply never fail or turn away.

Bishop Maginn school officials thought we had left out most of the Wish List items, they were so shocked to see a handful at the end of the first day.

We launched the Wish List yesterday to help the seniors at Bishop Maginn get the things they want for their graduation but have never had. These are refugee families mostly, they have lost everything.

The list had a lot of funky and traditional small things, inexpensive things, but festive things, colorful things, cultural symbols.

Many of the seniors come from cultures that celebrate graduation with shawls, patches, stole’s and flowers

The Bishop Maginn students, mostly refugees, can’t afford those favors and festive symbols, their families have no money. Until now.

Yesterday, we put up 24 different items on the Wish List.  There is one item left as I write this.

The biggest item on the list was a Graduation Plain Golden Honor Stole with a trim – used all over  Asia –  and a Greentime Beauty And The Beast Romantic Rose in a Glass Dome with LED Light Wooden Base For the Prom (table centerpiece.)

We have purchased all 40 of the Honor Stoles ($14.99 each) shortly before 9 pm. The refugee seniors from Asia said this meant the world to them.

There is one item left on the list,  2 of the eight  Romantic Roses, they cost $15.99 apiece. Just $31.98 left to sell out the Wish List.

I think we will do that very soon. I can’t thank you all enough, and the students thank you a lot more than I can.

They are overjoyed, I am told. Me too.

After darkness, light.

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