Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

16 March

The Hen Who Isn’t Going To Brooklyn

by Jon Katz

I am heading to Brooklyn tomorrow – Sunday morning – to make my two-day pilgrimage to the Sacred Temple Of Grandparenting where Grandfathers and Grandmothers expected to go in a shower of rapturous, over-the-top love and joy.

How interesting it will be to come face to face with this new person in my life, who has been on the earth for two years, but has only seen me  a few times. I am told that nature will take its course, and I suspect that is true.

Emma says she is a lot like her, God help her, but I wonder why, if this is so, that Emma was not exactly wild about my own willful self.

I come with several boxes of good stuff – a guitar, DVD player, books and DVD’s that I think may grease the wheels a bit.

I am taking her and her mother to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and I will meet the reportedly affable new dog, Sandy, a Kentucky Cur that Emma still claims is mostly a Lab. How strange to see a museum without Maria.

I’ll bring back some Frida memorabilia, which will undoubtedly piss her off.

I will try not to annoy anybody while I am there, mostly by keeping my mouth shut and adoring this adorable child. But the hen, originally purchased for Robin, is gracing the head stand on my bed, where she is staying. I’m keeping her.

And I feel no guilt whatsoever. Robin has an apartment full of stuff, and I’m adding three shipped boxes to the pile.

I don’t have a name for her yet – I’m thinking Gertie – and would welcome any suggestions anybody out there has.

When all is said and done, I’m excited about the trip. I wish Maria was coming with me, but I always wish Maria was coming with me. It’s good to be apart once in a while, makes me appreciate her all the more.

But I need a name for the hen. Gertie is just one idea, she looks like a Gertie to me, but I’m open to other ideas.

16 March

Mary’s Hard Journey: Embrace And Practice Change

by Jon Katz

There are all kinds of messages for me every day of the year, they are invariably fascinating.

They are  sometimes uplifting, sometimes, disturbing, sometimes extremely helpful. The messages I love are much like the ones Jeanne Blue send me yesterday when I wrote about our visit to our friend Mary Kellogg, who is 88 now, in an adult home 30 miles from the farm.

They are just wise.

Mary sorely misses her farm, she left in ambulance months ago when she fell down, and has not been back. It is not clear, give her health and confusion right now, if she should see it again or not. I can’t really know the answer to that.

A lot of people responded to this post, and I was moved by how many cared about Mary and were upset that she hadn’t been back to see her farm, where she lived alone for 30 years after the death of her husband Dick, and where she wrote her beautiful poems..

“Why on earth can’t she be taken now to her farm?,” asked Ruth. “And if not now, when? What criteria need be met? Do they not understand time is running out and there may not be a ‘better’ time. I am so sorry to read this though I don’t know the details, it seems heaven and earth should be moved to make it happen.”

I got several concerned messages like that, and I wanted to tell them that all that Ruth was right, the answer is in the details, and if we don’t know them – I don’t know them  – then none of us can judge from a distance what Mary should or shouldn’t do.

Heaven and earth don’t ask my advice, as a rule.

I feel so badly for her very loving family, it falls upon them – at Mary’s request – to make these difficult decisions, and I know how much they care about Mary, I can’t imagine knowing what they should do or telling them. If they think it’s a good idea for Mary to see her farm and Maria and I would be happy to take her back, and I know they would also.

But that depends on the details, and there are many to consider, and none of them are visible to us.

These were messages of our times, impatient, angry and demanding. I wonder if sometimes social media has destroyed our ability to listen and consider. We are so quick to judge, we are so reluctant to listen. We live and write in grievance.

That’s what I loved about Jeanne Blue’s lesson, it was thoughtful, empathetic and helpful. It didn’t presume to know, it made no assumptions, Jeanne was simply sharing some wisdom that was very helpful for me to hear. In a few considered words, she really said it all.

“In 30 years of working with seniors the largest truth I have learned is that the people who have had the least amount of change in their lives have the greatest difficulty coping with aging… Embrace and practice change. It is the one thing we can all count on.”

This is such a wise and useful message for me, for everyone, for Mary too.  It is also what my life is about, embracing and accepting and practicing change.

Talking to Mary yesterday, listening to her, I thought things I didn’t say, she was not in a frame of mind to hear them, and it was not my place to say them. She kept looking at me for guidance, wanting to know what Maria and I thought, but I didn’t tell her, it just didn’t feel right. This is not a decision for me to make.

But this is what I was thinking:

I kept thinking of Paul Tillich, who wrote “it is our destiny and the destiny of everything in our world that we must come to an end. Every end that we experience in nature and mankind speaks to us with a loud voice; you also will come to an end.”

Mary’s life on the farm had come to an end. I might have said this:

“You had such a wonderful for 87 years Mary, you told me you loved every minute of it. You were always surrounded by a cloud of love, your husband Dick, your children, your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, your friends, your beautiful farm,  your birds, cats, squirrels, wildflowers, garden, your deer, your books. So many treasures of the heart. Towards the end of a life, you fulfilled your dream to be a published poet, and brought your beautiful poetry out into the world.

I am sad about where you are right now, but I celebrate your life. Where you are is nobody’s fault, it is just life. You are where everyone of us will be, if we live as long as you, and it will be no simpler for us than it will be for you. There is no changing it, turning back the clock, giving back your clarity, mobility, health and strength. The dead cannot return to you, neither can the fierce clarity of your mind. And yes, it is sad, it is a shame.”

Jeanne is so right, she is really talking about my cornerstone faith: accepting and embracing and practicing change.

I believe if I continue to work on this now, perhaps I can accept the harder realities of my life when they get to me.

I have a good friend who simply does not know herself, and runs away from taking responsibility for her life and her choices.  It is always the fault of someone else, nobody else gets it right, life is unfair. She is learning now and will continue to learn the hard lesson that Jeanne already knows and I am beginning to understand.

Everything anyone says about me is true, to them, if no one else. That’s why I need to listen, and not always know.

If we were living totally within time, we would not be able to elevate ourselves to the eternal in prayer, meditation, honesty and thought.  We could not ask the question of the meaning of time.

It’s nobody’s fault, Ruth, that Mary may not ever see her farm again. It’s just life.

16 March

Friends

by Jon Katz

Bud and Red are wonderful friends to one another. Bud adores Red and watches out for him, Red completely accepts Bud’s affection and the two of them are often napping and resting next to one another.

This is the strongest animal friendship I have witnessed on the farm, with the exception of Lulu and Fanny. These relationships have a beauty and mystery all of their own, they touch and inspirer me. Bud has every reason to be a wary and careful dog, he has a great big heart and generous spirit.

Just like Red. Perhaps this is the bond that ties them so closely.

15 March

Getting Ready For Brooklyn: Grandfathering

by Jon Katz

Sunday, I’m heading for Brooklyn for two days to do some overdue Grandfathering, a new and curious role for me. Lots of people have great certainty about Grandparenting, not me.

I’m looking forward to it, I think it will fun and fulfilling, and I’ve brought some good stuff with me – a kid’s guitar, a DVD player, some books and DVD’s. Also a stuffed owl.

I won’t be blogging from there, I want to concentrate on what I’m doing, but I’ll be back homeTuesday afternoon. I’ll be taking pictures.

I do NOT wish to be one of those grandfathers who show up with tons of presents and overwhelm everybody. I’ve thought about these books, they are creative tools for a creative two-year-old.

What I know about Robin is mostly from photos and videos that Emma has been diligent and thoughtful enough to send me. Emma wants me to get to know Robin, she thinks we are good match.

I know that Robin is smart, that she has a sense of humor, a strong will, and a ready smile. And yes, she is cute, as I imagine all grandchildren are to their grandparents.  I know that she can also be defiant and challenging. Much like her mother.

The last time we saw one another, which was months ago, Robin and I definitely clicked, we each sparked the devil in the other.

I’ll also get to meet Sandy, the new dog, I hear she is sweet and lively.

I went online tonight and got three tickets to the Frida Kahlo Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum for Monday,  I got some of the last few available. Almost the entire day is sold out.

Robin will join Emma and me. I wish Maria could be with us, as she is a great admirer of Kahlo’s, but she and I will see the show when it tours, which will be soon.

Maria isn’t coming to Brooklyn with me, she’s watching the farm and has a lot of work she wants to do.

I will miss her, we have rarely been apart the past eight or nine years.  We each have our own lives, and that’s important and  healthy. It’s time to spend some time with Emma, and with Robin. Emma and Jay are wonderful parents, and I have an apartment to stay in right in their building.

I’ll be taking the train down Sunday morning, coming back Tuesday. I’m bringing music and two books, and my black and white monochrome camera.  Brooklyn is perfect for black and white. I think I’ll bring the 50 mm lens, or maybe a portrait lens.

I got a new blue duffel bag from L.L. Bean to travel with. I’m ready.

15 March

Visiting Mary Kellogg. To Be Honest, It Was Sad

by Jon Katz

I remember sitting on my porch at the first Bedlam Farm with Mary Kellogg in 2006. I had just met her and we became fast friends – one of the few friends from them I have kept and cherished.

Mary came over to honor me by showing me the first poems she had ever written, she started writing poetry when she was eleven and hid this from everyone in her life, including her beloved husband Dick, because she thought people would think her strange.

She had heard that poets were strange.

I loved her poems, I showed them to my then friend Maria and we decided that no matter what, we would get them published. We did, and four other volumes of poetry as well.

Mary was always an inspiration to me. Her husband had died much earlier of Alzheimer’s Disease – she cared for him for 10 years, he never spent a night away from home.

Mary lived on their very remote 30 acre farm for more than 30 years, she loved every bit of the farmhouse, and every wildflower and bird and deer that came by or grew near.

She relished the life of the poet, and was happiest sitting up in her room writing about the life of a farm, the challenges of aging, the value of independence. Everyone in her life wondered why she stayed alone on that farm, but I knew. Mary didn’t just talk about what it meant to be an independent woman, she lived it.

Every year including last year, Mary came to our Open House and read her poems.  She so cherished her time as a published poet.

She stayed in that farm – often without electricity and running water, lightning loved that hill – until she fell down suddenly and broke her hip last fall. Her family moved her to a rehab center and then to an adult care center. Her hip has healed, but she struggles with memory loss and confusion.

Most days she understands that she can no longer live on that farm, but she wishes she could go back once to see it. The people who care for Mary are not sure that would be a good idea right now, but if and when they approve, Maria and I will be happy to take her there.

Her family is loving and dedicated to her, I trust them completely to make the right decisions for her, decisions she knows she can no longer really make.

I would so love to take her back to the farm for at least one more look, But I am not the best one to make that decision. If I can, I will.

She was so glad to see us she cried, the first time we have ever seen her shed a tear.

We spent many evenings on that farm, walked with Mary in the woods, saw the wildflowers she loved, praised her wonderful garden.

Mary is sad, she misses her farm every minute, she understands it is no longer possible for her to live there, she says she is more confused every day and is fighting to contain it. She has a loving family, some of whom live nearby now, and who visit her often. The home she is in is an excellent place – the staff is loving and attentive, she loves the food, and she has everything she needs.

That is, everything but her life back. Aging is difficult, especially in a culture that keeps people alive well beyond their ability to care for themselves, and then leaves them to their fate.

So Mary was sad, and we were sad. The most independent human being we ever met is dependent, and her dilemma – the drama of so many older people – is that she has forgotten much and remembers much.

Mary had a wonderful life, she is 88 years old and still has a lot of memories to cherish. Including the day we sat together on my porch and I read her poems. That changed both of our lives.

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