24 October 2014

Recovery Journal: Red And Carol. “You Are A Farmer, Jon.”

By: Jon Katz
Carol and Red

Carol and Red

I suppose it can be a lonely and disconnecting thing to have major surgery, I am in a community of sorts, of disparate people, most of them quite unlike me, yet there is a deepening sense of community about us, we root for one another, share the good and bad news of our healing, and of our lives. I have become friends with Carol, the wife of a farmer, they have a small family farm, she had her heart surgery a couple of months before me and we both approach it in much the same way, without much dread or "negativity," as Carol puts it. She has read some of my books, we talk animal talk – she has an imperious goat named Sadie, unruly roosters and hens, cows, six dogs.

She paid me a high compliment today, she finished reading "Saving Simon" and she said "you are a farmer, Jon, I know you say you are not, but you are." I was surprised – she is a very real farmer, along with her husband Ed – and I asked her what she meant.

"You have learned when to let go and not to let go," she said, and I realized she was talking about animals, not about crops. Farmers taught me that, there is no such thing as a no-kill farm, farms are not rescue facilities or zoos. Carol told me about a rooster she loved who suddenly and for no reason attacked her and her grandson, a farmer's grandchild, said, "grandma, why don't you just eat him?" I just can't she told him, so she gave him to her son who has a fenced-in chicken area.

Farmers learn to let go when they have to let go, their survival depends on it, so does almost any farm.

Carol got some good medical news today, she might have gotten some very bad news and we were all worried about it. I called her this morning at home and she had just gotten the good news, and I brought some non-heart healthy cookies over from the Round House to celebrate. Carol is advising me on my play, "Discarded Men: The Last Days Of A Dairy Farm," she says she will come if it is performed at Hubbard Hall in January.

I was pleased by Carol's compliment, but I am not, of course, a farmer, I have never claimed to be one, I could not survive one week as a farmer, I am a writer with a farm, and there is a big difference. Carol's rehab is very different from mine, she often comes to rehab fresh off a tractor where she has been all day cutting down corn stalks and mashing them up for sileage.

There was a palpable relief in cardiac rehab, there is a closeness that comes from surgery and recovery, we understand each other in a very powerful and particular way. I suppose there is a loneliness to recovering from open heart surgery, I am not yet really sure how to talk about it or if to talk about it. In cardiac rehab, I don' really have to.

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Red At The Gate, Waiting To Work

By: Jon Katz
Red At The Gate: Ready To Work

Red At The Gate: Ready To Work

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Poem: Winter Is A Big Deal Here

By: Jon Katz
Morning Walk

Morning Walk

Winter Is A Big Deal Here

Winter is a big deal here,

it comes in bits and pieces,

autumn is hanging on,

the colors fading in one

last and defiant cry.

The winter comes to kiss

the Fall, to say goodbye,

Autumn lingers, dawdles,

hangs around.

Winter is a big deal here,

it creeps in slowly,

the trees are bare,

the leaves turning brown,

the nights cold,

the mornings dark,

the dry wood popping

in the stove.

The animals at the feeder,

inside the Pole Barn.

Winter is a big deal,

scary and beautiful.

 

 

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23 October 2014

Fall Carpet

By: Jon Katz
Fall Carpet

Fall Carpet

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Tai Chi Journal, First Day: The Path To Awakening

By: Jon Katz
The Path To Enlightenment

The Path To Awakening

I have been on a spiritual path, a path to awakening, for much of my life, especially the past two decades. I am grateful for my hero journey into the spiritual world, it has saved my life. I have also been disappointed by some of the false promises offered by the booming universe of spiritual healing to people in need, in particular the suggestion that there are simple, often ancient remedies to cure illness, bring happiness and wealth, make us secure.

The idea that if we think only positive thoughts, the things we wish for will be drawn to us, we will attract what we need. If we plant statues and shrines on our lawns – or talk to our homes – our  houses will sell. If we take this tonic or weed, or meditate, or take certain kind of yoga our diabetes can be cured, our hearts will heal, we will live long and happy lives.

I have watched our deepening fascination with Asian culture, and the persistent believe that the Chinese and Japanese possess ancient secrets and wisdom that can transform our bodies and our lives if only we will submit to them. My spiritual work has been long and hard and difficult and gritty, no magic lotions or ancient practices have helped me conquer the fear that crippled me for so long, or cured my diabetes, or healed my broken heart. That took many difficult hours of therapy, and yes,  spiritual counseling, prayer, meditation. I look out at the Asian world, and I do not see the peace and health and contentment that persuades me that culture has so many more answers than ours.

Nothing helped my diabetes more than a tough nurse-practioner, many nutrition lessons and rigorous monitoring of my blood. Nothing has helped my heart more than miles and miles of walking, sweating, moving and the hard and good work of rehabilitation. It is difficult for me to navigate between these two worlds – the secular and traditional and the spiritual, they exist not in harmony but in conflict with one another, there are places where they collide, many more where they diverge, I am constantly being asked to choose between one and the other, and forced to do so, for my very survival.

This dichotomy has been heightened by my marriage to Maria, a passionate spiritualist, a practitioner of yoga, a meditator and dancer,  lover of the natural world, of dirt and rocks, of  animal spirits, a student of spirituality in all of its forms. She is convincing, she is persuasive. We are close, she has drawn me closer to this world.  But we are each on our own separate paths, we are not one thing, we will each get there in our own way. I am committed to awakening, to a spiritual life. I almost lost my life in oblivion and disconnection, I will not go back there.

I can say this, there is no simple way of thinking, no tonic or remedy, no ancient practice of movement that alone brings awakening, it is scut work, long and hard and relentless. It is clear to me that I will never complete this journey, I will only stay on the path and work every day to give my life meaning, to learn the true nature of compassion and generosity of spirit. I am a long way off. I hope Tai Chi will help me get there, I trust Scott and he says it will.

My good friend Scott Carrino is a Tai Chi Master Instructor, we have embarked on good work together, the teaching of writing, the teaching of Tai Chi. Yesterday, I began my first real lessons, Scott showed me three exercises to begin my Tai Chi work, all three designed to increase mobility and center me, to connect my heart to the world around me. Today was a good day to begin, cloudy, angry, rainy and windy skies. I love this weather.

Scott suggested I practice Tai Chi in my study, before working. I did, Red and Lenore at my feet. I turned back and forth, lifted my arms, relaxed my body and my legs. It felt strange, awkward, I was impatient to get to work, to write. I felt resistance to this new thing, more instructions, more movements, another chore amidst all of the responsibility and detritus of recovery. But I did it, and I will do it again tomorrow, and the day after. It will take more than one day. I want to see where it goes, I want to open up to it.

I see there are issues related to aging as well. I am walking more stiffly, perhaps more tentatively. People are beginning to open doors for me, offer to carry things I have always carried and can carry now. I have always lived a life of the mind, I am ready, I think, to life a life of the mind and the body. My open heart surgery has given me rebirth, my body is moving in new ways, I am feeling clearer and stronger than I have in so many years.

This may be the gateway for me to accept Tai Chi and understand it, to connect my body and mind in a new awakening. I am anxious to pursue this, also to share it with you, as I have shared my recovery. And this Tai Chi is, I think,  a part of recovery, my heart has been returned to me, my body as well.

I see Tai Chi as a way for me to introduce the two to one another, a coming together of spirit and body in a different kind of soul. I have reached no conclusions, made no judgements. I am open to new experience, crisis and mystery is just around the corner, always.

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