22 November 2017

SOS From Ali: A Rescue Meeting For A Soccer Tournament

By: Jon Katz

SOS From Ali

Just after noon Wednesday, I got a text from my friend Ali (Amjad Abdulla), coach of the RISSE soccer team and a good friend. It was an SOS.

"Hey Jon, they are doing a small tournament at Afrim's Sports  (near Albany) for Thanksgiving, it will be a great experience for the kids because they haven't played a game in a while and it cost $285 for the team to play. Do you think there is anyway you can help us with that…and I'm so sorry, I know we been asking for a lot, but you are our guy, we have no other choice…"

I am always in awe of Ali's dedication to his kids, to the soccer team, almost all refugees.  How could anyone decline a message like that?

He never stops thinking of these kids, he drives them around seven days a week, watches over them, teaches them how to behave. And they behave  beautifully, they are great people.

Ali is a godsend to them. He tells the boys he loves America, and this time is a temporary time, and they will see the true heart and soul of America again.

He is like a father to many, there are a lot of single parent families in the group. When I got his message,  I was heading over to the Mansion to teach my poetry class.

I called Ali back. We had to do some brainstorming.  No bank would be open in the morning, we had to figure it out right away. I asked him when he needed the money, and he said today, the  deadline for registering is the morning, when the tournament starts. And they only took cash.

"How am I supposed to get this money to you, Ali?," I asked. He had no idea. His bank has no branch near me. We went back and forth and I proposed meeting him halfway between Albany and my town, Cambridge.

It was about a half-hour ride for each of us. It was a rainy and gloomy day, but Ali always has a smile on his face. It is always good to see him.

I love the big heart of this man (thanks to the restaurant owner in Albany who recognized him from the blog and refused to take his money for dinner.) It is a gift to be able to help.

After his call,  I left the workshop early and drove to Schaghticoke and I was only there for five minutes before the familiar white van cruised into the parking lot. We hugged and I gave Ali the check. I made him pose in front of the diesel gas pump at Stewart's, I liked the price screen in the background.

Ali is my brother and I am proud to be his emergency go-to guy for the soccer team, that is a promotion. After all, they chose to name themselves the "Bedlam Farm Warriors," over my objection.

I understand the importance of this tournament. It's getting cold and Ali is looking to rent some space in an indoor soccer arena for the winter, like the wealthy suburban teams do, he is checking out the cost. This will enable the team to practice all winter and stay off the streets, and keep their very close community together. It will also keep them in shape when the Spring games begin.

I plan to try to help him. I feel this is an important message about the real America, the one I love. These young people are no threat to us, they belong here and have suffered enough in their lives.

I wish I was rich, I'd send them all to Disney World.) I did have the $285, thanks to the Army of Good.

Ali told me his mother is coming from Egypt for a visit in a few weeks and the first thing she wants to see in America is Bedlam Farm. She is quite welcome here. Ali is my brother from a different mother, as my pal Ed Gulley likes to say.

When I first put his photo up on the blog, Ali sent his mother a link and she panicked, calling him up and asking if he needed a lawyer, she couldn't imagine why his photo would be on the Internet from America, and she didn't think the possibilities were good.

She's gotten used to it, and she wants to cook for me and Maria at Ali's house when she comes. That would be delightful.


Again, thanks for your support. You made this possible. If you wish to help these children and support my Children's Refugee Fund, you can send a check to Jon Katz, Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected]  Small donations are very welcome. Please mark payments "for refugees."


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All In The Family: Robin’s Thanksgiving

By: Jon Katz

Robin's Thanksgiving

Almost everyone in my family has an Apple computer and is a writer or an artist. Robin is following in our footsteps.

She is already typing words onto Emma's new MacBook Pro.

This Thanksgiving, she is  walking, talking, smiling and laughing. She seems a genial and curious soul, Emma called on Facetime and Robin loved watching Gus leap up and shower me with kisses.

She said "hi" to him, not quite to me It's time for me to see her, but it may have to wait until January. New York City is a madhouse this time of year and trains and accommodations are complex. Emma might be off for a week at Christmas and may come up for a couple of days.
That would be sweet.

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A Poem From The Mansion: “What Is Getting Older About?”

By: Jon Katz

What Getting Older Is All About?

A month ago, Mansion Activities Director Julie Smith and I began a poetry workshop for Mansion Residents. The participants range from six to ten in number, and we meet every couple of weeks.

The last topic we chose was "getting older," and who better to talk about it that these eager and opinionated students, who range in age from their late 70's to mid 90's? They answered questions verbally and shared their thoughts,  I took notes and collected their thoughts into a single poem.

I tried to respect the original language and phrasing.

I did some editing, but the words and thoughts are theirs. I hope to collect the Mansion poems and have them printed and sold in a pamphlet. The workshop will continue for as long as the residents wish. Red always comes.

What Is Getting Older About? The Mansion residents.

Getting older is so many things, Our lives are so different.

Getting older is about being lucky and plucky.

Being lonely, being afraid.

Having courage,  staying alert, staying healthy.

Losing friends and dogs,  and cats and husbands and wives.

About leaving your home, and having your home leave you.

About being alive, opening your eyes.

About finding safety, living some someone who cares.

About not being forgotten.

About knowing you are never going to be what you were,

You can't look back, you can't do that.

Being older is sometimes about telling people to stop

telling us what we can't do.

Rather than what we want to do.

It's about being helped, and missing others.

It's not the same as having your own home, you always miss your own home,

your curtains, and kitchen, your own things, your own dog and cats,

you always miss the animals,

every day.

You always miss the people who shared your life.

About never forgetting, and not looking back,

all at the same time.

It's about being wiser, and learning,

what it means to love.

It's about not being hungry,

and having help, someone to do the laundry.

And cook good food, and come if you fall. Or call.

If you belong to good, everything is good. Shiny as a golden coin.

Even if you are a pest, I'll take you along with the rest.

Being older is about talking with each other

listening to each other.

We are not lonely now, we are all in the same place.

We do feel forgotten sometimes, the world flies bye,

and doesn't think about us You have to live your life,

it's like being born,

all over again.

Getting older is about helping each other, we are all lonely sometimes.

You have to be lucky and plucky.

Being old is not like anything else.

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Gratitude Week

By: Jon Katz

Gratitude Week: Gus And Fate.

I love modernity and change, but I do not love the corruption of Thanksgiving by greedy American capitalists and their gullible followers. Tomorrow, Maria and I will not be at a mall looking for bargains, we're heading to Brattleboro to spend the day there, and stay one night in a funky old hotel, very much a work in progress and charming for that.

If we are lucky, we might catch a movie. We have reservations for a Thanksgiving meal in a local restaurant, I'm bringing my new biography of Henry David Thoreau and am very excited to read it.

I've converted this holiday to what I call Gratitude Week, every day I recount the many gifts in my life:

I am grateful for the boundless and deep love for and from Maria, who has brought me in from the darkness and the cold. I am grateful that we found each other, every minute of every day. She is my light and my salvation. You can find love at any point if you are open to it.

I am grateful for my daughter Emma, my granddaughter Robin, my sister Jane, the remainders of my family. I am lucky to have them all in my life.

I am grateful for my books, I just finished my 27th – Gus And the Small And Big Lessons Of Bedlam Farm – and sent it off to my publisher. I love writing books.

I am grateful for my blog, now in its tenth year. It is the very soul of my creative live, and I am lucky to have work that does not ever feel like work. I am committed to my blog, it is my living memoir.

I am grateful to the many people who have followed me, supported me, tolerated me, survived me and made my dream come true – to be a writer every day of my working life.

I am grateful for my photography, which has helped me to see the world anew. Every day of my life.

I am grateful for the animals here, Lulu and Fanny, Red, Fate and Gus. They give dimension and love to all of the parts of my life.

I am especially grateful to Red, who has brought me into therapy work with so much love and grace. And to Fate, who has taught me acceptance and patience, and to Gus, who has reminded me that big spirits can live in the smallest body.

I give thanks to Robbin Gibbons for breeding such a wonderful creature and selling him to us.

I am even grateful to the sheep, dumb as they are.

I am very grateful for my farm, my Mother on this earth, she has taught me so much about life.

I am grateful to the Mansion for permitting me to come  in and take photos and write about life among the elderly in America, what a gift for me. And grateful to know the staff and residents, I love them dearly. I am grateful for RISSE and the refugees and immigrants I have met. I look forward to getting to know them better.

I am grateful to my friends, who are always there for me and accept me and all of my foolishness. I think every day of Scott and his hard work and big heart, and the Gulleys and their farm. I wish him a restful and peaceful year, and a profitable one as well.

I am grateful for my country, especially in this time of division and conflict.

I am indebted forever to the Army Of Good, we have forged a path to mercy and compassion that is sustained so many of us during these difficult days. It is better to do good that argue about what good is. We will get through this together.

Thank you for your support.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the brave women who are standing up to tell their stories on behalf of all of us. I am grateful for the men who are listening, myself included.

Above all, I am grateful for my life, and for my rebirth, and for  my real teachers – Campbell, Merton, Augustine, Berry, Arendt, Thoreau, the true Jesus, and others. They have shaped and guided me.

I suppose the list is quite a bit longer if I thought about it, but this is good enough for now. I am the luckiest man on the earth, everyone has it worse than I do. I am grateful for every minute of every hour of my life.

I hope the same is true to you.

We leave tomorrow at noon. Today I will be running the Mansion Poetry Workshop, we are making some beautiful music. When I get back I will share a poem with you.

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Portrait, Kenneth

By: Jon Katz


Kenneth is new to the Mansion, he is Ruth's husband. They are now the only husband and wife couple at the Mansion. Kenneth has great character in his face, as does Ruth. They love to be photographed, I will love photographing them.

I used to shy away from photographing the elderly, but that  was so wrong. Their faces are filled with character and feeling.

You can write to Kenneth at Ruth c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Avenue, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. Poetry workship today.

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