I spoke with a good friend last week….Terri.an Editor of two rural newspapers.
A great friend that was my backbone through the hardest transition in my life (Moving to Boston and making it my home). I am honored to have also known her as a bookseller. In fact, it’s where we met. She was in college working part-time to get a degree.
It was a great conversation, and it made me start thinking.
Newspapers of rural areas have a huge responsibility with limited resources, not unlike the position we are in right now as an organization just getting on its feet.
There is one thing that all purveyors of the written word understand utterly and completely… that a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a book, a blog, an editorial, all serve the seller to one purpose: To make the intangible, an idea or a thought, into a tangible thing, that exists in paper or digital form. The reader who buys the book or magazine absorbs mere words and intangibly changes. I believe that these shared thoughts are how we evolve as individuals. If I’m wrong, books are wood pulp and dried ink, blogs on computers are meaningless pixels, and we are not having this conversation.
History shows us time and again only people that fear the words of books are those that fear the idea they carry.
The value of the idea, to the reader, is the core of EVERY tale to be told. Words are precise tools that are used to convey them from one thinking mind to another.
For booksellers… true ones, that are respected and admired, finding a book which represents a thought, and placing it in the hands of a person they believe values this thought enough to pay is where the rubber hits the road, because freedom of thought requires freedom of choices.
Booksellers are the door men of thoughts, and shuffling them around, placing them with like-minded thoughts, without prejudice or judgement, is what you see a bookseller doing as he walks with brow furrowed, book in hand, looking to find its home. ( assuming there is no PDT handy at the time).
Long before there were internet clouds, there were bookstore clouds… categories and areas where thoughts in books most obviously associated with each other are placed near each other. That interpretive value of a bookseller is what separates him or her from a pile of books at a bargain store or Wally world.
With that in mind, the Idea of Katey’s keep is simple yet so hard to categorize: To spare the terminally ill, the disabled, the sick children, and the elderly from having to choose between feeding and caring for themselves or their pet. That’s a great idea that I think most people would agree with. But how to go about doing it? What is the value of that idea? How does that idea express itself in today’s world?
As we are in the process of legally incorporating, which could take several more months, and it has been my job, and that of our Co -Director, Germano’s job, to create a social network of people who not only know others who need our help, but evaluate the best way that can happen, while finding those that are willing to give help financially. We have office space donated for six months, Computer donated, and have a modest ( and I do mean modest) savings account that you can donate to via paypal, and most importantly, we have found tremendous need for assistance from those we seek to help.
Too many times, as a man with health issues, I have walked into an organization.. “we care” Inc., and have seen dozens of employees being paid wonderful salaries in very nice offices, but very few of the people they profess to help anywhere in sight. Often they treat you poorly, and set unrealistic goals.
That crazy first crazy year of spending every penny I had to my name on getting the best doctors and paying for my things to be stored in New Orleans and moved to Boston while I had only my faithful Katey by my side was transformative. In one year, all that I had worked to accomplish, to have, was liquidated.
I went to a non-profit that is set up to help terminally ill people, for help getting the deposit for a place to rent. It is one of the primary reasons they exist. I had to meet with three people on four days and was told that they would need my landlords tax records for the previous two years before they could pay half of the deposit. Simply put.. they wasted my time until I went away.
That is the indignity of being sick and needing help. You are thought of poorly if you DO ask, and you are thought of poorly if you do not. It occurred to me that their annual walk-a-thon fundraiser, probably only brings in the salaries of five or six of their higher ranking employees.
Katey’s Keep can never be that, or the idea… the essence of what it really is, will die.
The seed that would become THAT thought came the day I received a copy of a letter my doctor sent to the inner courts of social security. I was called to attend a hearing when I became disabled, and how much they wanted to give me for that period. Although the letter was lengthy there is one sentence, one thought, expressed that I will never forget. This was my most transformative moment as a human being…. The words of my primary care physician, a Harvard Doctor, researcher, and one of the best in his field, written in cold precise terms. Just one sentence changed everything.
“Mr George has a fatal illness and in my judgement will not survive and cannot be transported for medical reasons.”
I remember thinking… how odd. Up until now everyone had used the more socially acceptable term, Terminally Ill. Kind of sounds like you’re waiting on a platform somewhere, doesn’t it?
“Mr George, please report to the end Terminal.” is the feel you sort of get from that one. Just travelin through… nobody get up. no emergency.
now…. I am the guy that always has to go back to make sure the door is locked and the coffee pot is off. Departing stage left is not a greatest talent of mine, nor an idea on the top of my agenda just yet.
What makes all of this mean something?
I sat on my bed that night after reading that one sentence, and hugged Katey. I apologized to her for taking her half way across the country only to be stranded as I died and I cried for the first time after being diagnosed as “fatally Ill”. It was the first truly unselfish thing I had ever done in my life. I thought of who I was going to leave behind more than what would become of me.
What I would leave behind.
I made a promise to Katey that night that no matter what, I would not die until I she left this world before me. It was a completely irrational thought… magical thinking.
Here I am and here WE ARE.
Katey is ten years old and well into her senior years, and in that decade, much has changed. The cajun “laisses le bon temps rouler” attitude became replaced by a more stoic reserved Yankee altruism. Everything I think, do, act upon has an entirely different contextual meaning against the backdrop of my unavoidable mortality. It’s not as if anyone had ever told me that I was going to live forever.
Since? My life has been filled with people I would never have imagined meeting, much less develop such close friendships with, and I am a better man for that. The antics of my youth and the choices I made in my life, all of them, good and bad, became tools and wisdom instead of obstacles and anchors. Becoming a Proud Bostonian has been a task unto itself these years.
Katey is in her twilight years, yet her keep still inspires me to pass on the peace, dignity and clarity that she brought me about what is truly important.
The depth of the eternal now, when she lays her head in my lap as autumn leaves fall and softly sighs contentedly, calms my fears and rests my soul. It always will. I can’t promise you that She and I will live long lives, or much longer, but neither can you say that of yourself.
In the meantime, I will live in the eternal now of good old Yankee common sense.
For a decade, my desire to be there for her gave me the will to live, to exist and to function in the world. Now its time to make sure that other dogs are there for their human companions when they need them the most.
Sitting around and waiting to die is really just not my style.