I am what I am….

“I am what I am,
and that’s all that I am.”

Popeye

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(Popeye the sailor man)

I grew up watching, and loving, the old black and white cartoon exploits of Popeye the Sailor man–
That one eyed, pipe smoking, old salt of a sailor…
Along with his sidekick and girlfriend Olive Oyl, the antagonist, Bluto (later known as Brutus),
as well as little Swee’Pea, Wimpy, Poopdeck Pappy, the She Hag and Alice the Goon…
Popeye has been one of the longest running cartoon comic strips having made his debut in 1929.

Popeye was a bit of a rough neck yet was always the good guy.
Whenever he found himself in a jam or was having the living tar beat out of him by Brutus…
which always stemmed from some sort of fight over a girl, in this case the skinny and whinny Olive Oyl…
Popeye would always pull out, from nowhere, a miraculous can of spinach…
He’d bust open that can,
swallowing the contents whole,
then he would proceed to swell with muscles and superhuman strength…
all of which would allow him to beat the ever living slop out of Brutus…
or whomever was causing him woe.

Moms all over the country used that idea and image of Popeye eating spinach in order to get their kids to eat their spinach. And back in day, spinach came from the grocery store in a can…nothing like the healthy fresh stuff of today.

And as far as I was concerned, it worked…I’d eat my spinach every time…

Popeye was famous for mumbling and singing to himself but one of his more vocal and
enunciated phrases was
“I am what I am and that’s all that I am”

And out of the blue…this morning…that very expression…
came racing back…
out from the depths of a stored away childhood,
racing to the forefront of now…

“I am what I am and that is all that I am…”

Me…
yes…
simply me…
nothing more, nothing less.
Just me.
No spinach,
no bravado,
no pretense,
no falsehoods of expectations or promises…
for good and for bad…
just me.

Striped away of everything and anything that gives off some sort of “other than”
and false perception…
I am…
just me…

And given my life’s precariousness of these current days…
the fact that I am not super human, despite ingesting as much spinach as I can, I am…
simply…
me…
nothing more
and nothing less.

My dad loved seeing / reading Popeye in the “funnies”…
as he still calls the comic strip section of the daily newspaper to this day, the funnies…
as in funny papers….

It’s the fist section of the paper he pulls out.
No longer does he scour the front page with its gloom and doom…
nor the stock section with its constant state of ebb and flow….
Dad has always scoured over the comic section of the paper first and foremost.
Because he likes to, needs to, laugh.

Just as he has always gravitated to watching cartoons….
preferring, always, those cartoons from his day and time….
Popeye,
Dick Tracey,
Buck Rogers,
Little Orphan Annie
and Superman.

My dad has, for better or worse, always been a kid…
Which was great when I was a kid and when my son was a kid…
but not so great as I grew up and needed a “dad”…

That whole dad thing…responsibility, paying bills, working, caring for a lawn…
you know,
dad things…
none of those things were his cup of tea.

Oh don’t get me wrong,
he did it all, worked, cut grass, paid the bills….
but it was always obvious he hated it and would get out of it as much as possible—
which usually meant every weekend.
Sleeping away the day and doing as little as possible.
While my friends dads were all out and about…
I had to make excuses that my dad had worked all week really hard, so now he was tired.
I now know that it was just a matter of my dad being lazy….

And now, at 88, he’s wanting to get out of all this cancer business…
which I can’t say I much blame him—
because who in their right mind wants to deal with that devastating “c” word….
None of us,
that’s who!!!

I learned a while back that I had to accept dad for who he was / is…
and that’s a man who is simply more kid than adult,
as that meant I had to be more adult than kid…
not exactly fair, but no one ever said life was fair.

Yet during these coming days…
days that I know will only grow more weary and taxing…
for both dad and myself….
I’m thinking I might just need to stock up on some Popeye’s spinach…
because I’m going to need all the muscles I can get!!!!

God said to Moses,
“I AM WHO I AM”;
and He said,
“Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,
I AM has sent me to you.'”

Exodus 3:14

Do you know your roots?

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(the emerging roots of root bound paperwhite bulbs / Julie Cook / 2015)

My dad and his family can trace their roots to 13th century Scotland–that being on his dad’s side. His mother’s side documents their early start back to England and that fateful Mayflower couple Pricilla Mullins and John Alden—th wonderful stuff of legends and lore which makes for great stories.

It is however rather forlornly that I often find myself staring at the large copy xeroxed of this giant map-like family tree based on my dad’s family’s journey—always feeling a bit hesitant to claim my tiny branch. Being adopted I often think that there is another tree out there somewhere, in the black hole of my life, missing a tiny limb. . .that being me.

And then there is my mom’s family and their story, all of which is a bit more sketchy. She was of direct Scotch / Irish blood but that’s about all we know. We surmise both families made their way to the United States on the heels of the devastating An Gorta Mór, better known as the Irish potato famine of the mid 1800’s or even further back to the Bliain an Áir, the year of Slaughter which saw an equally devastating demise of the Irish population, due primarily to starvation, in the mid 1700’s.

Mother’s Irish mother, born at the start of new century in 1902, married her Scottish father in 1924. At some point he sadly took to drink and gambling, losing recklessly everything the couple had on that fateful day in 1929 when all the world simply seemed to crash. Eventually locked away to the confines of a TB sanatorium, he died sick, lost and alone in 1941. My grandmother, to my recollection, never spoke of him again. She was left to raise two young girls at the onset of both a global world war and devastating depression.

My grandmother, who forged seemingly emotionless ahead with her two daughters in tow, built both a successful business and comfortable life for her small family. She was never the warm and fuzzy type of grandmother but rather much more matter of fact, frugal and no nonsense. Given her circumstance, it isn’t surprising. Being both weary and cautious became two common threads woven into her fabric.

For whatever reason, she was very leery, or weary, of the Catholic Church as she was convinced that if John F. Kennedy became president, we were all in going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, as God forbid, a Catholic should be president. A bit irrational to say the least and as to where such irrationality originated, I haven’t a clue.

Yet I find it rather ironic, that to this day, there are many a Christian, even in the midst of this modern 21st century of ours, who are indeed equally weary or leery of both the Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Maybe it is because there are many Christians who are actually unfamiliar with the history, our history, of the one true “Church.” Maybe it’s because many Christians fail to remember that there was once but one single body, unlike the multitude of branches we see today splitting off from the once sturdy main trunk, much like a giant family tree.

A quick google search yields staggering numbers in regard to a concise listing of total Christian denominations. . .upwards of 35,000–give or take a couple of hundred depending on the source.
Rather amazing that in roughly 2000 years, approximately 35,000 branches have sprouted from one main trunk—but given the divisive nature of human beings, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.

When we say in our creed, or declaration of faith, that. . .”We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. . .” we are not saying that we believe in the Catholic church in Rome, as so many of the faithful erroneously believe, but rather we are declaring a belief in a global family–a global family tree containing many branches. The word catholic, with a little “c” is a latin word, catholicus, which comes from the Greek adjective καθολικός katholikos, meaning universal. So therefore in our creed we claim to believe in the one holy “universal” and apostolic church, not a church, faith, or denomination based in Rome, Italy.

The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in the one single trunk of Christianity splitting into two branches, each of the same faith–the Latin Church of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East. The splitting hasn’t appeared to slow down all these many years and branches later but to the contrary it seems to be spiraling, splitting and multiplying almost out of control.

Yet it is not my intent today to examine the divisions and differences of opinions within our Christian faith but rather I am merely making an observation about roots and branches as it were, and as to where one may find oneself on a proverbial family tree–be it the tree of one’s genealogy or of one’s spiritual family tree. And since I am adopted, which seems to throw a small monkey wrench into which branch and to which tree I am actually meant to belong, I am sweetly reminded that we are all adopted sons and daughters of Grace–so perhaps that means we are all members of the family tree of Grace and Salvation—which is actually a very welcoming and comforting thought indeed.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith
Galatians 3:26

I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

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(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away