living in before

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there,
wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

Edgar Allan Poe

“Some dreams are best not to wake up from.”
Hiroo Onoda


(before the beaver, there was a tree / on the shores of Mackinac Island, Lake Huorn /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Following the official unconditional surrender offered by the
Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijiro Umezu,
on behalf of the nation of Japan on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri…
a ceremony presided over by General Douglas MacArthur,
Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific…
life for a handful of soldiers remained unchanged…
their lives, duty and existence continued on as it had before the surrender.

For despite the war having been officially declared over, there remained a smattering
of Japanese soldiers hunkered down and holding on to various small
South Pacific islands…
soldiers, cut off from commanding units and or communication, all unaware
that their nation had surrendered let alone that the war was now
indeed officially over.

Hiroo Onoda was one such soldier.

Onoda had been trained as an intelligence officer…
specifically trained to gather intelligence in order to carry out and conduct
a guerrilla war against the enemy.
He, and a unit of men underneath his command, had been taken to Lubang Island
in the Philippines with direct orders.

On December 26th, 1944, Onoda was sent to Lubang Island in the Philippines.
His orders from his commanding officer, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, were simple:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand.
It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens,
we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier,
you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts.
If that’s the case, live on coconuts!
Under no circumstances are you [to] give up your life voluntarily.

Daven Hiskey
Feb 9, 2010
‘Today I Found Out’

Following the end of the war Onoda fought on for another 29 years …

Onoda had refused to believe the “propaganda” in the way of dropped leaflets,
villagers pleas or former fellow Japanese soldiers sent to tell Onoda the truth.
He refused to believe any of it but rather was convinced it was all a ploy
by the enemy to take control of the island.

Until 1975 when his former commanding officer,
now an old man working at a bookstore in Japan,
was brought to the island to convince Onoda of the truth.

Reluctantly, yet ever the solider, on March 10, 1975 at the age of 52 an emaciated
Hiroo Onoda put on his 30 plus year old dress uniform and marched
from his jungle hideout to present then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos
his samurai sword.

Over those 30 years Onoda’s small band of fellow soldiers had either
eventually surrendered or died…
but Onoda remained a loyal guerrilla fighter making life miserable for the local
islanders. The islanders did their best to convince Onoda that Japan had
surrendered and that the war was over. During the 30 years Onoda fought his single
war, 30 villagers were killed and 100’s of others were wounded by this
lone guerrilla fighter

The story in itself is fascinating as well as sad.

Yet Onoda’s story is not just a story of survival or of disbelief,
or of skewed conviction but rather his is a tale about living life
in the before verses the after.

There was a single event that had marked the end of the war…
However Onoda had not been privy to that event.
He had not witnessed the surrender.
He knew his Nation’s determination.
He did not actually hear with his own ears the words spoken by his leaders.
He had been given a single command, and until he heard a reversal command
from his commanding officer, he would do his duty and serve his nation to his
utmost ability.

Rarely is such conviction found in men.

I thought of this story yesterday following the news I received regarding
the death of my aunt. Whereas she had been sick and even worsening,
the death from cardiac arrest came suddenly and unexpectedly yet in hindsight,
most likely blessedly.

Had I not answered my phone yesterday morning….
in my small narrow world, my aunt would still be alive.
She would be living on in my perceived reality.

For had I not heard the word, had I not been informed of the factual event
I would have gone on as before…knowing she was sick, fighting cancer, hanging on…
but not having died….not just yet.

The life of living before or the life of living after.

Before is usually what we know, what we’ve come to expect and what we rest in.
After equates to new, different, unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

In all of this I think of Thomas, the doubter.
The one disciple who had not been with the others when a risen Jesus
had manifest himself to their broken hearts.

And as Thomas happened to be away from the group, still broken hearted,
still wounded of spirit, still grieving…
he refused to believe the fantastical and or miraculous offered by his friends.

“Not until I see with my own eyes, put my hands in his wounds…I will not believe.”

Oh how we are all so convinced by the acknowledgement of our senses.
Convicted by sense.

For Onoda, the war had actually been over for those 30 years he lived in a
remote jungle fighting a non-existent war.

For my aunt, she died at 12:40 yesterday afternoon had I or had I not
answered the phone.

Jesus rose with or without Thomas having been present to see, touch, hear, feel…..

But because Jesus knew that we would all be so much like Thomas—needing
to be convinced, He offered Thomas, who continues offering each of us
the acknowledgement….
“my Lord, my God….”

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them,
“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger
in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.
The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said,
“Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas,
“Put your finger here, and see my hands;
and put out your hand, and place it in my side;
do not be faithless, but believing.”
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him,
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

John 20:24-29

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2541104/Japanese-soldier-Hiroo-Onoda-refused-surrender-WWII-spent-29-years-jungle-died-aged-91.html

Blow out the candles

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
Voltaire

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(a very young, 4 year old “Dad” ready to blow out his candles / Julie Cook / 2015)

Long before there was 2015. . .
Before there was a 9/11
Before there was Homeland Security
Before there was ISIS
Before there was Israel
Before there was Pakistan
Before there was a USSR
Before there was the People’s Republic of China
Before the baby Baltic States
Before there was a Desert Storm
A Vietnam
A Korean conflict
Before there was a nuclear bomb
A World War II
Before there was transatlantic travel
Before there was the passing away of a brother
Before there was a remarriage
Before there was the passing away of a wife
Before there was the passing away of a mother
Before there was a grandson
Before there was a granddaughter-n-law
Before there was the passing away of a son
Before there was a son-n-law
Before there was the passing away of a father
Before there was a daughter
Before there was a marriage
Before there was college
Before there was high school
Before there was elementary school
Before there were computers
Before there were cell phones
Before there were portable phones
Before there was television
Before there were DVDs, CDs, HD
Before there was digital
Before there was color, when the world was black and white
Before there was the 21st century. . .
There was a 4 year old boy who sat down before his birthday cake and began to blow out the candles on that March 10, 1932. . .a day that was full of the wishes of the hopes and dreams that have now spun the past 87 years. . .
Happy Birthday Dad

“Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly” or The life of the little stuffed bear

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

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He didn’t always look this way.
At some point, very long ago, the stitching was still attached forming the mouth. There was a small bell in the right ear, the one that now has the hole, which tinkled each time he was moved. The neck was not so floppy as there was not the gapping tear. And of course there was the fuzzy fur.

I don’t know when he came into my life, or who had given him to me.
I don’t remember life before him because he was always present.
He just always was.
His name was / is Cubby. I suppose the name was intended officially as Cubby bear, but I simply recall “Cubby”

When do these sorts of things disappear from one’s life?
How is it that one day they are there, ever present, acting as the sentinel guard to one’s very being, then oddly, years of a lifetime pass-by without their ever vigilant presence–the keeper of one’s small soul, only being suddenly rediscovered, packed away in some musty old box buried amongst the debris of Life?
How is that?

And so it goes— my life with Dad which now slowly morphs into something else. Something other than. Something that was not what it is today. Something now odd, now strange, now challenging, now different.
The boxes which are now slowly being unearthed, as I work to clean out the house of what was–those boxes which have been entombed in the depths of a seemingly ancient basement and attic, all which contain the pieces of my life from back then.
“Back when?” you ask.
Back then, as in. . .my life before.
“Before what?” you ask.
Before I was who I am today.
Before I grew up to be 54.
Before I retired from the classroom.
Before I was a mom.
Before I was a wife.
Before my brother’s suicide.
Before Mother died from the cancer.
Before Dad had Alzheimer’s.
Before.

Before all of that, he was whole.
He had fur.
He was not torn, nor broken.
He was out living and not buried in a box.
He was ever present.
He was a constant in a life full of the flux of growth.

Each night as I readied for bed, Dad and I had a ritual. I’d climb in the bed and dad would be across the room over at the little baby doll’s bed which acted as the “day bed” for my menagerie of stuffed animals. I would call out a name and Dad would gingerly toss over the lucky recipient, of my heart’s desire, to my small waiting arms. The arms that would eagerly catch “a loved one” for the journey to dreams.
Cubby was always first.

I wonder if Dad remembers that?

There was the good night hug and kiss, the lights turned out as I nestled myself down into the covers and pillow with stuffed animals on either side acting as insulating protectorates as Cubby was held tight. Tiny girl prayers were said. “God bless, Mommy. God bless Daddy. God bless Humpty Dumpty (the other ever-present sentinel), God Bless Cubby. . .”

And so it went, or so it seemed, until one day, it all obviously changed and that person ceased being.

Life is funny that way. One day you’re a young person engulfed in the world of care and love—then poof, you’re now the one offering the care and love.

All of the “before” being long forgotten, that is until the box is found and opened.
Until the life that “was” is unearthed, resurfacing from the packed away Past.
Then, and only then, do the memories suddenly become the Present.
Time stands still.
It is no longer “now” but rather it is “then.”

The secrets told to the fuzzy little bear are magically recalled as instinctively you pull him close in your arms, holding tight to what was. The smell, his smell, it seems to linger. Is it real, or merely imagined?
He contains the countless tears of a little girl. They are all still there. He’s held them all, all these many years. He seems so small.
You bury your face against his face–just as you did so long ago.
He made things better.
He loved you when you were sent to your room for some slight indiscretion of youth.
He loved you when you had the fever, the chicken pox, the skinned knees, the black eye.
He loved you when it thundered.
He loved you when the lights were turned off.
He loved you when your grandfather, your “Pops”, died.
He loved you when you started school.
He loved you when you had your first crush
He loved you when you had your first heartache.
He loved you when you left for college.
He loved you while he waited.
He loved you.

Then one day, he went in a box.
He went away.
I went away.
Life grew big—almost too big. Overwhelmingly big.
Grown up life is not always cracked up to what children imagine—just ask any adult. Childhood has imagination and magic. Adulthood, not so much.
And just when things seemed big, too big— there he was, again.
Out of the blue.
Out of the box.
He looks sadly tired.
I look sadly tired.
But it is him and he is the same.
I am the one who has become different.
I changed.
He did not.
Thankfully, he did not change.

To anyone else, he is but a sad little stuffed old bear. He is torn, broken, ragged, ripped and furless—not even GoodWill material.
But. . .to me, he is beautiful.
He is REAL.
He is hope.
He is happiness.
He is safety.
He is who I was.

And today, I need to be reminded of that very thing—who I was.
And for that, I am once again thankful to the little brown, once fuzzy, bear who long ago held my hopes and dreams in his little imagined heart.
I would like to think that he still has a bit of room in that heart of his to hold a few more of those tears, those hopes, those dreams of mine. . .and because he has withstood the test of time and of a life well worn, and he doesn’t seem to mind the rips, the tears, the holes, the worn away fur–for in all of this is the hurt of becoming REAL. . .

God bless Cubby. . .

Before they were Pop and Nany or Daddy and Mama….

. . .they were Paul and Anne. . .

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During each of my weekly pilgrimages to and from Dad’s, it is a guarantee that I’ll be leaving Dad’s with more than what I brought. Be it some sort of item from either my childhood or his, it is all slowly tricking out of that house. Gloria seems most determined to empty that house of not merely things that were my mother’s or grandmothers, but of most things in general. It seems she is truly of the mindset less is more. . .much to Dad’s chagrin.

Last week it was the dinning room chandelier (nothing large or garish, but it was Mother’s) and two side chairs. The week before that it was 4 dinning room chairs and a clock. Before that it was a side table and a corner cabinet. I have thought that perhaps I need to open some sort of antique store as I cannot continue bringing home so much “stuff”. . .I cannot house the things that are essentially coming from 3 separate households!

This week was no different.
“You’re taking the hall painting this week right.” Gloria tells rather than asks.
“I thought that you were putting it back up after they finished painting the hall?” I ask more than state.
It’s a beautiful large early 19th century English landscape painting that was my grandmothers. It is something I’ve always loved but it has hung in our house for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t believe Dad was letting her “dispose” of it so easily as he’s always loved the paintings that Nany had procured over her long life.

It wasn’t the tables or chairs however that caught my eye this week, but rather a box of very old photographs and mementos. I’m a sucker for old pictures as they tell so many stories— long time forgotten. They are the physical and tangible evidence of the lives once lived by individuals who have long since departed this life–of those who have gone before us. They hold the key to so many mysteries and secrets and yet often create more mysteries than those that they solve. They are also visual links to our past—my past.

Once home I eagerly sat down to open the box–not knowing what wonderful treasures I’d find. It was an old box that was a precursor to a Harry and David’s holiday fruit box. Obviously it was a box of pears Nany and Pop had received years before I was even born as the post mark read 1955. Inside the box, inside this cardboard time capsule of my world before I ever was, was a treasure trove of very old photos, cards, announcements, report cards and newspaper clippings.

I don’t know why but every time I find something such as this, a box full of someone else’s lifetime, I find myself growing a bit forlorn, enveloped in a blanket of bitter sweet sadness. More questions arise and there is simply no one around any longer who can answer the growing queries. Who was this handsome young man? Whose children were these? Where is this house–does it still exist? Who’s that in the uniform and of which war was he sent? Endless questions which are now my present frustration.

Then suddenly, buried under the yellowing envelopes and fading memories, I spy a small, over exposed, little black and white image of a young couple in what appears to be a small canopied boat of sorts as the hint lies with the young man’s right hand resting on a throttle.

“What is this?” I hear myself inwardly whispering. “Nooo” I softly breathe as in disbelief. “Is this really them?” The year is around 1921, the year they married. I can see the ring on his hand so I know it is 1921 or a year or so later–no children yet, so it is before 1923—perhaps it’s from the honeymoon. They are but 25, the same age my son is today. . .a surreal image I grapple to digest.

On first glance I see a young couple, very much together. Then I begin to “study” the image. . . It must warm weather, most likely hot and muggy as the image is taken somewhere here in the deep south. He’s wearing what appears to be white pants and an unbuttoned loosely fitting white shirt as his sleeves are rolled up. He seems a bit shy and boyish but yet comfortable and in control in the “captain’s seat.”

She is shadowed, peering from behind, almost concealed in the background, something which will most certainly not be her style later in life. She looks cute and casual, almost tomboyish in the hat which covers her head. She’s wearing knickers with striped knee socks. Her round face always distinctive, which is how I quickly recognize her, yet I can’t make out the unmistakable clef of her chin–both telltale distinctive facial images–and yet there are no glasses– something they both were never without in later years.

She is holding, almost embracing him and resting her face gently against his shoulder. He is open armed as if he could or would simply turn to embrace her. She did not have a father growing up as he was killed in a distant war when she was only four—was this now the masculine figure she had longed for to fill a void in her heart that she never realized she had need of until now?

Never before have I seen, in photographs or in my memory, any sort of demonstrative display of tender affection such as this nor had I witnessed such in the time I had known them–nothing as tender as what is visible in this brief snapshot of time. I am deeply touched as I feel the warm tears filling my eyes as being privy to this seemingly intimate moment is very moving.

He died well before he should have. It was 1967 and he was but 66. She lived much longer, and sadly without him, dying in 1983 at the age of 87. I was 7 when my grandfather died so I did not know them as a couple for as long as I knew her as my grandmother alone. She had a terrible time the year following his death. We wondered if she would survive.

Ours was never a demonstrative family. We did not hug, we did not say “I love you” —that was all shown differently. Why was that I now found myself wondering as I stared at this picture. This pictures speaks differently. When did things change?

I never knew her to own a pair of pants as she was always in a dress and always impeccable. But in this picture there is a casualness that she never showed during the time I knew her–when we were kids, we were not allowed to wear bluejeans when visiting her. Prim and proper was the only way to describe her–a bastion of southern genteel society. But in this picture I see a young woman most comfortable and easy going–happy and content. Hummm. . .

In this photograph lives a time long before the long life which would lay ahead for each of them and of how it would eventually play out. This is a moment of “before.” A moment in time when they had no idea of what lay ahead–of where or of how life would take them. Nor that 92 years from the day their picture was taken that a granddaughter would come to meet them.

The photograph is tenderly sweet–they are such a young couple obviously very much in love. As this is the moment of “before” they have no way of knowing what it is I know today—I know how the whole story turned out and yet the couple in this picture has no idea. It is all so amazing–life and of its stories–the now and the thens. A single moment frozen in time, before a life time of a legacy was to take hold.

There would be two sons, two daughter-n-laws’ she outliving one of the daughter-n-laws; 6 grandchildren, two who tragically did not survive past thirty and again, she outlived; 8 great grandchildren and now 6 great great grandchildren. And so it goes. .

It totally blows my mind as I gaze at this couple who lovingly and mysteriously gaze back at me, their granddaughter. I am happy that I did know them together, albeit it briefly—I wish it had been longer, much longer–as there are now so many questions.

As we enter this week of Thanksgiving. I must give thanks for so much more than the obvious things–those tangible blessings. I want to offer thanks to Paul and Anne, who loved one another. Who had two sons, both of whom they loved as well. Who would claim me as their grandchild even though I was adopted. They claimed me as theirs, always. They did for me as much as they did for the biological grand children. I was theirs and they were mine. . .and for that, I will always be thankful.

The link this image has to my life today is as mysterious as it is joyful. I must take nothing for granted for it all is a gift, no matter how small and distant.
I leave you with the moving words and thoughts of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. . .

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

― Thomas Merton