indebted

“I don’t know who my grandfather was;
I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.”

Abraham Lincoln

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

Marcel Proust


(the cousins circa 1966 )

Family.
A difficult and delightful hodge podge and conundrum all rolled into one.
For good or bad…we all have family….

Do you see the wee awkward one there, the little one in green sitting in the
middle on the couch in this grainy old family photograph?

That would be me.

Little did I realize then that the two cousins, brother and sister, sitting to my immediate right and left would eventually come to be two of the most important people
in my life.

The age difference is 5 and 8 years respectively.
Enough of a deep and wide chasm to keep the young cousin at, what was hoped to
be, a safe distance.
Being just that, I was the little cousin who was to be endured during holidays,
for what was hoped to be only for a day at best.

The only catch was the fact that the two girls were also just that—
the only two girls in a sea of boys with a doting grandmother who had raised
two boys yet always yearned for a girl.
Of which forced these two mismatched girls to spend more time together than either
one particularly cared.

So should it come as any surprise that the older of the two girls tried twice to do
away with the younger one?

How was the fact missed that when these two cousins were once visiting their
grandparent’s farm, deciding to go out for a ride on the horses,
the older one opted not to secure the younger one’s saddle, leaving her dangling precariously between a deep raven or a bed of overgrown brambles…
with the only choice of survival being the brambles….

Or what of the time the older one was told to prepare the younger one something
for supper…and so, what was dubbed a cannibal burger, was quickly served…
simply being a raw hamburger patty that perhaps was hoped served as a last meal….

The teenage boy you ask??
Well he simply had no time for any such foolishness, opting instead to spend
time his own way…away.

And little did any of us know that on that picture day so long ago that
two in the photo would leave us far too soon.

I lived in the family of the younger of the two brothers.

A quiet lazy man who called Atlanta home.
Ours was a small family of four.
The other and older brother lived with his young brood up north in a rural
city in the same state.

The distance often limited the times spent together as “family.”

The oldest cousin in the photo was soon to move states, off to college,
where he would eventually go on to medical school,
marrying and forging his life there, away,
as it is to this very day… so his presence now is of little consequence.

Add also to the photo the fact that two in the picture had been adopted…

And so it was with my having been one of the two adoptees.

Such was that I always had felt a deep void in my heart.
I always felt a disconnect from my cousins…
as if I really wasn’t related and therefore I was always an outsider,
not really related.

We all shared the same last name,
but at some point prior, I actually had had a different last name.
Different family traits, different everything.

Of course today my grown mind knows better and that such a thought never crossed
the minds of my cousins. Simply put, I was just the little cousin…
Yet in my mind I always felt separate from what made the family just that,
a blood bonded family.

As time passed all the cousins went their own separate directions…to school,
careers, marrying and forging lives of their own.
All except for the two youngest boys.

The youngest cousin there on the floor was only 3 years older than me.
We were very close growing up, as our ages dictated that we were the two
relegated to spend the most time together.

We were the best of friends, growing very close over the years as we each dealt
with our own varying family dysfunctions, that was until he was tragically killed
in a car wreck at the age of 23 while at age 20, I was left to pick up our pieces.

My little brother, the youngest of all the cousins would eventually commit suicide
as he could never reconcile himself to having been “given up” and then in
turn adopted…despite the fact that he was always loved and cherished within
this family.

There would always be the occasional wedding or funeral that would bring everyone
back together….
but time, age and distance had placed a divide in the family,
creating a group of strangers rather than bonded relatives.

My family of 4 eventually became a family of 3, then it was down to 2 and
this past March, it became only a family of 1.

Their family of 6 eventually became 5, resting now at an original 4.

But as theirs was the greater in number, it only made sense that their family’s
numbers would grow exponentially…
blossoming to the current total of 31 while mine is up to 4 with a
5th on the way.

But oddly and blessedly enough, time would be kind as it always has a way
of coming around full circle.
It has allowed for the bridging of the chasm of both age and distance…
in turn rendering all of the divides no longer relevant….delightfully
null and void.

Each cousin has lived through, as well as survived, their own life’s tumults…
And the realization and acknowledgement of such has provided a bonding effect.

Those two cousins who sat on either side of me all those many years ago,
along now with their spouses, swooped in to take my small brood of
a family under their care when it was most needed.
And when things became really difficult, they merely intensified their care.
And that care continues as I continue putting the pieces of loss back together again.

No longer was I just the little annoying cousin but I had become more
like the younger sister…
a sister who they each knew would need their love and support.

Family, as we most all know, is a complicated affair.
Never perfect, never what we hold in our minds.
However we are blessed when we realize that our adversities can actually provide
a unifying factor.

Despite having known these people my entire life, I don’t think
we actually got to truly know one another until we became adults.
And since neither of them read this blog I don’t think they’d mind
me telling you how very lucky I consider myself having been “stuck” in the
middle on that couch so very long ago…

Family, for good or bad, we usually all have one….
and how so appreciative I am that this adopted child was blessed by one
with such a tenacious zeal.


(both of my cousins with their mother, my aunt, my now 92 year old aunt,
almost 3.5 years ago in Savannah at my son’s wedding / Julie Cook / 2014)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their
own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

our bonds

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Incase you missed the feel good story of the week, I wanted to share it with you.

This particular surveillance video has gone viral,
ever since a homeowner in Louisiana spied a young boy sneaking into her garage each day
simply to hug her dog.

Not knowing the identity of the little boy, Hollie the homeowner posted the video to her Facebook inquiring if any of the neighbors might know the identity of the young boy…she wanted him to know that she would welcome him to come by anytime he’d like to play with her black lab Duchess.

It didn’t take long before she learned the identity of young hug bandit.

His name is Josh and it seem that he has been dealing with the loss of his own dog who had passed away early in the year.

There was something very moving and emotional about the image of the young boy throwing down his bike as he hurried his way into a strange garage in order to throw his arms around the neck of this dog…
lingering but a moment before running off, grabbing his bike and disappearing from sight….only knowing he would return day after day.

There is a deeply mystical wonderment to what it is that draws us so intensely to other creatures.
The need for companionship, love, affirmation, security, comfort…

With all the bad we see and hear each and everyday…
for all the hardness in our hearts…
for all the stoicism and cynicism…
for all of our jadedness and self-centeredness…
seeing a young boy wanting, needing, to hug a dog….
is a raw reminder of something that is as ancient as time…

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Colossians 3:14

I want to be sure of you

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

DSCN2347

The above image is of my two cats. They are not related and differ in age by almost 5 years with the smaller orange puff ball on the left being the “old lady”. Do not let her fur fool you, she only weighs a tad over 5 pounds. The lean long one, my “little boy”, on the right is just 2 years old and weighs a whopping 15 pounds.

These two cats are both rescues. They have come into our lives to only enrich our world. I know what your’e thinking…you’re saying you know how cats can be—temperamental, distant, self-centered. But these two are different, with the younger one especially being most attentive, attached and engaging—not only to us, but to the older orange cat as well.

There is something quite touching and wonderfully assuring when watching and observing the behavior of two animals, especially animals that are not related by any sort of litter, with even those of different species being most magical, who develop deep bonds. Yes, I do believe pets, as those among us who have pets will no doubt agree, that pets do and can love us as we love them. I also believe that animals can feel a sense of “love” in the bonds that are forged between not only pet and owner but with a “fellow” or similar pet.

I say all of this as I ponder over the bonds and relationships we all develop in our lives. Be it bonds between family, friends, lovers, pets—we all seek a connection. It is an intrinsic need I suppose, that of connection. We yearn to bond with others. We bond with other people and we bond with animals–I suppose we have been hardwired to “bond”—as we are created by and in love to in turn love and be loved.

So imagine my deep emotion over this particular image that was posted on a blog that I follow. The image has been making the rounds on the internet and even through news media outlets throughout this past week.

03937958

My friend Father Hugh, a Benedictine monk and priest who is from Australia and is currently serving in his ministry in England, has a blog that is both thought provoking as well as a place of comfort and refuge (http://hughosb.wordpress.com )

It was on his blog where I first saw this recent picture of Pope Francis embracing and praying fervently for a man who has what I am assuming to be the dreaded disfiguring disease of leprosy—and if not leprosy, an equally disfiguring disease.

At first glance one is not certain what it is that the Pope is holding but upon further studying of the image, it becomes clearly apparent and then very off putting and disturbing. The image is difficult to take in. One wants to look immediately away in shock and unease. It is troubling.

I was immediately moved to tears as I looked at the images—yes there are several images of this encounter but I have posted only one. The image has remained with me ever since I viewed it several days ago. There is tremendous power in this image and tremendous compassion.

I imagine life has not been kind to this man. By the looks of a few grey hairs I would suppose him to be in his mid 50’s on up—my age. However I could be wrong and he could be much younger or indeed, older. I would imagine that as the disease has progressed the sense of isolation this man has most likely experienced has also progressed.

I suppose he has been most lonely–as he has not been able to enjoy those moments out with other people that we all take for granted. No dining out, no movies, no trips to the mall, no visits to church, no attending a play or concert—lest the staring, the suddenly hushed tones of those who see him, the whispers, the sense of being most conspicuous–constantly hiding in the shadows as it were. In the middle ages lepers were made to wear a bell around their neck so that others would hear them coming and could avoid all contact.

A human who has been denied the opportunities that the majority of us take for granted of being able to forge our need for the bonds and connections of relationships. Even the very essence of our need as living beings, the need to touch and be touched, all denied this man.

Not only is it hard for me to look upon this man, the thought of touching and embracing him leaves me troubled. Could I so openly reach out physically to this man? I am ashamed that I have to “talk” myself into the actions of simply being a compassionate decent human being.

Pope Francis has given this man a most tender and precious gift–not just his prayers, as you and I can easily pray for this man, but the Pope is filling a most basic human need and desire in and for this man—to feel another human-being’s touch, warmth and embrace. To touch and be touched, to hold and be held, to love and be loved. . . despite appearance, despite disease—all basic needs we all take for granted every day.

There are many lesson here in this image and I shall leave them to you to discern for yourself as we will each, no doubt, take away a different one as it pertains to our different lives—may we be mindful that not all people on this planet are having the basic human needs met. There is tremendous isolation and loneliness for so very many. Not necessarily to the extreme such as a leper , but isolation just the same–the lack of relationships and bonds forged by one human to another.

May we, may I, look beyond the visible surface of appearance–reaching out to those who yearn to be touched and loved and connected. . . to those who just wish to be sure of the companionship of another human being who recognizes that they too are human beings longing for recognition and for the connection of a deep intrinsic bond–to touch and be touched. . . to love and be loved—Amen, Amen