degree of separation

“We cannot live only for ourselves.
A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men;
and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes,
and they come back to us as effects.”

Herman Melville


(the fist pickings from the 3 container tomato plants / Julie Cook / 2017)

It has been said that the citizens of planet earth are separated, one from another,
by a mere 6 degrees…
or what some researches refer to as “the small world phenomenon”

“If you just take a look at the numbers,
the six degrees of separation idea seems pretty plausible.
Assuming everyone knows at least 44 people,
and that each of those people knows an entirely new 44 people, and so on,
the maths shows that in just six steps everyone could be connected
to 44^6, or 7.26 billion people—more than are alive on Earth today.”

(excerpt from an article by Fiona McDonald for Science Alert / sciencealert.com)

full article link here:
http://www.sciencealert.com/are-we-all-really-connected-by-just-six-degrees-of-separation

We’ve seen the notion of this “phenomena”,
and it’s original test of theory dating back to the 1960’s…
as it has morphed over the years into a movie, a college drinking game and even to a
broadway play…as it appears that the notion that we are all so closely connected,
seems to hold a deep fascination with the citizens of the globe.

And yet we wonder as to the responsibility that might come with such a
close connection of kinship…..

The idea that we actually know one another by some interwoven intertwined web of
acquaintances apparently holds us captivated.
The notion that we are each one connected soul, connected to other souls,
souls of which we hold on to tightly in our own little circle of souls,
is seen as eerily soothing.
Just one big happy globally dysfunctional family.

And yet the irony found in our desire for unity is that we also clammer for separation.
We want everything about our lives compartmentalized…separated….
while at the same time we painstakingly seek a global connectivity while also
demanding equality for all and a toleration of every
imaginable choice out there…
except for those who choose the Omnipotent.

So our connectivity and toleration and inclusiveness is actually limited despite
the lies we continue telling ourselves to the contrary.

We vie to find our connectedness…one to another…
while at the same time we vehemently fight to sever our, and everyone else’s,
ties to the Creator…

We fight tooth and nail to separate Him from every aspect of our very
independent secular lives..
While at the same time patting ourselves on our backs for an overt
pride found in the general connectivity and the false unity we think we’ve created…
For we claim inclusiveness in our broad reaching connectivity while at the same time
demanding that any notion of a connection to God be erased from thought.

This fickleness of ours will indeed be our undoing….
for we cannot be connected to everything and everyone while pretending
to disconnect our being, our soul, our own, our all from the very One
who knitted us in our mother’s womb….

For we cannot run nor hide from His knowledge and omnipotent presence,
no matter how far we go or how hard we try….
and until we are able to see and understand and acknowledge that He is a part
of even the very air we breathe,
then we will simply continue this petty exertion of our energies while
puffing up and inflating our trite egos of self,
in this endless ongoing emptiness we find so very fascinating and captivating….

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For thou didst form my inward parts,
thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:7-13

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

revolving

The force that keeps the planets revolving around the sun would
be glad to handle the circumstances of your life,
if only you would ask Him to.

Marianne Williamson

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(image courtesy GU door products and technology)

As a kid I was always mesmerized, as well as terrified, of revolving doors.
Upon visiting any sort of office, hotel or building, that had a revolving door as an entrance,
I would hurry scurry to enter my own little “chamber” or section.
Never wanting to hop in with a stranger and always afraid
I’d push too fast for the others entering and exiting…
All the while I prayed I could keep up without getting my foot stuck or
simply missing the cue for exiting…
otherwise hopelessly getting caught in a quick spin cycle.

All the rather paranoid and silly thoughts of a child.

However…
I still don’t particularly care for revolving doors.

Do I hop in with my companion?
Do I wait to hop into my own little section?
Do I walk and push quickly…or leisurely taking my time, leaving the pushing to another?
Is there revolving door etiquette?
Or worse, I am left to wonder if it’s an automatic door that swings at a set speed…
will I have to quickly or slowly keep up?

What’s wrong with simply pulling or pushing on a single door in or out?

Yet it is to the revolving door that my life is now set.

Spinning round and round with the busyness of comings and goings…

It’s like riding a merry go round—spinning and spinning, round and round in circles without
really going anywhere…
yet truly not being able to get off…
Certainly not in time enough to stop this current madness…

There’s now dad and this cancer business…
As if age, dementia and frailty just wasn’t enough…

There is now the constant driving from my small town into the big city, and back again…
over and over and over….
Constantly wondering how long I’ll get stuck in traffic…
while praying I’m not flattened by some crazy tractor trailer truck.

Then there’s my son taking a job in that same big city…
(which as far as dad is concerned, is actually a hidden blessing)
Of which means a quick hurry up and move situation for him….
while his wife, who teaches here, will be in a bit of limbo
….gravitating between their house, the new apartment and time with us…
It will be a year of transition for them with my husband and I right in the thick of it…

How many times have we moved him in a 10 year span?
Add now a wife and a dog and we just keep multiplying boxes and trips….
And once again, our small family will be separated…
and I will certainly be sad…

It can all be all so very overwhelming…
It is so very overwhelming…

But…

such is life….
such is my life…

A constant revolving, devolving and evolving…
spinning out of control…

It can get to be too much
too tiring…
too demanding…
too exhausting…

Which is just about where I am right about now.
Exhausted.

That’s when I know I need to stop…
taking a very long deep breath.

Breathing out and letting go…
Breathing in a healing…
…Spirit

The rhythmic breathing of…prayer…

Breathing in the Spirit of God…
Exhaling the burdens I can no longer bare…
alone…

Because I am not alone…
I, me, you, we, us…
were all given a promise…

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20

And so we, me, you, us…must claim that promise…

And I am claiming that promise just as fast as I can…

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Isaiah 43:1-3

a large collective sigh…..

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the don’ts.
Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…
Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.”

Shel Silverstein

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(my giddy, degree holding, son)

Did you hear that?

That sound of exhaling?

That whooshing sound Saturday morning…
the sound of a large collective, slow released, heavy sigh?

The sound of years and years of the breath held by two parents, their son…
and now a young wife…
along with a myriad number of friends and family…

A sigh that has actually been held for….
A lifetime.

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See this young boy?
This picture was taken on a balmy Friday night in May of 2007.
It’s the image of young man who had just graduated high school…
standing on the edge of a well anticipated future…

Yet what he, in his delirium of conquering the one mountain failed to realize that carefree night,
was that he was not yet finished climbing…
For looming in the distance, just beyond the horizon of his youthful exuberance,
lay a mountain range far more challenging than what he had just conquered….

That exciting evening, so long ago, indeed marked a successful passing….
The passing of a 12 year long struggle…

Yet the magnitude of the struggle to which I speak is most likely lost on those who have never
experienced or lived through a child who has had to struggle academically.

And whereas I have written about this struggle before…
That of his particular struggle and of our particular struggle as a family…
The massive weight and enormity of it all came rushing back to the forefront of my heart and soul
this past Saturday morning while sitting in a crowded gym of a southern university.

From that fateful day his first grade teacher called me, a fellow educator, telling me she had a concern…a concern that something just wasn’t right…
to finally sitting in a college gym waiting for a commencement ceremony to begin…
our road has been painfully long and arduous.

From the hard diagnosis of a crippling learning disability…(most likely inherited…)
later compounded by a diagnosis of ADD…
It was double indemnity that was sadly to be our unfortunate lot.

There were many hurdles, impossible hurdles…
And there was testing..lots and lots of testing.

There were the years of refusal to take the medications that were promised to help make things easier…
to finally relenting…
Then only to live with the ill effects of those medications on ones body…
Eventually going back to life without medical help.

There were disappointments…
and failures,
and lapses,
and anger,
and frustration…

There were tears…
lots and lots of tears…
from both child and parents.

There were tutors, reading camps, repeated courses, more tutors…
There was working, studying, studying longer and harder then others
There was the staying after, long after others were gone…
There were sacrifices…

And…
There were a few rare triumphs…
The acceptance letters…
Along with the…
changing of schools…
The changing of majors…
The sitting out…
The waiting…
The continued waiting…
The nos,
The not yets,
The not nows…
The too bads…

Yet there were hopes and dreams.
Always hopes and dreams…
Hopes and dreams that would never fade or go away…

And there was a determination to realize those very hopes and dreams…
just like anyone else who has hopes and dreams…
anyone else who was “normal”….
because wasn’t that what so much of this was all about…
just wanting to be normal like everyone else…

Knowing that you were not stupid…that you were not slow or dumb…
as they would whisper behind your back…
Knowing all the while that you were smart and that you could learn…
that you could excel…
that you could be like everyone else…by God!!!
And by God it would be….

You wanted to prove that you were normal…
Normal like those who didn’t have to struggle, didn’t have to work so very hard…
You wanted to be like those who made the good grades, who didn’t have to expend the energies…
You wanted to be like those who just made school seem… easy…

However today is not that day…
It is not to be that day for the retelling of the very long and hard fought journey of ours…
It is not the day for rehashing and re-living the difficulties nor for the recounting of all the struggles…
And it is not a day to expound upon our seemingly misfortunate poor dumb luck…

No…

Today is not that day…

Rather…

Today is THE day to rejoice…
It is a day to soak it all in.
It is a day to exhale.
It is a day to smile.
It is a day for tears.
It is a day of HOPE.
It is a day of DREAMS.
And it is a day of Thanksgiving and Gratitude….

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The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.

Psalm 6:9

Holy discontent

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury

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Spring has sprung a bit early…so it seems
Temperatures are running 15 to 20 degrees above the average for this time of year…
Early March is feeling a lot like late May…
It is an unexpected delight…yet troubling just the same.

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(shots of the blooming cherry trees complete with bees and ladybugs / Julie Cook / 2016)

We aren’t much for being the creatures of the unexpected…we humans…
we grow alarmed and anxious when things, especially in nature, step out of sync.
We prefer the expected…
The tried and true…
that of the habitual habit…
We know our times, our seasons, our rhythms of life,
and we like for them to be, well, predictable.

The same holds true for our spiritual nature…
Our need to have a relationship with that which is Greater than ourselves.
As created beings we long, most often subconsciously, for our Creator…
For it seems that the need to have a relationship with that God of all Creation is truly hardwired within.

There are those who would argue that point…
As they do not see the correlation between man’s constant discontent and to his quest, nay need, to be made whole…

Those who eschew God for God’s sake, those who defiantly say…
“there is no God”
or
“I have no need for a God” …
Try in vain to fill the void, the empty abyss, with any and all sorts of need filling balms and placebos…

Be it addictions…
Those maddening and seemingly uncontrollable urges which gobble up all manner of ill in a frantic, albeit vain, need to stave the endless hunger of the spiritual void…

Or it might be the endless, yet empty, quest of searching and seeking after any and all things to worship…the longing to put something, anything, at the center of validation and justification of simply… being…
From demons to fatted calves, from nature to man himself…
humankind yearns to put something at the center of its very existence…

As man seeks, yearns, needs to hold something, anything, at the heart of his existence…
his insatiable need goes back to that very moment when God first breathed life into the lungs of the dust created Adam…

And it is to this day…
That we, me, you, us, long to breathe, once again, in rhythm with our Creator…
Seeking, longing, aching to fill the discontent with the rhythmic beating as one…
Restored within the relationship to…
God the Almighty…
The Father…
And Maker of both Heaven and Earth…

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

More than

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,
there can be no more hurt, only more love.

Mother Teresa

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
― C.S. Lewis

“The harder the conflict,
the more glorious the triumph.”

Thomas Paine

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(remnants of Cong Abbey , County Mayo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It whispers across a cool morning breeze…

Do you hear it?

It’s the sound of a thousand and one voices drifting endlessly across the ages.
It’s the mournful cry of a dove at dawn.
It’s the melodic symphony of an unseen orchestra of crickets on a warm summer’s night.

It rides along the ocean’s waves…

Do you see it?

It’s the wonderment you feel as you gaze upon the night sky awash in a million twinkling lights.
It’s the brilliance of color bathed endlessly across a skylit canvas as the sun offers a joyful good morning.
It’s the overwhelming eruption and dazzling display of a myriad of blooming wildflowers in a quiet hidden meadow…

It’s a familiar scent wafting upwards from somewhere unexpectedly…

Do you smell it?

It’s the fresh scent of grass from a newly mowed lawn
It’s the heavy smell of rain riding in on the winds before a storm.
It’s a long lost memory catching you off guard as you suddenly capture a whiff of your grandmother’s home

It races from touch to touch…

Do you feel it?

It’s caught up in the soothing memories from a now distant childhood.
It’s the sudden chill you feel as the sun dips out of sight on a cool fall’s night.
It’s the welcoming comfort found in an offered smile.

It’s much more than ancient history or the crumbling bits of mortar and stone now abandoned and long forgotten…

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(crumbling remains hidden away deep within Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It’s really more like the bits of sand found in your shoe after a walk along the beach…small and tiny, yet largely distracting,
rather uncomfortable and most difficult to ignore

The curious and the tourist alike each pick their way through the labyrinth of time long past, as they wander about pondering and musing what it all meant and wondering where it all went.

Yet you know don’t you….?

You know it never went anywhere.

It’s been here all along.

Buried deep within your heart.

But it was never meant to stay buried or forgotten.

Never meant to be for tourists or the curious to gawk and pick.

It was never meant to crumble nor decay

For it is living and breathing and yearns to be shared

It’s the gnawing ache felt in each beating heart.

It’s that nagging feeling of being out of sorts as your spirit seems lost in the fray.

It’s in the melancholy and sorrow that shadows a seemingly empty day

It’s the longing for home when you’re already there.

A Spirit most holy yet hidden, longs to hide no more.

A Spirit Loving yet concealed, longs to be revealed.

A Spirit Mighty and Great, longs to be proclaimed

You know It don’t you….?

Because It knows you….

Exhale

“Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.”
Edwin Keith

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(daisies at the garden center / Julie Cook / 2015)

wwwwwooohhhhhhhhhhhhh
The sound of a long awaited exhaled release of self
The sound of a 3 week crisis multiplied by 3. . .released
The sound of a soul that has lived to tell about it
The sound of a flu ridden, angst ridden, worried sick,
worse for the wear, wounded soul
The sound of the end of a day
The sound of the end of a week
The sound of the easing of a trauma
The sound of a 2.5 hour traffic filled journey home
A settling
A smoothing out
Headed upward, verses downward
A cease fire,
An uncontested truce
Worn down
Beat down
Down
You can breathe now
You can finally let go
You can rest
You can exhale

Breathe out, exhaling my Beloved
Let it go
Close your eyes
Rest
I will breathe for you
For my Spirit will sustain you
and see you to the morrow. . .
Sleep well my Beloved,
sleep well

“The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job 33:4

Sense of scent

“At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

“Odors have a power of persuasion stronger than that of words, appearances, emotions, or will. The persuasive power of an odor cannot be fended off, it enters into us like breath into our lungs, it fills us up, imbues us totally. There is no remedy for it.”

― Patrick Süskind

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(perfume bottles on a silver tray / Julie Cook / 2014)

Opening the door I immediately smelled March.
But this is November, how does one smell March in November?
It was the humid damp warmth mixed with the grey sky.
More mild than cool, more heavy then light.
Not sweetness but rather warm dampness–but not so warm that it was enveloping.

Not long ago, I randomly bought a jar of facial night cream by Lancome. When I first opened the jar, in order to use it, I immediately smelled my grandmother, Nany. Not in that sickeningly sweet grandmother smell that borders on cheap perfume, hair permanents, and medicine, but the smell of sudden nearness. A palpable longing for someone who has been gone for what seems forever.

I am five, standing in her bathroom. I’m at the vanity on the right standing by my cousin as we are readying for bed during a tiny special spend the night party– a grandmother and both of her granddaughters. It was as if I was actually standing in that bathroom as the memory was so strong. Not only did I smell the smells, I even saw the captured moment frozen in time in my mind. The white cabinets, the double sinks. . .

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing in my own bathroom, alone.

On a recent trip to Target, I wandered down the candle aisle. Picking up a candle, I give it a good sniff, I close my eyes as I draw in the warm scent. Immediatley I am transported, as if by magic, to a candle store at the mall near where I grew up. It’s the early 70’s. I’m a young teen who is wandering around the mall as I walk into a new store that sells candles. On a round brown table in the center of the store, I notice a small candle in the shape of a little red convertible VW bug with a blue top, my dad at time had a blue bug. I loved the smell, sweet and light, being drawn to the fact that it was a cute little VW bug– I made the purchase, proudly adding the little candle to the growing eclectic treasures of teenager’s room.

Opening my eyes, it’s just me, standing on the candle aisle in a Target, alone.

I recently bought a bag of mothballs, not even knowing if they still made those things. I had brought home a box of old papers and what nots form Dad’s. I wanted to preserve what was in the box but there was no telling of the minisucule critters that were already doing damage to the yellowing papers and books.
I thought that when I repacked the “archives” in a new plastic bin, a few moth balls thrown in might ward off any unsuspecting and unseen nibblers.

When I opened the sack of moth balls I was no longer standing in my son’s old room but rather I was crouched in Mimi’s closet, my mom’s mom. Her house, in Atlanta, was built in the early 20’s. It was old and she had a cavernous closet in her bedroom. I was playing hide and seek. Disappearing deep into her closet, pushing past clothes, shoes and boxes, all the way to a back corner, I’m consumed with a smell that to this day reminds me of my grandmother. Dotting the floor, the flat old light brown carpeting, are a myriad of tiny white balls. Moth balls.
Moth balls will always smell like Mimi’s. To most people the smell might repel, to me, it’s Mimi.

When I open my eyes, I’m no longer hiding in a closet at my grandmother’s, but standing in my son’s old room, alone.

It is said that scent is most often considered the greatest of our senses because of it’s exceedingly strong association with memory. The olfactory bulb in the brain, the part of the brain which processes scents, smells, odors, is linked to both the amygdala and the hippocampus, the parts of the brain responsible of both the processing of emotions as well learning.

The smells that we draw into our brain though the nose, which are caught by the olfactory receptors, allow our brain to process and then link the individual smell with those initials smells from childhood, the time we begin in earnest the association of events with smells. Yet researchers have even determined that we are actually exposed to scent while in utero, which is actually when the imprinting, processing and associating of smell with memory begins.

It is often noted, particularly in Catholic teaching, that there exists a “scent of sanctity”
It is a very real and very strong smell or odor of perfume, specifically floral in nature, that emanates from “the saintly” just prior to the time of death or immediately following. It is said that those who have seen or sensed the presence of various saints were first overcome by a powerful scent of “perfume.”

We know that the making of perfume dates back to early Egypt, followed by both Greek and Roman cultures.
The use of perfumes and scented oils was essential to ancient Jewish customs and rituals, in particular the burying of the dead. There is biblical reference of the woman who came to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. There is the story of the woman, thought to be Mary Magdalene, who had brought a very expensive perfumed oil in which to anoint Jesus. It is a story symbolizing the future anointing of his crucified body yet some believe it symbolizes his bringing the grace of forgiveness into an unforgiving world. This is also one of the few stories which is included in all four gospels.

And so it is, on this March smelling November day, there is indeed a change in the air. Rain is on the way, and with it the cold and the comforting fragrant balm of crackling fires. . . I can smell its presence in the air. As the scent of change swirls about, dancing lightly in the wind, those thoughts and memories of days gone by, gently drift, sweetly woven to the very air which sustains my life, waiting to be brought to the forethought of recall by the simple act of breathing . . .

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task.
2 Corinthians 2: 14-16