Contrasts

“There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.”
Charles Dickens

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(Photograph: Callaway Gardens/ Butterfly House/ Pine Mt. GA/ Julie Cook/2013)

Shadow and light–a world of contrasts….Essential in art, essential in photography, often complicating and even upsetting in life.

I’m off to Dad’s today— my weekly visit….or so I hope. Check the “office” (aka Julie’s old bedroom), look over the pile of mail on the desk. Are there bills needing attention? Are all utilities current…prayers said, fingers crossed it will be a wonderful and equally uneventful visit.

Somedays Dad is, well, Dad. There is light in his eye, the mischievous Dad who acts like a little kid, eavesdropping on conversation when everyone thinks he’s not paying attention, sneaking more chocolate when he’s been told no more (that use to be glasses of scotch but that got to be a bit disastrous so all scotch had to be disposed of–now the drink, or imbibing, of choice is chocolate, a little safer).

At other times there is an emptiness to the watery eyes…as if no light is on and no one is home. A resignation to life when physically things are still greatly intact. No excuse as to not using the ol legs in order of getting up and walking, but there is no desire..shuffling works when getting up is absolutely a must. A pity and a shame that this is to me, who insists on not wasting good health…which always falls on deaf ears— but laziness is not a new trait sadly.

So today is a day of contrasts to be sure–happiness and sadness all entwined not knowing which I shall met, if not both.
After last week’s meetings with lawyers, the constant conversation now is… “you need to take Nany’s secretary next time you come visit, and all of mother’s furniture”..(which mind you is the majority of the house)….
“Dad, I’m not loading up ya’ll’s furniture and taking it with me.”
“Well you need to start getting everything”
“Dad, I’m not taking a-part the house, ya’ll are still living in it and using your things”
“Well you just need to take what you want”
“Dad, I’ll worry about that later….
now he wants to address the concept of no time like the present…where was that attitude when the phone and the lights got cut off?!…..

Yes Scarlett, I shall worry about that another day (note reference to Gone With The Wind as any southern girl worth her salts has more Scarlett than Melanie lurking within—that is if she wants to survive in this world she best have more of Scarlett, sadly)

So today is just a visit. There shall be no confrontations with discussions of moving to assisted living. No meeting with lawyers and discussions of wills. No trips to the bank and looking throughout safety deposit boxes. No fussing over the unpaid bills. No taking of the furniture and pictures off walls and emptying of houses while occupants still just sit watching TV 24/7….just a nice little uneventful visit with my dad and step mom.

Oh the contrasts of life—–

Chasing after butterflies

“Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
–Nathaniel Hawthorne

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(Photograph: Callaway Gardens/ Butterfly House/ Pine Mt., Ga/ Julie Cook/ 2013)

I fear we spend a great deal of time and energy, with so much of our lives wasted, chasing after… oh so desperately…the “butterflies” of life—those things which we believe, the things we just know, will bring us happiness….most often never “catching” the ever elusive “butterfly”….

That is…until finally exhausted with the chase, and exhausted with our lives in general, we stop dashing and darting, we stop running around grabbing at this and that…in vain attempts of satiating certain unknown wants, desires and needs with always elusive and un-catchable butterflies…..that we collapse into a an exhausted stupor….and just when we give up, out of no where, a different butterfly, the right one all along, quietly and oh so gently, lights on us

Then and only then may we experience true contentment and joy……

“Trust Yourself….”

“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.”
Golda Meir

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(Photograph: Botanical Garden/ Callaway Gardens/ Pine Mt., Georgia/Julie Cook/2013)

If you are unfamiliar with the author of today’s quote, Golda Meir, may I recommend further reading–as her story is most fascinating as well as inspiring. Born in the Ukraine in 1898, with an eventual emigration to the US by age 10, her family settled in Wisconsin. Golda attended a teachers college earning a degree which afforded her a career as an educator in the public school system.

In 1915 Golda joined a Zionist youth movement, she married and eventually moved to a Kibbutz in Palestine in 1921 where she continued work as a teacher. By 1924 she and her husband moved to Jerusalem. We must remember that at this time in our history there was no “official” Jewish State, no Israel as we know of today.

The area surrounding modern day Jerusalem had been under British control, being known as a Mandate State, issued by the League of Nations. Great Britain was chosen to serve as a “protectorate” of the people of what would become modern day Israel. It was the general consensus of the League of Nations, who believed the Jewish people of the region had a rightful, historical and ancestral “place” in the Arab dominated region which was an area surrounded and dominated by great instability–much as we see today—with kings and princes of Arab nations all jockeying for power and control. Familiar names such King Abdullah of Jordan, the grandfather of the current Jordanian king, acting as one of the areas more powerful figures.

For nearly the next 50 years Golda was heavily involved in the governing of what would eventually become modern day Israel working as an Ambassador to the Soviet Union, trade and labor union’s leader and eventually leader of the State. In 1969, at the age of 71 she was elected to serve as the world’s only 3rd female Premier (female World leader) as well as Israel’s 4th only Premier. She earned the name “iron lady” well before the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, would earn the same title. It was due to Golda’s steely determination which she exhibited during momentous crises and surprise attacks and brutal wars.

I think Ms Meir’s quote used today is most fitting giving her own life’s journey.
She was a woman who quietly began an assent to leadership just as women in the United States were given the right to vote. She lived and worked in one of the world’s most tenuous regions of instability that continues to be equally fragile to this day. She was a woman who, at the time, was expected to marry being a quiet supporter of her husband and of his career. And yet she decided at an early age to fan her own flames of possibility and potential.

May we all be inspired by the same desire of achievement and determination noting that possibilities abound for us all, no matter of our start in this life—some of us just have to work much harder at it but we should never be deterred. Trust yourself and go after those dreams with gusto…Happy Wednesday

Civility

“When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness or decency.”
– Samuel Johnson

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(photograph: Callaway Gardens Butterfly House/ Pine Mt., GA/ Julie Cook/ 2013)

As a teacher, as well as a parent…not to mention just being a human being, the idea of civility—that of a civil society, is something that has always been very important to me. I use to stress, to my students, the importance of rules, along with the accompanying of certain positive actions—not a laundry list mind you of endless does and don’ts, but rather a basic list—-a list of simple classroom rules along with the consequences of not following those rules, that would keep our world, in Room 202, afloat.

A list of rules that we could all live by—happily, comfortably, agreeably… with everyone’s safety in clear sight. I would tell them that some rules are most necessary for a “civil” society—otherwise we’d succumb to the pure pandemonium known as anarchy—which I know appeals to that daring sense of the teenage mind of damning the adult’s status quo, but for those of us who have hindsight, such is indeed invaluable to life.

I am becoming ever more wearisome with what I observe being the lack of civility in our modern day society–so much so that I grow gravely distressed. Oh you can call me old fashioned if you wish—at 53 I hate thinking I’m categorized into the group of having one foot in the proverbial “home” or worse, grave, but I suppose some reading this may just check me off as simply being of a different time.

Is it being from a different time that causes me to not appreciate hearing the “F word” at each and every turn when at the mall, crossing a street, in a restaurant, watching a ball game and reading a player’s or coach’s lips or walking down the hall at school…only to have the list go on and on? When did such a word, which is, in its origin, considered vulgar slang, become common place? That we now, as a society, condone vulgar slang as “ok”? That our music, movies—our overall entertainment, is saturated with such—that which was once used for “effect” has become all but common place……is that a good agreeable thing to be accepted?

That our politicians work harder at the practice of digging “dirt”, more so than the practice of governing and managing the Law –is even more than alarming. That we are more concerned with condemnation before we even consider common ground let alone reconciliation. That our news media relishes in the lashing out at any American whom they deem “on the wrong” side.

Having grown up as an American, the only wrong side I ever thought to be at issue was if one was anti-democracy! I grew up thinking it was ok to be an American who disagreed as you were still an American—now, however sadly, if the news media finds you in disagreement with their line of thinking, you are considered an enemy of the State–depending on the news station’s affiliation with two simple words–liberal or conservative….hummmmm, I don’t like where that all seems to be headed.

I liked life when we were kinder to one another, when we were considerate to one another. We held doors open for one another, we said yes mam or yes sir even if we were grown ourselves, we weren’t too busy or too self-consumed that we didn’t notice the young mother trying to get out of the busy grocery store pushing a full cart and keeping two young children from running out ahead of her into a busy parking-lot not hesitating to offer a hand. I liked it when television was not laced with profanity, when people thought about what they wore out in public and left the pajamas at home.

The Italian academic Pier Massimo Forni, a professor at John Hopkins University and the founder of the Civility Initiative has a tremendous insight when discussing the importance of a civil society….
“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another. It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health.”

This thought coming after, this past week, the world witnessed a gross lack of civility in the Italian Parliament where Italy’s first black MP took to the floor and fellow MPs greeted her by throwing bananas. It’s one thing to argue in disagreement, it’s another entirely to dehumanize a fellow human being. It is this dehumanizing our of fellow man/ woman that is now becoming the norm…spiraling out of control as the social filter of civility has gone out the window.

Decorum, civility, manners, morality…however you wish to name it, is woefully lacking in our lives—and we as a people, a “civilized” group of people, are the less for it. We become “less than” in a very negative way, we sadly value ourselves less and less. I merely hold firm to these words uttered by the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead….“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Let us hope for a thoughtful group of “citizens” who may be out there somewhere who can remind us all of the importance of our kindness, our thoughtfulness, our playing fair and playing by the rules, by knowing the difference between right and wrong, by demonstrating respect for all, reminding us that it’s ok to disagree, that it’s still important to possess respect for things and people older and wiser than ourselves, to smile more and fuss less…..that we may recall the greatest commandment….to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

Remember you are a civil individual.

Two paths, two choices

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(Photograph: Callaway Gardens Chapel/ Pine Mt., Ga/ Julie Cook/2013)

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

(RSV)

The above photo is of an altar located in the beautifuly quaint and very tiny chapel located within the botanical enclave known as Callaway Gardens. The chapel is located in the middle of a beautiful nature park situated in middle west Georgia, surounded by endless virgin woods, rhododenrens, a gently cascading waterfall, and a lovely small lake—representing the epitome of solitude.

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The bible that was resting on the rock slab altar was open to the book of Psalms—one of my most favorite books of the Bible–as I so often relate to the angusih, the lamentations, the cries, the shouts, the triumphs, the joys—the wealth of emotions that make up these poetic songs. So naturally I thought I should mirror what was in the picture—Psalm number 1

And perhaps the whole two path thing was most appropriate for the location—I had come upon this tiny chapel, tucked away in the middle of a forest, by way of a wooded path. There was another path that lead away from the chapel, out around the tranquil lake whose still waters beautifuly refelcted this delightful respite from the world.

This was the kind of place that I could live—isolated, quiet, peaceful, tranquil…nothing but the sounds of the gentle waterfall, the croaking of the bullfrogs, the buz of the cicadias…..the gentle breeze brushing against my skin. But alas, it is not where I live—it’s not where many of us live. When I often find such a spot and wistfully mention that I could live in such a spot, my husband always quips “you’d get tired of it and bored”……would I? Hummmmm…maybe I’d like to give it a test try to see if that would be the case….

I had brought friends here who were visiting from England–she from Germany, he from Finland. I hope they too found the setting and the moment most rewarding and tranquil. Somehow I doubted it compared with anything in Finland, or any place in Barvaria…but to me, this little Georgia girl, this was beauty par excellence—-

Today’s Psalm reminds us that life is all about choices—in this case the choice being the walking on one path or that of another path. One path is about following the Law, which in this case is the Law of God. The other path remains to those who chose not to follow God’s Law. The idea of dried up chaff, just blowing away in the wind, only to become dried up dust is not very appealing. I like the idea of being planted by lovely streams of water—something like where this chapel sits.

God is gracious and a gentleman—always yeilding to our whims and desires. He’s not pushy, never wishing to force anything on anyone–it’s all a matter of choice—a simple choice. It does all seem so simple doesn’t it?—path A or path B—and yet this world is in such a terrible mess—which leads me to think the latter path is quite full—I want to follow on the former path—the first path, the one where I’m not walking in the counsel of the sinnful and wicked.

In order to do so, once again, I’ve got some choices—God’s choices for me and my life, or the world’s choices. When put this way, it all seems so simple—then why in the heck do we, do I, make it so hard and difficult?! It shall be my goal to focus on my choice of the right path—it’s a life long work but I tend to believe, most worth it………..

“far away, there in the sunshine…”

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”
Louisa May Alcott

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(Photograph: Callaway Gardens Botanical Gardens/Pine Mt., GA/ Julie Cook/ 2013)

Oh how I love this quote as it piggy backs so nicely off of yesterday’s post concerning aspirations and goals. Here we have the thought of these goals/ aspirations always being out ahead of us somewhere, just beyond our reach—and yet, happily they are indeed out ahead of us– offering us direction, the proverbial bread crumbs left to us as the trail in which to follow.

We may bask in the warmth they reflect, in the beauty offered– as Ms Alcott notes. They provide a sense of security as we actually have something to seek or “go after”, being in pursuit of… there is the possibility of never quite reaching these said aspirations and goals…and yet, there is no sadness in that fact as the following is simply too inviting and delightful.

I wish you, this day, much sunshine for all of your dreams, aspirations, pursuits and goals…….

All shall be well

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(photograph: Purple coneflower/ Botanical Gardens–Callaway Gardens, Pine Mt., GA/ Julie Cook/ 2013)

“He said not ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased’; but he said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.”
― Julian of Norwich

or in a more plain language

“He did not say ‘You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted’. But he did say, ‘You shall not be overcome.’ God wants us to heed these words so that we shall always be strong in trust, both is sorrow and in joy.”
–Julian of Norwich

I have always had a keen interest in St. Julian of Norwich–not knowing exactly why that is….
History tells us very little about Julian. She was born sometime around the year 1342. Unfortunately we don’t even know her “real” name. What we do know is that she was most likely not a nun but rather an anchoress/ anchorite—-that being a woman who would literally “anchor” themselves to a church—living in a small cell attached to a church.

Often times these anchoret’s cells were truly cell-like whereas the occupant was literally ‘bricked in” for the duration their life. The cells would have windows allowing for the anchoress to listen to then offer advice to those who came seeking help with various concerns–another “window” looked into the sanctuary of the church allowing her to hear services and receive the holy sacraments.

The cell she chose to occupy just happened to be attached to the small church of St Julian, Bishop of Le Mans in Norwich, England—thereby, forever proclaiming this enigma of a woman, to be known simply as Julian of Norwich.

We do know that she is the first woman of the English speaking world to have published a book. The book, The Revelations of Divine Love, was based on a series of visions/showings/ revelations she received shortly after having turned thirty. Earlier in her life she had asked three things of God—to be ever mindful of Christ’s passions, to, by the time she turned 30, experience a bodily sickness as this was the same age when Christ began his earthly ministry, and finally, to have three have 3 wounds (as in Christ’s three wounds); true contrition, loving compassion and a longing for God.

It was shortly after turning 30 that she was struck by what appeared to be a life ending illness and yet miraculaouy survived. It was during her convelesing that she recievded 16 visions, showings or revelations. It was at this time she decided to dedicate her life to God by becoming an Anchorite– of what is believed to have been a Benedictine order at the time.

One of the visions expressed in her writings is the concept that whatever God does, He does so, always, in and with love—therefore “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well”

That simple statement, mantra, prayer has been a sustaining force in my life—being reminded and ever mindful that… with God—all shall indeed be well—despite whatever pickle, trauma, turmoil, woe, tragedy, sadness besets me… I just need to be reminded, sometimes strongly so, that I will overcome…all because He overcame long ago……..and all shall be well….