punctuating the ordinary

“On the single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity,
grackles and starlings neatly punctuated an invisible sentence.”

―John Updike


(grackles on the line / Julie Cook / 2014)

I imagine it happens to all of us at some point or other…
and it’s always out of the blue…

It catches us totally off guard— when we least expect it.

Suddenly a lump is forming in our throat as we find the words catching, cracking and breaking as we can barely whisper along.

And just when we frustratingly focus on the fact that no sound seems to be
coming from a voice attempting to speak, stinging tears now form in our
eyes, rendering us both mute and almost blind…

Mute and blind with raw emotion.

We blink hard and swallow hard…as we hear our brain pleading “not here, not now….”

Maybe we’re just sitting on the couch…
Maybe we’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store pushing a cart full of
paper towels and cat food…
Maybe we’re sitting in the middle of traffic, stuck…
Maybe we’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting….

It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing…it happens…
and it happens when it wants to…never mind what we want.
And there is always some sort of trigger…
as the ordinariness of life is punctured like an over inflated tire…
our breath begins to release as we are helpless to hold it in….

It comes suddenly out of the blue..
Out of nowhere…and there it is…
A familiar sound, a familiar tune, a familiar voice…more oldie then goldie…

For me this time, it was Wichita Lineman and it wasn’t even Glen Campbell
singing the song but rather someone else…

Yet it mattered not—it was still that same melodious memory drifting in on
the passage of time… swirling down on the currents until settling sweetly, yet
painfully, in the recall of memory.

My mother loved Glen Campbell.

What woman in those heady days of the late 60’s didn’t?

Dashing boyish good looks…dimples, perfect hair, sculpted nose,
laced with a velvety voice.
He wasn’t Country, he wasn’t Gospel, he wasn’t Pop…
he was simply the complete package.

I can remember sitting with mother in 1969 on that old tweed couch
watching the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour—
This was a time when children could actually watch television without fear of hearing
or seeing things that children shouldn’t really see or hear emanating
from a television….

The line is iconic…
“and I need you more than want you….
and I want you for all time….
for the Wichita lineman is still on the line…”

…as heart tugging violins finish out the notes….

About two years ago, give or take,
Glen Campbell and his current wife (I say current because he had had four marriages
with one in particular making for tabloid drama) gave what was to be Glen’s
last public interview.

Glen Campbell was suffering from Alzheimers.
A disease that actually claimed his life earlier this year.

The selfish disease was robbing his family of the husband and father they loved
while robbing a man of the one person he’d known best his entire life…
that being himself.

He was asked about singing and his songs— what song had he loved the most….

A question I would think somewhat difficult for any musician / singer,
who had had such long careers, to answer—
As songs and melodies ebb and flow with the times—
Because it’s hard to compare what was a career starter with what came about
during one’s peak moment throughout such a lengthy career…

But he answered quickly and at first very effortlessly…
“it’s really the best line of all time in a song you know…. isn’t it???”
as he then turned to his wife with that lost look of one battling with a
memory-robbing illness, when he sadly and poignantly realized he didn’t
remember now what line he was talking about.

His wife offered a small airy couple of notes with the first word, which allowed
Glen’s mind to grab hold as he finished the stanza himself in beautiful A cappella
fashion.

And it is an iconic line.
A beautiful line.
A line that has for me, over time, changed it’s meaning.

Songs, lyrics and melodies all have that effect on us.

So much so that I think I’ve written about this before—and about this very same
song for most likely the very same reason—

It simply caught me off guard.

It reached out through the abyss of time grabbing hold of my arm while pulling
me to a bittersweet place I don’t often like to go.

The hot tears formed as I attempted to utter those familiar words….but I couldn’t.

I couldn’t even speak the words because they had stuck in my throat…
as they achingly cracked coming from my mouth without sound…

And then slowly…the recesses of a memory came into focus,
I was seeing the one who had first loved that song long before I had.
She had her own personal reasons, her own personal recollections…

Things that, at the time, were unbeknownst to me.
Something that caused an overwhelming sense of melancholy…
Something that had left her with words which had no sound,
something that had left her eyes wet with warm tears…

I had no way of knowing then…no way of understanding…
for I had not lived yet what she had lived…

Yet sweetly and even oddly in that bittersweet moment of hearing that single song
with that most iconic simple lyric, I actually understood what she had known
all those many years ago…as warm tears filled my eyes and the words coming
from my mouth had no sound…I was transported one day closer to understanding
the woman I had lost so long ago…

Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:18-22

circling the wagons

“Yup.
The end of a way of life.
Too bad.
It’s a good way.
Wagons forward!
Yo!”

John Wayne

A faithful friend is a strong defense;
And he that hath found him hath found a treasure.

Louisa May Alcott

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I’ve spent the better part of the past two years circling my wagons…
As I’ve been riding on a merry-go-round of all things focused on caring for a dad…
one who has been more child than father…
as it should be noted that that has been pretty much him for the majority of my adult life.

As a life long high school teacher, I can multitask with the best of them…
except when it comes to a crisis…
then my mind and actions narrow.

I become steely eyed…
as I grow laser focused,
blocking out most everything that sits on the periphery of life,
as I turn every available resource to the problem.

Trouble is, there have been a myriad of troubles during the course of
the last couple of years…
all of which have kept me and my sights narrowed and hyper-focused
for much longer than is most likely healthy….
hence my back, or whatever it is back there that has me unknowingly holding my hand
to my lower back as I go about my day in a gingerly fashion….
So unlike my ADDness of darting here and there all before blinking…

As an only child caring for two elderly individuals who have varying degrees of dementia,
as well as a wealth of physical ailments…
and who live miles away in a different city from my own…
it has all left me more and more isolated and emotionally spent

It seems my closest friend these days is the main caregiver who spends her days
making certain no one falls or forgets their medications…
let alone forgetting to eat…
which for one of them is a constant battle.

I live on the road, traversing back and forth.
The days I spend not traversing,
are spent on the phone with various doctors and healthcare facilities,
or paying a sea of endless bills,
or simply organizing a home and household other than my own…
A house that is nearly 65 years old and needs much in the way of care….

My phone rings constantly with the calls from an ever growing confused 88 year old man
who has decided he will die in the hospital come Friday during his surgery…
as his wife, my stepmother,
just can’t understand and is irritated as to why he keeps having to run to the loo.

The concept of a large tumor and bladder cancer has simply flown totally
over her head as she has decided she hates the new dishwasher.
I had to buy it,
have it installed
and now she hates it
for the one single reason…
that I bought it…
Go figure…

She now demands that the caregivers hand wash every dish and glass.
Just as she refuses to eat the groceries brought into the house
because she is convinced they have all gone bad and are rotten upon
arriving fresh from the store.

And if it’s not dad calling, it’s the caregivers calling with the latest craziness
as I work my magic to put out the fires of bodies and minds fighting themselves….

The journey getting here was slow and almost unnoticeable at first.
There were, however, signs and warnings…

Signs and warnings, that perhaps in my naiveté,
I thought would all turn out differently
or never materialize in the first place…

Just like the pictures I had in my mind of my future with my mother…

That when she would one day grow old and grey…as dad is now,
I warmly entertained the thoughts of how we’d have fun together…
We’d go to lunch and to the antique shops we each enjoyed when she and I were younger..
Just as we would then travel and see the world…together…

But those thoughts were smashed 30 years ago when she suddenly died from cancer….
So I don’t know why I try to imagine things as a certain way,
as that is not how they will be…

For the snowball has picked up momentum and is barreling at breakneck speed toward me…

And so, yes, I have circled my wagons…
drawing my camp ever near.
As my circle in life has tightened..
excluding many from what once was…

My eyes have narrowed
As I hold my cards tight to my chest,
lest they reveal too much…hopefulness…

Yet this story of woe is not as tragic as it might seem…
Nor is this heart bitter as it might sound…

For despite the fact that my world has shrunk from what it was…
from my friends
from my freedom
from my choices
from my comings and goings…

there has been much…
inward growing
inward learning
inward bending
inward moulding
inward shaping

For the winds of this life are shifting…
And attentions must be turning…

So I ready myself and my camp
for that which comes our way…

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’
declares the LORD,
‘plans for welfare and not for calamity
to give you a future and a hope.’

Jeremiah 29:11

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.
A prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971)

You never know who’s watching

Read my letter to the old folks, and give my love to them,
and tell my brothers to be always watching unto prayer, and when the good old ship of Zion comes along, to be ready to step aboard

Harriet Tubman

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.
C. S. Lewis

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(two ghost crabs eyeing one another / Julie Cook / 2015)

Are we ever truly alone, left to our own devices, quirks, likes, dislikes. . .
or
Are we scrutinized, analyzed, picked apart and studied by hidden eyes?

Do we hide away feeling safe in the stillness of what it means to be alone. . .
With the quiet seeping into our veins, offering a soothing comfort–
Where freedom is allowed to soar?

Are we lost in the silence of one?
Either pulling a welcoming blanket close, warding off the chill of frosty glances–
Or do we grow uncomfortable with perspiring nerves from heated examinations?

Watching
Looking
Seeing
Wondering

We are watched over before we are even born.
Monitored, measured and observed. . .
Wondered about, marveled over and hoped for. . .

Yet we grow constantly eagerly independent,
fighting any and all watchful care.
Hidden secrets kept from those who see.
Struggling to hide away from prying eyes.

Yet there will always be two who see. . .
Two watchful ones who know. . .
Ourselves and our Creator—

The question remains, are we comfortable with either set of watchful eyes?

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121:3-8

Hide and seek

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
Rumi

“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front”
― G.K. Chesterton

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(the parting of the storm / Julie Cook

Where are you hiding my beloved?

Pray tell what barriers separate love?

Do you seek as you are sought?
Do you spend your waking hours searching?
Just as you spend your slumber and dreams, hiding?

How shall the clouds of consciousness part?
Will you draw them back, dispelling the shadows
or
Will you draw them closed, blocking the radiance from sight?

Sorely you are in need as you heart thirsts to be quenched
Your tears are spent as your spirit sinks low

A lone whisper is heard riding across the winds. . .
Lift your face my child. . .
Allow the Light to wash away the darkness–

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul
Deuteronomy 4:29

Do my eyes deceive me?

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

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(a tiny little skipper butterfly / Julie Cook / 2015)

Standing outside under a crisp blue sky,
lost to Winter’s bareness, forlornly, I sigh. . .
Suddenly. . .
something fast and quick
something with color
something out of place
Dashes sporadically past a bewildered face.

Flittering
Herky jerky
Erratically bobbing up and down. . .
In and out of the greys and browns. . .
The tiny intruder darts brazenly past my head. . .
“What in the world” was all I could be heard to have said.

February 6th,
a nippy winter’s day is certainly no place at all
for a butterfly’s early spring call!
Yet suddenly excited,
Ecstatic to say the least. . .
All hope and joy are miraculously increased!

Has Spring just ventured the tiniest bit closer
Or is this merely something out of place. . .
Sending emotions on a seasonal roller coaster?
Will color soon scatter all the grey away
as we all look forward to a much brighter day!

Here’s to our little visitor. . .
that he may bring glad tidings to our Winter weary senses. . .
from some far away place of warmth, bright lights and colorful days!!!

what’s Preparation H got to do with it?

“There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.”
― Tennessee Williams

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(an expensive collection of spectacles from over the years)

Two things you may or may not know about me. . .
First, I got my first pair of glasses when I was a junior in college and secondly, I’ve got terrible sinuses.

And if you’ll just hold your horses, I’ll tie in the Preparation H in due time—trust me.
And no, we’re not going to delve into the whole hemorrhoid issue because I was raised that a proper lady does not discuss such in public. And for the record, this is not a tale about that.

My eyesight started out as a tad near sighted coupled by a astigmatism. Meaning my poor eyes did double duty just trying to focus– period. Which in turn meant, at the time, I was not a candidate for contacts—and that was certainly fine by me as I wasn’t too keen on the thought of constantly poking and dabbing in my eyeballs 24/7–or God forbid, I’d lose a contact in my eyeball as it would slip to the back of my eye and eventually into my brain. Ok, I admit I wasn’t up on the physiology of eyes.

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago when I started wearing my glasses religiously. As in now it’s troubling seeing both near and far.

You should also know that as I type this post, I am actually wearing two pairs of glasses. One on top of the other. As in I had to get new glasses last week and they had to mail in my frames to be fitted with the new lens—leaving me up the proverbial seeing creek.
I have had to get by wearing a very old pair which may be doing more harm than good. These old glasses are so weak that in order to see up close and read, I’ve had to put some dollar store readers over the old prescription pair—talk about a new fashion trend. . . as well as a headache–literally!

These substitute glasses are so bad that as I was recently reading an article about the latest, frighting and devastating stories about the Ebola virus spread in Africa it was my understanding that the article stated that the school of thought and latest theory about the spread of this deadly virus is a result of fruit bars.

Fruit bars??
“Oh dear God,”
I practically scream as I immediately think I must rid the kitchen cabinets of any and all fruit bars, when it dawns on me that fruit bars seem to be an odd item for the inception of something as sinister and deadly as Ebola.
I double up the glasses, rereading the sentence—ahhh, fruit bats!!!

Which now brings me around to my sinuses.
I never seemed bothered by sinus issues until I moved to this current town of mine almost 35 years ago. Of which was also the time I started teaching high school art. And you should know that our town is also home to a very large company which I will refrain from mentioning by name but just know that they do things with wire—-lots and lots of wire–all over the world, as in this is a big time global company. They have some smelting plants, retaining lakes, giant smoke stacks, and buildings for this and that important business scattered all over town.
I’m talking big time.

Urban legend has it that the fish living in the ponds near the plants have more than the required God given two eyes on their heads. There are also the stories of the mysterious green glow emitted in the wee hours of the middle of the night from the smokestacks of the plants. And then there are the dead pines and vegetation on the back side of the plant.

Correlation? hummmmm

For the record, I have had two sinus surgeries over the years. The first one on the right side worked like a charm—I could actually breathe and no longer battled an onslaught of infections. I awoke from surgery immediately aware of how freely I could finally, actually, joyfully breathe—it was short of miraculous!
The second surgery, which followed the first surgery by a couple of years, not so much.

There I was laying in recovery, just waking up, when the doctor, who, mind you was wearing pearls with her scrubs during surgery–of which made me feel terribly underdressed, triumphantly announced that all was now clear.
I however had to immediately counter her proclamation.
I knew without a doubt that nothing about my breathing through my nose was clear.
I was still just as “clogged” as I was prior to surgery.

A terrible waste of my money, my time plus my having to undergo a near death procedure as they made me sign all those papers about brain damage, going blind and of course– death. Not to mention a terrible waste of her having to have donned her pearls.

She never did understand that I couldn’t breathe and I never did understand the significance of donning pearls for a surgery.
Perhaps I missed the dress code–something about no make up, no jewelry, no nail polish–but nothing about pearls per se.

I have graciously volunteered for a sinusectomy, which sadly does not exist.
I’ve often wondered why we have sinuses in our heads in the first place. Air pockets inside our skulls which seem to act as ballast, keeping our heads above the proverbial deep waters of life as it were.
Wasted space if you ask me.
Pack um with cement and I’m good to go.

Which brings me back around to glasses, sinuses and Preparation H.

So between my feeling constantly clogged up, suffering from congestion, heavy watery eyes—not to mention the swollen bags under my eyes and pressure in my head, on top of the now strained vision sans my regular glasses as in I’m having to wear two pairs of glasses, I suddenly recalled a little beauty secret that surely could help elevate my latest sinus issues and swollen eyes, not to mention maybe bringing a little clarity to my vision—
enter Preparation H. . .

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There’s a little beauty secret in the world of runway models and photo shoots–Preparation H!
That thick white ointment used for years for the treatment of, how shall I put this delicately., hemorrhoids, or as George Washington would have known about such from his excessive time spent in the saddle.
As in hydrocortisone, as in anti-swelling.

Since the ointment is known for its “shrinking” abilities–once upon a time, some uber chic model out there, had the brilliant epiphany that she could use a little shrinking ointment to eliviate the puffiness under her eyes. Just before hitting the hay, for her much needed beauty rest, this uber model figured she could rub a little Preparation H underneath each eye in order to eliminate all traces of puffiness.

Voila, the secret to smooth, non puffy, eyes.

So last night, feeling way too congested, with lovely swollen puffy eyes and blurred vision too boot, I reasoned that if dabbing a little ointment under my eyes could relieve puffiness then obviously smearing it all over my face would surely help with congested sinuses and blurred vision.
Perfect sense.

After my evening shower, I proceeded to slather the Preparation H under my eyes, over my eyes, on my cheeks, on my forehead, over my nose–opting to leave it layered thick and heavy verses rubbing it in—heavier the better is my motto.
I now appeared a bit aboriginal dressed in complete war paint.

I top off my new beauty ritual with a nice thick layer of Vicks vapor rub smeared underneath my nose.
Nothing like the scent of camphor, menthol and eucalyptus trying to waft its way up through sealed nostrils.

Happily finished with my application of medicinal / beauty treatment, I head to bed.
Just as I crawl quietly under the covers, as not to disturb my sleeping husband— suddenly, with a jolt, my husband pops up, wide awake from a deep sleep as if he’s seen some sort of spirit or apparition.

“What in the world is that awful smell and what in the hell is that all over your face?!”

Maybe I need to work on a plan B.

an advent of color

Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.
Paul Klee

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(the first signs of spring as seen on the forest floor / Julie Cook / 2014)

As tightly wound fists rubbed sleepy bleary eyes
The senses slumbered for. . .has it been 3 or 4 months?
A cold world lay splayed open, frozen over and bathed in monochromatic tones

White, grey, brown, with every shade in between.
Heads and faces, turned downward, stare blankly at the grey mush underfoot
As all senses lack stimulation.

On a tired grey morning an amazing event transpired
As heavy faces remained downcast, with blank eyes staring emptily at the dead brown leaves,
A tiny piece of life fell from a tree.
What is this new strange object?

What is the word for this new phenomenon, we nervously ask.
Have we forgotten the words which represent this new oddity?
Could the word perhaps be “color?”
Is it red?
Or is it green?
Maybe it is blue?
Delightful words, words such as “bright,” “vibrant,” “saturation”. . .?

The reality of this presumed mirage, observers muse. . .
. . .merely the change of seasons.

The timely new word is Spring!
Marvelously bright and delightfully colorful Spring!
The scales have fallen from our weary bleary eyes and we are, joyously. . .
Amazed!!!

“Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
― Wassily Kandinsky,