“His mission was not his own”

“His mission was not his own”
Words shared by The Rev Russell J. Levenson Jr
during his eulogy of his friend and parishioner, President G.H.W.Bush


(18 year old Lt George H.W.Bush in naval uniform)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you came out on the other side
wondering how in the world you made it through?
How you survived and made it out alive?
Or more likely that you fared better than those around you?

Have you ever found yourself wondering or even lamenting “why me?”

Why me Lord?
Why was I spared and they weren’t?
Why did I win when I shouldn’t have–
knowing that someone else should have won?
Why was I so fortunate, or so lucky, and why were “they” not?

These can be haunting questions for anyone.
They can be a life’s curse or a life’s blessing.

For there is a great responsibility to whom much is given.
(Luke 12:48)

And life, for those who have had near brushes with death, know all too well, that
life suddenly becomes a tremendous responsibility.

Yet such a question as ‘why me’ can be particularly haunting
for one so young. For one who actually stares at death and yet surprisingly,
is allowed to walk away when others were not.

We have seen this in wars and sadly in recent terror attacks and mass shootings.

And it just so happened that this very overwhelming life issue of ‘why me’ actually
happened for a newly turned 20-year-old boy who found
himself alone in a small rubber yellow life raft, bobbing up and down in the middle of
the Pacific Ocean after having baled out of a burning airplane…
coming to the stalk revelation that he’d been spared while his friends had not.

This same “why me” question came up three times Wednesday during the funeral of our
41st president, George H. W. Bush.

First, the question was raised by Jon Meacham, the famed author, and presidential historian.
He painted the scene vividly as only such a gifted writer could.
A young naval pilot and his crew taking off from a Navy aircraft carrier with a bombing mission
on the docket.
They were to take out a Japanese radio tower on a tiny Pacific island.

“Shortly after dawn on Saturday, September 2, 1944, Lieutenant Junior Grade
George Herbert Walker Bush, joined by two crew mates,
took off from the USS San Jacinto to attack a radio tower on Chichijima.

As they approached the target, the air was heavy with flack.
The plane was hit.
Smoke filled the cockpit; flames raced across the wings.
“My god,” Lieutenant Bush thought,
“this thing’s gonna go down.”
Yet he kept the plane in its 35-degree dive, dropped his bombs, and then roared off out to sea,
telling his crew mates to hit the silk.
Following protocol, Lieutenant Bush turned the plane so they could bail out.

Only then did Bush parachute from the cockpit.
The wind propelled him backward, and he gashed his head on the tail of the plane
as he flew through the sky.
He plunged deep into the ocean, bobbed to the surface,
and flopped onto a tiny raft.
His head bleeding, his eyes burning, his mouth and throat raw from salt water,
the future 41st President of the United States was alone.

Sensing that his men had not made it, he was overcome.
He felt the weight of responsibility as a nearly physical burden.
And he wept.
Then, at four minutes shy of noon, a submarine emerged to rescue the downed pilot.
George Herbert Walker Bush was safe.
The story, his story and ours, would go on by God’s grace.

Through the ensuing decades, President Bush would frequently ask,
nearly daily— “why me?
Why was I spared?”

Next in line during this service, this looming question was raised by the former
Canadian Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney who also eulogized his former world leader compatriot
and more importantly, his dear friend.

Mulroney opened his verbal tribute to his friend by asking those in attendance if they could
remember what they were doing just after their 20th birthday.

Most should remember the joy and gaiety found in the passing a milestone—
that being the leaving behind of the tumultuous teenage years as they were
now standing on the great periphery of adulthood.

And yet I wonder as to how many of us know that at 20, one is more child than adult?

Mulroney shared that as he had just turned 20, he was working as a laborer in the outskirts
of Quebec while still living at home and thankfully enjoying his mother’s cooking.

All the while his one-day dear friend was bleeding and clinging to life in a liferaft
out in the middle of the Pacific ocean weeping “why me??”

For a third time this somber day of a State funeral, another speaker addressed the question…
“Why me?”

This time the speaker was President Bush 41’s parish priest,
The Rev. Bruce Levenson who once again raised the question but who rather matter of factly
gave us the answer.

Father Levenson explained that “his mission was not his own.”

His mission was not his own.

It was other than and much more than that liferaft bobbing up and down in the
ocean…

Yet that is not to say that the lives of his comrades at arms on that fateful day
were any less important.
Any less than, as some might think with such a response to such a question.
That somehow, they were simply “allowed” to die while young George was allowed to live.
The issue of allowance is not to be the issue here nor are we to be recipients of such
deep knowledge.

For God uses our lives and our deaths to extend far beyond our simple understanding.

It is the ripples that reverberate outward from the dropped stone in the pond.

The ‘why me’ questions that have been asked by countless individuals who have lived to tell of
another day all live with a tremendous burden of guilt and a tremendous burden of responsibility.

Father Levenson, James Baker, Al Simpson, Brian Mulroney and even son George H. Bush
each reminded us that a day did not pass in George Herbert Walker Bush’s life that he did
not ask that question…nor not feel the heavy responsibility.

He either asked the question audibly or silently…but he asked none the less each and every day.

I am reminded of the 1946 Christmas Classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

The entire premise of the movie, for Jimmy Stewart’s character George (so aptly named),
was what would life have been without him. How in turn would the lives of those who
were a part of his own life turn out without a George Bailey to interact with them?

One dark and lonely Christmas eve night so long ago, George was inches away from ending his
own life, by jumping into an icy cold river.
Yet God needed to give George a wake-up call.
He still needed George to do some important things.

Much like in the real-life story of a young George Bush…God still needed
for him to do some things.

Now I can’t say that all such stories have happy endings.
Nor can I say that all spared lives seem to turn out better than imagined.
So why George H. W. Bush?

That is the question remaining for all those lives that have been affected,
touched and even created because of him to ponder…as well as those of
us who have been directly or indirectly affected by his actions, choices,
legislation as well as leadership to ponder…

Yet the one thing that I do know…the same thing that President Bush knew…
is that God will have has His ways.

Ways that elude us.
Ways that often frustrate us, but they are His ways and His alone none the less.

What President Bush learned, one of life’s most important answers, was that his life,
his mission was indeed not his own…
it was God’s.

That we should all bend our ways to be His ways…

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!
You have been faithful with a few things;
I will put you in charge of many things.
Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23

the gifts of the unknowing

“What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”
Hans Urs von Balthasar


(Senator Bob Doyle, now 95, salutes the casket of his friend, colleague,
opponent and fellow WWII vertern, George, H.W. Bush)

If there is one image that has touched my heart the most over the past couple of days,
other than the image of former President George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully resting
at the foot of his casket, it is this image…
this one picture…

The poignant and heart touching image of Senator and fellow WWII Vet
Bob Dole of Kansas being helped to his feet, in order to salute his longtime friend.

Senator Dole, of Kansas, is 95 years young yet is frail and is in failing health
but he was determined to be brought to the US Capitol building in order to pay his
respects to his fellow veteran and friend.

To most men of ‘that generation’ respect has always meant standing, and in this
case saluting, as both men fought, and were each wounded,
during what they simply refer to as “The War.”

Bob Dole was in the infantry fighting in Italy when he was hit by German machine gun fire
in the back and arm.

According to Wikipedia:
Dole was badly wounded by German machine gun fire, being hit in his upper back and right arm.
As Lee Sandlin describes, when fellow soldiers saw the extent of his injuries,
all they thought they could do was to “give him the largest dose of morphine they dared
and write an ‘M’ for ‘morphine’ on his forehead in his own blood,
so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose.”

Dole was transported to the United States, where his recovery was slow,
interrupted by blood clots and a life-threatening infection.
After large doses of penicillin had not succeeded, he overcame the infection with the
administration of streptomycin, which at the time was still an experimental drug.
He remained despondent, “not ready to accept the fact that my life would be changed forever.”
He was encouraged to see Hampar Kelikian,
an orthopedist in Chicago who had been working with veterans returning from war.
Although during their first meeting Kelikian told Dole that he would never be able to recover fully,
the encounter changed Dole’s outlook on life, who years later wrote of Kelikian,
a survivor of the Armenian Genocide,
“Kelikian inspired me to focus on what I had left and what I could do with it,
rather than complaining what had been lost.”
Dr. K, as Dole later came to affectionately call him, operated on him seven times,
free of charge, and had, in Dole’s words, “an impact on my life second only to my family.”

I am always gratified when I read of or hear of the stories about the impacts
that one human being can have upon another…
impacts, that more often than not, are unbeknownst to the one who is doing the impacting.

I call it the gift of the unknowing.

These unknown gifts actually consist of simple things such as time,
assistance or a listening ear or even what might be perceived as an
insignificant opportunity…
These gifts, which more often than not are unbeknownst to the giver…
become paramount and even life-changing to the recipient.

Bob Dole had his gift giver.
And we Americans are better for it.

And if the truth was told, I think most all of us have had a gift giver, if not several,
during the course of our lives

And so I wish to share the following story that was offered by Dana Perino, a current
Fox News analyst and host and former press secretary for President George W. Bush…
one more story about a gift giver of the unknowing…

As our nation continues the process of mourning President George H.W. Bush, I wanted to share a story with you that was shared with me this past weekend. It was told to me by a friend who spent his career at the CIA. I can’t reveal his name for obvious reasons but his story is one I wanted to share with you. I think it’s a particularly good lesson for those who lead a team – whether they’re in political, private or military life.

Here’s what my friend told me:
My first encounter with 41 was many, many years ago; he was the Director of Central Intelligence. I was a young officer, still not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had spent very little time in the headquarters building – and I actually worked hard not to go there.

My supervisor finally cornered me and forced me to go to a mandatory two-week course at headquarters. I had managed to squirm out of it three times but this time I was trapped. I hated the course, didn’t care for the instructor and didn’t warm up to my classmates. They all appeared to know each other, I didn’t know any of them and made little attempt to get to know them.

At lunch, I would slip down to the cafeteria, get a cheeseburger, chips, and a coke, take my newspaper and go sit in the corner, eat and catch up with the world. (There was no internet!)
On about the fourth day, I was sitting in the corner, minding my own business and I felt a presence… someone was standing over me, with a tray. “Mind if I join you?” The stranger asked. I looked up, ready to say I was almost done… To my surprise, it was George Bush, then the Director of Central Intelligence. He was all by himself.

I stood up and said, “Please, have a seat.” I introduced myself and told him where I worked. He started to introduce himself and I said, I know who you are.

He laughed… that laugh of his. He said we had minutes before his people (handlers) would realize he was missing and come find him.

We talked about duty and service. I told him about my job and how I was there for a class… I left out the part about me being a jerk and not mixing in.
He opined that those classes were a good way to bond with people from different parts of the organization. I believe he sensed I wasn’t doing that because I was eating alone. I was embarrassed.

True to his thought, soon after some folks “found” him – although he insisted he wasn’t lost. I invited him to come visit the building I worked in to see what great work my colleagues were doing. He said he would.

I went back to the class. Late. I told them why and was bombarded with questions about him. I had an epiphany and became a full participant.

He left me with a message I hadn’t understood – not only was I learning from my classmates, but they were also learning from me.

A few weeks later a handwritten note found its way to me at my office. He thanked me for our conversation at lunch; it said he had learned a lot!

Little did he know the lesson I learned from him. He turned my life and career around.

This was the first encounter I had with him… and my favorite George H.W. Bush story.
When I responded to my friend’s note, saying how remarkable this story is, he said this:

“Remember, the Agency was under seize by the Church and Pike committees. People were angry (I was angry). Morale was low and it wasn’t enjoyable coming into work. He made me feel (probably for the first time) a senior [leader] cared about me and what I thought.

“His gift of asking the right questions and listening was amazing. He made me feel what we were doing WAS important and everything was going to be alright.

“I had been looking to leave. Of course, I didn’t… but his lessons weren’t lost on me.

“I learned how to be a good, compassionate leader and understood that everyone was always looking at you for direction and assurance that you care about them and what they do.”

It is and was most important to lead when things were not going well.”

Dana Perino currently hosts FOX News Channel’s (FNC) The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino (weekdays 2-3PM/ET) and also serves as co-host of The Five (weekdays 5-6PM/ET). She joined the network in 2009 as a contributor

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them,
for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12

CAVU, 41

CAVU
Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited

A common military acronym used primarily by pilots
and an acronym used throughout the life of the 41st President of the
United States of America, former WWII Naval pilot,
George Herbert Walker Bush, 1924-2018


Image of President Georgh H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully who has been told that
his mission is now accomplished and well done.

One thing that we Americans do well, this mixed family of the very divided and
political adversarial…the good thing that makes us the people who we are…

Is the fact that we can actually come together in times of our collective loss and express
our gratitude to those individuals who have given so much of themselves to serve us, the people—

Those being our leaders…those being our presidents.

Yet not only do we say goodbye to our 41st president…
we also say goodbye to one more member of the Greatest Generation…
A military service member who deferred college in order to enlist.
Only to become the Nation’s youngest fighter pilot at the tender age of 19.

As a member of this greatest generation,
Bush is remembered not only as one of our Presidents but more importantly,
he is remembered as one of those who sacrificed so much of their own lives,
as some did with their very lives, in order to secure the future for our lives.

After having been hit during a bombing mission, with his plane on fire,
Bush told his crew to “abandon ship” while he stayed at the controls to complete
the bombing mission before bailing out himself.

Read the story here:
http://ww2today.com/2-september-1944-usnr-lt-george-h-w-bush-shot-down-in-dive-bomb-attack

And so during the next several days, we will gather together as a Nation along with a grieving
family in offering our gratitude to the service of our 41st President…
a man who was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, uncle, great-grandfather
as well as a Luetinent in The United States Navy…A man who would go on to
become a Congressman, an Ambassador, the Director of the CIA,
a Vice President and eventually, as most of us recall, the man who followed in the large
footsteps of Ronald Reagan in becoming the
Nation’s 41st President of the United States…George Herbert Walker Bush.

CAVU, Mr. President.

” America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle.
We as a people have such a purpose today.
It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

George Herbert Walker Bush

Wrestling and prayers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Søren Kierkegaard


(falls in the Agawa Canyon Park / Algoma District, Ontario, Canada / Julie Cook / 2017)

I mentioned the other day that I was blessed with friends who are very wise…
Well as good fortune would have it, I had another wise friend has come along,
offering her own insightful guidance…
by actually offering a bit of wisdom in sharing.

She has passed along a link to A Painted Prayerbook by Jan Richardson
with the day’s thoughts resting on “The Wrestling Is Where the Bessing Begins:
(excerpt Aug 2, 2017)

Jacob is no stranger to encountering God in a dark, betwixt place.
It has been just four chapters and a lifetime since that night when,
fleeing for his life, he was visited by an angel-drenched dream that
assured him of God’s presence on his path.
Now, in this latest nighttime meeting,
Jacob learns that sometimes when the angel meets us in the wilderness,
it makes us work for a blessing.
This seems to be one of the ways the angels choose to minister to us,
knowing there are times when a good struggle comes as one of those
strange comforts of the wilderness.
Sometimes we need not to rest but to wrestle,
to be stretched to our limits,
to reach deep into the reserves we did not know we had.

(http://paintedprayerbook.com)

And like Jacob, I wrestle.

I wrestle with this thing I claim as life.
My life.

I wrestle with my perception, my wants and my presumed,
as well as intended, outcomes…
I then wrestle with God’s intention for my life…
for you see, those two thoughts are not always the same…
His verses mine.

And now I’m finding myself prematurely and uncomfortably pushed away from
resting undisturbed somewhere, while just hoping to sit under a shade tree.
I sit trying to avoid the heat of day…the prickly weight that pushes down on my
head from not only what is mine, but what is all around me.
I long to avoid the unbearable heat generated by my own life’s struggles,
as well as the heated percolation found in the greater world at large.

And here I now realize that I must wrest the blessing which is to be found in
all of this…
Because as you see, we sometimes actually have to work for a blessing.

And yet…
in that one little fact…
that being that I will often times be uncomfortable and even struggle while
becoming exasperated to the point of near failure….
yet still….
I find that within the wrestling…resides pieces of deep spiritual comfort….

We are traveling today the 10 plus hours down to West Palm Beach, to south Florida.
Martha’s memorial service is Saturday morning, at her beloved little Episcopal
Church.

I will greatly appreciate your prayers for our travels.
It’s a long drive in uncharted waters so knowing that a Heavenly host
travels with us is indeed a comfort and a blessing…
one not wrestled over I trust….

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

Righteous activistism

“I really only love God as much as I love the person
I love the least.”

Dorothy Day

I know that God is really good at giving us a kick in the pants when it is most needed…
and maybe I’m at the place where I might need that kick….
For you see this little book in the above picture, arrived in the mail about a week ago,
right in the midst of when things were coming to a head with Dad.

We had his funeral Wednesday and it was truly lovely…
and I’ll talk about all of that at some point in the near future…
but for now, I just need decompress a bit…

I’ve told friends that I’ve yet to really mourn or grieve as I know I should and
really need to….
but because life is still demanding a great deal of me and my time…
that grieving and morning are simply on hold…

But soon that too will come.

I did however actually visit the grocery store today, stocking back up on real
food for our house.
Yet I almost fell apart walking past the candy section…
which was just up from the soups and broths…

As everyone knows I always had to buy Dad chocolate…
However, sadly in the end, even his desire for chocolate waned.
The last thing I was privileged to feed him was a requested bowl of chocolate ice cream
3 days before he died.

He couldn’t utter words but he could move his lips..
I could tell he wanted something and so I ran through a litany of what that could be,
when I said ice-cream, his eyes sparkled wide…

But as I say, more about all of that later…

It’s time now for a little diversion…

So back to the book…

My editor friend at Plough Publishing House is good to me…as she sends books that she
thinks I will enjoy pursuing…

So my interest was piqued when I opened the latest envelope and saw the little book
on Dorothy Day.
I confess… about all I knew about Dorothy Day was that she was an ardent Catholic
covert and what I’d call a Holy and Righteous activist.

This little book is not an autobiography but rather focuses on Dorothy’s thoughts…
on those almost mystical inner musings, worries, concerns and yearnings.
For as ardent as she was to be that living example of Christ…
she also suffered from those moments that St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross
so clearly share….that being of the Dark night of the Soul….

So I immediately felt as if there was a strong connection between both Dorothy Day
and Mother Teresa.
I don’t know if these two soldiers of Christ ever knew of one another during their lifetimes…
but they were certainly two souls cut from the same cloth.

I’ve not had much of an opportunity to wade very deeply into the book but one
of the first sentences by Dorothy that I read was
“if you have two coats, you must have stolen one from the poor”

That one sentence resonated deeply with me—for I have more than one coat.

So I will keep today’s post brief by leaving you with food for thought offered by
our friend Dorothy…

Faith came before understanding.
And Faith is a gift of God.
It cannot be imparted by any other person.
I cannot give it to you.
Only God.

You are certainly going through the sorrowful mysteries.
But if you don’t go through them to the glorious,
you will be a hollow man and considered an opportunist and a fraud…

Certainly good words to chew on during these final weeks of Lent……

in all of our tears… there rests the Divine

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

img_0936
(ornamental cabbage / Julie Cook / 2017)

Obviously I am tired.
Not in a working-out sort of tired.
Not in the end of a really long day or week sort of tired.
Not in the sleep deprivation sort of tired.

I’m just weary.
And I am very tired.
And I am overwhelmed.

For such is the season of my life

And such is the life of a person who is caring for aging parents…
where one of the two is in the process of dying from cancer.

The daily commuting to and fro is hard.
The coordinating of the care, the medical issues, the groceries, the house…
that is all hard.
The lack of time for one’s own world and home is hard…

Life?
Who has one?

Friends?
What are those?

Clean house?
hahahahahaha……

Yet it is to the waiting and watching for the inevitable…
that is the hardest.
It is also the saddest.

For ever since mother died 30 years ago, it’s been pretty much, for good or bad,
just me and dad.
I took over the roll of parenting him when both mother and my grandmother died just
months apart.
I had just turned 26 at the time.
And despite his remarrying when he was almost 70, it’s really just been me and him.

Watching the body slowly failing and falling apart…
The moans and groans of pain…
The halting morphine induced thoughts and speech…
The sounds, sights, smells…
nothing good.
Especially when I’ve already done the same thing 30 years prior.

Add to that the now spouse…the one who suffers with the ever increasing dementia…
the one who has nary a clue as to who any of us are…
it makes things either really really comical or really really sad…
…and my money is on the comical.

Oh but I don’t want to waste our time here today bemoaning my life.
You really don’t want to hear about it anyway.
No one really likes a complainer…

Yet maybe we ought to try telling that to all those nutters out there who are currently
spending their time shouting, marching, demonstrating and protesting…
I bet they’re tired…
tired of fussing…
just as much as the rest of us are tired of hearing
and seeing it all…
but I digress….

I can’t even find respite in my sleep…
for in my sleep are the dreams of a mind that is over burdened.

In last night’s dream there was this scene of my mother’s funeral where my husband
decided to wear a Hawaiian shirt rather than a suit, rendering me mortified.

The reality is that my mom’s funeral was over 30 years ago and my husband doesn’t own
nor would he ever wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Or how about the other night when my husband had to shake me awake in order to get me to stop
“screaming” in my sleep…
all because I was dreaming that I had walked into the house that use to be our house years ago
and there were strange people, squatters, trying to take over the house…
I was screaming at them to get out.
A disconcerting moment at 3 AM when one’s spouse is sound asleep.

The reality was that I had flipped through the television and caught a bit of that alligator
Swamp People show…there had been a devastating flood in southern Louisiana last
year and one of the regulars on the show had to leave his home because it had flooded.
The episode showed him coming back to the house after the flood waters had receded…
leaving behind a house full of huge bullfrogs and a giant snapping turtle.

Or how about the other night when I was dreaming that I was trying to take my son,
who in the dream was a toddler but in real life is almost 30,
in order to seek safety because the planet was under attack by evil aliens…
space aliens, not the illegal variety…
and we were racing in a car, desperately trying to find safety as we were having to hit,
running over, the evil invaders in order to get away….

The reality was that I had flipped through, once again, the channels catching a brief
snippet of the movie Fury on the History Channel—
it was right when the Sherman tank, commandeered by Brad Pitt’s character,
went rolling over the heads and bodies of Germans in their fox holes, naturally crushing them…
I think that’s when I flipped it as I wasn’t up to the horrors of war that evening…
only to have them come flooding back oddly in a dream…sigh….

So not even in sleep is there a safe haven these days.

Yet…however…
no matter how bad things may be right now…
No matter how sad,
how heavy,
how hard…

I know I do not go this alone…
Despite often feeling very much alone.

I can’t make dad better, I can’t even make him feel better right now.
As this is now all pretty much out of my hands…

Yet I know that neither Dad nor I are alone in this.
Despite the naysayers cries, those non-believers who scoff
at the purported “fairytale” which is to be found at the center of all of this…
There is a Hand moving much deeper in all of this…

For this particular moment in time is but fleeting…
despite the seemingly never ending and endless melancholy
merry go round we now ride…
For there are blessings, there is Grace…
and there is the Divine…
the very hand of God…

“Rejoice in the Lord,’ said St Paul (Phil. 3 : 1).
And he was right to say, ‘in the Lord’.
For if our joy is not in the Lord, not only do we not rejoice,
but in all probability we never shall. Job, as he described the life of men,
found it full of every kind of affliction (cf. Job 7 : 1-21),
and so also did St Basil the Great.
St Gregory of Nyssa said that birds and other animals rejoice because
of their lack of awareness, while man, being endowed with intelligence,
is never happy because of his grief.
For, he says, we have not been found worthy even to have knowledge of the blessings
we have lost. For this reason nature teaches us rather to grieve,
since life is full of pain and effort, like a state of exile dominated by sin.
But if a person is constantly mindful of God, he will rejoice: as the psalmist says,
‘I remembered God, and I rejoiced’ (Ps. 77 : 3. LXX).
For when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God,
then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him,
and is no longer troubled or anxious.
Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks;
and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gift of grace it has received.
And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness,
and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.”

St. Peter of Damascus

death, an expensive business…

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

“I do not fear death.
I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born,
and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

― Mark Twain

the-knight-death-and-the-devil(Albrecht Durer / Knight, Death and the Devil 1513)

Back around 1973, when I was more of a youngster than what I am now…
I remember finding a paperback book in a bookstore that I just had to have.

I think it was the cover that drew me in.
Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal sitting perched on a cutout of a crescent moon.

The book, Paper Moon, was actually the movie title based on the book
Addie Pray by Joe David Brown…it was simply renamed in 1973,
which is when Peter Bogdanovich directed the film.

The story, set in Depression era Alabama, is about an orphan named Addie
and a man named Moze who is a drifter and scam artist.
Moze who meets Addie following the burial of her mother, agrees for a fee,
to take Addie to relatives in Missouri.
With much of the underlining thought being that the drifter / conman
is actually the young girl’s biological father.
The story is about not only their actual journey to Missouri and the
myriad of scams they pull trying to make a fast buck,
but it is also a tale of the journey of self discovery.

I never did go see the movie but I imagine it was probably pretty funny as well as moving
as the storyline is one of humor as well as sorrow.

What I remember from the start of the book is that Moze had a particular scam
that would take him from town to town reading a local paper’s obituaries.
He would then make note of the names of those who were recently widowed, names
sounding as if they had money.
He’d next call upon the recently bereaved widows explaining that their recently
deceased husband had paid for a very expensive engraved bible but that the
deceased husband had only paid down a deposit on the bible and was
in turn to actually pay the balance when the bible was delivered.
Moze would then claim that he had come to deliver the bible as the widow
was now expected to pay the outstanding balance.

I think that was my first exposure to not only conmen,
but to the notion that death could
in turn equate to big business… as in a means of profit.

And I can now attest to the fact that, with both sound and knowledgable authority,
that there is not only big business running throughout all of life,
but that there is indeed big business to be found in death as well.

The Spector of death has certainly been hovering about my life as of late.
I think he hovers around all of us, that Spirit and Shadow of death,
but it’s just that we are more aware of his presence at certain times during our lives
more so than others.

If you had told me last Thursday that dad and I would have been chatting today
about Clemson’s big win over Alabama Monday night, I’d have told you that you were crazy.

From Tuesday, when Dad was sitting up eating chocolate covered doughnuts to Thursday,
when he was incoherent,
more out of it than not as his breathing was shallow and erratic at best…
I just knew our time had grown greatly limited.

(This is where I would insert a picture, but the picture is too sad to share)

The Hospice nurse had even come out to tell me those things they tell people
when Death is closer then we care for.

The idea of goodbyes was looming as it was a long hard day…
that is until late that evening when Dad seemed to come back to the present…
wanting a bowl of soup as he also wanted to know the times of Saturday’s NFL playoff games….

Go figure.

So my cousin, who is more brother than anything else, told me after our Thursday’s scare
that it would probably be a good idea if he and I made plans to met with those folks
whose jobs it is to deal with all things death.
Such as the funeral home, the cemetery, etc…..

Of which we did today.

Dying, death and burial is just as costly as living…if not even more so it seems.
And maybe that is because it comes in one huge lump at one single time as life and living is
spread out over time.
As in death, time becomes a bit of a moot point.

Yet during all of our planning and arranging…during all of the heavy decisions that we were wading through and deciding on…those sorts of things that one normally muses over briefly from time to time
preferring rather to linger only momentarily and casually…
I was struck by something other than the sheer costs behind funerals and burials…

Whereas we can prearrange, arrange and rearrange all we want here on this earth…
what with our lives and our dying…
It all pales in comparison when it comes to what is actually going on
once we take our last breath.

Maybe it’s because I have had Death’s presence so close to me these past several
months…such that I have found that the here and now is not nearly as important
as to what comes next.

There are so many folks who are concerned with living and living well,
that they run like hell,
far away from any thoughts of what comes after when the good living is all but over.

Maybe it’s because of a shallow and empty belief system,
maybe it’s due to fear of the unknown…
but no matter what the reason, as I am now all too aware,
the importance if found not in how we live…
but rather the importance is actually found in how we die.

That is not to say that our deaths are to be melodramatic or rehearsed…
as that is nearly impossible because for most, death is instantaneous…
both without time nor thought.

And it is for that very reason that the thought of death and dying must come long
before it is really all too late.

Because I know that when one takes one’s last breath…
something else entirely different begins.
And it is only up to each of us to decide what exactly that beginning is to be all about…

And if you think thoughts about God and Jesus,
Heaven and Hell,
life and living,
sin and death…
are all fodder for the superstitious or simply the mumbo jumbo of the sick and elderly…
you need to reconsider you thoughts….

Because there is something which is much more expensive waiting on you other than the cost
you will be leaving behind….for those who remain for when you die….

For it is truly a question of Life eternal
or
Death eternal

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness,
it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

1 Corinthians 15:42-44

Day is done, gone the sun…

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

(lyrics from In My Life
attributed to John Lennon)

DSCN2988
(my father-n-law, 1942–An enlisted man who eventually was charged with the care of B-52s / stationed in England during much of the war)

I don’t know if you have ever attended the funeral service for either a current or perhaps long passed member of our armed forces….

I had not.

Oh I had seen the countless individual tributes as well as the way too soon and excruciatingly painful farewells endured by families across this great Nation of ours…those funerals and services caught in the headlines or in the papers, or in the news…victims of the countless wars and conflicts which have plagued this land of ours…
or perhaps they were merely the victims of the ambiguous passage of time…

Those solomon yet heart wrenching ceremonies where the smartly dressed and impeccably precise service members slowly and resolutely perform the age old necessary, yet painfully dreaded, task—
the final task afforded all members of the service…

That being the final overseeing and demonstrative act of respect freely given to one of their own.

It matters not whether these current young men and woman of service know the person for whom they have come as acting military representatives.
It matters not if they know the grieving families.
What matters is that they come…

As the two young Airmen waited, at full attention and salute, that already hot Spring Sunday afternoon..
waiting at the freshly dug deep hole, in the heavy red Georgia clay…
waiting with a fixed anticipation for the approaching casket of their comrade…
the silence was palpable, broken only by the muffled sniffles offered by those falling tears.

Slowly and painstakingly borne on the shoulders of grandsons, who are now the same age if not older of this once proud soldier, is a man who was simply known to them as “Papa.”
They knew he fought, but that was all.
His generation was not one to dwell on what had been…
There were not the stories of exploits or adventure..
merely that a job had been done…
that was all.

Many volunteered long before our Nation was involved.
Perhaps they sensed it would not be long…
that the all-call would soon be sounded.
The choice had not been for a career of service..
Life simply had worked out that way.

They went with no expectations…
They had learned from the prior war, the war touted to end all wars,
that glamour was not to be found in the battles of man.
Men had returned home, if they returned at all, broken.

They simply knew that now, at this crossroads of time,
that it was merely a matter of right verses wrong, good verses bad.
They went to make things right.

Today we have lost that sense of right verses wrong, good verses bad…
as we so often find ourselves drowning in the details.
The lines are blurred as the sides are skewed.
The distinctions between the good verses the bad have been lost.
We no longer seem to know our direction nor purpose or of that which is of
right or wrong.

This is not to say that war and fighting are just or right.
No war is just.
Yet it is in the end goal in which justice lies.
Freedom verses tyranny
Democracy verses oppression

They were not perfect individuals.
They were young, energetic yet flawed…
but they were ready and equally willing…
To do what was not particularly wanted or desired,
but rather to do that which was needed and necessary.

This was a time before the knowledge of PTSD or of the aftermath of trauma to the psyche.
These men and woman saw things, smelled things, heard things, did things…
that would haunt them for a lifetime.
Just as those who who have gone on since…have equally suffered,
Yet it was with this generation that those secrets were to remain..
to be held silently close and not to be freely divulged.

It was rarely spoken of once it was all over.
A job had to be done,
it was done,
and now it was over…
that was that….

They came home, often broken within,
but went on with life without looking back.
Lives grew, families grew…
as lessons were lost with time…

The two young Airmen this warm April Sunday afternoon had come to do their job,
their duty.
After the final Amen was breathlessly whispered…
Silently, yet in precise mirrored rhythm,
a flag was removed from a lone casket.

Over and over, tightly folded,
pure white gloves meticulously went about their task.
Creases were reverently straightened as a final salute was offered.
A lone solider turns then kneels with flag held tightly to his chest.

He kneels before my husband, a living mirror of the man now in the casket.
“On behalf of the President of the Untied States…”

It matters not of ones political affiliation.
It matters not whether one voted for said president…
What matters is that a timeless act is playing out…
That others may see and know of the sacrifices made by those who have gone before.

War is now mocked while our soldiers belittled.
Respect is withheld…
As a Nation now turns upon itself.

The number of the grateful who can understand are shrinking
as the number of those who served shrinks ever still.
Selflessly, patriotically, willingly…
they gave, he gave,
they served, he served.

There are those who will now say that patriotism is a lie
There is no justice in defense.
And there are no answers to be found in aggression.

But had this generation not acted as they had…
Had this generation, this greatest of all generations, not risen to
an anticipated need…
Our lives, both yours and mine, would be vastly different today…

With trembling heart, yet resolute acceptance, a son’s hands receives the flag
so lovingly offered.
Received and accepted on behalf of a man who had not been perfect,
who had not been proud but
who simply did what he thought was right for those of us who
he had no idea would reap the reward of his “gift”
A gift he never considered to be a gift.

His gift, his legacy, his memory will continue on…
through the lives of both his children as well as grandchildren.
Whereas the life of a once breathing and living human being…
that of a soldier, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman, is now silenced…
His gift to all us continues on…

It is to be found not only in the aching hearts of a family
who remains broken, picking up the pieces…
yet rather it remains, as it is found, in a meticulously folded piece of cloth.
A piece of cloth he was so very proud to fly.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

Beware the Walu

“Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison,
and everything I don’t eat has been proved to be indispensable to life…..
But I go marching on.”

George Bernard Shaw

poop fish
(an image borrowed from the web of a “Walu” fish, otherwise known as escolar–the image says it all)

Firstly I want to thank you all for your the prayerful love extended to both me and my family as we struggled over the weekend, and continue to struggle, with the sudden the death of my father-n-law.
At some point in the near future, I will touch base on this latest detour within Life’s journey…
however today…I thought we could all benefit from a bit of uplifting levity.

I always marvel at God’s impeccable timing…as well as for the depth of His comfort, joy and even laughter when it seems we are at our lowest…and have fallen to the bottom of our despair…
…Of how He works ever so gently, reminding us of His ever constant presence…especially when we feel most overwhelmed and alone.

Sometimes He comes as a gentle breeze cooling the tear streaked cheeks of sorrow…
other times He comes riding in on the wings of comedic diversion….

Today it is upon the wings of comedy I wish to expand as I want to share the tale of a fish…
A fish by any other name would taste so sweet….

Saturday had been a very long day.
It was the day following the sudden death of my 92 year old father-n-law. Whereas he was in his ninties, he was still very much alive and quite active…still working and very much a part of our daily lives.
I had been cooking for him on Wednesdays as my husband and I would take him supper and then breakfast every Sunday. He was not one for wearing his dentures, so meals were “soft”–lots of fish and mashed potatoes.

Saturday evening following the visitation at the funeral home and prior to Sunday’s funeral, my husband and I found ourselves exhausted both physically as well as emotionally. Here it was 9 PM as we drove back home when we suddenly realized how hungry we were…as we couldn’t remember when we had actually last eaten.

Thinking by 9PM most restaurant crowds would be tapering off, we headed to the local Longhorn Steak House… only to be met by throngs of girls in softball uniforms waiting outside. It seems a tournament had taken place earlier and now the hungry players had amassed for a healthy dose of protein.

“Go on to Lil Hawaiian” my now disgruntled husband groused.
Lil Hawaiian is a local restaurant run by a Hawaiian chef who specializes in fresh fish with a Polynesian flare. His fish is not the typical fish found so far inland such as trout, catfish or tilapia but rather fresh fish he has flown in often from the west coast.

Tired and very hungry I scan the menu noting that several of my go-to favorites are sold out. My husband sticks to his safe standard of steak and shrimp as I eye something that sounds good asking our server her opinion.. “Oh I love walu, it’s a buttery fish”
Butter?
My ears perk up.
Being a lover of all things butter, I tell her I’ll take it.

Moments later our food arrives.
I am presented with a lovely piece of white pan sautéed fish topped with a ginger shiitake mushroom sauce paired with jasmine rice and sautéed snow peas.
The first bite was divine.
A wonderful unctuous and satiny fish that practically melted in ones mouth.
I offer my husband a bite, who laments that he now wishes he’d been adventuresome, ordering the same.

As I finish the last bite asking my husband, who is an avid fisherman, if he’s ever heard of walu.
He casually munches on his shrimp and cheekily tells me that it’s probably a trash fish.
Grabbing my phone I decide to google walu.

My eyes suddenly grow wide and my mouth hangs open as I begin to scan the top links for the walu fish…

“World’s most dangerous fish…”

WHAT?

“Don’t eat escolar…”

Escolar??!!?

“Oh I didn’t eat escolar, I ate walu…WHEW”
the rising panic starts to subside…
when the very next line listing the other names offered for the escolar fish….
jumps right at me…W A L U

From food blogs to nutritionists, from fisherman to even TripAdvisor…every link’s top line consisted of one of the following disclaimers…

“don’t”

“beware”

“dangerous”

“to be avoided”

down to

“avoid at all costs the ex-lax fish of Hawaii

or

“don’t eat the poop fish of Hawaii.”

By now I’ve turned pale while my husband stares at me during mid chew of his steak.

I begin reading aloud…

...The escolar, aka walu fish, is a delightful buttery fish with a dangerous side effect.
It is so bad that the fish has been banned from public consumption in Japan, Italy, Australia with the EU mandating that the fish be packaged with a health warning…

Warning number seven on one such disclaimer especially caught my eye…

7. Pre-Existing Conditions. As always, pregnant women have no fun. Also, people with malabsorption or bowel problems should probably just stay away. Unless you find your bathroom comfortable and you dislike your pants

Anyone who knows me, knows I have suffered with IBS my entire life.
My stomach and I are not friends and I work very very hard to keep it happy.
This is absolutely the last thing I needed…an innocently consumed yet guaranteed trigger for misery….
all during a very important and busy weekend…

What exactly happens to those poor souls who knowingly, or unknowingly such as in my case, consume this so called “butter” fish of which you are now most likely wondering…
well…I don’t wish to be too graphic but I will simply cut and paste to the chase…

“But the buttery fish is actually a kind of snake mackerel, a deep-sea bottom-feeder full of a wax ester that accounts for its dreamy velvety texture. Unfortunately, that oil is not digestible by humans and causes severe gastrointestinal distress in some people. It has earned escolar the nickname “Ex-Lax fish.”

Well, a ‘laxative like effect’ is how my fish monger described it. Others would describe it as closer to diahhrea. An expert would call it ‘keriorrhoea’. Literally translated, it means ‘flow of wax’. Oily orange droplets pouring out your pooper. Keriorrhoea occurs because the wax esters in the flesh of the fish pool up in your intestine.

Symptoms can begin anywhere from 30 minutes to 36 hours following consumption.

With that last little fun fact, my husband quickly asks for the check, as he hasn’t even finished his last bite of food, wondering aloud why in the world would a place with a Hawaiian chef, of all things, knowingly offer such to their customers?????

We race as if our lives depended upon it head home with me wondering if we shouldn’t just detour to the ER so I could get my stomach pumped.

A long story short…

With our Sunday filled with the sorrow of official good-byes, families, friends and an emotionally heavy sadness, I knew the last thing we’d need would be for me to be in some sort of physical distress.

I actually did not feel well throughout much of the night but hoped it was simply nerves generated from the current events.
The following morning, in order to be on the safe side with an added bit of insurance to safely survive the funeral, I downed several Immodium.

By late that evening we gratefully realized we had made it through the rigors of the day.
Following the ceremony, the family gathered back at my father-n-law’s house as the church ladies provided the family with a lovingly cooked meal…but I hadn’t much of an appetite only picking over the food.

By Monday morning I thought that my 36 hour window was coming to a thankful close. I would be home free… escaping the wrath of the walu—-that was…until after a morning cup of coffee…

Oddly and seemingly out of nowhere, there were strange rumblings coming from somewhere deep within our house…alarmingly it dawned on me, those loud rumblings were coming from somewhere deep within my own gut….and they weren’t rumblings of hunger….

Later in the morning, I managed to call my husband, who was by now safely at work and back to a much needed routine…
I wanted to inform him that it was official…
the walu fish had finally made its presence known in my life…and it was not pretty…

The good thing, the thing that I was most grateful for however, was that I made it through the difficulties of the weekend without the added misery of an unhappy digestive tract…as disaster thankfully waited to strike at a more convenient time.

Had I not “researched” the walu fish, I would have thought for certain that the sweet church ladies had given me some ghastly gift of food poisoning with their love offering of a wonderful southern spread.
But with my having been fully educated at the dinner table the night prior, I knew all too well that I was suffering from the revenge of the Walu…

Odd coincidence or bad dinner choices or perhaps God’s delightful way of adding a little levity and a bit of diversion to our otherwise overtly sad detour on the journey of Life….

Now can someone please quickly pass the Immodium…

Here’s a little link for your own research into the effects of the escolar / walu fish…

http://blog.medellitin.com/2008/12/escolar-world-most-dangerous-fish.html

Reverence, Revered and Respect

“Let parents then bequeath to their children not riches but the spirit of reverence.”
― Plato

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

DSC01683
(how pure is white / Julie Cook / 2015)

I was driving to town today when the cars in front of me suddenly began pulling over to the side of the road.
I wondered if an ambulance was approaching as I also began rapidly slowing down while making my way to the edge of the road.

The lead car of the approaching procession was one of the local police.
Following close behind was a solemn black hearse and behind that was a long line of cars with their hazard lights all flashing.

Those of us on the opposite side of the road, the now growing yet stopped line of on-coming traffic, waited patiently and respectfully until the funeral procession passed us by.

I am always greatly moved when I happen to find myself on the road when such a sad and somber processional of cars rambles by—well wishes and prayers are silently sent to those passerby’s on their way to a rite of passage full of difficult farewells.

Incidents like the one this morning always bring to mind a memory I hold of a similar time of respectful observance. It was several years ago when I was visiting Cortona, Italy. My aunt and I had wandered into the local Pharmacia. Italian pharmacies are truly experiences steeped in decorum and order. . .which is such a contrast in a country known for its unexplainably chaotic traffic as well as its passionate and unrestrained emotions.

As we were wandering about the store, looking at a display of the cutest sandals of all things, the lights in the store were suddenly turned off as the sales lady reverently crossed herself as she moved toward the door in order to shut it. She held her finger up to her lips, hushing the now curious patrons inside, before turning her attention back to what was soon to be passing by the store.
And that’s when we all saw it.
Along the ancient cobbled stone road a white hearse slowly made it’s way through the small medieval town followed by a long line of mourners who were marching silently behind.

As soon as the funeral caravan had passed, the door was reopened, the lights popped back on and it was business as usual.

When it comes to our dead and dearly departed, it appears that both respect and reverence are deeply rooted and widely universal.
And yet I am bewildered by the lack of such which we woefully fail to show, demonstrate or deliver to the living, our fellow human beings.

Sitting on the side of a small town’s road, as a local funeral procession snakes its way to a countryside cemetery, my thoughts turn from this current scene of respect and reverence to one of tragic disrespect. . .to the very real and raw emotions, coupled with the agonizing questions now swirling around a signal sinister act, in a sister state’s colonial coastal city. . .

A gunman walks into a church in Charleston
A gunman walks into an elementary school in Connecticut
A gunman walks into a youth camp in Norway
A gunman walks into a museum in Tunsia
A gunman walks into a classroom at Virginia Tech
A gunman walks into a publishing office in France
A gunman walks into a synagogue in Denmark
A gunman walks into a mosque in Wisconsin
A gunman walks into a hospital in Germany
A gunman walks into a school in Colorado

On and on and on it goes.
The disrespect of the lives of those who are innocent, fall away one by one.
Lives disregarded as easily as discarded trash, taken for granted and considered expendable.
Lost in the chaos of twisted, broken, evil and hate filled minds. . .

Sterile
Immune
Safe
Exempt
Sacred
Off limits
Protected

Nothing seems to remain as it appears we have lost all respect for the sacred, the holy, the young, the old. . .even losing our reverence for both life and death. . .

Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17

Give to everyone what you owe: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Romans 13:7