principles found in an oddly shaped black hat

Great ambition is the passion of a great character.
Those endowed with it may perform very good or very bad acts.
All depends on the principles which direct th
em.
Napoleon Bonaparte


(one of only a handful of Napoleon’s hats that remains / Le Proccope Restrauant /
Julie Cook / Paris, France / 2018)

Well, after a week of here and there babysitting, I’ve finally, however painfully
and reluctantly, returned The Mayor back home to Atlanta.
She was returned home in one piece albeit with her nagging cold still intact.

And so slowly I am now literally picking up the pieces while working on regaining
my thinking brain.

So on Saturday our local news offered the latest breaking state news that has me more
than simply thinking…

But before I get to that story, let me offer up a tiny precursor…
a tiny tale that reminds me of this particular current news situation of ours.

The hat in the image above is but one of a handful of the remaining famous bicorne hats
worn by France’s most famous leader, Napoleon Bonaparte (Marie Antoinette aside).
The last known hat of only 19 that remain, went to auction earlier this year.
It was a hat that was supposedly recovered from the battlefield at Waterloo and
fetched a whopping $325,000 at auction.

History offers us the small tidbit that, whereas most military leaders of the day
wore their hats with points facing forward and back, Napoleon,
on the other hand, preferred wearing his hats sideways.
This allowed Napoleon to be readily identified when on the battlefield.
A rather bold stance given the fact that many military leaders preferred blending in so
as not to be easily “picked off” by the enemy…
because what’s an army without its leader?

But given Napoleon’s ego, it is no surprise that he would prefer to be noticed
rather than not.

And I must confess, I have always had an affinity for France’s most famous,
or perhaps more accurately, infamous little general…
And so since I’ve previously written about that attraction before it should come as no
surprise of the level of excitement I experienced when recently given the opportunity
of seeing one of his earliest bicorne hats up close and personal.

On our recent visit to Paris, we opted to enjoy an evening’s meal at Le Procope, Paris’
oldest consecutively operating restaurant.
Le Procope has been serving discerning pallets since 1686.
They also boast having one of the most synonymous items associated with one of Paris’
most well-known individuals.
One of Napoleon’s earliest bicorne hats.

The story goes that Napoleon would often frequent Le Procope.
But so did Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, Robespierre, Marat,
and George Sand to name just a few
But the story goes that as a young soldier, Napoleon would come to eat and in typical
fashion, brood night after night…running up quite the tab.

As payment for his escalating bill, Napoleon paid with what he had…that being his hat.
He informed the proprietors that one day his hat would be world famous because he would,
in turn, become famous.
And obviously, the proprietor took him at his word and accepted the hat.

And so now the oldest restaurant in Paris boasts owning one of the earliest hats
worn by what many consider to be France’s greatest and most brilliant tacticians and
military leaders.

Well, that is how they feel now as we all know that France has had an up and down,
love-hate relationship with her dearest yet height challenged leader.

I say all of this because as an up and coming soldier, Napoleon was like any young
soldier, woefully strapped for cash.
Acknowledging that he needed to pay his debt, he did so by giving what he had, his hat…
coupled with the guarantee that the hat would indeed suffice as payment as it would
certainly, cover his expenses given that his future was on track for fame…

And so this not so modest offering has indeed become quite rare and somewhat priceless
while in the end, Napoleon’s guarantee had come to fruition and then some.

A few weeks back I wrote a post about life in ‘the middle’—
as in our nation’s recent proclivity for being pretty much split down the middle given
our voting persuasions.

There are no clear-cut winners anymore because it’s now a matter of an almost equal tug of war
with an opponent’s toe barely crossing the line when suddenly the other opponent, who’s still
pulling, is proclaimed the victor…

So with more near miss victors than ever before…
a wealth of those having won by only a toe’s length or the proverbial skin of the teeth,
the losing side has taken to the ugliness of temper tantrums.

The problem in all of this is the growing numbers of near-miss victors and their equally
determined tug of war partners unwilling to surrender—despite their toe having crossed
the line.

It just seems there are simply no real clear cut winners any more—no full out right bodies
that come flying over the line after being jerked over by the formidable foe—
rather it’s come down to a constant stream of photo finishes.

Take for instance the recent race for Governor here in Georgia.

The numbers told us that the Republican Brian Kemp won.
The numbers were simply not there for his Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams.
Although the numbers were indeed close.

Brian Kemp is a what many consider to be a typical good ol’ boy, Southern politician
while Abrams is a single black woman who was poised to be the first black woman
to hold such a prestigious office here in the deep south…
putting her on the edge for making monumental history.

Lots of unspoken thoughts and opinions are now floating and flying around about both of
these tug of war opponents and their collective sides.

So in typical ‘in the middle’ mindset of this nation…Abrams whose toe was pulled slightly
over the line…obviously over the line…refused to let go of the rope despite
the arms raised of the victor Kemp.

Two weeks have now passed despite Kemp claiming the victory in the wee hours of the vote counting,
as Abrams has now dug in and refused to give up her end of the rope.

Mathematically it has been clear that it would be impossible for her to call for a re-count
let alone a runoff.

So finally yesterday, two weeks after the fact, Abrams emerges to make a statement.
She announces that Kemp will be governer but that she will not concede…
in fact, she will file a lawsuit over Georgia’s voting irregularities…
Irregularities for a state that proudly boasts that its voting practices have been on point
for the past oh so many years.

On the one hand, we have someone admitting their opponent has won the prize while they in turn
refuse to admit that they have lost.
A refusal to concede while skirting around the obvious.
A win and a loss…no tie.

No longer do we as a public witness any level of magnanimity between opponents.
There is no graciousness between opponents let alone between one party to another.
No sense of decorum.
No extending of the hand from the vanquished to the victor noting a race well run…

Rather there is refusal.
There is denial.
There are claims of foul play.
There is the stomping of the tantrum’s foot.

No more is there a “may the best man, or woman, win” mentality.

No longer are there lessons of fair play or the lessons of how to win or lose graciously
being offered for our youth.
No examples of taking the high road.
No living with the numbers…
Rather its a matter of refusing to acknowledge defeat.
No more selflessly throwing one’s support behind the victor in order to work together
for the betterment of “the people”…for the sake of both sides of voters.

This current sort of mentality and poor sportsmanship leaves me, a voter, resentful of the
tantrum makers.
It makes me angry.
I am discovering very quickly that I have no tolerance for obstructionists.
Those who are the stalematers, the momentum breakers, the saboteurs of our own successes.
Those who wish to stop the good of the entire nation for the good of themselves.

And so I think of Napoleon.

But not so much for reasons one would assume.

Yes, he was a man who was small in stature but huge in ego.
A man who even I admit hated the notion of losing.
His was a life of battle and conquest with the ultimate goal being his own rising to the top.

Not the most magnanimous of mindsets.

Humility was not a word ever used to describe Napoleon.
No self-deprecating in his corner of the world.

The question of his true motives and his real concern being either for France and her people or
simply for himself…well…only history can help us pick that apart…

And yet here in this tale of an obscure little black and oddly shaped hat,
we learn of a would be great man acknowledging his being in a bit of a tight spot.

We hear the acknowledgment that even those
with great expectations of self can still recognize and even own up to stumbling
while being, in the end, at somewhat of a loss.

In this case, the loss of enough cash to pay one’s bill.
Living fast, loose and large and not being able to afford to do so.
Just like so many in our society today.

And yet we know Napoleon did not run out on his debt…something he easily could have done.
Yet there was the matter of honor and of principles.
Honor and principles that many of us lack today while preferring to live loose and large…
We assume that someone else, such as the government, should come to the rescue
and excuse or even pay for such wanton living.

But here, an otherwise self-centered egotist owns up to owing…
and pays his bill with the only thing he really owns at the time, he pays with a hat.
A hat along with a promise…
All while a gracious proprietor, who at the time, probably rolled
his eyes as he’d heard his fair share of grandiose dreams from one dreamer too many,
in turn, graciously accepted this pitiful payment none the less.

A simple act of give and take.

As we learn that a truthful acknowledgment, albeit hard truths, actually give way to a glimpse
of humility.
And there must always remain humility if there is to be any sense of hope in our society.

So when even just a hair of that toe crosses the line, admitting we’ve been defeated is not only
the right thing to do, it is the only thing.

Fair and square losses…
losses with no amount of whining, fussing and cussing, challenging, foot stomping
or threats of lawsuits can turn a loss into a win…
and if it could, in the end, would the win by hook and crook be worth the cost of our
humanity?

I worry that our society has lost all hope for the glimmer of her principles, those being
foremost graciousness and humility.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but
each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3-4

Three questions…at the foot of the cross

“A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”
St. Therese of Lisieux


(St Dominic at the base of the cross, with my reflection in the protective glass, also at
the foot of the cross / Freco by Fra Angelico / The Convent of San Marco / Florence, Italy

“The beatitude of the saints is immutable, like that of the Son of God. . .
Add ages to ages; multiply them equal to the sand of the ocean or the stars of heaven;
exhaust all numbers, if you can, beyond what the human intelligence can conceive,
and for the elect there will be still the same eternity of happiness.
They are immutable, and this immutability excludes weariness and disgust.
The life of an elect soul is one succession, without end,
of desires ever arising and ever satisfied, but desires without trouble, satiety or lassitude.
The elect will always see God, love God, possess God and always will wish to see Him,
love Him and possess Him still more.
This beatitude is the end destined for all;
God has given us time only in order to merit it, being and life only to possess it.
Reflect seriously on this great truth, and ask yourself these three questions
at the foot of the crucifix:
What have I done hitherto for heaven?
What ought I to do for heaven?
What shall I do henceforward for heaven?”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, p. 179
An Excerpt From
Spiritual Exercises

rest not at the entrance

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart.
If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face.
If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence,
and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.”

St. Anthony of Padua


(St Anthony of Padua / Sainte Sulpice / Paris, France / Julie 2018)

So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles
and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat.
But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock,
we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow,
at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall,
indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us.
This blood pleads for us and demands mercy for us.
But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance.
When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood,
she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very
innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus.
There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.
St Anthony of Pauda

pretty much dead middle

“Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence,
but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence
to something that transcends them both;
this is an observation of the Middle Way.”

Seneca


(Chaple ceiling Museo Delle Cappelle Mediciee ( the De Medici chapel) / Florence, Italy /
Julie Cook / 2018)

For whatever reason, I have always been one who looks up when I go into someplace new.
Especially when traveling and visiting different locations.

When I walk into a massive Cathedral or other historic building…
I have learned that what’s on the ceiling often makes the ceiling more impressive than
what remains at eye level…

And yet so many people miss out as they never bother looking up.

I’ve even been known to look up in elevators wondering why the ceiling is a mirror.


(the elevator to the Luxembourg Parc Hotel in Paris / Julie Cook / 2018)

Early domed temples such as the Roman temple, the Pantheon,
situated in the heart of Rome, whose open oculus continues to capture our imagination,
is an early case in point.

The Pantheon’s opening was not simply left open in order to be some sort of a famous
architectural oddity or simply to allow light to enter into a windowless temple, but was
rather due to the fact that early engineers and builders could not figure out how to actually
enclose such a massive free-standing dome without wooden beam supports..
of which would prevent it from caving in upon itself from the sheer unsupported weight.

Yet the opening was a cool way to follow the sun, follow the time of day,
while watching the rain pour indoors…


(Pantheon oculus / Julie Cook / 2018)

The open niches along the dome’s surface are not only a decorative purpose but rather
work to help solve some of the weight issues.
The decorative openings required less concrete, therefore reducing the weight of the structure.

Yet figuring out how to close the opening was still a conundrum…

That was until the early 1400’s when the artist, designer, and architect Filippo Brunelleschi
was credited with designing the first successful free-standing dome for the Cathedral of Florence,
the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore…
A cathedral that had gone without its roofed dome for over a hundred years as no one could
figure out how to successfully design and execute such a structure without wooden supports.

Services and rainy days did not mix well.


(a viewoncities.com)

Cathedrals and civic buildings all over medieval and gothic Europe have been constructed
with similar massive domes, impressive soaring towers and open barrel vaults complete
with their flying buttresses and ribbed vaults…
impressive engineering feats accomplished by relatively low tech societies.


(vaulted ribbed ceiling of Sainte Suplice, Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2018)


(ribbed vault of Norte Dame Cathedral / Julie Cook / 2018)

Eventually, ceilings would become extensions of their surroundings, lavishly
painted and decorated…
pulling our eyes upward and beyond.


(Chaple ceiling Museo Delle Cappelle Mediciee / Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)


(Both of these images, with one being a detail, are in the Pantheon in Paris/ Julie Cook / 2018)


(Both of these domed ceilings are found in Les Invalides / Paris, France
/Julie Cook / 2018)


(Santa Maria sopra Minerva/ Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)


(St Peter’s, The Vatican / Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

I’ll be the first to admit that the better pictures of ceilings are usually the ones when
the photographer is able to stand directly underneath the very center…
much like I managed to do for the first image.

Nice, round, equal and symmetrical.

Most of the other shots are taken at angles due to the inability to get smack dab in the middle.
Therefore they just aren’t as visually appealing and just don’t offer that same sense of
dimensional perspective.

And so whereas the middle seems to be a pretty good spot when wanting to look directly upward
while wanting to take a pretty symmetrical photograph, I’m left wondering about the
middle we’ve seemed to have worked ourselves into in this nation of ours.

We’re nearly smack dab center in this ongoing battle of tug of war.
Or so say our last several years of elections.
With this past week’s elections being not much different.

Contrary to what either side wants, prefers or hopes for…
there were no waves…blue or red.

Deplorables came out in similar numbers as their progressively liberal counterparts.

There were no landslides.

No referendums.

Candidates won not by large margins but in some cases, just by a handful of
just enough extra votes.

Several key elections are still, 3 days after the fact, still up in the air…teetering
like a seesaw swaying toward one then swaying back to the other as the numbers are simply
too close to that 50 / 50 mark.

Recounts and runoffs are more common than not.

Candidates are lawyering up, refusing to concede while others are prematurely claiming
victory.

It’s become a messy situation from sea to shining sea.

We are a divided nation almost right down the middle.
Divided and exceedingly divisive.

Yet as to what this middle is and as to why it seems so hate-filled, I am uncertain…

But what I do know is that we are standing almost divided directly in half.

And whereas equally divided usually means equally weighted and balanced…
that is sadly not our case.

I don’t understand that despite our being divided nearly equally half in half…
there is such a growing divide of vehemence and discord.

Our symmetry is woefully skewed.

And so I think I’ll just continue looking upward.
Setting my sights up above.
Still lifting my view heavenward as the view upward seems much better than what’s
currently here at eye level…

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the
earth and be an atheist,
but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln

Scrutiny, reviews, restrictions… I get it… but…

We seek for truth in ourselves; in our neighbours, and in its essential nature.
We find it first in ourselves by severe self-scrutiny,
then in our neighbours by compassionate indulgence, and, finally,
in its essential nature by that direct vision which belongs to the pure in heart.

Saint Bernard


(ariel view of a portion of the American Cemetery in Normandy, image courtesy of the White House)

For years, long before it became chic or before it became social or before it launched its
commercials with its very own spokes-owl and long before it was pitted against a growing
plethora of similar agencies…I had been writing reviews on Trip Advisor…
way before travel sites were “a thing.”

I have relied on Trip Advisor and its review offerings for everything from restaurants
to hotels to worldwide attractions as well as to the vast array of travel services,
all of which they’ve freely provided…
for,
you guessed it,
for years.

I have been in the top 1% of all Atlanta area reviewers…once again, for years.

I am well aware that each review written and submitted is in turn reviewed by a
TripAdvisor team member before it is allowed to be published…
just as it should be.

Integrity and truth are the driving forces behind companies such as TripAdvisor
that supply the general public with much needed and honest information.

I’ve never had a problem…
that is until yesterday.

I had written a review yesterday regarding the tour group we had used for our D-Day visit
while in Normandy.

I had written the review regarding the guide we were assigned along with an overall
review of the group we had used for this most memorable tour.

I sang the praises of our guide.
I sang the praises of the tour service…and…
here is where I ran into a glitch,
I also included a personal observation…

I wrote why I thought it was important for every American to visit Normandy.
An improbable probability yes, but still something I felt to be very important.

I wrote in my review of how a self-absorbed younger generation…
a generation that seems bent on division, socialism, anthem protests, violence,
all-inclusiveness, etc…
why a history lesson ‘in the raw’…
one such as walking through the American Cemetery in Normandy, would and could be beneficial.

One youthful generation looking out over thousands of crosses and Stars of David of
the sacrifices made by a previous youthful generation.
The lessons from those who went before…
lessons long lost on today’s youthful progressive generation.

TripAdvisor sent me an email about a need for ‘action request’ regarding
my review.
They told me not to include other URLs…
Yes I confess that I did have a link to my D-Day post that I had written here at WP
as I thought it could offer further, and some more in-depth
information, for those who might be seeking more or who were curious about such a tour.

“Okay”, I thought…they’re telling me to cut and paste what I wrote, edit it,
then reload and resubmit.
Okay, I’ll cut out my link.
No biggie.
I get it.

Yet a bit of a problem arose when I figured out that they had only sent me a small portion
of what I had previously submitted. Actually only about 1/3 of what I’d written.
And I quickly discovered, much to my frustration,
that there was no way, not even by going into my history, was I to find the full body of text.

So as I cut out my link, I had to rewrite, as best as I could remember,
what I had previously written.

I cut, edited, rewrote and resubmitted.

10 minutes hadn’t passed before I received the same ‘action request’ email with an added note
that they did not want reviews to include “personal opinions on politics, ethics, religion,
or wider social issues.”

Is this about those so-called trigger alerts?

Okay, I thought…
I’ll try to rewrite it again…rewriting again because they hadn’t provided
the full body of text again…
so I’d be relying on my fading memory, one more time…

But as I thought about this, I said to heck with it!

I opted to write just a bit more in order to finish out the first thought..the portion of the
text body that they had sent back in the email before I proceeded with my new thoughts.

I then proceeded to write that TripAdvisor had asked me to keep my personal observations to myself.

I continued my review by asking how does one write about visiting such powerful places
as the beaches, the various locations, the churches, as well as those overwhelming cemeteries
of that fateful June day in 1944 and not offer thoughts that include “wider social issues?”

Normally I would have kept my review informative with a general sweeping overview…just like
all the hundreds of previous reviews I’ve written…
however, for this particular review, I chose not to do so.
I couldn’t do so.

I didn’t know how I could.

How could I be simple and concise given the sacrifices freely made by all those thousands
of individuals who died that fateful June day?
Those individuals who, unbeknownst to them at the time, died for both you and me?
Do they not deserve more than some simple, generic, sterile, and broad sweeping travel review?

Maybe it’s the impending Veteran’s Day remembrance.
Maybe it’s the craziness currently sweeping our Nation.

No matter what the reason…I just couldn’t keep it simple when talking about
what I saw and what I experienced there in Normandy.

Something very powerful happened that June day in 1944.
Something that greatly affected how each of us lives our lives to this day.
Keeping one’s personal opinion quiet when taking in the raw emotion while visiting
those beaches and those cemeteries is…well…an injustice really.
An injustice to each one of those crosses and stars.

So I suppose it’s all a matter of context…or maybe its a matter of perspective…

No matter what it is…there are just some things that deserve our full attention and our
full voice.

(images from the National Gaurd Memorial of Omaha Beach / Julie Cook / 2018)

We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to
maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do,
would rather die on our feet than live on our knees.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

the Holy Spirit is on the move…

“Often, actually very often, God allows his greatest servants,
those who are far advanced in grace,
to make the most humiliating mistakes.
This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellow men.”

St. Louis de Montfort


(detail from an altar’s funerary tomb within the Chruch of Santa Maria sopra Minerva/
Rome, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2018)

On a warm October afternoon as my husband was back in the hotel taking a much
needed and long awaited nap—
I opted to step out into the streets of the madness which is synonymous
with the Eternal city of Roma…
Wandering with a purpose while drinking in both past and present.

Now I will say that ever since I was a wee child,
napping was just something that was never ever on my radar.
Mother would ‘put me down’ for my nap, gently closing the door, as I’d wail in protest…
Once I realized I was pretty much stuck, I would then defiantly stand up on the bed with
little elbows resting on a windowsill as I’d stare out wondering about the world outside.

What was I missing?
I wasn’t sleepy.
Why waste this precious time offered for living by sleeping??

And before all of you nap advocates out there begin to read me the riot act over the
glorious benefits of naps…
with those first protestors being my cats and my husband…
I will simply plead my defense to my odd wiring…
I am simply not a napper.

So on this early October afternoon, I chose not to nap but rather to explore, meandering
the overtly crowded streets near the frenetic sea of tourists milling in and around
the Pantheon in Rome.
And as usual, I found myself drifting off course.
I cut down a side street that gave way to a quieter and much smaller piazza.
The Piazza della Minerva.

Seeking peace amongst the madness.

I quickly realized I was standing outside of the Dominican Chruch of
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, or rather known to English speakers as
Saint Mary above Minerva—
The name is due to the fact that a Christian Chruch was built over an early temple
dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, or rather the Latinized version being
that of Minerva.

Nothing gives me a greater sense of peace when I’m visiting a large frantic historic city
then finding a hidden, off the radar, church…be it big or small…

Ode to the sacred that beckons me to come in…
Coming in to marvel,
to rest,
to wonder
to ponder,
to think,
to pray…

I am drawn in to such places like an iron ball is drawn to a magnet.
With my eyes open wide, usually adjusting to the dim flickering candlelight,
as my head tilts upward, all the while I try to find my balance as I take in the size
and scope of what it is I’ve been drawn in to.

I allow myself to bask in the utter majesty or rest in the pure simplicity of our
Christian roots.

Such was the case in this ancient gothic church constructed in 1320.

I’ll share more about this visit later as there is a beautiful statue of the risen Christ,
flanking the main altar, carved by Michelangelo…along with the beautiful frescoed altar
paintings by Filippino Lippi
(you remember I was an art teacher right??)

I reverently wandered in this cavernous church while the footsteps of both myself
and those who had also come inside..those who were both curious as well as seeking,
echoed throughout the massive sanctuary.

I stopped before each niche and each chapel, studying and soaking in what I saw.
Soaking in the stories, the emotions, the glory, and even the sorrow offered
to those who take the time to look, read, ponder and imagine.

When suddenly I found myself gazing upon what
appeared to be a large collection of various polished white marble statues.

It was actually more like one particular statue that was just one piece of a much larger
carved funerary tomb which held my gaze steadfast.

There were several statues of women and angels.
Large and imposing, they made me feel very small…both physically as well as metaphorically.

One figure, that of a woman who I initially assumed to be Mary, turned her body away from
the viewers, as well as from her fellow statues.

She was covering her face, turning her body, in what appeared to be a
state of anguish or perhaps even shame…
All the while, a small cherub, also known as putti, looked directly at her in a most knowing
and penetrating fashion.

What did he know about this woman?
What had happened?

Yet rather than being a statute of Mary, this woman was actually a portrayal of Justice…
And rather than being a typical blindfolded image of a woman, as Justice is usually depicted,
this statue, designed by Bernini, was portrayed as a woman who seemed consumed by grief.

There were suddenly a thousand thoughts racing through my mind as I gazed up at this somewhat
painfilled moment of time.
A moment that should have otherwise been private, was here on display for all to see.

No hiding her grief.
No mourning and crying privately.
The putti knew…and now I knew.

But what did I know?

I felt compelled to offer, albeit in some distant fashion, comfort.
I could feel the weight of her pain.
But why?
I had no idea.

Fast forwarding to yesterday morning, I was reading my morning devotions when I came to
the following excerpt from Father Jacques Philippe.
I had a similar reaction to his words as I did to that statue…
there was a sense of the deep weight of both pain and understanding.

Like I say, we will come back to take a deeper and wider look into the beauty and mystery
of Santa Maria sopra Minerva but for now…
The Holy Spirit is busy…
this much I do know…

“When uncertain about God’s will, it is very important that we tell ourselves:
‘Even if there are aspects of God’s will that escape me,
there are always others that I know for sure and can invest in without any risk,
knowing that this investment always pays dividends.’
These certainties include fulfilling the duties of our state in life and practicing
the essential points of every Christian vocation.
There is a defect here that needs to be recognized and avoided:
finding ourselves in darkness about God’s will on an important question . . .
we spend so much time searching and doubting or getting discouraged,
that we neglect things that are God’s will for us every day,
like being faithful to prayer, maintaining trust in God, loving the people around us here and now.
Lacking answers about the future,
we should prepare to receive them by living today to the full.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 55
An Excerpt From
Interior Freedom

A void and the Junk Guys

“We become aware of the void as we fill it.”
Antonio Porchia

Mephistopheles: Within the bowels of these elements,
Where we are tortured and remain forever.
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.
And, to conclude, when all the world dissolves,
And every creature shall be purified,
All places shall be hell that is not heaven.”

Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus


(circa 1985 readers / Julie Cook / 2018)

What you see here is a pair of very dated readers…a pair of reading glasses that date
back to, oh say, about 1985 or thereabouts.

I found them yesterday in an equally dated Etienne Aigner cordovan leather purse.

Etienne Aigner was just one of “the” purses to own back in the late 70’s and 80’s.
It was a designer purse that didn’t totally blow the whole wad such as say a Louis Vuitton
or Gucci bag would have…

It was the type of bag middle American ladies could afford and still feel fashionable
without sinking a small fortune into a bag whose staying power would end by the following
fashion season.
Aigner bags were a bit timeless at this particular time.

It was the type of bag a woman like my mom would have had.

In fact, it was the bag my mom had.

I had something similar as well.
Mine, however, has long since vanished…Mom’s…not so much.

This past week, while I was up in Atlanta keeping a sickly Mayor, who by the way
has graciously shared her sickness with me–her chief aide, I arranged for
The Junk Guys to come to empty out, as much as they could in one day, the basement
to the house, the Mayor calls home.

A house and home that became my house and home in 1962.
I was almost 3 years old when my parents bought the 4-year-old 1958 stately
ranch house on a quiet cul-de-sac in the boomtime of America’s urban sprawl.

Up until then, we had lived in an apartment.
An old-school sort of apartment complex that still stands to this day in Buckhead…
a word that is now synonymous with all that equates to being uber chic and trendy
in Atlanta…a once upon a time simple place that was just merely a junction of a couple
of divergent roadways with a buck’s head mounted on a local watering hole.

It’s an apartment complex that is probably on the National Registry of Historic Places
as the complex has been around a very long time…

Whereas I can vaguely remember the apartment I can, however, remember almost every
nook and cranny of the house.
Recollections of the house that was…not so much of the house that is now.

In 1967, my grandfather died suddenly from an artery surgery gone wrong.
The company he started in the early 1930’s…a business he owned and operated
until his death, was then quickly sold by my dad, the company’s lone salesman.

On a hot humid June day in 1967, a huge Mayflower moving tractor-trailer truck
pulled up outside of our house as men quickly worked moving the contents of a nearly
40-year-old company to our basement.

When they were finished and the basement door was shut behind them,
time immediately stood still in that large section of our basement.
A visible physical reminder of death.

Large wooden desks, metal filing cabinets, metal chairs, leather rolling chairs,
wooden cabinets… all still chocked full of file folders, Rolodexes, business cards,
staplers, gem clips, tacks, hand stamps, mailers, postage stamps, pencils, writing pads,
office signs…all sat still and quiet, in the back half of a dimly lit basement,
collecting dust and cobwebs.

That was until this past Saturday.

Along with that collection of office equipment, a plethora of dinged up and dilapidated
antique chairs, one formal victorian sofa, a couple of vintage dining room tables,
a vast array of rusting tools, circa 1960 metal cabinets filled with
glassware and figurines in various conditions, stacks of vinyl albums dating to the 1940’s,
various beds, Dad’s childhood wormwood bedroom suit, boxes filled with musty books of all
sizes and subject matter, photos and pictures, early computer equipment with heavy monitors and
dial-up modems, cameras, jackets, boxes galore filled with a variety of junk and unsundries,
complete with two giant plywood model train sets had all come to call this basement home.

One family had slowly faded…two by death and one by choice as the lone owner remained…
eventually bringing in a new wife, a new life and new junk to this precarious keeper
of time.

Years, lives and the leftovers of family’s…families who had come and gone,
and all of their forgotten stuff…stuff stuffed down into a dark cavernous basement
left to sit…
But for what reason?

Sentimentality?
Hoarding?
Identity?
Moving?
Life?
Death?

Well, that was until Saturday.

With a new baby on the way…the much-needed purging of previous lives had finally arrived.

When one shuts a door to such a basement…what is in that basement is usually quickly forgotten.
The shutting of a door closes away that which is… as the ‘it’ suddenly becomes what was…
as in the proverbial ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sort of mentality.

Unused space being a prime example of a law found in physics…
a void will eventually be filled…or so it seems.

Before the Junk Guys arrived, I needed to look through a few things…actually a lot of things.
Yet time, this past week, was not my friend as I was needed to tend to a sick baby.
No time to rummage in a cobweb infested musty overflowing time capsule.

On one quick trip down the rickety steep stairway, down just long enough to find a somewhat
hidden away Lord & Taylor box, sitting out of sight in a long since sealed cabinet.
Lifting off that signature colorful box top, I found a box filled with letters.
Letters still in their original envelopes, all addressed to two parents,
who each now seems long gone, were written by their eldest child.
Letters that were written home from college…
written from me to them.

I quickly put the top back on the box.

Mother had saved those letters, yet I wasn’t ready to read over a bunch of trite angst-filled
letters that were written by a shallow self-absorbed younger and more foolish self.
Not yet.

In another cabinet, I pulled out a small box filled full of “do-dads”…
small trinkets that Mother had gathered over the years which had filled her ‘what-not’ shelf
that graced a wall in the kitchen.
Trinkets that were once considered tiny treasures.

As the cleaning committee arrived complete with heavy-duty gloves and boots,
I found the pocket-book.
That same cordovan Aigner bag that I immediately recalled seeing on her shoulder.

It was shoved back on a top shelf of one of those metal cabinets.
Dad had obviously brought it down here to the place where things came to stay,
not necessarily die, but to stay… caught in an odd passage of time and space.
A purgatory of such.
All being oddly caught in a sad surreal stoppage of time.

Everything remained inside, albeit for a wallet— untouched, just as it was on the day dad
rushed her to the hospital that 25th day of July 1986—

And yet she never came home to claim her purse.

I quickly brought the bag upstairs to the light of day, leaving behind the small army
of purgers in that overflowing basement.
I wanted to dump the contents out onto a table where I could actually look at what
a life stopped in time looked like.

Yellowed and faded bank statements, tuition notices for my brother, grocery lists and receipts,
a sterling silver tortoiseshell comb which was a wedding present from dad back in 1953 along
with a couple of pennies, two tubes of lipsticks and a small bottle of Tylenol
all came tumbling out…along with that pair of reading glasses.

Funny, I never remember Mother wearing glasses…only sunglasses.

Quickly I pushed aside the glasses, the comb, a couple of the bank statements and one
grocery receipt before throwing away everything else while carrying the bag back downstairs
to join the host of junk being hauled out to the two moving trucks that were eagerly
ready and waiting to carry away the remnants of the various previous lives that had all
called this house theirs, leaving open space for new lives taking shape.

It would behoove each of us to remember that our lives here on this earth are finite.
Lives that may be painfully short or generously long…
yet each life, regardless of allocated time, is limited…meaning that each of our lives
will be eventually ending…whether we like it or not.

We hold onto things in an odd twisted attempt to keep that which was.
All the stuff becomes the tangible to that which we have lost…
of which is simply fleeting and finite.

Dad’s basement is and was testament of that.
It was the filling of the void.
The proof of resting in purgatory.
Be it good…
Be it bad…
Be it sad…
Be it happy…
or…
Be it simply bittersweet…

All that we have and all that we are will pass away or perhaps worse, simply be discarded…


(a mere portion of the purging basement / Julie Cook / 2018)

Left to being eventually thrown away by The Junk Guys…

What, therefore, you ask, lasts… as we are a people who yearn to last…

Once a man is united to God, how could he not live forever?
C.S. Lewis