Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

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(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)

The elusive quest for beauty and eyebrows

Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.
Albert Camus

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Beauty.
Yes well, what is there to say? Our society is obsessed with it….or rather with the pursuit of such. So much so that we are vainly attempting our hand at brainwashing an impressionable young generation…the mantra that all should be of an everlasting plastic youth. I have written about this sort of thing before. The unhealthy addiction so many seem to have to the scalpel or the needle of the plastic surgeon—augmentation, botox, lipo, all in the name of youth and beauty. Have you seen those faces and bodies of the oh so stretched too tight or blown up like an over inflated balloon—so unnatural.

And then there is the Cosmetic industry with their potions and lotions promised to diminish or eliminate wrinkles. The “magic” formulas peddled to eradicate age spots, skin irregularities, uneven skin tones. The amazing liquids, that once smeared on, transform winter white to summer bronze. That can’t be good.

All of this however is not exactly my focus today.

Whereas I do think this world of ours, or at least the marketing world, has gone over board, nuts and mad quite frankly with this whole quest for eternal youth and beauty….I simply wish we’d all just take a healthy look in the mirror of reality and be happy with what looks back.

I taught teenagers for over 30 years—the teen years are some tough years if you may recall. Self esteem and self image being everything. And may we remember that I was also an art teacher….where much conversation centered on what is art, what is beauty—or rather what is aesthetically pleasing.

And who has been the subject for much of what man, and to a lesser degree woman, has always deemed as the benchmark for the idea of beauty in the female form?—None other than Miss Venus herself as per the Romans and Aphrodite for the Greeks. Not to worry ladies, we have always had Adonis to look to as our “perfect” male….digress, digress

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For years artists looked to this idealized concept of Venus as a measuring stick for feminine beauty. Why would we think that Roman and Greek society created and cultivated a blonde haired blue eyed image as the set standard for beauty when most likely the original concept of our miss Venus was more likely to have had olive toned skin with raven colored wavy hair?

I think the blonde hair blue eyed business being the poster child for beauty has out played itself—not that blonde hair with blue eyes is not a striking match—but let us be mindful that other combinations are equalling as striking and beautiful—be it brown eyes with curly black hair, green eyes with red wavy hair, hazel eyes with short silver hair… ivory skin, ebony skin, fair or dark, the list goes on.

Beauty is truly so much more than skin deep and shallow surface image. I know that, you know that, but try telling the younger generations anything differently. They might as well be wearing blinders as they are forced to focus constantly and confront a mind altering bombardment from the Fashion Industry, the Healthcare / Cosmetic industry and let’s not forget Tinsel Town–of which none will ever let up hammering home the need for the relentless quest to be beautiful at all costs.

So here I was on a short out of town trip with a life long friend who, after a long travel day looked at me, as I had showered and was getting ready to go to bed, and flatly stated “you don’t need to pluck you eyebrows anymore.” Oh dear Lord, if she’s noticed, then countless others have noticed! My eyebrows…or rather my lack of eyebrows—is a true concern. “I don’t pluck them, they’ve simply disappeared.” I reply dejectedly.

Now you must know that women of a certain age tend to lose things….hair being one them–hair, as well as its once luscious rich color. Also, anyone who lives with a bum thyroid can understand my plight as a bum thyroid is most certainly the culprit to the lack of eyebrows—as it is in my case. I have Hashimoto’s disease—best put it is the plight of a thyroid that can’t make up its mind…life on a roller coaster of thyroid hormone production—too much / too little. It sends ones’ weight on a wild ride, ones energy on a manic track of excess and lack and it sends ones hair literally down the drain.

I do take a prescription to help regulate my levels but I don’t think that does anything for my hair. My hair is now rather thin and my poor eyebrows are almost non existent.

There are eyebrow pencils—but my grandmother used those things and looked like a living cartoon. There are tattooed eyebrows but those are a little too permanent for the control freak druthers of mine. My hair usually is long enough to cover at least one eyebrow and I usually hope my glasses hide the other one.

“Ohhhh” my friend responds with almost giddy glee. “Get your computer, we’ve got some ordering to do”….. It seems she found a company that has a line of natural looking pigment powders used to “fill in the gaps” as it were for woman who are in need of such.

My friend recently lived through a battle with breast cancer, of which she has emerged on the other side victorious. She suffered through rounds of chemotherapy that robbed her of precious hair. In order to manage appearing as “normal as possible” while she fought and battled, she found this eyebrow powder. I tried a little…hummmm…”See,” as she hands me a mirror, “you look 10 years younger…” “maybe so” I begrudgingly admit.

My powder arrived yesterday. It has a set of little stencil templates of various sizes with mine obviously being on the fine end of the bushy brow spectrum. Three powders to match my existing hair color tone and the cutest little brush applicator.

If you happen to see me out and about in the near future and find yourself wondering what it is that is now “different” about my appearance….just know that it may be the fact that I now have two wooly bear caterpillars living above my eyes….

There is beauty and then there is necessity…..