Authentic representation

To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting.
e.e. cummings

No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.
Nathaniel Hawthorne

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(a charming little sheep sculpture made by artist Marina Hamilton– County Donegal / Julie Cook/ 2015)

I had fallen in love.
For 15 days, I had fallen in love.
I had traversed the countryside, climbed upward and downward to what seemed to be each hill and dale, skirted the coastline, stood upon pinnacle after pinnacle gazing out over land and sea all the while as I tasted, saw, heard, felt and sensed what it was, what it is, that made/makes this island nation so enticing… as I had simply fallen in love with the sheer wondrous beauty which was lovingly laid out by a masterful Creator before my very eyes…

Yet I had fallen in love with something else as well…as in head over heels in love…for I was taken with and smitten by the endless sea of sheep.

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(a soon to be sheared sheep / County Cork / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a sheep sits enjoying the day, somewhere near Slieve Liag, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a freshly sheared sheep, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

White faced, long haired, short haired, with horns, without horns, black faced, black sheep, brown sheep, all white sheep, spotted sheep–every kind of sheep imaginable…I had loved each and every one I encountered.

Why?

I’m not sure…I’ve just always had a deep affinity for sheep, as I have always fancied myself one day being a bit of a sheepherder.

Most likely it’s because I identify with the spiritual analogy of sheep–of our being like lost sheep with Jesus being the shepherd who goes out in search of that one lost sheep–aka, me…
He didn’t let it go, cutting his losses, but actually left the flock to go searching for the not so bright one who wandered off….

Or maybe its the whole sacrificial lamb analogy…the deeply mournful words spoken by the ancient prophets…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Whatever the reason the love has always been there…but the recent adventure, which brought me face to face, pretty much cemented the deal of true love.

Never mind that they are dirty…bearing poop stained butts. Never mind they don’t make for the most loyal of pets–if you can call them pets. Sheep are skittish, flighty, loud, and are certainly not the brightest animals on the food chain— hence why they are more or less dinner for many an opportunist predator…yet there is just something about them…

And maybe it’s just seeing them sitting, standing, grazing in a most pastoral idyllic picture perfect, kodak moment, locale of sheer sheep beauty that just seals the deal–peace on earth kind of wonderful.

How does one capture, taking home that whole feeling of the moment… of that love at first sight sort of instantaneous feeling—tasting it, savoring it, holding on to it for later when both you and it are parted and far removed from the very moment of being delightfully caught together in time?

There are a million touristy, kitschy, chotskies of the made in China variety of the cutesy Disneyesque sheep any tourist can snap up at any numerous shop throughout the country. Yet I wanted something real, something tangible, something as close to the real deal and unique as I could find.

As our time together was drawing to a close, I felt myself slipping a bit into the heaviness of melancholy as I was actually mourning–it was hard to still be happy, enjoying the moment as I knew I was mere days away from departing—and for who knows how long—a year, a few years, a lifetime?
Would I be back?
I could not say.

Wandering into a little shop of locally made crafts, in the middle of County Donegal, I immediately spotted my keepsake.

He was a little sculpted ceramic sheep made by a local artist. There were actually two perched on a display pedestal. I looked them both over–picking them up, feeling the unglazed heft of clay in my hands, the weight of something solid and substantial…all the while as I looked into those black glassy eyes. I made my choice and gingerly carried my “skelybegs” (a butchering amalgamation of the gaelic surroundings) to the counter. As he, yes it was a he I had decided, was a piece of art, he did not come cheap, but to me, he was worth the cost and then some as he spoke volumes of my Irish adventure.

Once home, I excitedly and carefully unwrapped my prized possession. I had painstakingly carried him by hand the final leg of the journey, even on the long plane ride home, so having unwrapped him and seeing he was in one piece, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I then lovingly placed my little sheep on the counter in the kitchen right next to one of my favorite Russian Icons of Jesus…as it only seemed fitting to have the sheep by the Shepherd.

I greatly enjoy seeing that sheep each and everyday as I lovingly labor about in the kitchen as it helps me to hold onto a very special place and time.
Yet my little clay sheep is but a mere representational reminder of something that, although I deeply love, is far removed from me and my daily life.

The clay sheep is a token of remembrance, a reminder and a representative…
yet he is a far cry from the authentic real deal sheep.
He merely captures the spirit of an enduring love and intrinsic connection to something deeply important.
Which got me thinking…

Jesus–that icon or image of the mystical shepherd sitting next to my little sheep…
Obviously not the real deal either…yet it is rather a visual representative of someone who was… and in my heart and mind, of someone who still is…

Obviously I understand that, feel that and acknowledge that…but what about others…?
What about the countless numbers of non-belivers or other faith believers or even those Christian believers who do not have that knowledge of that tangible Being…how are they to ever understand the depth of the love offered by the one true Shepherd…certainly not from a mere picture, icon or image…it certainly has to be more….

What of those countless numbers of folks currently around the globe, during these terribly trying times, who are more wary than ever before of what being a follower of Christ truly entails.

And then it hit me….

It’s not a matter of those of us who “get it” or truly understand being simply rote, mindless, empty, lip-syncing followers who merely show up to “worship” on Easter, pull out those dusty nativity scenes at Christmas or slap some sort of fish on the back of our car window or flippantly check off on a form that we are of the Christian persuasion but rather it is imperative in these ever growing darkening days that an authentic representative understands that he or she is to step up to the plate…one who understands what it means to be a true imitator of Christ….picking up and taking up the Cross and in turn understanding that that means dying unto self…as an authentic representative understands, grasps and lives the idea that a true imitator of Christ is called to do just that…imitate how Jesus lived and that living often exacts a tremendous price…a price often paid with ones very life, a price we must all be willing to pay….

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
Ephesians 5:1-2

It’s gonna be a bright sunshiny day. . .

I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”
[Notebook, Oct. 10, 1842]”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne

“It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.”

Lyrics by Johnny Nash, I can see clearly now

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(late blooms on the flowering Quince / Julie Cook / 2014)

Long past Spring it is now—that heady time of year when the garishly decadent displays of showy blooms stake claim to what had been a barren landscape. . .
Yet it appears, tucked away in the falling leaves and newly exposed spindly twigs, a few shrubs and bushes wish to reclaim a small piece of that now long departed season of glory— just as all manner of growth prepares, very shortly, to “go out” in a blaze of muted glory.

And so it is on this bright bright sunshiny kind of day, that I”m about to make the trek over to Dad’s.
There’s been some odd things perched on the horizon. . .can’t quite put my finger on it.
I’ve long ceased fighting with him over his lack of “taking care of business.”
I suppose it’ll all just go to the proverbial hell in a hand basket as the tax man may just come get him, but at least he’ll be happy in jail as they will indeed feed him.
And as they continue to have heat, lights and especially TV. . .life is good in Dad’s little world.

“Just stay there” he tells me. “It’s not safe to drive all the way here”
“Dad” it’s about an hour’s drive”—baring Atlanta’s infamous traffic.
“You could be killed!”
“Yes, well, I could be killed here at home Dad”
“But the chances are greater here!” this said with a sheer sense of panic in his voice.
I can’t argue that. . .

“I early voted yesterday. Have ya’ll voted yet?”
A warbly reply “I don’t think we can do that this year”
“WHAT?!” My oh so political loving card carrying diehard pundit is waving off a critical State election?
“I just don’t think we can do that” sounding almost disinterested.
I have high blood pressure, I’m in bed”
“You can’t go vote cause you’re in bed?”
“No”
“You can’t go vote cause you have high blood pressure?”
“No, no, I, I, uh, just don’t think we can do that!” said with the defiance that signals he wants to be left alone—too many questions which require too much thought and response—two keys areas he’s really falling woefully behind in. . .

Plus he’s taken to calling me on my cell phone– which means he’s calling me from his cell phone—the one he lost over a year ago and always said he didn’t know how it worked. Hummmmmmm
He calls twice a day now asking if everyone is ok, as though he’d forgotten he’d called just a few hours before asking the same. . .”Is everyone ok?”
“Dad I’m coming up tomorrow, have you forgotten?”
“You are? Does Gloria know this?”
“Yes Dad, you made me tell her yesterday. . .”
“Are you watching this business on Canada?”
“Yes Dad, it’s terrible. Are you still in the bed?”
“Bed? No, I’m up front watching TV”
“Well don’t forget, I’ll see you tomorrow”
“What? Are you coming up? What for?”
“Just to visit Dad. Do you want me to take you to vote?”
“No it’s too much trouble. I don’t like to travel anymore”
“Travel? Dad, it’s not a trip. It just up to the school to go vote. It’s right up the road”
“Did you vote?”
“yes Dad”
“Who’d you vote for?”
“Everyone you would have wanted me to vote for”
“That’s a good thing”

And so it is, or so I think. . .I’m off to see if it’s really a good thing or not. . .

Chasing after butterflies

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

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

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

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

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

“A drop of ink may make a million think.”

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(photograph: Julie’s desk 2013)

The title of today’s post by Lord Byron, albeit a bit poetic, certainly prompted me to think–as was the point I suppose. Just mere ink on paper…forming letters then words has, down through the ages, changed lives, changed governments, changed nations….From the Talmud on ancient scrolls, to the Magna Carta to our own Declaration of Independence, ink and paper possess tremendous power.

Men and woman die defending ink and paper. We fight one another over ink and paper. Ink and paper has caused people to take their own lives. It’s all a rather overwhelming combination when you actually think about the simplicity of the two as single entities and yet when combined together how staggeringly strong and powerful the two become.

Nathaniel Hawthorn, the early 19th century American novelist, reminded those of his day that “words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” This statement coming from a man who wrote the Scarlet Letter—-the powerful tale we all read in High School of the single red letter A literally forced upon a young woman, to wear for all to see, as a visible sign of a private indiscretion made very public. A single written letter, worn, changing lives forever.

And when I think of a small, rather pitiful, man who took pen and paper to write about his “struggles”, Mein Kampf, and how that combination of letters, forming words, became a psychotic manifesto of a single disturbed individual who worked a nation up into a frenzy of death and murder….or of another angst ridden man who put ink to paper, forming a doctrine of living which in turn sent another nation to revolt against it’s ruling czar, changing the course of history and our own lives forever—it becomes so overwhelming to me….it all simply starts first with ink, then paper, then letters, then words…………….

Today so many of us causally throw words around never taking time to ponder the consequence or outcome of those words which are now so easily clicked off a computer or phone. From toxic viral e-mails to emotional ranting tweets—words and their piercing effects are almost unemotionally thrown out at individuals, with intentions to hurt, to mock, to belittle–allowing the offender to hide behind them—-

No longer is it really ink on paper. Did we think more, do we think more, when we are actually having to take a pen or pencil in hand to a sheet of paper rather than the rapid fire texting we seem to have reduced ourselves to today….? Did we consider our words more carefully when we were actually writing, slowly, letter per letter, word built upon word….were we kinder, more thoughtful, more determined, more committed? Perhaps not—but what if we were more thoughtful of our words and of the choice of those words…..what then???

On this Monday morning, a new day to a new week, consider the words you write—-type—during the course of the week—how powerful are they? What is their true intent? Do you wish to harm or help?
Do your words represent who you truly think you are—kind and benevolent–or caustic and trite….my hope is that we may be more mindful when combining letters into forming words—
What shall your words be….