the tontine

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time.
And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.

Mahatma Gandhi

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(The Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A tontine…
A french word used during the 17th century to denote an investment created by several individuals…With the premise being that each member of the group agrees to initially pay a set sum…
The money is never touched, rather it is allowed to grow over time.
As the years pass and the members of the group eventually, one by one, die off, the remaining shares grow…with the last surviving member of the group amassing the lump of the sum plus all accrued interest.

The idea of a tontine played out on one of the episodes of the hit show M.A.S.H.

In this particular episode Colonel Potter, the patriarch of the cast, received a secretive and oddly strange package of which suddenly cast a grave pall over his entire demeanor. Naturally those closest to the beloved leader, Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Charles each grew terribly concerned seeing that the Colonel had grown almost inconsolably depressed after having received this most odd package.

The entire episode evolved around what was in the package, what was wrong with Colonel Potter and what could this rag tag group of friends do to help.

Finally Colonel explained…
The package was a bottle of fine French Brandy.

The story behind the bottle was that during World War I, when Colonel Potter was a young soldier, his regiment had found themselves dangerously deep behind enemy lines in German occupied France. His small group of comrades had come upon the bottle of brandy as they hunkered down in an abandoned shell of what was once an elegant home. Right then and there this little group of beleaguered soldiers made a pact, or more appropriately a tontine. Should they survive the war, they would save the bottle of brandy by placing it in a safety deposit box. The bottle would then remain under lock and key until there was but one lone survivor of the group–upon which time the bottle was to be delivered to the “last man standing” who would in turn drink a toast to what had been.

Colonel Potter, who now bitterly found himself still fighting, what seemed to be a lifetime of wars all these many years later, was the last living soul remaining from his once youthful regiment, as his own mortality now mockingly taunted him as it stared him in the face… all the while a lonely bottle of brandy begged to be consumed.

Life is indeed bittersweet.

If we are fortunate, we live a long life supported and surrounded by family and friends.
We journey together through both joy and sorrow, trepidation and gallantry.
We ride the waves of triumph both high and mighty then hold fast and tight during the calamity of storms.
We experience shared moments, good and bad, which become the mortar between the building blocks of our lives.

Then one strange day we suddenly realize, that while we weren’t paying attention or taking much notice, ever so slowly and one by one…our numbers mysteriously have decreased…

We find ourselves on the opposite side of happily ever after, looking back wondering where the time has gone. One by one we are left more and more isolated and alone, until finally we are the last man / woman standing out of a once large troupe of beloved comrades, family and life long companions.

Gone are those who were in our lives to protect, to cheer on, to share with, and to relish with….those who were the life-lines, the wise ones, the sages of our lives…
Leaving us in the unfamiliar position of now being those very things for a much younger lot than ourselves…
A lonely feeling.
A bittersweet feeling.
A very sad feeling.

And that was the very overwhelming realization for dear ol Colonel Potter…

The friends that had transitioned with him from boyhood to manhood, under cloak of war, we’re all now gone. Those who had lived through and understood a lifetime now long past had all but vanished, leaving him as the only remaining one who could recall and understand a time that was as he found himself now surrounded by a much younger group who had not been there nor done that…he was now the odd man out.

Yet through the heavy sense of loss with the weight of age suddenly bearing down and crushing his shoulders, our dear Colonel Potter understood that as he may be the last of his particular group to survive, he was still surrounded by companions, loved ones and friends… albeit of a different generation.
Life was still to be lived, relished and enjoyed.
Occasionally he could look back and recall all that was, but life was indeed for the living and it was time to say good-bye to the past while looking toward the future.

And so as he opened the bottle of bandy that had delightfully mellowed with time, offering a toast to those who once were and to a life that was well lived…he also offered a toast to those standing by his side and to the life that was yet to be…
toasting the memories of friends now gone and toasting the lives of those friends now standing by his side.

May those of us who now find ourselves standing closer to the end of our own life’s tontine remember, that as our numbers maybe decreasing, our importance in the lives of those who come behind us is greatly increasing.
Our experiences, our history, our life’s knowledge is all necessary in order to help light the path for those generations behind us as we continue moving toward an unknown future of the possibilities of what will be.
We stand as the mile markers and guideposts for future generations…may we, with God’s grace, direct them well…

And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1John 2:17

Blackbirds

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.

Eleanor Farjeon

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

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(Blackbirds sitting on a wire, Julie Cook / 2014)

Morning Has Broken is a Christian Hymn first published in 1931—It was written by the English author Eleanor Farjeon and is set to a traditional Scotch / Gaelic tune known as Bunessan (of which is the name of a small Scottish village). The “tune” was originally used in an earlier hymnal dating to the year 1900 which contained a different set of lyrics. Yet it’s the version sung by Cat Stevens which is likely to be the most familiar to a listener’s ear.

Cat Stevens, a British born musician whose father was Greek Orthodox and mother a Swedish Baptist was educated at a private Catholic School. He did not excel in school but had a penchant for art and music. During his lifetime Cat Stevens had two close encounters with death–the first being when he contracted Tuberculosis and the second when he nearly drowned while swimming off the coast of Malibu.

In 1977 Cat Stevens left behind the life he had known as a musician and song writer when he converted to Islam. Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, sold off all of his guitars in 1979 and left his once popular music behind, dedicating his life to humanitarian work as well as education within the Muslim community. He has since returned to the music industry under the single name of Yusuf with his interests steeped in his Muslim faith. He still lives in London.

Eleanor Farjeon was born in London in 1881. She, like her father, was a very successful British author best known for her children’s stories but was also an accomplished poet, playwright, composer of musicals as well as being noted for writing for several British magazine publications. She was considered somewhat shy as a child and rather “bookish” as well as being a bit immature which lasted well into adulthood. She was homeschooled and also suffered from poor health during childhood. She never married but had several youthful infatuations with two different married men–she then had two different long term relationships with different men spanning the bulk of her adult life. She also ran in a rather prestigious literary circle consisting of D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.

Eleanor began writing at the age of 5 eventually learning to use her father’s typewriter by the age of 7. She possessed a vivid imagination which successfully fed into her prolific writing all throughout her life. During her lengthy career, Eleanor received several notable literary awards for her children’s stories including the Carnegie Medal as well as the Hans Christian Anderson Medal. In memory of her outstanding work and accomplishments, The Children’s Book Circle currently awards the Eleanor Farjeon Medal to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in the field of Children’s books.
She converted to Catholicism in 1955, 10 years prior to her death in 1965.

I find it both interesting and perhaps even a little odd of the correlation which can exist between a beloved hymn and with those who first “created” it and then proceeded to make it “famous” —
What an odd amalgamation of lives and talents of two very different individuals who, decades apart, each contributed mightily to the longevity of a song we all find familiar, melodic, soothing as well as possessing the ability of transporting those who either sing, listen or do both to a place of Spiritual peace.

What perhaps might you do, or write or think today that may one day be touched by another in order to create something greater than you ever thought possible. . .

The possibility of what will be

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“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
Pope John XXIII

This is a picture taken of my little kumquat tree, now in full bloom. It is just now putting out some fresh blooms—hopefully meaning I may have more than the single kumquat from last season. I have two fruit trees, I keep in large planters as they are not hardy in our region during our winters, forcing me to have to roll them in and out of safety throughout the winter months as they do not tolerate freezing temps very well. They relish being outside in the late spring through early fall but once the threat of a hard freeze in eminent, I struggle getting the planters up on small dollies, keeping them on the dollies all winter, allowing me to push and pull them to the garage as needed.

One plant is the kumquat, pictured, the other is a most sad looking Meyer lemon tree. Two years ago, when I bought them from a local nursery, they each produced a good bit of fruit. I was so proud of my lemons– and the kumquats went towards a secret family recipe for a cranberry kumquat relish (the recipe actually calls for calamondins but those are not found anywhere near me, so I’ve substituted the kumquats as they are found in the grocery stores)—the relish is made and served all through the holidays much to my husband’s joy.

Last year, sadly, was a different story and I’m certain it has to do with the whole pollenating thing of having just the single tree plus the stress and strain of rolling around all winter. The lemon tree produced no lemons–each tiny new lemon would simply whiter, dying and falling off the tree. Then a late spring freeze did a number on its new growth. I’ve had to cut it back so that it resembles more of a stick poking out of a pot then a beautiful tree. The kumquat tree produced just 3 kumquats, forcing me to head to the grocery by the time the holiday season rolled around in order to buy enough for the recipe.

I do baby them as best I know how, cheering and rooting them on to bloom–hopefully giving way to their beautiful fruits. Each tree currently is blooming and keeping the bees busy. The Meyer lemon tree actually has several small lemons, about 10, but whether they will grow and flourish is yet to be seen—but I am always hopeful.

These small trees have a mighty potential… just like us– as we all have a mighty potential. Unfortunately we often get caught up in our failings rather than our successes. We focus more on the negatives more so than we do on our positives. My husband wonders why I continue bothering with the trees–this when I’ve forgotten to roll them to safety around the 10:00 PM news, when I just hear of the impending freeze, forcing me outside, usually donned in only pajamas..frantically pushing the trees to safety. How many times they’ve tipped over from the dollies, pots cracking, me scooping up tree and dirt, wrapping in duct tape until I can properly repair my damage……

But continue I do because I know what is possible… not only from the trees, but from myself as well. Not that I expect to be a master fruit tree producer, but because I know I can care for two trees which can in turn offer us something wonderfully rewarding. It’s just a matter of seeing the possibilities and believing I can get it right…eventually.

That’s why I like today’s quote so much—there are always hopes and dreams…there is always unfulfilled potential. There is never a reason to quit and give up, not as long as there is still energy and a will….I never give up hope—that’s not to say I’ve never been depressed or felt defeated…but as is usually the case, I regroup my strengths and energies–always giving it another go, another chance, another fight….pushing forward till I get it right…

Here is to unleashing the possibilities within us all…………