it’s the story of my life

My life is my message.
Mahatma Gandhi

“When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

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(tiny little toadstools emerge in the damp chill of the beginning of a new year / Julie Cook / 2015)

The phone rings.
“Happy New Year! Whatcha doing?”
“Cleaning the cat box. . .(insert sigh). . .you know, the story of my life”
“What did ya’ll do last night?”
(sigh again)
“I cooked and we ate while watching football. . .you know, the story of my life.”
“What are ya’ll doing this weekend?”
Well. . .(sigh) working, and then cleaning house and probably cooking for everyone both nights. . .you know, the story of my life. . .”

“The story of my life”
A catch all phrase.
A colloquialism for “same ol same ol”—
Meaning, the same thing over and over again, day in and day out.
It’s a phrase that takes on a drudgery and a ‘less than’ feeling.
Yet in all actuality it is a phrase that equates to the activities of which basically represent and make up one’s everyday life.
Those things we do as mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, siblings, friends, family members, students, professionals, co-workers. . .
The things we do in life that equate to that which makes life, life.
We cook.
We clean.
We drive here and there and yon.
We do yard work.
We take care of pets.
We take care of family.
We take care of each other.
We go to work.
We go to school.
And we dream. . .

We dream of being catered to, waited on, indulged.
Winning the lottery.
Living the good life.
Having a driver.
A yardman.
A maid.
A wait staff.
Champagne dreams and caviar wishes.
Those so called lives of the rich and famous.
Being totally taken care of with each whim being met with the raising of a single finger. . .

And of course we do, on occasion, have little splurges. . .dinners out, date nights, a special purchase of those pretty little shoes we’ve been eyeing, a new car, a long anticipated trip. . .the little things which add spice and nice to everyday life.

However— to dream, to wish, to yearn for, with flagrant abandon, those indulgent lavish desires of a life that’s not quite our own, do not equate to what our lives are really all about. . .those extravagant dreams and wants are not what make us who we are.
Oh such thoughts all sound so very nice because who doesn’t want
more,
better,
special. . .
Yet 99.9% of the time those wants and dreams are not only unrealistic they are simply not components of what makes our lives real.

Real is walking the dog in the rain or snow and telling him/ her to hurry before you both freeze to death.
Real is being woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of “mommy, mom, mother, I threw up”
Real is walking a daughter down the aisle in a small town church.
Real is helping your son learn to tie his own tie.
Real is working two jobs so your kids can have “Christmas”
Real is cooking and cleaning and picking up after others.
Real is watching your kids struggle.
Real is watching aging parents transition to wearing diapers.
Real is watching yourself transition to wearing diapers.
Real is hard, tough, sad, scary. . .
Real is real.
and it is what makes us, us.

Real is living in a country that still works on its democracy.
Real is being able to be whatever one dreams one can be while willing to work towards the goal.
Real is sadly saying good-bye to loved ones.
Real is working hard.
Real is sometimes losing.
Real is sometimes winning.
Real is having food to cook and enjoying the contentment of being satiated.
Real is cleaning the dishes, washing clothes.
Real is watching football and cheering or crying depending on the score.
Real is having loved ones gathered near.
Real is having loved ones.
Real is having pets.
Real is cleaning the cat box.
Real is the story of my life. . .
and Real makes me happy.

“Once you are REAL, you can’t be ugly” or The life of the little stuffed bear

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

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He didn’t always look this way.
At some point, very long ago, the stitching was still attached forming the mouth. There was a small bell in the right ear, the one that now has the hole, which tinkled each time he was moved. The neck was not so floppy as there was not the gapping tear. And of course there was the fuzzy fur.

I don’t know when he came into my life, or who had given him to me.
I don’t remember life before him because he was always present.
He just always was.
His name was / is Cubby. I suppose the name was intended officially as Cubby bear, but I simply recall “Cubby”

When do these sorts of things disappear from one’s life?
How is it that one day they are there, ever present, acting as the sentinel guard to one’s very being, then oddly, years of a lifetime pass-by without their ever vigilant presence–the keeper of one’s small soul, only being suddenly rediscovered, packed away in some musty old box buried amongst the debris of Life?
How is that?

And so it goes— my life with Dad which now slowly morphs into something else. Something other than. Something that was not what it is today. Something now odd, now strange, now challenging, now different.
The boxes which are now slowly being unearthed, as I work to clean out the house of what was–those boxes which have been entombed in the depths of a seemingly ancient basement and attic, all which contain the pieces of my life from back then.
“Back when?” you ask.
Back then, as in. . .my life before.
“Before what?” you ask.
Before I was who I am today.
Before I grew up to be 54.
Before I retired from the classroom.
Before I was a mom.
Before I was a wife.
Before my brother’s suicide.
Before Mother died from the cancer.
Before Dad had Alzheimer’s.
Before.

Before all of that, he was whole.
He had fur.
He was not torn, nor broken.
He was out living and not buried in a box.
He was ever present.
He was a constant in a life full of the flux of growth.

Each night as I readied for bed, Dad and I had a ritual. I’d climb in the bed and dad would be across the room over at the little baby doll’s bed which acted as the “day bed” for my menagerie of stuffed animals. I would call out a name and Dad would gingerly toss over the lucky recipient, of my heart’s desire, to my small waiting arms. The arms that would eagerly catch “a loved one” for the journey to dreams.
Cubby was always first.

I wonder if Dad remembers that?

There was the good night hug and kiss, the lights turned out as I nestled myself down into the covers and pillow with stuffed animals on either side acting as insulating protectorates as Cubby was held tight. Tiny girl prayers were said. “God bless, Mommy. God bless Daddy. God bless Humpty Dumpty (the other ever-present sentinel), God Bless Cubby. . .”

And so it went, or so it seemed, until one day, it all obviously changed and that person ceased being.

Life is funny that way. One day you’re a young person engulfed in the world of care and love—then poof, you’re now the one offering the care and love.

All of the “before” being long forgotten, that is until the box is found and opened.
Until the life that “was” is unearthed, resurfacing from the packed away Past.
Then, and only then, do the memories suddenly become the Present.
Time stands still.
It is no longer “now” but rather it is “then.”

The secrets told to the fuzzy little bear are magically recalled as instinctively you pull him close in your arms, holding tight to what was. The smell, his smell, it seems to linger. Is it real, or merely imagined?
He contains the countless tears of a little girl. They are all still there. He’s held them all, all these many years. He seems so small.
You bury your face against his face–just as you did so long ago.
He made things better.
He loved you when you were sent to your room for some slight indiscretion of youth.
He loved you when you had the fever, the chicken pox, the skinned knees, the black eye.
He loved you when it thundered.
He loved you when the lights were turned off.
He loved you when your grandfather, your “Pops”, died.
He loved you when you started school.
He loved you when you had your first crush
He loved you when you had your first heartache.
He loved you when you left for college.
He loved you while he waited.
He loved you.

Then one day, he went in a box.
He went away.
I went away.
Life grew big—almost too big. Overwhelmingly big.
Grown up life is not always cracked up to what children imagine—just ask any adult. Childhood has imagination and magic. Adulthood, not so much.
And just when things seemed big, too big— there he was, again.
Out of the blue.
Out of the box.
He looks sadly tired.
I look sadly tired.
But it is him and he is the same.
I am the one who has become different.
I changed.
He did not.
Thankfully, he did not change.

To anyone else, he is but a sad little stuffed old bear. He is torn, broken, ragged, ripped and furless—not even GoodWill material.
But. . .to me, he is beautiful.
He is REAL.
He is hope.
He is happiness.
He is safety.
He is who I was.

And today, I need to be reminded of that very thing—who I was.
And for that, I am once again thankful to the little brown, once fuzzy, bear who long ago held my hopes and dreams in his little imagined heart.
I would like to think that he still has a bit of room in that heart of his to hold a few more of those tears, those hopes, those dreams of mine. . .and because he has withstood the test of time and of a life well worn, and he doesn’t seem to mind the rips, the tears, the holes, the worn away fur–for in all of this is the hurt of becoming REAL. . .

God bless Cubby. . .

When is a leaf not a leaf?

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”
― Phaedrus

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When is a leaf not a leaf you ask….When it’s an impression in the sidewalk….

If you haven’t been to Savannah, perhaps you have seen the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or perhaps you’ve seen pictures. Perhaps you have seen shots of the famous Forsyth Park fountain. We’re having a wedding here in June you know…. This is a large beautiful and scerne park. Ancient oaks draped in ethereal spanish moss line the diverging walkways which all converge at the beautiful fountain…

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Along the walkways, if you happen to glance down, as you walk along the light dappled paths, you may notice that the concrete has the impression of leaves all throughout the walkways in the park. A nice little subtle touch. Chances are not many guests who walk the park notice to look down…I found the pressed leaves to be a lovely added nuance of wonderment to an already wondrous place.

The whole impression leaf thing, which, mind you, look like very real leaves complete with vein details and foliage defects, had me thinking about life and what constitutes a genuine life verses something that is made to look genuine and real. Genuineness is something that seems to be a rare commodity in this flash in the pan thing we call life in this western society of ours.

So many people try to pretend that they are something or someone that they are not. False wealth, false bodies…phony folks who attempt hiding behind name brand this and that, all who desperately try to climb the proverbial ladder of success by hook and crook–which actually leads to no where. Turn on any television or look through any magazine to hear and see the falsehoods otherwise known as advertising….promises that you will look younger, thinner, taller, richer, happier, hairier–your teeth will be whiter, your skin clearer, your posture straighter….I never knew we were in such bad shape.

Why do we all try so hard to pretend to be something we are not? Who cares that we’re not all “cutting edge”— that we’re not all Über trendy chic, not all driving the latest greatest luxury cars, we’re not all wearing the haute couture of the latest name brand designer….We spend so much time, money and energy working to mold ourselves into our perfect concept of who we should be. Whatever happened to being”real?” It’s as if real is not good enough anymore. We need real to be bigger and better. Perhaps real is too real and we didn’t like what we saw. Pity…
I miss real.
I miss genuine.
I miss authentic.
I miss not knowing what it is I’m getting from the get go.
Who can you trust? “Do I look good in this, or is it too tight, too young?” “Oh no, you look wonderful” …doesn’t matter that you’re 20 years too old and 20 pounds too heavy for whatever it is the sales person is trying to hustle your way….

Oh the sad list goes on and on and on….

The 20th century civil rights leader, educator and theologian, Howard Thurman put it best:
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

Refuse to dangle by the string that is being pulled by someone other than yourself—be genuine, be authentic. Dare to be the real person God made you to be……