Recollections

“Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide!”

― Alexander Pope

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(my mom’s little trio of antique carolers / Julie Cook / 2014)

It is at this particular time of year that our memories of times and loved ones long past, now seemingly forgotten, seem more clear and potent than at any other time.
Waves of melancholy collide into the crashing tides of joy leaving us with both tears and warm smiles mingling lightly upon the heart.
Recollections of the vignettes of a life once lived, a life which once seemed so far away, races rapidly now to the forefront of thought.

A tacky plastic ornament.
A cherished family heirloom.
A tattered and torn old card
A musty copy of A Christmas Carol
A fragile figurine
The sound of much beloved carols

Whether we are fortunate enough to be able to gather with those special and dear people of our lives
or merely recall their presence in our hearts, the often endless expanse of space and time miraculously narrows each year at Christmas.
No longer does death nor distance separate us–
For “God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His Heaven”
As that which was, and that which is and that which is yet to be are sweetly
united and are “met in thee tonight”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Lewis Brooks and Lewis Redner
1868

Dear Parents. . .

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

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(presents under the tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

When asked, I suppose most, if not all of us, could tell anyone asking what the best gift was we ever received. Maybe it was a shiny new bike, a much sought after doll, maybe it was a new baby brother or sister, maybe a pair of skates, maybe a car, a smartphone, a precious and greatly anticipated birth of a child, maybe it was a hot meal, a worn but loved coat, maybe it was shelter from a cold and icy night, maybe it was the returning of a loved one who had been gone far too long. . . .

As we find ourselves, at this particular time of the year, with time running out and patience running short. . .
As we dash about here and there in search of the “perfect” gift for those special someones in our lives. . .
As we find ourselves up to our elbows in wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and bows. . .
As we spend entirely too much time and money searching and buying things that folks could most likely do and live without. . .

I was deeply touched by something I read this morning.
It was a letter written to a set of parents. . .

Dear Parents. . .I don’t need to tell you how much I long for freedom and for you all. But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas.
Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties. I believe that those who know they possess such reserves of strength do not need to be ashamed even of softer feelings—which in my opinion are still among the better and nobler feelings of humankind–when remembrance of a good and rich past calls them forth. Such feelings will not overwhelm those who hold fast to the values that no one can take from them.

These words and this message is not only timely but most current as this letter could be written by anyone who may be finding themselves far away from those dearly loved and cherished individuals of one’s life, especially during this time of year. As it always seems to be during the holidays, the certain times of the year which pulls at our hearts more so than any other time of year, when being away and “missing” intensifies to a near maddening unstoppable pain, our thoughts inevitably seem to return to matters of the heart and of cherished memories of times long and not so long past.

The letter was written just before Christmas in 1944 from a Gestapo prison in Berlin. It was written by the young Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was soon to be transferred to the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He spent two Christmases interred by the Nazis before ultimately being hanged two weeks before the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps.

The greatest gift Bonhoeffer’s parents had given him was not a toy or a ball. . .for their gift was not something tangible or of material merit, but rather their gift was a gift of great intrinsic value.

Their greatest gift was actually somewhat multilayered.

Firstly the gift consisted of the deep and abiding love his parents first held for one another and then for each of their children–of which created and fostered a deep sense of security in each child.

A second layer of the gift consisted of time—of both time and energy of which his parents extended to the entire family making certain that each Christmas and holiday season was indeed special for their eight children—Not by showering the children with extravagant gifts and presents, as buying such for 8 children would have been nearly impossible, but by providing their family with the knowledge of the importance of the true meaning of Christmas—the enduring message of Hope and Grace–of doing undo others as they would hope would be done for them, and ultimately the gift and knowledge of Salvation. A gift that would weave its way throughout the year and not merely just at Christmas—for this was a gift which would be carried in each of their children throughout a lifetime which witnessed not only contentment and happiness but that of hardship, sorrow and suffering topped off with the ultimate ending of Joy.

It was to this gift given long ago by his parents which would help to sustain Bonhoeffer during his lowest and darkest days as a Nazi prisoner. Isolated and never knowing if each new day would bring freedom or death, Bonhoeffer lived out the last two years of his relatively young life in a small cell very much alone.

I spent a good bit of time this morning pondering over Bonhoeffer’s letter to his parents and I found myself thinking about what it is to be a “gift giver” and to what constitutes the best gift we can give–especially to our children.

I pray that I may give my child, as well as those I love, the gift which will sustain them all during, not the easy times of joy and happiness, but rather a gift which will help to carry them through the darkness, sorrow, pain and isolation which most often finds all of us at some point in life when we least expect it.

Which brings us back to the initial query at hand. . .indeed, what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received. . .

Leaving a mark

“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”
― Bill Graham

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(the remaining remnants of leaves faded onto the concrete / Julie Cook / 2014)

When all is said and done, what will be said about you?
What will people remember?
Or the question may beg. . .will they remember?
Will it be . . .
“that old rebel rouser”
or
“that old stick in the mud”
or
“they were so very angry”
“they were so terribly lazy”
“they were so selfish”
“they were such a martyr”
“they were so very mean”
“they had the first dime they ever made”
“they were nothing but a workaholic”

Or. . .
Will they say that the world was a better place for having had you in it?

It’s never too late you know.
There’s still time.
Time to turn things around if need be.
Right a few wrongs.
Turn over that new leaf.
Make a few changes.
Nothing drastic.
Just a little tweaking here and there.
Letting go of a few bad habits.
Figuring out what’s really important,
what really matters. . .

Will your mark be negative, rebellious, selfish, destructive
or
will your mark be positive, compassionate, generous, constructive.

There’s still time, but how much. . .I have no idea.

Decoration Day

“Millions of tongues record thee, and anew
“Their children’s lips shall echo them, and say –
“‘Here, where the sword united nations drew,
Our countrymen were warring on that day!’
And this is much, and all which will not pass away.”

Lord George Gordon Byron

And now the old lion with her lion cubs at her side stands alone against the hunters who are armed with deadly weapons and impelled by desperate and destructive rage…..
The stars in their courses proclaim the deliverance of mankind. Not so easily shall the onward progress of the peoples be barred. Not so easily will the lights of freedom die.

Sir Winston Churchill

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(commemorative medal, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee / Julie Cook / 2014)

Decoration Day
Memorial Day
VE Day
Armistice Day
Remembrance Day
Veterans Day

Be it May 8, 1945,
May Bank Day,
November 11th of any given year,
the last Sunday in May,
or even
the 4th day of July. . .

Be it commemorating the lives lost during the War Between the States–which was the impetus for Decoration Day, now more commonly known as Memorial Day—
to those lives lost during any military conflict. . .

Be it here in the United States or throughout Great Britain, our most constant ally,
these days for the somber remembrance and reflection on the cost and price for the freedom we enjoy to this day must never be allowed to wane or be forgotten.

Sadly these days are slowly being allowed to morph into other things. . . VE Day (Victory in Europe, the official end of WWII in Europe) has become an official bank holiday.
Decoration Day, which was originally a day to mark and decorate the graves of those lost during the Civil war, was renamed to Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is now synonymous with the official start to summer, trips to the beach, furniture sales, department store sales, car sales and the ubiquitous cookout. . .

The same can be sadly said for Veterans Day, Armistice Day (the day celebrated in Europe marking the end of WWI, which coincides with our Veterans Day) and even our 4th of July.
Days originally meant to pay tribute to the lives lost during military conflict as well as a day to acknowledge and pay tribute to the continued contributions made for our safety and freedom by our armed forces.

The quote today by Lord Byron was written in 1815 commemorating the allies victory at the battle of Waterloo. Churchill, addressing the House of Commons in 1942, when after a myriad of defeats and woe-some lost battles could finally speak of small victories. Ever hopeful that the tide would finally be turning for his isolated and bombarded Island nation, Churchill found Byron’s poem most fitting.

This came following what Churchill dubbed the victory of the Battle of Egypt –El Alamein. It should be noted that the late M. Venizelos, a prominent contemporary Greek leader, had once observed that “in all her wars England / Great Britain — always wins one battle — the last.”
I am certain that this observation was a keen thought in the back of Churchill’s mind–would his beloved Island nation come through once again.

The reasons for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, VE Day or any other day of remembrance is just that–for remembrance–For the remembrance of the myriad of lives, mostly young lives, lost fighting and defending the simple principle of freedom for both you and I. These are days to honor lives lost as well as for the lives which still stand ready to ensure that our lives remain forever and constantly free and safe.

to appreciate “The Few”

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“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Sir Winston Spencer Churchill
(Taken from his speech to The House of Commons, August 20, 1940)

For any who love listening to, what those with the magic ability can do, turning the English Language into a symphony of words and sounds, there are none quite like Sir Winston Churchill. His writings continue to capture and stir imagination as his speeches still invoke the deep primal instincts that rally the weary to rise up when all appears lost, when there is nothing left to offer—his speeches are akin to Henry V’s battle cry at Agincourt or Elizabeth I’s rallying of her troops as the Spanish Armada bore down on her Island Nation.

No less was this speech, now dubbed “The Few”, a rallying point for the British people as they, alone, had bore the brunt of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg. Years before the Allies joined arms, the British people suffered night after night, onslaught upon onslaught of their Island Nation. The British people knew that it was they who stood between democracy or tyranny for an entire world. A small Island in defense of a giant monster. But hold they did—and thank God they did, for all of us who today enjoy a democratic freedom.

I am reminded of such sacrifice and heroism on such occasions as this Memorial Day Weekend–as we prepare to use this time as the official “kick off” to summer, we must all take pause and remember that it is not for Summer that we called for a Memorial Day remembrance but rather a call to offer our prayers and appreciation to those who have gone before us, who continue to go, and defend our freedoms. The freedom to travel this weekend to lakes, woods and beaches. To bask in the joy of a “3 day” weekend–to gather with friends and family simply to venture outside and feel the freedom from work, worry, and grueling schedules.

This is not the time to protest war, of which none of us want. It is rather a time to offer our thanks to the countless men and woman who, down through time, have gone to serve and defend the rights of the whole–as they are the “few”. As we crank up the grill, take the boat to the lake, sleep late on Monday, may we remember that this is simply not some granted “free time” off but there is a deeper reason for this weekend. Our “few” still are out there serving our Nation–despite our political thoughts, this is a time of appreciation and recollection–and a time to offer our thanks for the very lives many have given so that you and I may be “free”………