punctuating the ordinary

“On the single strand of wire strung to bring our house electricity,
grackles and starlings neatly punctuated an invisible sentence.”

―John Updike


(grackles on the line / Julie Cook / 2014)

I imagine it happens to all of us at some point or other…
and it’s always out of the blue…

It catches us totally off guard— when we least expect it.

Suddenly a lump is forming in our throat as we find the words catching, cracking and breaking as we can barely whisper along.

And just when we frustratingly focus on the fact that no sound seems to be
coming from a voice attempting to speak, stinging tears now form in our
eyes, rendering us both mute and almost blind…

Mute and blind with raw emotion.

We blink hard and swallow hard…as we hear our brain pleading “not here, not now….”

Maybe we’re just sitting on the couch…
Maybe we’re walking down the aisle at the grocery store pushing a cart full of
paper towels and cat food…
Maybe we’re sitting in the middle of traffic, stuck…
Maybe we’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting….

It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing…it happens…
and it happens when it wants to…never mind what we want.
And there is always some sort of trigger…
as the ordinariness of life is punctured like an over inflated tire…
our breath begins to release as we are helpless to hold it in….

It comes suddenly out of the blue..
Out of nowhere…and there it is…
A familiar sound, a familiar tune, a familiar voice…more oldie then goldie…

For me this time, it was Wichita Lineman and it wasn’t even Glen Campbell
singing the song but rather someone else…

Yet it mattered not—it was still that same melodious memory drifting in on
the passage of time… swirling down on the currents until settling sweetly, yet
painfully, in the recall of memory.

My mother loved Glen Campbell.

What woman in those heady days of the late 60’s didn’t?

Dashing boyish good looks…dimples, perfect hair, sculpted nose,
laced with a velvety voice.
He wasn’t Country, he wasn’t Gospel, he wasn’t Pop…
he was simply the complete package.

I can remember sitting with mother in 1969 on that old tweed couch
watching the Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour—
This was a time when children could actually watch television without fear of hearing
or seeing things that children shouldn’t really see or hear emanating
from a television….

The line is iconic…
“and I need you more than want you….
and I want you for all time….
for the Wichita lineman is still on the line…”

…as heart tugging violins finish out the notes….

About two years ago, give or take,
Glen Campbell and his current wife (I say current because he had had four marriages
with one in particular making for tabloid drama) gave what was to be Glen’s
last public interview.

Glen Campbell was suffering from Alzheimers.
A disease that actually claimed his life earlier this year.

The selfish disease was robbing his family of the husband and father they loved
while robbing a man of the one person he’d known best his entire life…
that being himself.

He was asked about singing and his songs— what song had he loved the most….

A question I would think somewhat difficult for any musician / singer,
who had had such long careers, to answer—
As songs and melodies ebb and flow with the times—
Because it’s hard to compare what was a career starter with what came about
during one’s peak moment throughout such a lengthy career…

But he answered quickly and at first very effortlessly…
“it’s really the best line of all time in a song you know…. isn’t it???”
as he then turned to his wife with that lost look of one battling with a
memory-robbing illness, when he sadly and poignantly realized he didn’t
remember now what line he was talking about.

His wife offered a small airy couple of notes with the first word, which allowed
Glen’s mind to grab hold as he finished the stanza himself in beautiful A cappella
fashion.

And it is an iconic line.
A beautiful line.
A line that has for me, over time, changed it’s meaning.

Songs, lyrics and melodies all have that effect on us.

So much so that I think I’ve written about this before—and about this very same
song for most likely the very same reason—

It simply caught me off guard.

It reached out through the abyss of time grabbing hold of my arm while pulling
me to a bittersweet place I don’t often like to go.

The hot tears formed as I attempted to utter those familiar words….but I couldn’t.

I couldn’t even speak the words because they had stuck in my throat…
as they achingly cracked coming from my mouth without sound…

And then slowly…the recesses of a memory came into focus,
I was seeing the one who had first loved that song long before I had.
She had her own personal reasons, her own personal recollections…

Things that, at the time, were unbeknownst to me.
Something that caused an overwhelming sense of melancholy…
Something that had left her with words which had no sound,
something that had left her eyes wet with warm tears…

I had no way of knowing then…no way of understanding…
for I had not lived yet what she had lived…

Yet sweetly and even oddly in that bittersweet moment of hearing that single song
with that most iconic simple lyric, I actually understood what she had known
all those many years ago…as warm tears filled my eyes and the words coming
from my mouth had no sound…I was transported one day closer to understanding
the woman I had lost so long ago…

Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death.”
So the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem
when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:18-22

in all of our tears… there rests the Divine

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(ornamental cabbage / Julie Cook / 2017)

Obviously I am tired.
Not in a working-out sort of tired.
Not in the end of a really long day or week sort of tired.
Not in the sleep deprivation sort of tired.

I’m just weary.
And I am very tired.
And I am overwhelmed.

For such is the season of my life

And such is the life of a person who is caring for aging parents…
where one of the two is in the process of dying from cancer.

The daily commuting to and fro is hard.
The coordinating of the care, the medical issues, the groceries, the house…
that is all hard.
The lack of time for one’s own world and home is hard…

Life?
Who has one?

Friends?
What are those?

Clean house?
hahahahahaha……

Yet it is to the waiting and watching for the inevitable…
that is the hardest.
It is also the saddest.

For ever since mother died 30 years ago, it’s been pretty much, for good or bad,
just me and dad.
I took over the roll of parenting him when both mother and my grandmother died just
months apart.
I had just turned 26 at the time.
And despite his remarrying when he was almost 70, it’s really just been me and him.

Watching the body slowly failing and falling apart…
The moans and groans of pain…
The halting morphine induced thoughts and speech…
The sounds, sights, smells…
nothing good.
Especially when I’ve already done the same thing 30 years prior.

Add to that the now spouse…the one who suffers with the ever increasing dementia…
the one who has nary a clue as to who any of us are…
it makes things either really really comical or really really sad…
…and my money is on the comical.

Oh but I don’t want to waste our time here today bemoaning my life.
You really don’t want to hear about it anyway.
No one really likes a complainer…

Yet maybe we ought to try telling that to all those nutters out there who are currently
spending their time shouting, marching, demonstrating and protesting…
I bet they’re tired…
tired of fussing…
just as much as the rest of us are tired of hearing
and seeing it all…
but I digress….

I can’t even find respite in my sleep…
for in my sleep are the dreams of a mind that is over burdened.

In last night’s dream there was this scene of my mother’s funeral where my husband
decided to wear a Hawaiian shirt rather than a suit, rendering me mortified.

The reality is that my mom’s funeral was over 30 years ago and my husband doesn’t own
nor would he ever wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Or how about the other night when my husband had to shake me awake in order to get me to stop
“screaming” in my sleep…
all because I was dreaming that I had walked into the house that use to be our house years ago
and there were strange people, squatters, trying to take over the house…
I was screaming at them to get out.
A disconcerting moment at 3 AM when one’s spouse is sound asleep.

The reality was that I had flipped through the television and caught a bit of that alligator
Swamp People show…there had been a devastating flood in southern Louisiana last
year and one of the regulars on the show had to leave his home because it had flooded.
The episode showed him coming back to the house after the flood waters had receded…
leaving behind a house full of huge bullfrogs and a giant snapping turtle.

Or how about the other night when I was dreaming that I was trying to take my son,
who in the dream was a toddler but in real life is almost 30,
in order to seek safety because the planet was under attack by evil aliens…
space aliens, not the illegal variety…
and we were racing in a car, desperately trying to find safety as we were having to hit,
running over, the evil invaders in order to get away….

The reality was that I had flipped through, once again, the channels catching a brief
snippet of the movie Fury on the History Channel—
it was right when the Sherman tank, commandeered by Brad Pitt’s character,
went rolling over the heads and bodies of Germans in their fox holes, naturally crushing them…
I think that’s when I flipped it as I wasn’t up to the horrors of war that evening…
only to have them come flooding back oddly in a dream…sigh….

So not even in sleep is there a safe haven these days.

Yet…however…
no matter how bad things may be right now…
No matter how sad,
how heavy,
how hard…

I know I do not go this alone…
Despite often feeling very much alone.

I can’t make dad better, I can’t even make him feel better right now.
As this is now all pretty much out of my hands…

Yet I know that neither Dad nor I are alone in this.
Despite the naysayers cries, those non-believers who scoff
at the purported “fairytale” which is to be found at the center of all of this…
There is a Hand moving much deeper in all of this…

For this particular moment in time is but fleeting…
despite the seemingly never ending and endless melancholy
merry go round we now ride…
For there are blessings, there is Grace…
and there is the Divine…
the very hand of God…

“Rejoice in the Lord,’ said St Paul (Phil. 3 : 1).
And he was right to say, ‘in the Lord’.
For if our joy is not in the Lord, not only do we not rejoice,
but in all probability we never shall. Job, as he described the life of men,
found it full of every kind of affliction (cf. Job 7 : 1-21),
and so also did St Basil the Great.
St Gregory of Nyssa said that birds and other animals rejoice because
of their lack of awareness, while man, being endowed with intelligence,
is never happy because of his grief.
For, he says, we have not been found worthy even to have knowledge of the blessings
we have lost. For this reason nature teaches us rather to grieve,
since life is full of pain and effort, like a state of exile dominated by sin.
But if a person is constantly mindful of God, he will rejoice: as the psalmist says,
‘I remembered God, and I rejoiced’ (Ps. 77 : 3. LXX).
For when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God,
then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him,
and is no longer troubled or anxious.
Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks;
and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gift of grace it has received.
And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness,
and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.”

St. Peter of Damascus

When the scuppernongs hang heavy

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
― Carson McCullers

“The winter will be short, the summer long,
The autumn amber-hued, sunny and hot,
Tasting of cider and of scuppernong.”

Elinor Wylie

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(wild growing scuppernongs after a morning rain / Troup Co, Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(wild scuppernongs hang high in the trees / Troup Co, Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is your trigger—that certain thing, person or place. . .
when seen, heard or tasted. . .transports you to a different time, a different place?
That single something that magically erases the years and lightens your step?

Is it a smell, a perfume, a scent. . .
Perhaps the sound of bells ringing, children laughing or birds singing. . .
Maybe it’s the sight of a balloon, a leaf gently blowing in the breeze. . .
or maybe, just maybe. . .
it’s the sight of the scuppernongs hanging heavy on the vine. . .

Pour, Bacchus! the remembering wine;
Retrieve the loss of me and mine!
Vine for vine be antidote,
And the grape requite the lote!
Haste to cure the old despair,—
Reason in Nature’s lotus drenched,
The memory of ages quenched;
Give them again to shine;
Let wine repair what this undid;
And where the infection slid,
A dazzling memory revive;
Refresh the faded tints,
Recut the aged prints,
And write my old adventures with the pen
Which on the first day drew,
Upon the tablets blue,
The dancing Pleiads and eternal men.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Bacchus
line 50-65

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(wild scuppernongs / Troup Co, Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(wild scuppernongs / Troup Co, Ga / Julie Cook / 2015)

I want to sing

“If I cannot fly, let me sing.”
Stephen Sondheim

“Sing, then. Sing, indeed, with shoulders back, and head up so that song might go to the roof and beyond to the sky. Mass on mass of tone, with a hard edge, and rich with quality, every single note a carpet of colour woven from basso profundo, and basso, and baritone, and alto, and tenor, and soprano, and also mezzo, and contralto, singing and singing, until life and all things living are become a song.
Richard Llewellyn

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(a tiny wren lifts his song skyward / Julie Cook / 2015)

Sing!
I want to sing!
I want to lift my voice to the Heavens!
I want to stand upon the roof top and shout my song to you!
I want you to hear me oh God of Heaven!
If I am not soon to let it out, everything within me will explode.

Yet I don’t know how to sing.
I don’t know how to make a pretty note.
Pitch is but a key quite off.
And Harmony is all but hidden.
There is no reading of music nor playing of sweet melodies.
How is there to be song if the sounds can’t be woven and spun?

Adoration and Praise
Lamentation and Sorrow
Exultation and Triumph
Meditation and Contemplation
How may such a lowly one express such mysteries to You?
How may prayer flow aloft carried only by the wind?

I will simply open my mouth
I will merely let the sound fall out
The Spirit Divine is who will carry my tune to You.
A Holy bearer of holy song will gently sing my song to you. . .

O what a miracle

O what a miracle is the presence of the divine heart
which foretold all creation.

With God’s gaze upon the face of man,
whom He formed,
He saw His entire works,
reflected in that same human form.

O what a miracle is this inspiration
by which humanity was awakened.

Hildegard von Bingen
translated from Latin to English by Norma Gentile

Just happy to be here

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.
Martha Washington

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(a fledgling cardinal / Julie Cook / 2014)

I had noticed her hopping about out of the corner of my eye—that is, only after I had heard the distinctive “chirp chirp” alerting me that a cardinal was close at hand.
This, however was not just any run of the mill cardinal. This was a new addition to the yard cardinal. As in a fledgling who still had the moulty little tufts of feathers still adorning her head.

I watched her for a while–chirping and hopping here and there as she continued poking and prodding the ground in search of whatever tasty little morsel and grub she could find. She seemed not to have a care in the world. Even with our cat Peaches lounging about in the grass just a few yards away, each animal oblivious and uncaring that either was within “meeting” distance.

A single moment in time that is a wonderful snapshot of Harmony. Our cat being a bit atypical, caring less about the birds in the yard, more interested in what I may be doing. She is just as happy and content as I am to simply sit and watch, or for her, to rather sit and nap.
The little bird should have felt a threatening danger, but blissfuly did not. Peaches has never given any of the birds any cause for concern—of which I am pleased.

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(Peaches more interested in the camera rather than the little bird / 2014)

These small snippets, vignettes of the microcosms of a world seemingly in slow motion, are the soothing balm to the often jaded and tired souls which manifest themselves, day in and day out; byproducts of the rat race we create in life.

Maybe it’s the weather.
Maybe it’s the warmer days.
Maybe it’s the longer days.
Maybe it’s the lazier and slower way in which the world seems to now turn.
Perhaps it’s all of that and more as to why I enjoy the tranquil day’s of an approaching Summer season.

It’s the time of year in which the World seems to offer a collective sigh–exhaling as it begins to relax, and finally lets go. . .
Here’s to sitting under the canopy of an ancient oak tree.
Here’s to the sounds of harmony buzzing and chirping about the yard.
Here’s to the tell-tale summer scent of a freshly mown lawn.
Here’s to spending more time outside rather than inside.
Here’s to time, which may finally be on your side.
Here’s to being happy that we’re just all simply here, in the moment. . .

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Observance

“Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up? Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn’t notice.”
― Julie Andrews Edwards

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(stopping to smell the heavenly scent of flowers in the yard I first hear, then see, the army of bees busy at work pollinating and doing their spring things / Julie Cook / 2014)

I certainly agree with Miss Andrews and her observation regarding our lack of observation—
To be one who “observes” seems to be a luxury we no longer feel is important to afford ourselves.
Do we not take time because we have no time?
Is it because our lives are simply too busy?
Too rushed? Too frantic?
Have we just gotten to the point that we don’t really care one way or another?

With the time clock always acting as a hidden enemy, the frivolity of actually “stopping to smell the roses” becomes an unrealistic cloyingly slick idiom and sadly, nothing more.
Who has time to stop?!
We barely have time to visit the loo let alone stopping for some roses!

Yet ask any aged individual who is looking closer to the eternity side of life rather than to the living side of life, or ask any individual presented with a bleak health prognosis. . .and you will hear a great deal about the importance of stopping and smelling roses, or anything else delightfully sweet for that matter.

Yes, time is certainly an enemy.
It seems to rob us of so very much, and sadly, often with our whole hearted consent.

and yet. . .

Life is always so much more than what we see sitting merely on the surface.
We will never know any more other than the surface unless we actually stop, taking a tad bit more time to actually lift our face and our eyes. . .
To dig a little deeper.
To listen more intently.
To touch more tenderly
To taste more sweetly

Spring is a wonderful season for observation.
So many vibrant colors.
So many titilating sounds
So many magical scents.

We have been given such a grand gift with this thing we call Nature. An endless treasure chest full of utter wonderment. Now is the time for a flurry of activity with the magic of life merely sitting under our very eyes, ears and feet.

Take time today for a little observation.
Nature is our poetry—take time to savor it’s lyrics.