into the valley of death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4


(Lady Butler, 1881)

The other evening, as I once again attempted to fall asleep…
sleep which is maddeningly elusive…

…For my mind wanders all around….

“was that my phone ringing?’
“how much more can his body take?”
“will tonight be the night?”
“what was that the nurse said…”
“should I just stay up there?”

As now there is the talk of moving Gloria…
as her own dysfunctional family wrestles on that…
attempting to pull us into the web….

On and on it plays throughout the night,
all the while I yearn for sleep…

The thought of an old black book with brittled yellow pages
surfaced to the forefront of my consciousness…as words from a different time
began to recite themselves in my head…
I was perplexed…
How in the world, why in the world, did this image from the past come to mind
in the midsts of all that is happening currently now in this most sorrowful present….

One of the first poems I ever memorized as a little girl was Tennyson’s
Charge of the Light Brigade.

When I was around 8 or so, I proudly “owned” two books which had belonged to my grandfather…
of which I suspect were his in college.
The copyright on one of the books is 1903.
It is a collection of poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson edited by Henry Van Dyke.

As a young American girl, I have no idea why someone like Tennyson and his
ballad of battle would call my name… but call both author and poem did.

While all these many years later, there in the restlessness of a long dark night,
the British forces once again came charging forward from deep within my memories.

Tennyson was the poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and Ireland during the long
reign of Queen Victoria.
He was also one of the greatest poets of Western Civilization.

It was shortly following a botched assault by Brisitsh forces in 1854, during the
Crimean War, that Tennyson penned his now famous ballad.

The poem is a heart’s response to a devastating battle and of the heavy loss of life
following the miscommunication which called the wrong division into a
now legendary near massacre.

The 4th and 13th Dragoon, the 17th Lancers and the 8th and 11th Hussars
were light calvary divisions…the Heavy Brigade consisted of the 4th Royal Irish
Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons and the Scots Greys…
each of whom were more equipped and who were more accustomed to seeing the fiercest of conflicts.

According to Wikipedia,
The Light Brigade, as the name suggests, were the British light cavalry force.
It mounted light, fast horses which were unarmoured.
The men were armed with lances and sabres.
Optimized for maximum mobility and speed, they were intended for reconnaissance and skirmishing.
They were also ideal for cutting down infantry and artillery units as they attempted to retreat.

Therefore the Light Brigade was not equipped nor prepared to face the onslaught of
20 opposing Russian battalions or the 50 artillery pieces ready to level them in mid attack.

It was an epic tragedy for British forces as well as British morale back home.

Leading Tennyson to pen a lasting tribute not to mere loss and misfortune but rather to gallantry…
heroic courage demonstrated in the face of insurmountable odds.

For despite the wrong orders…the Brigade followed the orders none the less…
Orders followed by men who questioned not whether there had been a mistake in calling
them to battle…but rather… that in the end, when all was said and done…they knew that
it was their’s not to question why… but rather it was theirs to do and die…

And so now as I watch my dad muster on as it were,
under the now seemingly insurmountable odds of death…
he rides on…

For my dad has not been a man known for being strong nor bold…
but rather…
he has been both deferring and lazy…

Yet more importantly however… he has always known for being overtly kind and generous…

So now…throughout this arduous and painful journey,
this devastatingly life ending ordeal…
my dad has not lamented nor complained nor even questioned why…
but rather he has seen that this battle has been his to endure as he makes his way
through this valley of death…
as I continue to marvel at the choice of charge he has now made.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Memorializing Events in the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854
Written 1854

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d & thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack & Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter’d & sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

(Note: This poem, including punctuation, is reproduced from a scan of the poem written out by
Tennyson in his own hand later, in 1864.
The scan was made available online by the University of Virginia.)

A very tenacious, sensuous and most southern vine–or–the final page to the story

“…how sweetly smells the honeysuckle in the hush’d night…”
-Tennyson
DSCN4989
(wild honeysuckle on an old fence post / Julie Cook / 2014)

The humidity was so heavy and the air so thick, no one dared moved for fear of suffocating.
The beads of sweat, growing larger across her brow eventually grew too heavy–giving way as if a dam had burst, trickling rapidly down past her rounded cheek, even more quickly down her supple neck and sensuously disappearing down her silky blouse.

“What on earth is that oh so heavenly scent?
The question directed at no one in particular as the now shadowed figure stepped out onto the ancient front porch through that same torn screen porch door her daddy had always sworn he’d get around to fixing.
“Oh that’s mama’s honeysuckle vine on the trellis over by the side fence” she replied in a slow drawn-out honey coated drawl that he could suddenly not place.
Was it Savannah? Maybe Charleston? Better yet, maybe Natchez.

She could smell something other than the honeysuckle. “Nothing like a freshly showered man” she silently mused.
A mix of soap and saving cream hung heavily between them.
Despite the recent shower, the stiffly starched clean white oxford cloth shirt stuck to his back.
He handed her a glass.

The glass was one of her daddy’s Waterford crystal old fashioned glasses, the one from the makeshift bar in the front room he had christened his office away from the office. More like a big boy’s secret club house– as mama use to flippantly tell the kids about daddy’s time in “the office.”

The cold heavy glass, feeling instantly familiar and refreshing to the touch, was also full of her daddy’s favorite bourbon. When she was a little girl, asking for a sip of her daddy’s drinks, he’d simply whisper he was having a drink of a secret medicine. With the ice rapidly melting, she thankfully raised the sharp edged glass to her thin dry lips. One sip and she immediately felt the warm brown liquid erasing any remaining tension from the weight of the worries of the day. A silent “thank you Daddy for the medicine” wove itself into her thoughts.

As the cicadas gently hummed throughout the moonless night, he pulled over one of the other rockers asking if he could join her.
“Whenever did you have to ask to sit down” she quizzically quipped.
He couldn’t tell if she was playing or was actually annoyed.
It had been a dreadfully long day and he knew how heavy her heart had to be.

“Ever since you decided to spend the evening in the dark on this front porch” came his reply, attempting to sound more matter of fact rather than accusatory.

Suddenly he felt a warm hand reaching through the thick air landing gingerly upon his knee.
“It’s been a long day and a long life” she exhaled as she spoke in that breathless way she did when she fought from crying.
The years suddenly draining from her body as he placed his much cooler hand over hers.

Maybe it was the bourbon, maybe it was sitting on the terribly familiar porch, maybe it was the deeply southern humid evening–but whatever it was. . .she had finally sensed that she was going to be ok—-maybe it was because she had finally understood that she was just as stubborn, just as sensuous and just as tenacious as that damned ol honeysuckle vine her mama had planted 45 years ago, the one her daddy cussed every summer as he’d get stung by the visiting bees when she’d make him go prune the blasted thing.