Exalt life

“Affirmation of life is the spiritual act by which man ceases to live unreflectively and begins to devote himself to his life with reverence in order to raise it to its true value. To affirm life is to deepen, to make more inward, and to exalt the will to live”
Albert Schweitzer

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(Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly / Julie Cook / 2016)

We live in a world that not only embraces but is equally embraced by violence….
We warp ourselves tightly in the maelstrom of discord and bloodshed
It oozes in and out of our entertainment…
It’s become our way of life
And serves us as a means to an end.

Gangs
Bullying
Abortions
Terrorists
Wars to end wars…

Teetering out of balance…out of control…
the scale is tilting…

Has it tilted too far?

Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
you have done wonderful things,
things planned long ago.

Psalm 25:1

What are we to do?

“Make up your mind,” Moab says. “Render a decision. Make your shadow like night – at high noon. Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.”
Isaiah 16:3

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(a morning glory found deep in the woods / Julie Cook / 2015)

Both Lucy Lipiner and Gerda Weissmann Klein have a tale to tell. . .

Each woman weaves a story steeped in the sweet innocence of childhood which is suddenly and unimaginably lost in the midst of unspeakable horrors. . .yet thankfully theirs is a tale of eventual survival and of small yet victorious triumphs.

There are a few differences between these two woman of which create two very individual stories. . .
Differences such as their age and the fact that they were each born in different small towns.
Yet it is to the similarities between them that inextricably binds them together for all of eternity.
I am pretty certain that these woman do not personally know one another nor have they ever met, but I somehow think that in many ways they have known one another very well for a very long time as they have both survived the unimaginable stemming from the same wicked source. . .

Each woman was born in Poland and each woman was born into a Jewish family.
Whoever would have imagined that those two seemingly insignificant factors would mark these women for the rest of their lives by placing them in the valley of the shadow of Death. Had they been born say, in America or Canada, or England, their stories would certainly have been less then memorable. Lives lived as mostly anyone else’s.
But because they were born in a country lying in the path of a very hungry and vicious animal, tragedy was to be their lot.

I have finished reading Lucy’s tale and have now begun Gerda’s equally gripping story.
As I waited in the dentist office yesterday, reading until I was called back, I had tears flooding my eyes as I read the story of an individual family, like my own family or anyone’s family, being ripped apart as they stood by helpless to prevent the rupture.

Despite the fact that these two lady’s stories took place over 70 years ago, I have been struck by the similarities of the worldwide current plights now littering our news.

Each was a young girl when The War broke out–when Germany marched forth seizing Poland as its own.
Each girl came from a prominent family within their respective towns. They were loved, nurtured and happy living their lives as innocent children.

I think it is Lucy’s story that I have found to be most relevant to any story I might read in today’s paper—that of any number of families fleeing Syria or Egypt or Turkey or Somalia or Tunisia, or Eritrea, etc.— each seeking refuge from the unspeakable horrors of the upheaval of what was an average life.

Lucy’s family was on the run for almost 10 years. Starting when she was 6 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939– they became just another statistic of families in the throng of the displaced as they sought refuge in the Soviet Union and later Tajikistan then briefly back to Poland and ironically to Germany and eventually to the US.
There was death, violence, sexual abuse, grave hunger, incapacitating illness, loss, sorrow, separation and near madness.

They had been a family like any other family–they had a nice home, nice clothes, nice jewelry. They went to Temple. They enjoyed their extended family. They attended school. They had jobs. They played music as they lived, loved and laughed—-

Suddenly life took a turn beyond their control and they lost everything–they became hunted, like animals. They were reduced to wearing clothes turned to rags as there was no longer choice. They lost weight. They were hungry. They were infested with bugs, inside and out. They ate rotten trash and drank fetid water to quell an endless hunger. They were dirty, they smelled. They were sick both physically, spiritually and mentally.
They were shells of human beings.

Miraculously the family remained intact but it came at a tremendous cost to each member of the family. They survived in part due the kindness of those strangers and individuals encountered along the long and arduous journey who were willing to offer aid, shelter and comfort, as meager as it was. . .to dirty and seemingly unsavory subhuman individuals who were considered enemies of every state simply for being Jewish.

Yesterday’s news ran a story about the discovery of a lorry, or tractor trailer, abandoned on a road in Austria containing at least 70 dead bodies of migrants, or refugees, who were on what they thought to be a journey to freedom.

Today there was the story of another capsized ship losing possibly 500 individuals–men, women and children drowning while on their way to freedom.

There have been the stories of the Chunnel being overrun and shut down, day after day, by the thousands of migrants in Calais seeking asylum and freedom.

There was the story of an arson attack on a migrant shelter in Germany, as Angela Merkel was booed by those Germans not wanting to see Germany overrun by the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safe haven.

It is said that the current influx of migrants from both Africa and the Middle East is the largest exodus of people since World War II.

A humanitarian crisis of epic proportion.

The worry– how will the small European Nations absorb the millions of people running away from tyranny, abuse and horror. . .how will they be able to provide for all of these “other” people as they continue providing for their own. . .?

These refugees are different–culturally, religiously and ethnically.

Later I read a story about the marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The story told the tale of how one group of New Orleans citizens did not want the “other” New Orleans citizens, those who were the evacuees coming from the more disadvantaged areas, to cross the bridge bringing them into the more affluent neighborhoods.

These citizens were afraid of being overrun with what was thought to be unsavory individuals bringing with them drugs, crime and violence—those citizens coming from the areas which were known to be rife with such—
And I suppose some of those feelings may have been justified after we heard the stories of the rapes and murders taking place within the Superdome when it was opened to those evacuating the lower 9th ward.

Is it fear that keeps us weary, holding our arms outward not as arms offering a welcoming embrace but rather as arms pushing away and repelling those who come seeking aid and assistance?

How can we take on an endless sea of people in need–economically absorbing the astronomical costs for healthcare, housing, education, employment and assimilation?

What of the hidden terrorists among the masses?

Are we not told to be hospitable and welcoming–offering sustenance and aid to our fellow human beings who are in desperate need?

Would we not want someone to do the same for us?

One country closes its borders.

Is that fair to the other surrounding countries?

How do we feed them all?

Where will they stay?

What of those who are criminals?

What of the illness and disease they bring with them?

What of the myriad of language barriers?

What will happen to our own way of life when it yields to the incoming masses?

Do we lose ourselves, our identity, while giving of ourselves to the “other?”

I don’t know the answers to these hard questions and I don’t think the rest of the world knows the answers either–
yet I simply keep hearing these words. . .

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 35-40

Lusia’s Long Journey Home
A young Girls’ Memoir of Surviving the Holocaust
by Lucy Lipiner

A Memoir
All But My Life
by Gerda Weissmann Klein

Asleep at the helm

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.
Henry Ward Beecher

Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.
Pope Francis

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(Justice Ginsburg asleep during the State of the Union Address, image taken from Web / 2015)

It is not my intent to delve into the twisted world of the political here on this blog—preferring rather to simply offer a bit of thought, concern and reflection on this thing we call life. . .
However I was recently taken aback when this image of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg made its way in and out of the various news agencies and the meme of various websites as this octogenarian was caught napping, as it were, during the recent State of the Union Address.
Adding a bit of insult to injury was her ensuing explanation—“I wasn’t 100% sober”

OUCH!
Really??!

As a lifelong educator, for me, this entire incident has trouble written all over it. Here we have a member of one of the highest offices in our land doing two things that any other mere mortal human would be strung to the highest yardarm for having done. . .
A) she was sleeping on the job
and
B) she wasn’t sober.

“Ok”, you say, “she’s old, cut her some slack.”
Really?
“She technically wasn’t working, she was attending an albeit, perceived by many, boring sort of speech.”

I would think, however, that when one dons the robes of one of the highest offices in the land, that would pretty much be considered working at the top of one’s professional duty.

And now the mantra begins. . .”She’s been sick, battling cancer. . .She’s a tough old bird. Let her have her wine and sleep. It was just a speech. She’s brilliant. It’s no big deal. . .”

And so it appears that the excuse for her having been caught sleeping, which was more or less an alcoholic induced sleep, is no big deal because she wasn’t driving, wasn’t the speaker, wasn’t actually sitting on a case—making it all fine and dandy, and as some may add, a much ado about nothing sort of moment. . .???

Well, I’m certainly not trying the cast stones as I am far from any paragon of virtue, yet I do know trouble when I see it.

Let’s say that my principal, superintendent or even myself, a lowly teacher, had gone to dinner prior to say some sort of school or other important function, opting to have had a couple of drinks or glasses of wine with the meal—only to later attend said function. Taking either the place of honor on stage or on front row of said function and now feeling and reeling from the full effects of being totally satiated and woozy, coupled with it being toward the end of a long day and it’s now a little too warm, plus I’m now nice and still, subsequently falling asleep—Only to blow it off later as “I ate and drank too much prior to the meeting”—-the general public would demand a head upon a plate as that would have been no way for any professional, let alone educator, to have conducted themselves during a public forum of such.

And yet we think it’s okay for a Supreme Court Justice to do such since she’s older, sickly and probably tired. . . all the while as we, the courts, the justice systems and any adult worth their mettle, tell our kids, as well as the general public, do not drink when driving, working, caring for children or the elderly, operating heavy machinery or making important decisions that effect people’s lives. . .let alone opting to be seen by the general population at a massively public forum. . .and better not to drink in the first place, period. . .

I think we mere mortals do expect, as well as often demand, that our elected officials, our leaders, our doctors, our ministers, our educators, our justices, even our parents, act the part of their said position and if they don’t, we, in turn, are very quick to do one of two things. . .We either quickly excuse and dismiss the poor behavior, attempting to make it all quickly disappear, or we quickly assemble the executioning squad.

It’s just that I don’t ever remember seeing Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, being snapped by press or paparazzi, sleeping while attending any sort of state or governmental function. . .nor even Vladimir Putin, who is often seen shirtless attempting to be a hulking he-man, nor Queen Elizabeth (we won’t discuss her children or grandchildren), or other world leaders. . .Therefore do we not observe that certain positions require one to step it up as it were, appearing above board particularly when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling?

Which brings us to the idea of not being caught asleep while standing at the helm.

A colloquial expression used to express the sage warning that anyone given authority, such as steering a ship, should live up to such responsibility, not shirking one’s duty particularly when the heat is on. . .
I can only imagine the jokes that this viral image has now generated amongst not only ourselves and the late night TV talk shows but to the jokes and mockery from allies and enemies alike.

I don’t think I need to remind any of us that we are currently living in very globally grave times. A time that calls upon us to be ever vigilant, mindful, stalwart and resolute. . .

There is another image out today equally as viral yet this one being most vile. . .

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This is an image of a group of Coptic Christian men from Egypt, lined up along a beach in Libya, at the hands of their ISIS captors who are about to video the beheading of the men. Beheaded in retaliation for the death of Usama Bin Laden. . .
But wait!
Weren’t we, the US, the ones who actually killed Bin Laden?
These men were guilty of one thing, and one thing only, they were Christians.
Maybe they were actually guilty of two things—they were Middle Eastern and Christian—a deadly combination.

Somehow I do not think we will ever see images of ISIS leaders asleep at the job, claiming that they were not sober, I often wonder if these evil individuals ever sleep.

“But Julie” I hear you implore– “a sleeping Justice has nothing to do with a global terrorism organization that is comprised of thugs! How can you even put these two events within close proximity to one another?! You’re being terribly unfair. . .”

When we see our country wrestling with and waiting on our Supreme Court Justices to figure out such in-country bickering and struggles over who can and can’t smoke pot legally, whether or not homosexuals can or cannot marry legally, or to what extent does a President’s powers reach— all the while as a growing global army of terrorists quickly decide who can and can’t live, let alone who can or cannot practice a religion and life other than that of extreme Islam, I think we’ve got bigger troubles than what we could ever imagine. . .

May we all be mindful of our responsibilities.
May we be mindful of our duties.
May we be mindful that we are often the only example others may have.
May we be the example of that which is just and good.
May we be strong enough to stand above the crowd.
May we take what we do seriously, no matter how insignificant we may think it to be.
May we understand that too causal is not always a good thing.
May we be mature, stepping up to the plate, when the circumstances demand nothing less.
May we not play the blame game but rather “man up” to take the heat when necessary, remembering that often times the buck does indeed stop with us.
May we not be so quick to write everything off so simply.
May we not tolerate everything we do and say for the mere sake of tolerance but rather may we have the courage to pick and choose what we do and say then have the courage to stand behind our beliefs–
May we remember that there was a time in this country when we could disagree, respecting the right to disagree rather than as today when the mentality of “I’m right and you’re wrong and therefore you must change and change now or else” reigns supreme
And may we remember that there are those forces around this globe of ours who look to take away our very way of life and wait in the shadows for when we are asleep at the helm to take advantage of our sleep and distraction, hoping to change our lives forever. . .

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.”

Mark 13:34-36

Signs of the times through the eyes of a piper

Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Teddy Roosevelt

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(a lone little sandpiper wadding through the sand Watercolor Beach, Santa Rosa, Florida / Julie Cook / 2014)

A rather hopeless image is it not?
A lone little sandpiper, supported by tiny little nimble legs barely wider than a toothpick, dutifully trudges its way through an endless sea of sand.
Up and down the dips and hills.
No matter that the air temperature is 97 degrees and the sand barely tolerable to bare feet.
All day, every day, from sun up to sun down, the sandpiper marches on, on his life’s quest of foraging for food and of finding a mate.

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Yet if we zoom in, focusing more on the actual bird itself, blocking out the endless ocean of surrounding sand, the journey, the chore doesn’t appear to be as daunting or overwhelming. Rather we see a cute small bird dutiful to his task, nonplused by the uneven barren terrain.
Merely going about the task of daily life.

Two images of the same little bird which helps to bring us today to our quote by President Theodore Roosevelt.
President Roosevelt, quite the maverick and trailblazer of his day, reminds us that a life lived with numerous attempts and failed attempts is much better than the life lived by those who either, out of fear, ignorance or both, choose inactivity and complacency.

Those who attempt a venture, a quest, a goal will most likely eventually see some sort of progress, triumph or victory. Yet those who remain still, immobile, or sedentary will see simply the same ol thing day in and day out—a rather grayness of nothingness.

My poor Dad, he prefers a life lived in the grayness.
He has never understood my love of traveling nor of my desire for adventure.
I mentioned recently that’d I’d like to one day travel to Ireland.
His response was “just stay home, you can watch it on television”
“Watch it on television?!
DAD, I don’t want to watch Ireland on television!!!”
This as I had called to tell him we were driving down to Florida, to the beach, for the weekend.
“Why do you want to do something like that?”
“We’re celebrating our belated anniversary”
“Why can’t you celebrate at home?”
“Dad” (there is a tone there)
“Dad, there are no terrorists on the roads to Florida” (or so I hope)
“There is always danger; there’s danger driving up to Sandy Springs” (the city just above his home)
“Dad” (note the tone again)
“I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to come up until next week”
“Oh you don’t need to come up. There’s danger on the roads. Just stay where you are”
“Dad, how in the world am I going to see you if I don’t come up?”
“Oh there is just too much danger on those roads. . .”

My mom never got to go anywhere or do anything the least bit adventurous during her life.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, she died from a brief bout with lung cancer at the age of 53.
After her death I wanted to make darn certain of two things. . .
A. that I would beat my mom, living past her short span of 53 years.
and
B. that I would make her a promise– that I would go and do, as best I could, taking with me always her spirit as I knew my mom would have enjoyed and liked to have seen and done more in this world.

Sadly however, I’m afraid Dad may have a point as I think the times in which we find ourselves living are most precarious and frankly quite dangerous.
Dad is right in that regard.
The world has certainly grown dark as the shadow of Death and Fear work in tandem to engulf the lives of a world community.
Suspicion, doubt, apprehension have come to rule our daily comings and goings.

As we read our papers and watch the news, as each is laced with the dire warnings, statistics and predictions of these dark days of which we live, may we be mindful that if we succumb to the fear, to the threats issued by Madness itself, we are the losers who therefore allow Fear, Death and Madness their win.

May we never settle for less in life merely out of stagnation and fear.
Life and living are always going to be accompanied by risk.
That’s simply the nature of the game.
Even the old adage reminds us that “nothing ventured is nothing gained”

I certainly do not advocate throwing caution to the wind, that we should dash off half cocked into the abyss of Madness ill prepared or ill informed, but I do believe in moving forward by being watchful, mindful as well as vigilant, willing to see and do within the confines of good sense and good reason. . .but always moving forward.

May we not allow the times of which we find ourselves living hold us back as we dare to dream the dreams of hope and dare to live the adventure of going to those places and of meeting those people our hearts and minds have always imagined and longed for. . .

O God, our heavenly Father, whose glory fills the whole
creation, and whose presence we find wherever we go: Preserve
those who travel
surround them with your loving care; protect them from every danger;
and bring them in safety to their journey’s end;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Book of Common Prayer