Retreat, Sabbatical, Escape

“In order to understand the world,
one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus,

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Aristotle

“By God, I shall spend the rest of my life getting my heart back, healing and forgetting every scar you put upon me when I was a child. The first move I ever made, after the cradle, was to crawl for the door, and every move I have made since has been an effort to escape.”
― Thomas Wolfe

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(bags ready to go / Julie Cook / 2015)

It was this time last year when a plan was hatched.
It was the birth of a thought.
A “what if” sort of conversation.
Curious as to what may be found, three willing travelers were more than ready to journey to the land of great grandparents. . .
A grand adventure was set in motion. . .

Then the world fell apart.

Well not the big World, but rather the little world of family and self.

Practicalities began screaming “NO”
Mr Mole and Mrs Loon became impossible.
Caregivers continued threatening to leave as anger, resentment and failing bodies and minds wrecked havoc on the one versed with the overall wellbeing of everyone involved.

Backing out was too late.
It was a “go” whether or not the surrounding circumstances were in compliance.

So after a year of planning, then frustratingly dreading, the day of departure has arrived.

I’m heading out of pocket for about two weeks.
I leave behind Dad and Gloria who are not in good places right now.
Caregivers who have told me they may not be in place upon my return.
A husband who can’t leave his business.
A son and daughter-n-law who are now scarily “in charge”
A cat who appears to have broken a leg. . .
You name it, there are 100 reasons as to why I need to stay. . .
Yet I’m too far in to back out now, and my two traveling companions would be up the proverbial creek if I did. . .
You never know what will happen during the course of a year as you wait for a “big” event.

What started out as an exciting trip, has now morphed into, more or less, a cross between a sabbatical and a retreat.
Certainly no one is paying for me to go, no one but myself, yet I think my heart and mind both desperately need for me to go.
Things have been really bad on the Atlanta front as of late.
Actually almost impossible.
Enough to make me sick of both heart and health.

Getting away, far away, may be best for a while.
Unplugging, unwinding and simply allowing God to direct my path.
This is a pilgrimage of sorts to the Celtic roots of my life.

I’m not taking my computer.
Of course I’ve got both phone and iPad
Emailing and texting as time allows.
I doubt I’ll blog.
I just want to empty my thoughts for a while, allowing room for God to move in closer.
Dad and Gloria have almost pushed me over the edge.
I’m hoping with me not there 24 / 7, it’ll actually calm them down for a while.
We’ll see. . .

So until we are together again, in about 2 weeks. . .

May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!

Ironies and anniversaries

“Don’t underestimate the value of irony—it is extremely valuable.”
Henry James

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(a lone gull on the shore of Henderson St Park, Florida / Julie Cook / 2015)

32 years ago yesterday I got married.
Blessedly, I’m still married. . .to the same fella—loving him more today than I knew how to love back then. . .funny how that works—but Praise God it does!!
Fine wine and hearts do indeed seem to get better with time—or in my case they have, thankfully.
And yes, I know, it was a “dad day” yesterday but sometimes going over to take Dad to the doctors trumps a circled date on a calendar.

Traffic was a nightmare, which in turn put me in panic mode thinking that I wouldn’t / couldn’t get to him in time and we’d miss the appointment for sure.
But as luck would have it, or as I like to think Divine Intervention, we made it at 10:15 on the dot. Never mind we waited about 40 minutes until we saw a doctor. . .he, we, by George, were on time!

The follow-up was good, staying the course with the meds. His weight is still way down but he is back on his chocolates so maybe things will improve. Frail, pale and craving anything chocolate–could be worse.

My stepmother was in bed on a self imposed day of being in the bed—there have been a good many of those as of late. . .so I got them both lunch and went back to my old bed room the office to sort through the latest stack of mail and bills.

Sitting at the desk, the desk that was actually his as a little boy, a desk I never particularly liked when I was little as it was made out of wormwood—a hot commodity in the antique world these days but I thought it terrible to have furniture in the house worms had eaten. . .of which now sits in the room where I “grew up,” a room I found as both refuge as well as grossly claustrophobic. . .

I was suddenly struck by the irony of the moment. . .

August 13, 1983 was a summer’s day with a brilliant blue sky. There were no clouds as the humidity was surprisingly low yet it was still hot as hell as it was August and it was Atlanta for Heaven’s sake, so there were no surprises there.

Early that morning, I was in my room gathering the last of my things in order to schlep them over to the church so I could finish getting dressed. The room had been pretty much stripped of every and any remaining vestige of my having spent the last 23 years in that room as everything had been dismantled and boxed, with a good bit being moved to the house that I would soon be calling my own—a good 75 mile drive away–at the time, 750 miles would have suited me.

I was getting married at noon, to a man I had not dated very long—much to my mother’s and godmother’s chagrin—each had their reasons but the chief number one bother was that neither of them knew this young man, not to mention that he was 10 years older than his bride to be. . .

I’ve written about all of that before so I won’t bother with retelling that story. . .rest assured however, it’s had a happy ending.

My family had been the epitome of dysfunctional and I was quite happy about the prospect of getting the heck out of Dodge, so to speak. All I ever wanted to do was to find “Mr Right,” get married, and have a family of my own—- getting my very own chance at making that whole marriage and family thing right as my family had been the poster child of everything a family probably shouldn’t be.

There was no remorse in walking out of the room, no sense of nostalgia that had me linger while wistfully thinking back over life.
I was ready to go.
To move on to the next chapter of my life.
No looking back longingly with that familiar tinge of melancholy. . .
It was onward and upward with no regrets. . .
I was happy and resolute—time to get this show on the road, as in literally!

And anyway, it wasn’t like I was still living at home. I had taken a teaching position in a small town about an hour away, so I had already tasted independence. . .
Yet. . .
there was a very deep need within me to shake the dust from my feet. . .free from that room and from that house.

So here I was, finding myself 32 years later to the day and time, back in that same room and in that same house.
This time I had my 26 year old son in tow to help me with getting dad to the doctor’s office.

The dysfunction is still there, it’s just that now it’s different.
My mom has been gone almost 30 years next month. That in itself is hard to grasp.
I’ve also written about that tale before. . .about having to go to the house that fateful evening—of how I had to spend the night back in my room, while I began helping Dad in the very long, decades long, chore of putting the pieces back together. . .

Dad has since remarried.
Sadly their lives are now currently topsy turvy. . .

And oddly there I was. . .right back in that same room I had tried to shake from my feet, sitting at a desk I once never liked, paying bills and attempting to manage the lives of those other than my own–

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that we can’t ever go back home. And to some degree he’s right.
We can’t go back to what was and who we were. . . for good or for bad. . .
Life and time changes all of that—
Yet the thing is– we can go back sort of. . .We can go back different than who we were before. . .
we can go back changed, older, wiser, better.
That’s the thing about time—it dims the mind, the pain, the memories—and that whole Life thing helps in procuring focus—focus on what really matters, what’s really important. . .
all of which is all sprinkled with a hearty dose of maturity. . .

However there is one pivotal factor which allows us to return back to where we often began, it is the most changing of factors–the one that provides both healing and forgiveness, courage and hope. . .
that being Grace. . .

The Grace I received from the Holy Spirit.
The Grace that has allowed me to go back, to the beginning, to the place that wasn’t always good or happy to a place that continues to have trouble, and do what I need to do—demonstrate that same Grace in like turn. . .

So as my thoughts turned toward time and even fine wine on the day of milestones. . .as in there’s just nothing like that fine bottle of wine. . .I thought of life, my life and how both need to be equally well aged. . .

Cheers to 32 years and going. . .

We can’t go back home. . .

“You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame, back home to exile, to escape to Europe and some foreign land, back home to lyricism, to singing just for singing’s sake, back home to aestheticism, to one’s youthful idea of ‘the artist’ and the all-sufficiency of ‘art’ and ‘beauty’ and ‘love,’ back home to the ivory tower, back home to places in the country, to the cottage in Bermuda, away from all the strife and conflict of the world, back home to the father you have lost and have been looking for, back home to someone who can help you, save you, ease the burden for you, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time–back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
― Thomas Wolfe

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(kitchen window at Dad’s, my childhood home which has also changed / Julie Cook / 2013)

There is only one thing in life that is certain, other than death and taxes, and that is change.
Change is the only one true constant in life.
A constant state of flux with an undulating fluid forward motion
Growing
Shrinking
Evolving
Morphing
Changing
Nothing stays as we once knew it to be.

And yet, everything, everything that was, everything that helped to define us, that comforted us, that taught us, and nurtured us, is trapped in a static time warp buried protectively deep in the recesses of our mind.
Where it all stays nice and safe.
Safe from progress,
from age,
from growing,
from dying,
from changing

And so it is, when we travel back–back to that place where we were who we were before now. To the place that was and and to the place where everything was and in our memories remains safe.
To the place that was familiar and warm.
To the place that knew us and accepted us for who we were, for what we were, which at that time, was not very much at all.
Not like today.
Not like we are now. . .
For we are no longer that person, the person we once recognized as simply ourselves.
For we are now an important person, a busy person, an adult person, a tired person, a stressed person, a lost person, a new person, a bruised person, a broken person.
And yet all we want, all we long for, is to go back, back home.
To the place that was.
To that place that knew us and we knew it.

Yet looking around at the now grossly unfamiliar, the vaguely familiar, the surreal familiar. . .
as in. . .it all looks oddly familiar yet now oddly different. . .
as in. . .we once knew that this one particular road would take us here and that one particular road would take us there, but this road, this new road of today. . . where will it lead?
No longer will we be going where we thought we were going.
The hometown, the place where we thought we would recognize some minuscule tiny remaining fragments, there is now sadly, oddly more new than old.
The familiar has been:
Torn down.
Built up.
As in. . .
It’s all bigger
It’s all smaller
It’s moved
It’s shut down
It’s repurposed
It’s expanded
It’s grown
It’s crowded
It’s now all so complicated.
So different.

We now find ourselves sad, melancholy and aching for something that is now tangibly long gone. . . lost to the ebb and flow of the changing tides of life.
We desperately seek comfort and solace, we need to be embraced, remembered, taken in to the fold one last time–
For isn’t that what home, the hometown, the childhood is all about?
Acceptance, comfort, solace, a warm embrace, the familiar. . .
And then, as if out of no where we hear a voice, a soothing comforting voice.
A voice that is Love personified.
A voice that sounds familiar and speaks to us in tender familiar tones.
A voice that knows us.
As in knows our inner being, the good, the secret, the bad.
A voice that knew us back then and acceptingly knows us now.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
(Isaiah 43:1)

A familiar sounding voice that calls out in the now cold and unfamiliar, and tells us, tells me, that we are, that I am, claimed. We, you, I, are all acknowledged, remembered. . .in all of the unfamiliar, in all of the longing for what was and is frustratingly no longer, a voice that offers a welcome, an embrace, a welcome home, has thankfully called out to you and to me and has claimed us as His own.
Welcome Home.
Hallelujah!!