“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” or everyone has “stuff”

“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring. I do not see but a quiet mind may live as contentedly there, and have as cheering thoughts, as in a palace.”
― Henry David Thoreau

Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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(beautiful white azaleas in Julie’s yard / 2014)

Most individuals who we currently read about today in the annuals of our History, those brave men and woman who have gone long before us, paving the way for the life we all know and treasure today, have grown, no doubt, larger than life exponentially with the passing of time. Exploits and deeds take on lives of their own as the truth, history, fact and legend mix precariously through the ages.

We tend to think of such individuals as almost super human, void of the things we mere mortals suffer and deal with on a daily basis.

I think Steven Spielberg helped us humanize Abraham Lincoln in his most recent movie “Lincoln”. The movie portrayed a man acquainted with deep sorrow and affliction. We actually saw a man (albeit the actor) wrestle with grief and loss while dealing with the shared pain within the dynamics of his family, all the while as a Nation wrestled with tremendous growing pains.

The cynics among us can say that Mr. Spielberg may have taken liberties with the emotions of a man that we know only through grainy black and white photographs and the myriad of writings, letters, and documented statements regarding his actions and reactions. Yet it is the actual seeing and viewing of such actions and reactions, via the medium of stage and screen, that which we see with our very eyes, which makes the man, truly a man.

I say all of this as I read most recently a most interesting article regarding Patrick Henry. Our famous Revolutionary War hero whose immortal words “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” have cemented his fame and notoriety in the pages of the birth of this mighty Nation.

Not knowing a great deal of Mr. Henry’s personal life, I was intrigued by this short article regarding such. It seems that one evening, several years prior to the turbulent days of the Revolution, Mr. Henry was entertaining some guests. As everyone had gathered in the parlor for after dinner brandies and conversation, a commotion was heard coming from somewhere in or under the house. A scratching sound and the faint shrieks and screams of what must be a woman or perhaps bobcat. Appearing somewhat confused and baffled, Mr. Henry moved his guests to another room of the house where the remainder of the evening was quiet and without further distraction.

Was it a ghost the guests, and now reader, perhaps wonder?

Upon the departure of his guests, Mr. Henry returned to the parlor where he first heard the dubious sounds and proceeded to pull back a rug from the floor, revealing a small trap door. Mr. Henry pulls open the door, and with a candle in hand, proceeds down the steps to a dark labyrinth which ran underneath his home. He makes his way hesitantly through the dark and wending alley like maze. Suddenly the candle casts an eerie glow towards something huddled in a darkened corner. Cowering in this dark tomb crouches a figure, which at first glance appears to be that of an apparition or other worldly specter— but in actuality was that of a woman.

She is dirty with wild darting eyes. “There there my dear” the reader hears Mr. Henry utter, whispering across the span of hundreds of years.

The story now takes on a sad twist verses one of some other worldly shenanigans.
It seems that Mr. Henry was once married to a woman named Sarah– to whom he greatly loved as she in turn loved him. During the course of their marriage, she bore six children for the couple, but as the years passed, it was noted that her mental health became more an more erratic. Her actions became violent as she attempted to cause harm to not only the children and Mr. Henry but to herself as well.

Given that this was the mid 1700’s, in a young new land, facilities and care for the mentally ill were quite archaic if non existent. The notion was still widely believed that those who suffered mental illness were actually demonically possessed or were practicing witches. Treatment for such individuals was often more torturous then restorative with many patients dying in unspeakable conditions.

Historians continue with conflicting theories as to Mr. Henry’s intentions for locking Sarah in a damp and dark cellar. Some believe that, fearing for her safety as well as for the rest of the family’s, it was the only solution but to lock her away (shades of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights comes to mind). Others theorize that his reasons were a bit more sinister and selfish as he was embarrassed having a wife who was mad and wished that no one knew, or as few individuals as possible, of his wife’s “condition”.

Either reason mattered not upon her death, at which time Mr. Henry cleared both house and heart of any and all reminders of his wife, never speaking of her again.

It was not much longer until the Mr. Henry we all now know grew into his own with his famous Revolutionary battle cry.

This story is but one small reminder that we all have our burdens to bear in our lives. No one is exempt from the mishaps of life. Some of us may seem to be more blessed than others, living more charmed lives than others, but that is merely only on the surface. Chances are that even the most fortunate among us have had their share of trials, sorrows, tragedies, setbacks, struggles, miscues, and misadventures.

Even as those who saw the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” came to learn, that even the most magical among us, have had to bear hardship, often times at the hand of physical and emotional abuse.

The real story here is that greatness can and does rise up from adversity. We may either allow the circumstances of our lives to ruin and destroy us, or we can use them as a stepping stool, reaching upward and outward, working our way toward bigger and better places.

I have written often about the dysfunction and mental illness which plagued my own family as I was growing up, so I can speak first hand of its devastation and darkness, but I am here to also speak of the saving Grace and Hope that can be found waiting as well.

Do not allow life’s darkness to cover the radiant light that lies deep within your own heart. Do not succumb to the hardships and sorrow. It is all merely the furnace which is being used to forge, shape and mould the beauty in your own soul.

No one says that you must love these difficulties and burdens but they will tell you to learn from them and to use them for making not only yourself and your life better, but use them for making that of the World’s existence better as well. . .

Twisted

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.
Anne Frank

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(one of cookie’s pumpkins / Julie Cook / 2013)

When I was still in the classroom and it was time for me to introduce our ceramic, better known as clay, unit, I’d first demonstrate how best to “wedge” the clay. Simply put, that’s the process of working out the tiny air pockets that get caught in a ball of clay. If the air bubbles are allowed to stay in the clay, as it’s being formed, there is a very good chance that the final piece being fired in the kiln would either severely crack, or worse, explode. When trapped air is heated it expands, and in the case of the clay, the expansion is obviously outward… causing catastrophic results for a pot being fired.

Wedging the clay is very similar to the kneading of bread. While I was in college, my ceramics instructor was a visiting professor from the University of Tennessee. This particular professor had been trained in the traditionally rich Asian ceramic school of study and he in turn taught us similar based techniques. One of those techniques was a particular way to wedge the clay— the Japanese Spiral Technique.

This particular technique allowed one to work the clay from the inside out… manipulating the clay and hands, twisting and rolling, working the clay into a spiraled ball. Pretty much guaranteeing that the air pockets were worked out of the clay. One piece of clay full of the air pockets, being fired in a loaded kiln, put everyone’s piece in jeopardy. If one piece “blew up” —it could possibly damage any piece sitting in close proximity—resulting in very unhappy students. Wedging was stressed to the utmost.

So when I read today’s quote by Anne Frank, about twisting her heart round, so that the bad is on the outside and the good on the inside, I couldn’t help but think of wedging and of the Japanese Spiral Technique. How nice it would be if it were so easy to twist our bad out from deep down, twisting it outward pulling the good inward toward our soul. Simply sloughing off the bad and being full of the good.

She speaks of trying to become the person who she would like to be, the person she could be–whether anyone else existed or not. Anne was between 13 to 15 years old when she wrote those words. She was suppose to have had a lifetime ahead of the her to work on becoming that very special person she sought to be.

I am almost 54 years old—I have been privileged to have that lifetime that was stolen from Anne. I am still not that person that I wish to be. There has always been a part of me that yearned to be like one of the Desert Fathers, or in my case, Mothers—being one who sought solitude away from society allowing myself to focus solely on my relationship to and with God. No worldly distraction.

How I so often push my time with God to the wayside as something else just seems so much more pressing….trivial things. I sadly allow the here and now to overshadow the Divine….
“I’ll get to it in a minute. I’ll read the day’s Divine Office in a minute, after I put the wash in the dryer, after I feed the cats, after I make the bed, after I take my shower, after I post the day’s blog, after I answer the phone, when I get back from the store, when I get back from Dad’s, after I start supper, after I do the dishes…once I put my head to my pillow…..tomorrow, I will do it tomorrow….”

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:164 NIV) But I don’t do that. Why don’t I do that? We are told we should do that. Seven times a day…

To learn the perfection of prayer and worship. To go deep within to that inner sanctum where there is that piece of the Divine–so deep in my very core that I am not even aware that it is there. It is in this deep core sanctuary where the Holy Spirit resides waiting for me to go within to commune with the Divine.

And yet there is the desire to serve….service to others. To demonstrate the Divine by offering kindness, compassion, help, comfort, nourishment, shelter…a ministry of aid and compassion, of doing…

Have I done enough? No. I don’t think so. I know not. There is still so much to do. Just turn on the news—there is so much that needs to be done for this humanity of ours.

Prayers for the school’s this week who witnessed the senseless loss of life in the throws of, once again, needless violence.
Prayers for Sparks Middle School in Nevada and prayers for Danvers High School in Massachusetts.
Prayers for the teachers, the students and the families who now ask those painful questions of why.
Prayers for our Nation as our allies today now question our “friendship” and find that our trust has been broken.
Prayers for the skewed beliefs and of our extreme obsession with materialism, or our obsession over Hollywood and sensationalism media, for those who we look to as role models who cannot even lead themselves, for and what both Blessed Mother Teresa and John Paul II called our culture of Death……

No, I am not done—much twisting, wedging and woking remains of the moving out the bad to move in the good. Just like the potter, I need to work the clay of my heart. Wedging a little more until it is right.