awake at night

“When you awake in the night,
transport yourself quickly in spirit before the Tabernacle, saying:
‘Behold, my God, I come to adore You, to praise, thank, and love you,
and to keep you company with all the Angels.'”

St. John Vianney


(sunset over the the gulf /Julie Cook / 2018)

The past several nights I have woken up around 2:30 AM—wide awake.
Hot.
Sweaty.
Uncomfortable.
Despite the AC running and my husband gently snoring, sleep for me is over.

My back aching with the slightest move–and now an aching neck and shoulder.

It hurts to turn, to roll, to twist.

Dreams, when they come, have been vivid, leaving me wondering and pondering.
Pondering much too much for such an unwelcoming hour.

Time passes with no relief as the numbers of the clock tick on and on.
No calm nor slumber.

Sleep, for me, is often elusive but more so as of late.

When the morning light comes, it is almost rude and unkind as
I find it harder and harder to get up since sleep now tries to
arrive right when it’s time to get up.

Exhausted and ill, I grouse at the day.

Last night, my brain turned on, my eyes popped open and it was only 2:30— my mind racing.
I ruminated on and on like a cow chewing cud over my latest odd dream.
Unresolved ancient issues or just the aching of a herniated disc?

I examine the past.
“NO”, I shout to my hyper-focused mind…” this is not the time!”

So my brain now toys with me, as the unending partial lyrics to a song
begin playing over and over as the earworm bores deeper into my brain.

“STOP”, I silently plead to my restless brain….”just let me rest”, I implore.

And so…I pray.
Focusing on that which is greater than the madness, greater than my weariness.
I offer myself over to You as a sacrifice…
Hear my prayers oh Lord…

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner”

Over and over I repeat the soothing words until I sense my mind and body quieting in unison.

“My Lord, I offer you myself in turn as a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
You have died for me, and I in turn make myself over to you.
I am not my own.
You have bought me; I will by my own act and deed complete the purchase.
My wish is to be separated from everything of this world;
to cleanse myself simply from sin; to put away from me even what is innocent,
if used for its own sake, and not for yours. I put away reputation and honor,
and influence, and power, for my praise and strength shall be in you.
Enable me to carry out what I profess.”

Bl. John Henry Newman, p. 135
An Excerpt From
Everyday Meditations

Homesick

“I felt a pang — a strange and inexplicable pang that I had never felt before.
It was homesickness.
Now, even more than I had earlier when I’d first glimpsed it, I longed to be transported into that quiet little landscape, to walk up the path, to take a key from my pocket and open the cottage door, to sit down by the fireplace, to wrap my arms around myself, and to stay there forever and ever.”

Alan Bradley

“Give me the waters of Lethe that numb the heart,
if they exist,
I will still not have the power to forget you.”

Ovid

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.

Meister Eckhart

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(sheep on a teaching farm / County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A fitful night…
dreams seemingly more real than not…
To wake…
On and off, over and over…
as the dream simply picks up where it left off.
A continuous movie playing out inside my head, all night long…

Trying desperately hard to find you, to call you…
Yet I can’t reach you.
I am there, not here…
but I am lost…
I need for you to come find me…
for it is only you who can help me….

Yet why is that?
Why do I seek you and your help?
Are there not others…?
Others even more capable…
Those who are more near and not so far away…?

Waking….
Perplexed, exhausted, wondering…
What ever does it mean…
or not mean…?
As the thought,
the memory,
the utter physical uneasiness…
hangs heavy over the day.

Homesick, yet here at home.
Missing and longing…
Aching for something else…
someplace else…
something more…
Yet what could it be…and why…?

You are there and I am here.
A melancholy heaviness clouds my thoughts.
It was all but a mere brief crossing of paths.
Yet with a lasting effect.
There was a change.
Deep and profound…
And I am the better for it…
Yet there remains a yearning, a hunger, an aching…
for more…

So very much more.
For hearing,
for seeing,
for feeling,
for learning.

Yet frustration is found in the simple being…
of so very far away…

My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.

Isaiah 26:9

collision course

Our epoch is a time of tragic collision between matter and spirit and of the downfall of the purely material world view.
Wassily Kandinsky

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.”
― Albert Einstein

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(somewhere along the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry / Julie Cook / 2015)

Each morning that we are so fortunate to wake…
given one more day of opportunity, setting off to what we think, dare assume, is the planned, the scripted, the designated, the intentional agenda of the day…
chances are we will fail to ever grasp the utter significance of the path we choose to take for that particular day’s journey.

Each day, each journey, each encounter, be it planned or happenstance, is known but to One and to One alone.
We cannot begin to claim to know of the journey’s experience, just that of the journey itself.
We cannot imagine the outcome as we are merely left to assume it will be the typical business as usual kind of day, time, life.

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(somewhere along the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry / Julie Cook / 2015)

We depart each morning to school, to work, to the gym, to volunteer, to coffee with friends, to meetings, to appointments, to trips…
We imagine the flow will be routine.
Nothing extraordinary, nothing out of the ordinary, just the same ol same ol.

Some of us won’t come home…for there are accidents and ill fated moments.
Certain chance encounters, all equally unplanned and unimagined.
Everything oddly, sadly, cut short…or so we rationalize in our finite minds.

Those of us afforded the continuance of our day, a day which is assumed to be of “our” time and of our time alone, move simply about the routine of life—the routine of a day in and a day out existence.
Yet what we often fail to see, to realize, to comprehend is that there are moments, encounters, meetings during those daily habitual tasks which are anything but random.

For there is nothing random to the Omnipotent Creator of time and space, heaven and earth.

We meet a stranger or a friend…
We utter a word or offer a sentence…completely innocent, nonchalant, just an average thought expressed…

And yet there is nothing random, nothing innocent, nothing nonchalant–for in the very words, the sentence, the verbal thoughts offered, to whomever it is we are conversing, the words, the utterance the offering is anything but idle chatter or casual conversation.
For in that sole conversation something monumental is heard, heeded, digested…

And unbeknownst to either individual the morning that each one woke, readying for what was to be just another day of work, of school, of meetings and appointments…each was on a collision course with what was to be a tiny moment within the vast sea of The Divine…where no one is to ever be the same…

Be at peace…

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(stained glass window, St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing. At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
― C.S. Lewis

To sleep, but to dream; to wake but to yearn

“I dreamt — marvellous error! — that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.”
― Antonio Machado

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
William Shakespeare

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(the beads of tiny rain drops appear as pearls upon a spider’s web / Julie Cook / 2015)

Routed out of slumber’s silent realm
waking in the harsh dark reality of that what was,
for was, was but a dream. . .

Again the dream, each time is different
Yet the meaning and emotion quite the same
To be. . .
Embraced
Enveloped
Loved completely

It may not be you
but it is some form of you
Sadly having never seen you
nor achingly never having known you

But you are there
kind and nurturing. . .
Missing you,
longing to know you
to see you
to feel you
to see your face,
seeing mine

In sleep you are elusive
Seemingly present, yet not.
In waking, you have never existed
Emptiness fills the heart

Fleeting and just out of reach,
Your smile fills the void
To be loved as in the dream,
In the reality of waking,
leaves the heart spent.

Tears fall as the pearls of a broken strand
worn beautifully around your neck
But that I could gather them up
giving them back to you,
pouring them gently into your warm hands
For in the dream, you are warm. . .

Your eyes tenderly enveloping the now grown child
You see nothing negative, just joy
in what stands before you—
How different would it all have been
knowing you?

You remain hidden
In the shadows of a sleeping mist
You are longed for in wakefulness
A haunting specter longed for in
a dream

Feast and fellowship or the memories made around food

“I propose a toast to mirth; be merry! Let us complete our course of law by folly and eating! Indigestion and the digest. let Justinian be the male, and Feasting, the female! Joy the depths! Live, O creation! The world is a great diamond. I am happy. The birds are astonishing. What a festival everywhere! The nightingale is a gratuitous Elleviou.
Summer, I salute thee!”

― Victor Hugo

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life–to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
― George Eliot

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(a remaining squash blossom perched upon one of Michael’s cutting boards / Julie Cook / 2014)

Behold the lowly squash blossom.
An unassuming little component to something seemingly so “other than.”
And yet, were it not for this fading blossom, once opened flower, would we not have the fruits of our labour and the prized pieces of the bountiful harvest we call summer?

And as I beheld this spent, shriveling and most beguiling little remnant, I was made most aware of something that was once most delectable, memorable and grand.
And so it is with so much of life.
One thing, even the spent remains, always seem to lead back to something that was and that is so much more.

This fading little blossom, which is now but an after thought of the actual squash or zucchini fruit, which is awaiting transformation in my kitchen, was once the highlight of one of the most memorable meals I ever had the pleasure of partaking. . .

I have a dear friend in Florence. Actually I have two dear friends. Cecilia Papini and her father Paolo. The family has a beautiful leather business there, just mere steps from the “Old Bridge” and the Arno. Their family business has been serving locals and tourists a like since 1896.

Several years ago, my aunt and I had traveled to Italy on a bit of a pilgrimage at it were. We had visited Padua for the feast day of San Antonio, June 13th. Wending our way south, via the train, we stopped in Florence for a few days in order to visit my cousin as well as Cecelia and Paolo.

It was Paolo who recommended that we dine at a small restaurant directly around the corner from their business. The name of this tiny establishment has long since faded from memory but the experience has remained clear as if it were yesterday. The lasting piece of the memory from that evening was based solely on the gastronomic delights we were served, which made this truly a most memorable experience—specifically it was the fried squash blossoms.

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Amazing how one spent little curled up flower can evoke such a powerful memory. One minute I’m picking up and looking at a discarded little blossom, as I was bent over in the garden on a very hot afternoon, cutting the ripe zucchini and squash, when next I’m suddenly transported someplace else–to a different time and place. A powerful potent for the recalling of a memory.

Good food, good friends–or perhaps just a good meal shared simply by just one other. . .
Either way, the importance of what I’ve always called “feasting and fellowshiping” is a key component to what forges lasting memories and bonds. As those moments of sharing together, in the company of friends and family coupled by good food and drink, in turn becoming precious memories, are all intricately woven together.

So many of the important moments of my life seem to evolve around food, as well as those who have joined me around said food.
Why that is, I am not certain.
The one thing I do know is that I do like to eat. . . don’t we all?
And I do like eating good food which is lovingly, skillfully, and at times, artfully prepared—be it simple fare or a Michelin Star experience—combine that with the union of others–be it family, friends or both—-that very mixing of the food and company makes for an intimate union of souls, the very impetus of memories.

Sometimes I try to replicate the moment by trying my hand at a particular meal or dish that I may have had on a special trip or outing, in turn hoping to share it with others—maybe it is my attempt at simply replicating the moment. Like the heavenly tomato flan with warm basil infused olive oil I had in Cortona, Italy.

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Last summer I attempted to duplicate this feast for the tastebuds of my husband using our garden’s tomatoes.

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And who ever says it has to be something fancy or decadent? A humble hot dog turned brazen in that windiest of cities, can be just as divine and just as memorable, –behold the Chicago Dog. . .

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Followed then by my own version I prepared for my most grateful husband who is a huge Chicago Dog fan:
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Yet some things are best savored at the initial sitting and the initial sitting alone, as a replication could and would only pale in comparison–as in, some moments are meant to be just that, a moment, a single and only once in a lifetime moment. . . case in point is my usual breakfast meal at The Donut Hole in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla—a delectable breakfast of their version of cheese blintzes. The slightly sweetened orange accented cheese filing, wrapped ever so lovingly in a thin crepe like, lightly fried, shell coupled by local fresh fruit of the season, real sour cream and brown sugar–to be consumed bleary eyed while donning shorts, t-shirt and baseball cap as the throngs of locals and tourist line up vying for one of the limited tables while the heavenly scent of freshly prepared doughnuts gently wafts in the air. . .one cannot replicate that.

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I’ve never tried my hand at blintzes nor many of the other marvelous wonders out there . . .never thinking I could come close to such tasty treats as those Parisain delectables the French Macarons, or Italy’s light and airy fried squash blossoms or even a hearty pot of Swiss fondue—some things are best left to the pros and some things just need to remain as that single special memory.

As I sit here remembering memorable meals and moments which have come and gone, I am poignantly reminded of a humble platter of store bought fried chicken.

I think I’ve shared this story with you before. . .it is worth sharing again.

September will mark 28 years since my mom passed away from a short bout with cancer. That heavy and sad Tuesday, following her funeral, everyone had gathered back at my childhood home for a Wake. Mother would have enjoyed the gathering. As Mom had been sick for a while, without any of us realizing why she had slowed down so much, the house and its upkeep fell woefully behind. I was not living in Atlanta and would drive over on Saturdays usually taking her out to lunch—as I would wonder why she was eating less and less or hardly eating anything at all.

When she went into the hospital, for what turned into her final 6 weeks, the poor house and its upkeep simply went to pot. The washing machine in the basement had been leaking, creating a small river and pond on the basement floor. Do you think Dad had even taken notice?!

When it came time for the Wake, friends and family all brought in a banquet of food. The time honored tradition of “the covered dish.” It’s what we do so well here in the South, a gathering, be it happy or sad is always surrounded by the best casseroles, dishes, cakes and pies—- but I suspect this ritual to be a global affair.

I would shuttle all the food up and down the precarious basement stairs to the extra refrigerator perched near the leaking washing machine in the dungeon like basement. One of my oldest and most dear life-long friends, who had loved mother dearly, had brought over a platter of fried chicken she had gotten at Kroger (or as we like to say in the South, “The Krogers”

As everyone began gathering for the Wake, my friend accompanied me down to the basement to assist me in transporting all the platters and casseroles back up to the kitchen. As my friend took hold of her platter of chicken, something caused the platter to shift, suddenly sending all the chicken crashing to the floor, landing in the stagnant pond of washing machine water. My friend immediately burst into tears. The surreal moment of our having lost mother who, at the time, was so young at 53, coupled by the sorrow of why were in that basement in the first place with a mountain of food, my friend’s pride in her contribution to mother and this most surreal moment all came crashing into one another as a platter of chicken now sat on a wet basement floor.

Always known as the one who is the rock and who keeps things together, I quickly told my friend “it’s okay, it’s all okay. . . and now we’re going to pick up that chicken and put it all back on the platter.” Of which we did. Drying it off, as well as her drying her face, we artfully rearranged each piece of chicken on the platter. We arrive back up the stairs, placing the platter of chicken on the kitchen table amidst the hams, casseroles, pots of beans, bowls of slaw, hot and cold dishes, rolls, cold cuts, etc.

As everyone was spending the afternoon mixing tears with laughter, I spy my cousin, out of the corner of my eye, making a bee line for the chicken. I nonchalantly but quickly make a quick pass by the table and hiss “don’t eat the chicken, put it back and eat the ham” before moving on to visit with the others.

That platter of store bought chicken, which fell in a pond of washing machine water, lovingly brought to my mother’s wake by a cherished life long friend, and a clueless cousin will always be a meal which makes me smile, as I brush away a tear.