Day is done, gone the sun…

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all

(lyrics from In My Life
attributed to John Lennon)

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(my father-n-law, 1942–An enlisted man who eventually was charged with the care of B-52s / stationed in England during much of the war)

I don’t know if you have ever attended the funeral service for either a current or perhaps long passed member of our armed forces….

I had not.

Oh I had seen the countless individual tributes as well as the way too soon and excruciatingly painful farewells endured by families across this great Nation of ours…those funerals and services caught in the headlines or in the papers, or in the news…victims of the countless wars and conflicts which have plagued this land of ours…
or perhaps they were merely the victims of the ambiguous passage of time…

Those solomon yet heart wrenching ceremonies where the smartly dressed and impeccably precise service members slowly and resolutely perform the age old necessary, yet painfully dreaded, task—
the final task afforded all members of the service…

That being the final overseeing and demonstrative act of respect freely given to one of their own.

It matters not whether these current young men and woman of service know the person for whom they have come as acting military representatives.
It matters not if they know the grieving families.
What matters is that they come…

As the two young Airmen waited, at full attention and salute, that already hot Spring Sunday afternoon..
waiting at the freshly dug deep hole, in the heavy red Georgia clay…
waiting with a fixed anticipation for the approaching casket of their comrade…
the silence was palpable, broken only by the muffled sniffles offered by those falling tears.

Slowly and painstakingly borne on the shoulders of grandsons, who are now the same age if not older of this once proud soldier, is a man who was simply known to them as “Papa.”
They knew he fought, but that was all.
His generation was not one to dwell on what had been…
There were not the stories of exploits or adventure..
merely that a job had been done…
that was all.

Many volunteered long before our Nation was involved.
Perhaps they sensed it would not be long…
that the all-call would soon be sounded.
The choice had not been for a career of service..
Life simply had worked out that way.

They went with no expectations…
They had learned from the prior war, the war touted to end all wars,
that glamour was not to be found in the battles of man.
Men had returned home, if they returned at all, broken.

They simply knew that now, at this crossroads of time,
that it was merely a matter of right verses wrong, good verses bad.
They went to make things right.

Today we have lost that sense of right verses wrong, good verses bad…
as we so often find ourselves drowning in the details.
The lines are blurred as the sides are skewed.
The distinctions between the good verses the bad have been lost.
We no longer seem to know our direction nor purpose or of that which is of
right or wrong.

This is not to say that war and fighting are just or right.
No war is just.
Yet it is in the end goal in which justice lies.
Freedom verses tyranny
Democracy verses oppression

They were not perfect individuals.
They were young, energetic yet flawed…
but they were ready and equally willing…
To do what was not particularly wanted or desired,
but rather to do that which was needed and necessary.

This was a time before the knowledge of PTSD or of the aftermath of trauma to the psyche.
These men and woman saw things, smelled things, heard things, did things…
that would haunt them for a lifetime.
Just as those who who have gone on since…have equally suffered,
Yet it was with this generation that those secrets were to remain..
to be held silently close and not to be freely divulged.

It was rarely spoken of once it was all over.
A job had to be done,
it was done,
and now it was over…
that was that….

They came home, often broken within,
but went on with life without looking back.
Lives grew, families grew…
as lessons were lost with time…

The two young Airmen this warm April Sunday afternoon had come to do their job,
their duty.
After the final Amen was breathlessly whispered…
Silently, yet in precise mirrored rhythm,
a flag was removed from a lone casket.

Over and over, tightly folded,
pure white gloves meticulously went about their task.
Creases were reverently straightened as a final salute was offered.
A lone solider turns then kneels with flag held tightly to his chest.

He kneels before my husband, a living mirror of the man now in the casket.
“On behalf of the President of the Untied States…”

It matters not of ones political affiliation.
It matters not whether one voted for said president…
What matters is that a timeless act is playing out…
That others may see and know of the sacrifices made by those who have gone before.

War is now mocked while our soldiers belittled.
Respect is withheld…
As a Nation now turns upon itself.

The number of the grateful who can understand are shrinking
as the number of those who served shrinks ever still.
Selflessly, patriotically, willingly…
they gave, he gave,
they served, he served.

There are those who will now say that patriotism is a lie
There is no justice in defense.
And there are no answers to be found in aggression.

But had this generation not acted as they had…
Had this generation, this greatest of all generations, not risen to
an anticipated need…
Our lives, both yours and mine, would be vastly different today…

With trembling heart, yet resolute acceptance, a son’s hands receives the flag
so lovingly offered.
Received and accepted on behalf of a man who had not been perfect,
who had not been proud but
who simply did what he thought was right for those of us who
he had no idea would reap the reward of his “gift”
A gift he never considered to be a gift.

His gift, his legacy, his memory will continue on…
through the lives of both his children as well as grandchildren.
Whereas the life of a once breathing and living human being…
that of a soldier, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman, is now silenced…
His gift to all us continues on…

It is to be found not only in the aching hearts of a family
who remains broken, picking up the pieces…
yet rather it remains, as it is found, in a meticulously folded piece of cloth.
A piece of cloth he was so very proud to fly.

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky;
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Fading light, dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar, drawing nigh, falls the night.

Thanks and praise, for our days,
‘Neath the sun, ‘neath the stars, neath the sky;
As we go, this we know, God is nigh.

Sun has set, shadows come,
Time has fled, Scouts must go to their beds
Always true to the promise that they made.

While the light fades from sight,
And the stars gleaming rays softly send,
To thy hands we our souls, Lord, commend.

the tontine

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time.
And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.

Mahatma Gandhi

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(The Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A tontine…
A french word used during the 17th century to denote an investment created by several individuals…With the premise being that each member of the group agrees to initially pay a set sum…
The money is never touched, rather it is allowed to grow over time.
As the years pass and the members of the group eventually, one by one, die off, the remaining shares grow…with the last surviving member of the group amassing the lump of the sum plus all accrued interest.

The idea of a tontine played out on one of the episodes of the hit show M.A.S.H.

In this particular episode Colonel Potter, the patriarch of the cast, received a secretive and oddly strange package of which suddenly cast a grave pall over his entire demeanor. Naturally those closest to the beloved leader, Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Charles each grew terribly concerned seeing that the Colonel had grown almost inconsolably depressed after having received this most odd package.

The entire episode evolved around what was in the package, what was wrong with Colonel Potter and what could this rag tag group of friends do to help.

Finally Colonel explained…
The package was a bottle of fine French Brandy.

The story behind the bottle was that during World War I, when Colonel Potter was a young soldier, his regiment had found themselves dangerously deep behind enemy lines in German occupied France. His small group of comrades had come upon the bottle of brandy as they hunkered down in an abandoned shell of what was once an elegant home. Right then and there this little group of beleaguered soldiers made a pact, or more appropriately a tontine. Should they survive the war, they would save the bottle of brandy by placing it in a safety deposit box. The bottle would then remain under lock and key until there was but one lone survivor of the group–upon which time the bottle was to be delivered to the “last man standing” who would in turn drink a toast to what had been.

Colonel Potter, who now bitterly found himself still fighting, what seemed to be a lifetime of wars all these many years later, was the last living soul remaining from his once youthful regiment, as his own mortality now mockingly taunted him as it stared him in the face… all the while a lonely bottle of brandy begged to be consumed.

Life is indeed bittersweet.

If we are fortunate, we live a long life supported and surrounded by family and friends.
We journey together through both joy and sorrow, trepidation and gallantry.
We ride the waves of triumph both high and mighty then hold fast and tight during the calamity of storms.
We experience shared moments, good and bad, which become the mortar between the building blocks of our lives.

Then one strange day we suddenly realize, that while we weren’t paying attention or taking much notice, ever so slowly and one by one…our numbers mysteriously have decreased…

We find ourselves on the opposite side of happily ever after, looking back wondering where the time has gone. One by one we are left more and more isolated and alone, until finally we are the last man / woman standing out of a once large troupe of beloved comrades, family and life long companions.

Gone are those who were in our lives to protect, to cheer on, to share with, and to relish with….those who were the life-lines, the wise ones, the sages of our lives…
Leaving us in the unfamiliar position of now being those very things for a much younger lot than ourselves…
A lonely feeling.
A bittersweet feeling.
A very sad feeling.

And that was the very overwhelming realization for dear ol Colonel Potter…

The friends that had transitioned with him from boyhood to manhood, under cloak of war, we’re all now gone. Those who had lived through and understood a lifetime now long past had all but vanished, leaving him as the only remaining one who could recall and understand a time that was as he found himself now surrounded by a much younger group who had not been there nor done that…he was now the odd man out.

Yet through the heavy sense of loss with the weight of age suddenly bearing down and crushing his shoulders, our dear Colonel Potter understood that as he may be the last of his particular group to survive, he was still surrounded by companions, loved ones and friends… albeit of a different generation.
Life was still to be lived, relished and enjoyed.
Occasionally he could look back and recall all that was, but life was indeed for the living and it was time to say good-bye to the past while looking toward the future.

And so as he opened the bottle of bandy that had delightfully mellowed with time, offering a toast to those who once were and to a life that was well lived…he also offered a toast to those standing by his side and to the life that was yet to be…
toasting the memories of friends now gone and toasting the lives of those friends now standing by his side.

May those of us who now find ourselves standing closer to the end of our own life’s tontine remember, that as our numbers maybe decreasing, our importance in the lives of those who come behind us is greatly increasing.
Our experiences, our history, our life’s knowledge is all necessary in order to help light the path for those generations behind us as we continue moving toward an unknown future of the possibilities of what will be.
We stand as the mile markers and guideposts for future generations…may we, with God’s grace, direct them well…

And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1John 2:17

Color

We never really perceive what color is physically.
Josef Albers
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A beautifully colored pansy in a pot by my front door.

Josef Albers, the German artist and educator, is considered the father of modern color theory. He was a leading professor at the cutting edge and prestigious Weimer Bauhaus which was both located in Weimer, later moving to Dreasau, Germany. Albers started working with stained glass, architecture, design and what we refer to today as the Arts and Crafts movement.

When I was in college, oh so many moons ago, I had to take a course in color theory. It was the work of Josef Albers that laid the foundation for the course. However it was his time at the Bauhaus that most intrigued me.

At the time, I was spending my summers in Black Mt, North Carolina as a camp counselor at Camp Merri Mac for girls. One day I will write a post about my time at Merri Mac. I’ve touched on Merri Mac and its importance in my life before when I wrote the post based on what lead me to want to teach. I am grateful for the summers I spent at Merri Mac as my time there helped to mould me, in part, into the person I am today.

The importance today, however, is not my time spent as a camp counselor at Merri-Mac but rather more importantly for the location of the camp, Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Throughout the 1920’s the German Bauhaus was considered a prestigious trade or vocational school. It was what we today refer to as a cutting edge or leading institution in the field of the education for the Arts. The ideas that were being generated at the Bauhaus helped to usher in the modernity of Architecture, Printmaking, Design and much of today’s Arts and Crafts movement. It was this emerging modern take on design which put all these German artists and the Bauhaus on a deadly collision course with Nazi Germany— which in turn would help changed the future of the Arts in the 20th century.

In 1933 Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. He was now on a rapid trajectory to take complete control over the physically and ego damaged nation of Germany. The current President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, an old feeble war hero, had unwisely thought that by appointing Adolph Hitler Chancellor– he’d be able to keep his thumb on this young charismatic hot head.

Hindenburg was physically and intellectually incapable of aiding his hurting nation. Germany was in the throws of a severe depression and was still licking its self esteem wounds from the fallout of WWI. Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party, which morphed into what we all know as the NAZI party, skyrocketed to power along with Hitler. Their thuggish behavior of intimidation and violence, the Nazis were quick to cull any opposition, real or imagined, to its skewed belief system.

Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus had already left the school and fleed to the United States. Many of the remaining artists were forced to flee or face extreme repercussions / persecution as the Nazis came to power. Artwork, the life’s work of many of these artists were either confiscated or destroyed. Those who did not flee, or could not flee, were either imprisoned or sadly no other options but to take their own lives—the tragic fallout form the “State” deeming the art work obscene, grotesque, or in direct opposition to the new direction of Germany. Self expression was no longer acceptable.

Many of those artists and educators, who fled Germany, found their way to many prestigious Universities here in the Untied States such as Yale and Harvard. And yet there existed a vacuum that was to be filled by still many more of the Bauhaus faculty and alumni. The birth of the Black Mountain College, in tiny Black Mt, North Carolina, was a result from the fallout of the stifled art world in Nazi Germany.

It was during my time as a counselor at Merri Mac that I learned of the existence of the defunct Black Mt. College. It had long shuttered its doors by the time I found my way to Black Mt. The grounds of the school were now incorporated into our sister camp for boys, Camp Rockmont.

The following fall term of my senior year, I found myself having to write a paper for a senior level art ed course. I chose as my topic the birth and death of the Black Mountain College. It was a forgotten tale of war, loss, death, art and refuge. The shadows remained hidden in tiny Black Mountain. The quest for information was more rewarding than the paper itself.

Unfortunately this post does not have the capacity for me to explore and expound upon the sinister topic of the art world during Nazi Germany nor of the emergence of such artists here in the US as a direct result of the Nazi occupation of Germany. Names such as Albers, Gropius, Kandinsky, and Klee, to name but a few, became household names during the growing Modern and Post Modern art movements—with a small rural town in the mountains of southern Appalachia playing a key role. Perhaps this post is but to whet your appetite to delve further into this tiny forgotten piece of the history of art here in the United States.

Which all brings me back to the very beginning of this post and of the simple thought of color or colour. Josef Albers tells us that we never perceive what color is physically. Albers’ is an intellectual approach to color and the study of color. The play and pairing of various colors and intensities and what the eye perceives with often optical illusions coming to play. It is a fascinating study and Albers’ books are as popular as ever, even transcending to the new technological world with his work being transformed into cutting edge color Apps.

And yet I must take issue with Mr.Albers’ claim to a lack physical perception of color—my perception of color is much more simplistic than that of Mr Albers. I tend to be very literal in my perceptions of most of life. I look at the pansy in today’s post and I see an explosion of color. A play of violets, yellows, pinks and reds. I look at a pumpkin and I am engulfed with what I know to be pure orange. But what is orange but an equal mix of true red and true yellow. Two primary colors combining to form a secondary color, but to me, it is simply orange.

A granny smith apple is a color all its own. When I say Granny Smith, you visualize a yellow green apple. When I say pumpkin, you visualize orange. When I say brown, you visualize a leaf, dirt, the fur of an animal. When I say purple you visualize a grape….and so it goes. We associate color with physical objects.

So during this time of changing colors, otherwise known as Fall or Autumn, as you marvel in the turning of a green leaf to that of crimson, golden yellow, brilliant orange then to brown–or as you partake in the seasonal ritual of carving an overtly orange pumpkin–think of Josef Albers, the father of modern color theory, think of a tiny town in the mountains of North Carolina that took in the refugees of a tormented nation gone mad, and think of what the world of color brings to your daily world.

As we gaze on the Autumn landscape awash in its seasonal splendor, may we be mindful that perhaps there is more to this color business, we so relish, than we had ever imagined.