Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tir na nÓg

Let us sail beyond the sunset and all the western stars,
Across the heaving grey sea until we reach that blessed Isle,
Mist-shrouded, dream-haunted, where the blossoming apple trees are
Ever-laden with golden fruit & scented flowers. Here, freed from death’s cold embrace and life’s sad trial,
The heroes of old rise daily new, unburdened of the world’s weary toil and care;
For in that magical country, Life and Time have ceased their endless stride.
It may be that there we will see the noble Oisín, lured by a sea-nymph’s golden hair,
To three hundred years of wandering the enchanted world of Faery;
Or the great Cuchulainn, Ulster’s mighty hero, and Brendan, navigator of the sea’s restless tide.

It may be that we will see the unhappy Diarmuid, who forsook all for love;
Or Brian the conqueror; Cormac, the wise ruler of Tara, and Conn, slayer of a hundred.
Perhaps we’ll also see Patrick the fair, and Columcille, the Church’s holy dove;
Or we’ll see that old beauty for which so many songs are sung, she for whom Emain was plundered,
Violet-eyed Deirdre of the sorrows, more beautiful than Menelaus’ wife,
Linked arm in arm with lusty Maeve, whose shapely white thighs broke no law of hospitality.
She seduced men into laying aside both love and life,
Intoxicated, hunting the length and breadth of the land after a brown horned bull,
For the lusty Queen of Connacht and mistress of Sovereignty.
Oh Lady of sweet oblivion, pour me a cup of wine, brimming full!

It may be that we will see the Danann queens: beautiful, green-mantled Ériu,
The poet’s Muse, quiet, grey-eyed Banbha and Fodhla, the nightingale of the Sidhe,
It may be that we will see the faces of all those we once knew
From ballad, rann and song, and all the tales of the wandering seanachie,
Told in the silver tongue of this ancient land, stirring to life the old flame,
From embers slowly dying upon the hearth.
Our spirits are set ablaze by the storied names,
Of the heroic men and women of Ireland
Who, in ancient days, moved heaven and Earth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Pagan Roots of Christianity...

If you're interested, here's a brilliant blogger synopsis (with references) describing the pagan roots of Christian rituals

See the section on the Eucharist for the origin of the 'body and blood of Christ.' It's essentially a ritual taken straight from Dionysus worship, which was practiced by the entire Greco-Roman world at the time Christianity began. Dionysus is a younger form of the older Tammuz harvest-and-resurrection god worshipped by the Babylonians. While Jesus may or may not have been eating a final Jewish passover meal with his "12 disciples" (who are incidentially, representative of the 12 signs of the Zodiac, with Jesus as the Sun (son)), the ritual association of bread and wine with Jesus is lifted straight from the Dionysus cult, in which practitioners ritually tore apart Dionysos, who was also called Zagreus, the Lamb, the Kid, and the Christos (Anointed) son of God (Zeus) and ate of his body (bread) and drank his blood (fruit of the vine) as well as the meat & blood of animals; he who sacrificed himself to save the world..."the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"... This was done in a re-enactment of Dionysos' capture, tearing apart and consumption by the Titans, whom Zeus punished by burning. It was from their ashes that mankind was made, and Dionysos' death redeemed mankind for he died so that humans could be made better than the Titans from whose ashes they were produced. The only thing recovered from Dionysos after he was torn apart and eaten, was his heart. This still-beating heart was implanted in a virgin woman, Semele, who became pregnant and gave birth to a new Divine Child, Dionysus resurrected. Semele, like Mary, thus became the immaculate Mother of God. Dionysos' recovered immortal heart has since become the revered 'Sacred Heart' of Jesus seen in so many images like this one :

Isaac too was meant to be a sacrificial lamb, but God's intervention in Abraham's attempt to offer Isaac up as another re-enactment of the death of the harvest-god illustrates the first Hebrew rejection of these pagan rites of sacrifice. In Abraham's time, thousands of children of the Levant were offered up in the moloch to Jehovah Melkarth (Baal) and his wife-mother-sister, Asherat-Yam (Astarte, Ishtar), Lady of the Sea, in the valley of Gehenna, where the sacrificial fires were never slaked and the screams of children dying in the flames never ended...A vision of hell on earth if ever there was one. No wonder Gehenna (now Hinnom, near Jerusalem) and eternal fire became by-words for hell itself. Similar rites were practiced elsewhere by the Pelasgians (Sea-peoples); including in Ireland, where the folklore recalls the chief god of Ireland, the idol Crom Cruach (the "Bloody One of the Mound") surrounded by 12 stones (the zodiac again!) that was worshipped by the Gael on Magh Slécht, the "Plain of Adoration," in what is now Killycluggin, Co. Cavan. According to the Dinnsenchas ('The Lore of Places'), the Irish offered up one-third of their offspring to Crom in exchange for wheat and milk. Here's a translation from the original old Irish:

"To him without glory, they would kill their wretched offspring,
With much wailing and peril,
To pour their blood around Crom Cruach.
Milk and Corn they would ask from him speedily,
In return for one-third of their healthy children:
So great was the horror and scare of him."

This horrible idol was said to have been thrown down and broken by Patrick (simply meaning Christianity ended the worship of Crom). Even down to the last century, people still shuddered as they passed the plain and the area is said to be cursed. The idol has been recovered from the bog, the pieces put back together and it stands again in County Cavan museum, while a replica stands on the mound. The gold that once covered it had long ago been stripped away.

The Catholic worship of Mary as Mother of God may also be lifted straight from the Egyptian cult of Isis, which had its origin in the barley goddess cults of Crete. Isis, the wife and sister of the sacrificed Osiris (who was also a harvest god ritually torn apart and consumed like Tammuz and Dionysus) is mother of the Divine Child Horus, who is none other than the resurrected Osiris. It is from this mystery cult of Isis that the entire Easter story of Jesus' death and resurrection is taken. Osiris was betrayed and slain by his dark twin brother, Set, in a yearly re-enactment of the succession of winter over summer. Horus (the sun, Osiris resurrected) in turn, slays Set in summer's victory over dark winter.. The Greeks were well-learned in the Isis cult, and Herodotus describes it in his Histories.

Essentially nothing in Christianity is new, except for its claim that it is the one and only faith and that there is but one god in three forms: father, son and holy spirit. The father is Osiris, the son is Horus/Jesus, the Spirit, which is female (psyche in Greek), is Isis, but she has since been written out of the story. Freemasons however, still acknowledge her and call themselves 'Sons of the Widow' in her honour. But this Trinity, though older than Christianity, is still fairly young. The first Aryan trinity was the masculine Mithra, Indra and Varuna, still worshipped in India as Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu (the Trimurti), and these in turn come from the still older Pelasgian goddess-worshipping traditions, in which the great earth goddess was worshipped in three forms: Maiden (virgin springtime), Mother (of the fruitful earth) and death-Crone or Hag (of the winter harvest; with a veiled face, bearing a bloody scythe, surviving as the modern image of black-robed Death -see attached image above); she was also reflected in the cycles of the moon: New Moon (maiden), Full Moon (mother) and Waning Moon (hag); and in the life of a woman (maid, mother, and grandmother). This made her ruler of three dimensions too: Sky (as goddess of the moon), Earth (as goddess of life and the seasons) and Underworld (as goddess of death and harvest). During the Olympian period, these dimensions were given over to her Aryan sons Mitra, Varuna and Indra, who became to the Greeks, Zeus (sky), Poseidon (earth and sea) and Hades (underworld). There were 12 Olympians, just as there were 12 Titans before them- all representing the Zodiac, with the Sun (Cronos, Zeus, later Apollo and Dionysus Christos) at its head and an Earth-mother, Gaia, or Rhea upon which he was initially dependent, but later divorced himself from, to become the One and Only, the head Deity of monotheist traditions. Yet, in all traditions, the Mother still walks in the background- she is the Spirit that 'animates all things' and 'moves over the waters', she is the Muse, Wisdom, Love, Hope, Faith and Charity, the Holy Spirit, the Dove, the Hare, the Rock, the Vine, the Tree, the Barley, Mother Nature, the sacred Ever-Milking Cow, the Great Sow, the Mother of God, she is also seen in the image of all the women of monotheist traditions, including Esther, Rachael, Hagar, Sarai, Fatima Zara, Miriam, the Virgin Mary, the Magdalene, Elizabeth (mother of John), St Anne (mother of Mary) and in the Christian tradition, she is the body of Holy Mother Church, the "Bride of Christ". She is also the Sephirot and Shechinah of the Jewish Cabbalist tradition. In Islam, God appears to be dual- both male and female, for as Mohammed himself said in one of the hadiths: "Paradise at the feet of the Mother." God is also portrayed in feminine form as Al-Rahmin (the Womb), and Mercy; while Fatima plays a huge role in Shia tradition, not unlike that of Mary in the Catholic tradition. In Buddhism, she is the female bodhisattva, Tara (Ārya Tārā) and she is called "the Mother of the Buddhas." Her association with different colours (Green Tara, Red Tara, White Tara etc) give her representation of different aspects of life, death and rebirth, but she is especially known for compassion. India has never lost sight of her, and she is still revered among Hindus as a myriad host of female deities, including Kali-ma, the mother goddess of life and death and Ganga-ma (the Ganges River), the lifeblood of India.

The three goddesses-in-One survive in Christianity as the Three Marys who stood at the base of Jesus' cross at Golgotha: Mary, his mother, Mary Magdalene (his lover), and Mary of Cleopas (his sister or aunt); as well as a host of saints who were formerly goddesses with three forms, like the Irish Saint Brigit, who is claimed to have 2 sisters, also called Brigit.
Ireland itself is the earth aspect of a goddess triad, for the 'Ire' in Ire-land comes from Éire, one of three 'sisters' (goddesses) who ruled this island at the coming of the Irish: Éire, Banbha and Fodhla. The eytmology of Éire is the same as that for Iran and Aryan- from the Indo-European root word 'ara', meaning 'noble.'

The triple goddess usually played the part of mother, sister and lover to a sacrificial solar harvest god and his twin, her dark Son (generally portrayed as a cosmic serpent twined around the world). Therefore in Genesis iconography, Eve is the high, fruitful Mother-of-All, Adam (man) is her brother and lover, Cain and Abel are her twin sons representing Adam re-incarnated and his two polar sides which must forever fight each other for the favours of the impartial goddess. Cain, the dark son, represented by the serpent, Evening Star and night, slays Abel (Adam), represented by the sun and the Morning Star (Lucifer, Son of the Morning).. Genesis states of the man and serpent: "there will be enmity between her offspring- he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Even Jesus, as Adam reincarnated, has been claimed to have had a twin brother, Yacov/James, one of the apostles (now considered a heresy). Jacob/James/Yacov means 'supplanter,' literally "one who strikes at the heel" and therefore he must be identified with the serpent who strikes at the heel, the dark son, and Adam/Osiris/Jesus's evil but neccessary twin... Leonardo da Vinci painted Jesus and his twin (not John, as claimed) in "The Madonna of the Rocks"

Saint Patrick may have thrown the 'serpents' out of Ireland (worship of dark gods like Crom Cruach) but he kept the Mother and her twins. She and her light-bringing Divine Child are still worshipped here as Mary and the infant Jesus. God the Father has no place in Irish Catholicism. The Dark Son has become the Devil, the goat-footed god still portrayed as the Orphic serpent, and given all his old names and titles, including Beelzebub, a deliberate corruption of Baal Zebul ('Lord Prince') to Baal Zebub ('Lord of the Flies'). He has also been given some of the titles that should rightly belong to his light-bringing twin, including Lucifer ('Son of the Morning') and Phosphorus ('Bringer of Light'). The poets always identify with the Light-Bearer, but when they want to practice sarcasm and satire (to be serpent-tongued), they identify with the dark son, now portrayed as the 'Evil One,' cast out of the Creation which he had a role in making by his twin and consigned forever to darkness and hellfire. The twins are still represented in the Zodiac and preserved as both the astrological and constellation signs of Gemini.

The December 25th birthday of Jesus and his association with the sun comes from the cult of Mithra, a Persian god worshipped by the Roman legions, including the Emperor Constantine who designed the Christian Church as it exists today.

The popes of Rome and the college of Cardinals are nothing more than a medieval extension of the old pagan Roman emperors and their Senate, which continued long after the downfall of the Empire; and for a time, they became even more powerful than the old emperors ever could dream to be, since they controlled men's souls as well as their bodies. Christianity may have its roots in Judaism, but it has come so far from its Hebraic roots as to be unrecognisable in any way as Jewish. That was, of course, the intention of the popes, who were ashamed of Jesus' Jewish origin.

It's funny how when one no longer attaches any religious or emotional meaning to ancient symbols, one becomes free to explore them impartially and with interest.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Of Heaven and Hell...

It's a beautiful day of warm sun, blue sky, and billowing white May blossom in the hedges here in Ireland, and I'm in heaven!

Some of you may be wondering why I picked 'A far Green Country' as the title of my blog site (of which Shawn's Green Island is an offshoot). Well, I'll tell you, but I'm warning you now, this may be deep stuff! ;-)

It's derived from Gandalf's conversation with Pippin in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Return of the King". That's it. "That's all?" you say. Well, those of you who know me well will know that there's a story behind it, and likely a metaphysical one dealing with science, nature or the Unseen. Well, you're right. Here goes:

For a long time now, I have thought on the topics of heaven and hell. How not? I was brought up Catholic. Along with ever-present and immutable Guilt, we have the idea of of heaven and hell drummed into us from the time they splash those few drops of water on our tender, innocent heads until the time they recite it with smoke and ashes over our final resting place. So after these many years I have come to a conclusion...but then perhaps 'idea' is a better word than 'conclusion', as this 'conclusion' continues to evolve, much like my own research thesis, but that's another story...
As I was saying, after these many years, I've come to the the idea that heaven and hell are not discrete places of reward and punishment, but states of mind only. What? No God in all his staggering glory or Devil of flaming torment? No. Heaven and Hell are means of existence, and we pass through many variations of these two states of being during the course of our lifetimes. In his Commedia Divina, Dante Alighieri, writing in Renaissance Italy, described these variations as 'circles' through which a traveler must pass on his journey through life. Dante also describes a third state of being, formerly recognised by the Church as Purgatorio or purgatory, and which is now fallen out of vogue. Purgatory is an attempt to describe the agonising suspension of feeling that occurs in the absence of either Heaven's joy or Hell's torment. Dante had it right when he described human existence as a journey through hell, purgatory and then ultimately, to heaven, or Paradiso. All of us are in any one of these three states at any time in our lives.

Like Dante's autobiographical main character in the Commedia we are cautioned as we enter the dark Wood at birth, "lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate," to abandon all hope as we enter, for this world is more full of sorrow and weeping than we can ever hope to understand. How then do we as humans, told to abandon hope, still yet maintain hope to the very end, even as Dante did? We do so with the help of a guide, which we call our conscience, that voice of reason in a world of passion. Both Moses and the Buddha attempted to describe this Voice in the wilderness, each in their own words. From each of these individual interpretations of remarkable people, we get the Mosaic Commandments and Law of the West and the Eighfold Path of the far East. Yet each of us has our own Voice, our very own Virgil, and if we heed it, we shall safely pass the circles of hell and purgatory and come at last to the shores of Paradise, for which so much of our striving and longing has been; and so many of our best songs sung for.....Paradise, that white shore beyond the grey rain curtain of this world, where a far green country sits under a swift sunrise, is something we can achieve in this lifetime rather than waiting for it to come in the next...

So in the end, remember this: we make our own heavens and hells in this life, and we alone possess the key to our own happiness...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Dear, Dirty Dublin

I found this poem by an anonymous author in Japan, and thought I'd post it here. It beautifully captures our dear, dirty Dublin with its rare flashes of beauty amidst the squalor, tourists and wet.

The Irish Cycle: Baile Átha Cliath

Dublin, sweet and slow,
I come and go
up and down your cobbled streets
as the rain, insistent,
dampens down the lights
and throws an orange fuzzy sheen
over half-seen sights,
over places I have been.
Grafton Street and Stephen’s Green,
so near and yet so far:
The Coombe, the Castle, Temple Bar,
shadows under the Traitors’ Gate.
Now crowds of loud young English
shout and laugh, then urinate
prodigiously, here on the street,
beside the peagreen Liffey
(sweet Anna Livia Plurabelle).
Never mind, they’re not in uniform,
and it's a great deal worse we’ve seen before:
insurrection, bloodshed, famine, war.
We have a fine collection of bullet holes
in our central city monuments.

So let the hen parties heave their guts out,
here, on the raincold cobbles:
let them stagger home and say,
what a wild fuckin time we had in Dublin!
And let them come back in ten years or so
with their fourth or fifth bloke,
let them come with all their kids in tow
and have another drink, another smoke,
and perhaps, perhaps, they'll have some peace
(for peace comes dropping slow)
and understand these words of MacNeice:

This never was my town,
I was not born or bred
Nor schooled here and she will not
Have me alive or dead
But yet she holds my mind
With her seedy elegance,
With her gentle veils of rain
And all her ghosts that walk
And all that hide behind
Her Georgian facades -
The catcalls and the pain,
The glamour of her squalor,
The bravado of her talk.

Sweeney’s, the chemist,
where Bloom forgot Molly’s lotion
is still in Lincoln Place
and so is the old post office
down on Westland Row:
O you naughty naughty boy!
I do not like that other world.
And please will you tell me
what perfume does your wife wear?
Bloom smell-sipped his glass of burgundy
at Davy Byrne’s, on Duke Street,
a disappointing place these days,
all gentrified. I well remember
how one of the old barmen
was kill’t telling me how Joyce, yer man,
would be writing away at the back table,
dat filthy buik, Allergies, or wha’ever.
Ah, would you fuck off, says I.
Yeh bleedin bowzy, says he,
I took yeh for a fuckin Yank.

Come to Amazing Tourist Dublin.
Stay at our three-and-a-half star hotels.
Eat like a pig, drink like a fish!
Later lumber along
our lazy languorous streets.

Buy things!

On your ambling aisy rambles
you can squint up the arses,
the cool marble behinds,
of female statues
at our staid and steady National Museum.
Bloom did, our wandering Jew,
so too can you.
No money, honey;
but even stone hearts slowly melt,
so smile, unbuckle your money belt,
and make a voluntary contribution.
Oops, sorry, Yanks,
no Dollars, thanks,
there’s an exchange-rate revolution!
Hang on to your cash, you’ll need it.
Do ye be jokin’ or wha’? indeed it
does seem strange, no proper answer,
comes like a dropkick in the balls
from a weedy reedy ballet dancer.

We stack up, still, the dead
next to my grandfathers,
my maiden aunts, cousins and uncles,
in the wild old sprawl of Glasnevin.
Poor poor Paddy Dignam!
(“No home is complete
without Plumtree’s Potted Meat”).
Poor poor betrayed Parnell.
O’Donovan Rossa.
Ah, Michael …
Macushla! … cut down at thirty-one,
our greatest chieftain since O’Neill!
Cut down, I might add,
by one of our own.
Why do we do this?
Ask Jonathan (Gulliver) Swift
who suggested, politely,
that the English should eat Irish babies,
help with the balance of payments,
keep the population down.
England thought he was serious,
and so did some of the Irish.
“Where can I sell me baby, sorr?”
Ah, fuck it, Michael.
We need you for our republican myths.
Maybe it was a good thing
you were killed so young.

Yerra, Carolan!
Tabhair dom do lamh.*
Give us an oul’ song!

Up on the flinty North Side,
Drumcondra, Marino, Whitehall,
sits my old local, The Goose,
just there by Sion Hill.
I’d be away three years, maybe more,
and I'd stroll into the gaff
and the lads’d say, where ya been?
Japan. O yeah? Me, I went to Benidorm,
two weeks with the new girlfriend,
fuckin magic! Right, it's my round,
and we’d talk and sing and laugh.
Sometimes An Taoiseach lounges in,
good old Bertie himself, backed up
by hard-looking thugs. “Yo!” says I,
“is it the Prime Minister or his bleedin twin?”
“Ah, Malachy!” says he, priding himself
on a memory for names, a head like tin.
“No,” says I, “isn’t it me myself?”
“O, Jayz, the astronomer … the geographer,
or was it the stamp collector?”
“B-b-b-bertie! You got it in one!”
After that, a pint, a good long chat,
here at home in Dublin Central:
he may be the grand prime minister,
but he knows where his home is at.

On Bridge Street, down by the City Walls
sits an ancient pub, the “Brazen Head”,
and many a time and oft have I lingered,
langered, within its stout-built chambers:
this is the oldest pub in Dublin, 1198.
About fifty yards away is the bridge,
the – ‘Atha Cliath’ – the Ford of the Hurdles
from which the city takes its name,
a river crossing on the ‘Sli Cualann’,
one of the five ancient roads of Ireland,
the path from Tara to Glendalough.
That helps explain the licence plates:
we are the citizens of “Baile Atha Cliath”,
and “Dubh-Linn”, which is also Irish,
is not where we live at all.

In the mean little streets near Christchurch,
winding and awkward to this day,
a government spy called Major Sirr
cornered the rebel Lord Fitzgerald,
and got himself stabbed for his pains.
Thirty-odd thousand died that year, 1798,
and thousands more were transported
in creaking hulks to Australia.
A bleak new setting for Irish prisoners
became the springboard of a new nation,
a new continent to transform:
America, America ...
not the same, but that came later.

Not many years before
the poor mad dean of Saint Patrick’s,
(the cathedral looms just down the road)
that entrepreneur, that pamphleteer,
that purveyor of roasted Irish babies,
was laid to rest, and now his epitaph
fairly bounces off the wall:
Hic depositum est corpus
Huyus Ecclesiae Cathedralis
Ubi saeva indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris
Strenuum pro virili
Libertatis Vindicatorem **

God, it’s an old country,
yet the weight comes down like a feather.
Nothing seems heavy, it drops down so lightly.
Freedom. Freedom, more than any other thing
is central. Central. You can go back through
all the old stories, the legends, the epics,
the Annals of the Four Masters, local histories,
and you can listen to the voices of the rebels,
all those who fought and died
four hundred, two hundred, one hundred years ago,
right on down to recent times.
You sense this will never change,
You know this will never change.

All the tubby little accountants,
the cross-looking women in large automobiles,
the fierce young sporting men,
the giggling schoolgirls,
the languid poets and philosophers,
the businessmen in suits,
the regulars in the pubs,
the girl secretaries,
the skangers and headbangers,
the bus drivers,
the radio and TV executives,
the Nigerians, the Chinese,
the actors, the musicians,
the polite young Poles,
the flower sellers,
the asylum seekers,
the Spanish students

can gather in the streets, burn down embassies.

Ancient city of an ancient land,
ringed right round by the ocean sea;
world powers may rise and fall around us,
and do as they like, just leave us be.

Brief notes:

- Dublin by Louis MacNeice

-- Turlough O’Carolan, blind harper (1670-1738). The title of this composition is “Give Me Your Hand” in English.

-- Bertie Ahern, Irish PM (An Taoiseach – The Leader)

-- The Brazen Head Pub

-- “Dubh-Linn” translates as Black-Pool, the remains of which (now drained) can be seen behind Dublin Castle.

-- Swift’s epitaph, translated from the Latin by W.B. Yeats:

Swift has sailed into his rest.
Savage indignation there
cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
world-besotted traveller.
He served human liberty.

-- Annals of the Four Masters, Irish chronicles, ca. 2000 BC - 1616 AD

Thursday, February 5, 2009

In loving memory...2 February 2009

"We are each of us a flower that fades from this Earth,

Only to bloom again in Heaven's garden..."

- my beloved grandmother,

Adrienne (Renne) Celestine Pytlak Ziemba

April 6, 1934 - January 24th, 2009

Well, I'm back in (snowy!) Dublin again after a brief return to Buffalo to pay my last respects to a wonderful woman and to be there for my family in these difficult times. One of the most remarkable things about her funeral (besides the beautiful flowers and the company) was the lack of openly displayed grief. Not that the grief wasn't there, simmering just under the surface, but rather that we were all gathered over those few days, in spite of the treacherous snowy weather, to celebrate the life of a beautiful woman who had touched upon so many other lives. In this manner, her funeral ceremony proved to be just the way she would have wanted it: an occasion to remember all the shared love and joy, and sorrow too, now forever mingled, before memory grows dim.

We knew that she lived for others quietly and with so much grace, just by being her kind and thoughtful self with the family (her husband, children and grandchildren were the centre of her world), but I think we were all somewhat shocked and moved by the great outpouring of love and sympathy that came from so many quarters. I guess we never realised that she was loved as much outside of the family as she was within it. We always knew she was a remarkable person, but I think we also felt, somewhat selfishly, that we alone were the objects of the love & laughter she showered upon us. But as it turns out, she had the same effect upon everyone who has ever known her. Grandma Renne had such a big heart that her love could not be contained by family alone and so she gave of it freely to other things of beauty she met in this world: to her friends, her neighbors, her patients, her pets, to the flowers and fruits of her garden, to the simple joy of living and to the odd fortunate stranger whose path just happened to cross hers. Once I was lucky enough to be that stranger, since she lived down the street from my aunt, but luck became a priceless treasure on the day she and Stan welcomed me into the family with open arms. I don't remember much from those early years, but I remember this as clearly as if it happened yesterday-she walked up to the table where I sat at their remarkable daughter's wedding to my father and bade me call her and Stan, 'Grandma' and 'Grandpa', giving me to know that I was to be their 'bonus grandchild', just as she reminded me again this Christmas before she passed away. I don't think I ever got the chance to tell her just how much that meant to a small boy who had never known his maternal grandmother, and who had been devastated by the recent loss of a grandfather who also happened to be his best friend. In spite of a tentative early start (I used to be afraid of her- she had a reputation in the neighborhood as a witch...if only on Halloween!), I came to love Grandma Renne and Grandpa Stan as my own grandparents. Hearing stories after her death and looking back, I now realise that the love had always been there, if sometimes without knowledge on my part. From the very first meeting when I was a small child, that love grew with the passing years, as surely as an acorn grows to a mighty oak. The oak still stands now and will continue to grow even though the life that nourished it early on has passed away. I only wish that we could have held such a celebration of her life while she was still with us, so that she would know, if she did not already know, just how much she was loved.... if only by me.

God saw you getting tired
When a cure was not meant to be.
So He put His arms around you
And whispered “Come to me.”

In tears we saw you sinking
We watched you fade away
Our hearts were almost broken
You fought so hard to stay.

But when we saw you sleeping
So peacefully free from pain,
We could not wish you back
To suffer so again.

A golden heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands were laid to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us
That He only takes the best.

So keep your arms around her, Lord
And give her special care,
Make up for all that she suffered
And all that seemed unfair....

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Love & Loss...

Today is a very sad day. As of 3.30pm yesterday afternoon, a wonderful woman, my adopted grandmother, Adrienne Ziemba, quietly and peacefully left the world after her long battle with pancreatic cancer. From the big bed where she lay, surrounded by her beautiful family, she has gone alone on the first steps of her journey, and with the same grace and towering strength that have sustained her all her life. No doubt many loved ones, including her father, our dear Dzia Dzia, her mother and her beloved baby brother, John await to surround her with endless love on the other side, just as her family did by her bedside, seeing her off with an immense outpouring of the same love she gave them. We should be thankful that she is no longer suffering the terrible pain that haunted her these last few weeks. But for us who cannot follow, the very sun seems somehow diminished as if she were its only reason for shining. Our lives will never be the same without her, as she was a kind and gentle soul, the very embodiment of life, laughter, and unconditional love. She will be sorely missed by many. Her strength and compassion I know will live on after her, in her daughters and son, and in all those whom she inspired with her kindness and her indomitable will. May God reward her for a lifetime of love and her gentle, selfless heart.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's Inaugural Speech

The words are the key to strength and grace, and he says it all here with hope and promise for the future....

My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it)."
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
2009-01-20 12:09:47