Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

A Day! Help! Help!

Are you ready for today? Am I? I commented on this poem in March 2017. Since then our country, this entire world and the future of our children has descended into what sometimes feels like chaos. Can we re-imagine the world as a great dance choreographed by our Creator, the true Host of the Party? We don’t need to see in order to believe. We just need to take courage from the Host and get out on the dance floor, stumbling our way along if needed. Sometimes doing amazing pirouettes with unexpected partners. Can you hear the music playing?
Elouise

Telling the Truth

I think Emily wrote this little gem just for today. Read on. My comments follow.

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!
From such a common ball as this
Might date a Victory!
From marshallings as simple
The flags of nations swang.
Steady – my soul: What issues
Upon thine arrow hang!

c. 1858

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily Dickinson wrote this poem in the years leading up to the Civil War (April 12, 1861-May 9, 1865). I can’t help making a connection to what’s happening now in our country.

The short poem grabs my attention. There’s no such thing as an ordinary day. Like an arrow poised to fly through the air, each day arrives full of potential for Victory. Which I take to be a Victory for good. The good of all who dwell on ‘such a common ball as…

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green fields

green fields wave
the valley beckons
a warm welcome

life in full heat
rises with a rush
toward summer sky

Yesterday I drove through Valley Forge National Park on my way to a doctor’s appointment. The sky was cloudless and the sun was blistering hot. No problem. Driving through VF is always a delight and a feast for the eyes. Coming home it was almost ten degrees hotter, yet just as beautiful, uncrowded and peaceful. Like a green, tree-blessed island in the middle of a hot stormy sea.

I’m tempted to feel voiceless these days. Yes, I write, and I post. I often wonder what becomes of the verbiage generated by me and by thousands of others writing about our current situation in the USA. Yet I can’t keep silent. It only makes things worse.

There’s precious life in this country waiting for release, along with buckets of pain. Fractured relationships need healing. Anger about injustice and betrayal still need a full hearing. And no one can be all things to all people.

So I’m counting on being one of the small things that matter. Like a blade of grass, a grain of wheat or even a grain of sand. Or how about a wild flower of the field?

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2018
Photo of Valley Forge National Park found at flickr.com, Paris Images

The Angels and the Tiger

Sometimes readers lead me to old posts that seem more relevant today than ever before. I wrote this one over three years ago. Today there’s a tiger loose in our country. Please pray for us. We need calm courage and discernment in the face of daily discoveries and difficult choices. Happy Thursday to each of you. Elouise

Telling the Truth

Tiger_Paw_Print_by_feystarlight

Here’s another Amy poem for children everywhere. Especially, but not only young children in unsafe situations. Amy Carmichael spent most of her life in South India living with and for young Indian children.

Most were girls; some were boys. Many were temple children,

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their own foolishness

Crumbling beneath the weight
Of their own foolishness
Kicking hard-won ground
From beneath their feet
Fools crown themselves
With honor and glory

Sporting signs of faux nobility
Grown thin and ragged
They flaunt flimsy garments
Of shifting sand and ironclad
Beliefs now hanging precariously
In the balance of truth and justice

Passersby stop to gaze at the
Horror of this new world now
Showing in museums everywhere
As bluster turns to tired old mantras
Long past their overdue dates not
Likely to appear in deserted cinemas

It’s a matter of time.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2018
Photo found at dailymail.co.uk; the old Paramount Theater in Newark, New Jersey, USA

a matter of time

fortressed in iron cage
aging shutters tightly sealed
window to nowhere

supporting walls crack
crumbling to ground defeated
a matter of time

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2018
Photo found on pixabay.com

Unsorted

The feeling I get
Standing before an audience
Knowing all I must do is
Read the words on the page
With grace and clarity

The feeling I got
Sitting in church yesterday
Listening to a young woman
Fill the air with a Brahms Intermezzo
Evoking unexpected grief

Friday’s open mic night was great. I read 5 short poems, saving my favorite two (of the five) for the end. So why did I feel unsorted, out of control and uncertain I was on solid ground? Because of the last two poems. Though different in tone, each was about aging.

One was Life flew south last winter; the second was Feeling pretty. I admire the way George MacDonald writes poems about being an ‘old soul.’ Sometimes I think I’ve been just that all my life.

I’m used to hearing people my age and older describe unexpected aches, pain and grief. Usually health issues, but also loss of friends and family members.

I’m not, however, accustomed to hearing older women and men describing in poetic form their feelings of living with loss and unexpected health issues. Perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.

At any rate, I find writing about this time in my life is comforting and rewarding. Especially when it’s in poetic form. Reading a few of my poems Friday evening was icing on the cake. A vulnerable, somewhat scripted way of sharing pieces of my life with a mixed audience of children, young people and adults.

Then, on Sunday morning the offertory was Brahms Intermezzo in A Major Opus 118. A young woman performed it on the piano, from her heart and memory. She’s a member of our church and studies at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

I know this piece. I’ve played it many times, though not in the last few years. Her performance was magnificent, and I burst into sobs as others around me applauded. It wasn’t just the beauty of her playing. It was knowing that I’ll likely never again play the piano with that kind of freedom and confidence.

I’ve gained much in the last few years. Still, the losses sometimes undo me. Especially when they arrive unexpectedly in beautiful packages such as poems and music that evoke tears of grief and gratitude.

Happy Monday! I pray you’ll be surprised this week by gifts that undo you in a good way.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 July 2018
Photo found at dancearchives.net

An everyday lament

For dying orchids, catbirds
and other occupants —

Paper-thin creamy petals
of an orchid blossom fold
and bow in death

Scattered feathers and small entrails
of a gray catbird litter the road this morning

Prisoners in and out of cells hang on
by spider-thin threads of hope

Children lost and abandoned
have no get-out-of-jail cards

Women and men found wandering
find few if any life-sustaining options

And that little mouse is now gone
except for its small helpless head

Written after my morning walk, and after discovering the first orchid blossom expired in my kitchen during the night. Likewise the little mouse a few days ago, set upon by a determined predator. You’ll find the rest in the news and in our neighborhoods any day or night of the week.

Not very likable, I admit. Yet our tears for losses great and small are invaluable connections to ourselves, to others, and to our Creator. We are, after all, living on borrowed time within a growing breakdown of human kindness and decency. We don’t have to be persons of a certain faith or even age to see, understand and grieve these daily realities.

Sabbath rest gives time to think not simply about the glories of creation, but about how much we’ve lost and how sad it all is. Our Creator honors our tears and, I believe, weeps with us. Tears of lament aren’t signs of weakness, but signs and sometimes celebrations of small connections we must renew if we want to thrive together.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2018
Image found at blogs.covchurch.org

Open Mic Night!

I woke up this morning already excited about this evening. I get to read some of my poems again! Out loud! In front of a friendly audience of children, young people, parents and friends of all ages. In the gym at the church. A fundraiser to help support our young people’s summer project in Philadelphia.

Despite my heavy-duty awesome age, I still feel like a little kid when I share bits of my life by way of my poetry.

I’ve never been one for writing or telling stories. I know a good storyteller when I hear or read one. That means I know I’m not One of Them. Though happy accidents do happen now and then.

Prose has been my main thing for most of my life. Yet I’m more than ready to let it take a back seat to poetry. In fact, when I reread some of my prose, I hear the poet in me already sneaking a poetic spirit into my prose.

I can’t help thinking about Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, “They shut me up in Prose.” None of that flighty poetry stuff! We want to hear a story or a well-reasoned argument. Something we can take apart, piece by piece. Or at least keep under control. To keep you under control, of course.

The ability to write prose with an ear for cadence and choice of words got me where I am today. Not just as a student, educator and administrator, but as an adult woman whose childhood and youth were ruled by a relentlessly letter-of-the law father. Flights of poetic fancy were frowned upon. As were overt emotions spontaneously expressed. With the occasional exception of Christmas and birthdays.

When I read through early posts about my childhood and youth, I’m grateful for the ability to write prose. Yet even there I hear the cadences of poetry. Though it isn’t direct, it’s a persistent sign of life already aching for attention.

So tonight I get to revel in the poet I’m becoming. One step closer to the little girl and woman I am and have always been on the inside.

Am I going to give up prose? No way. I’m not locked up in anything–not in poetry and not in prose. Still, you can expect more poetry. A delightfully underground way of getting just about anywhere.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 July 2018
Image found at resetco.org

distant voices | Mom

distant voices
ride waves of morning air
cicadas drone

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Born in 1921, she died in 1999. Today would have been her 97th birthday. Though I’ve done a lot of work on my relationship with her, I’m still finding words to describe the impact she had on my life.

My mother’s main task in life was to raise four daughters and to be unquestioningly obedient to one husband. Though not in that order. For most of her life, loyalty to him came first, not her daughters.

In her last years of life, for reasons I don’t understand, something clicked on for her. More than once she became unusually feisty with Dad, letting him know (with witnesses present) exactly where he stood and didn’t stand with her. She didn’t shut him out completely. She did, however, shut him out and down on more than one occasion. As though she’d reached her last straw.

It’s difficult to imagine Mom as a role model for me in my marriage to D. I don’t have memories of her being particularly affectionate with my father (or with me). Obedient? Absolutely. Quiet and industrious? Absolutely. On his side when he was discouraged? Absolutely. Modest and unassuming? Absolutely.

But not an equal partner given to overt affection. No matter how you describe it. When she married Dad in 1942, she abandoned huge pieces of her one-and-only life. It was part of the deal.

Today I applaud and love her for her courage, persistence, creativity, love of making music, intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to run circles around my father intellectually without putting herself at risk. She was a survivor whose physical voice and body were impaired by polio from the time she was 28 years old. Yet she rode the waves and storms of life gracefully until she just couldn’t do it anymore.

My one huge regret is that she didn’t advocate on my behalf, or question my father’s beatings of me. I know she knew. Everyone in the house knew. Perhaps she also knew what that would mean for her, and the cost was too high to bear. The lives of women are fraught with life-endangering choices. She made hers, and to her credit, never stopped loving me, even though she didn’t know how to come to my defense.

If she were here today, I, ever the introvert, would take her for a lovely stroll in her wheelchair around our neighborhood, and let her meet and greet some of my wonderfully extroverted neighbors. Then we would go through the neighborhood park, enjoying this lovely summer day together, listening to the birds, and meeting and greeting every friendly dog along the way. Plus their owners, of course.

And I would hug her close, giving her what I can.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2018
Photo found at mybrownnewfies.com

friendly inhumanity

not large but small things
echo in hollow chambers
the sound of life denied
drips from human souls
into ground saturated
with the life-blood of refugees
halted at the border
of the promised land
of plenty caught in webs
of grief and disbelief
the latest casualties
of friendly inhumanity

Yes, I’m still at it. Why? Because our national inability to govern wisely is breaking down in front of our eyes. Most of us have to get up and go to work. I don’t.

This is my work: to keep in front of my eyes the tragedy of national leaders who seem to have lost the will to govern wisely and solely on behalf of the most needy among us. From the ground up, not from the heights of make-believe trickle down theory.

When I was working at the seminary, I experienced up close the chaos one ill-placed leader could wreak within a community. The scramble was on, not just among staff who desperately needed their jobs, but within the hearts of every member of the organization.

What do we do now? Do we shut up and pretend we’re doing business as usual? To what extent do we voice our concerns? And how?

Things that were straightforward, or at least manageable, became fraught with nuances and consequences to be avoided. Telling the truth was dangerous, even when supported by clear data and research.

And yet we stayed on. Not because we were cowards, but because we believed in the greater good of our students and of each other as trusted colleagues. We did what we could, and watched the rest being taken over by the hands of others. Not a fun way to work.

It wasn’t always that way, for which I’m grateful. Nonetheless, the last years of my tenure were fraught with conflict, uncertainty, promises that turned into something else, scoldings from time to time, and the breakdown of good will among people of good will. In the end, I chose to leave what had become punishing for my body and spirit.

Why this strange link between refugees and my work at the seminary? Because in each case a leader (dean or president) chooses to govern by creating chaos. The chaos at the seminary was somewhat controlled by those who governed differently. In the end, however, even that couldn’t save us from being exploited and taken over as an institution.

Mr. Trump governs by creating chaos within the White House and within our nation. This won’t save us from ourselves or others. Sadly, there isn’t much business ‘as usual’ anymore. Instead, we’re invited to witness and experience chaos every day.

My hope and my prayer is that I’ll be a grounded, hope-filled, prayerful neighbor, doing what I can to offer hospitality to strangers. Especially those unable to speak freely for themselves.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2018

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