Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

The High Cost of Living in the USA | Part 2

The high cost of living in the USA has fallen on African Americans from the very beginning of this nation. The goal has been and, it seems, still is to keep them in their places and optimize the gains of those in power. Including the power of those of us who think we have no power.

The high cost didn’t go down when slavery was outlawed. We simply notched it up with lynching, and then discovered mass incarceration. Some argue that mass incarceration is simply the latest way to get cheap labor and ‘disappear’ Black Americans without getting into legal trouble.

Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes and no. Yes if you’re able to reach and maintain inner freedom and courage in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. Perhaps we’ve looked to the wrong heroes to show us what true freedom and bravery looks like.

I remember more than one of my younger African American male seminarians telling me he didn’t think he’d live to be an adult. Besides a history of slavery, lynching and entrenched racism, there’s random gun violence every day, entrenched poverty, and limited options regardless of ability. Add to this the availability of drugs and alcohol, and the mistake of being in public space if you’re Black.

Last month a new Memorial to Peace and Justice opened. It’s dedicated to making visible our history of slavery, lynching and now mass incarceration. I want to visit this new Memorial before I die. Why? Because it’s past time to look at this part of my heritage as a white female.

In summer 1950, my family moved from California to rural Savannah, Georgia, just a short walk from what we called ‘colored town.’ I wasn’t aware of animosity between races. I was, however, painfully aware of economic disparities on display every day. Not just in our rural community, but in the city.

I now know from reading about the new memorial, and from this interactive map, that the state of Georgia is #2 in the list of states with the highest lynching record between 1882 and 1930. In fact, from 1877 to 1950, Georgia lynched 586 black men, women and children. Do you know how many were lynched in your state?

I’m told I enjoy white privilege. It’s true. When I get up in the morning I don’t have to worry about thousands of things including being seen in public as a white woman. I would suggest that this ‘privilege’ is better defined as white ignorance. I’ve learned, simply by breathing the air around me, how to be blind and unresponsive to what’s right before my eyes every day of my life.

So where do I go with this? Though data is important, I don’t think the solution lies in miles and miles of data. Instead, I’m rooting for the poets, the songwriters, the storytellers, and the truth tellers. Including truth-tellers like those who dreamed about and planned this new National Memorial.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 May 2018
Photo found at Wickipedia; y Shameran81 – Courtesy Middleton Place, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55786120

words escape her

words escape her
at the end of the day
the clock keeps ticking

Well…that’s where I am right now, even though I wrote it last night! I spent most of this afternoon on a WordPress problem which I finally resolved by opening up in another browser (Not Edge, but Chrome). Big sigh.

So I’ve decided to hold my post for today until tomorrow morning. At which time I’m hoping D, his trusty camera and I will be off to the zoo! The Philadelphia Zoo, that is.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 May 2018
Photo found at pinterest

morning, evening and a sigh

early morning calm
belies last night’s wild fury
now lost at sea

evening silence floats
through her weary body
soothing every ache

her old-woman sigh
fills the room with anguish —
outside the wind moans
hov’ring over the old house
waiting in the dark

Three from this past week, written separately. I don’t know who this woman is. She’s been showing up for a while now, waiting to be recognized and given a story. Maybe you know her?

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 May 2018

The High Cost of Living in the USA | Part 1

From my journal, written 17 December 2017. Lightly edited for clarity.

I’m stunned at how angry I am. Here we are in 2017 and some men and women are still trying to minimize what’s happening in the shadows. They want to change the conversation to the poor men who are being humiliated. I’m fiercely angry. This surprises me, since I thought I’d dealt with this and found a way to connect it with my life as it is now. So that my voice is in charge.

Suddenly ‘their’ voices seem to be in charge. The voices of men who violated other human beings and try to dismiss it all as lies or misunderstandings and get on with their lives. Victims be damned. In fact, let’s sue them! For defamation of character! Lies and half-truths.

I saw this behavior when I confronted my father about his abuse of my body and spirit. In his eyes, I was clearly The Problem. Today I hear almost ritual trashing of women and men who were violated in any number of ways. Forced against their will to do obeisance to a perpetrator. And then paying for it with their silence if not their future careers.

I feel the energy draining away even as I type this. What’s so horrendous is the cost of even beginning to connect with this national tragedy. As great as slavery, in my opinion. Though not the same as slavery. Both realities treat women and some men as another class of beings brought into the world to do someone else’s bidding and keep their mouths shut. What were they thinking???

Christian leaders, politicians of all parties, business leaders, prominent actors and producers, everyday fathers and uncles and grandfathers and brothers and cousins. How can such a degrading reality live for so many generations?

I don’t have the energy for this. Still, I’m horrified at the extent to which some are going to avoid, deny, make light of or even ‘kill’ truth.

The headlines are like poison right now. I avoid them. I don’t want to live in a constant state of internal uproar. I need a clear agenda for what I will and will not do to take care of myself in this national war between the courageous and the cowards who think money and reputation will save them.

Maybe all the ‘everyday’ harassment I experienced, especially at the seminary, wasn’t about how wrong I was, but about how right I was and how strong my voice is. I’ve always felt my voice was weak. Though women and some men found it strong, the overall impression I made on the majority of students was, I think, negligible. And according to some seminary officials, the less I said about controversial matters, the better.

But now I wonder. Was all the commotion about me due to the power of my voice? Were they afraid because they found themselves wanting to agree with me yet were also afraid it might mean the end of their hoped-for careers in church and denominational politics?

I’ll never know. Still, it never occurred to me that opposition to a voice might be a sign of the speaker’s success. Fear is a powerful motivator. Especially if someone is afraid of being labeled a trouble-maker or worse.

Cost: cannot be ascertained, only mourned for all women and men whose voices and creativity were silenced.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 May 2018
Photo found at businessresearcher.sagepub.com

A new health challenge

In January I posted this haiku, poem, and longer comment under the title ‘chilled to the bone.’ The photo is from Valley Forge.

chilled to the bone
night’s deep silence descends
winter drifts through cracks
***
Disconnected from feelings
Numb and disbelieving
I want to write
So many unknowns
So much at stake
So little time left
Will I or Won’t I?
Sooner or Later?
Is Never still an option?

This week brought unwelcome news in a couple of areas. No catastrophic accidents. Just the knowledge of things I didn’t want to hear. About a friend and about my health.

Since then, I’ve given a lot of attention to my new health challenge, working closely with my integrative doctor. I’ve also gone back and forth, wondering whether I want to write about it. The answer is Yes. Partly because not writing about it directly is getting in the way of writing at all.

I’m now one of thousands of people living with Alzheimer’s markers–ApoE4 and E3. This means that as a woman, I’m at 27-30 percent risk of getting Alzheimer’s by age 85. Right now, at age 74, my risk is close to 5-7 percent.

Dr. K, my integrative doctor, ordered a test for this and a few other genetic markers in January. Hearing the results felt like a bucket of ice water coming at me from nowhere. And there it is. And here I am. Dr. K is now ordering a few more blood tests every three months to measure as clearly as possible what’s going on inside my body.

I’ve always thought of myself as at least semi-immune from even the possibility of Alzheimer’s. In large part because I don’t know of anyone on either side of my family who suffered from this disease. I now know different, and may need to pay more attention to my family’s genealogy.

So what am I doing about it right now? If you know me well, you know I’m a book reader. So I purchased a book recommended by Dr. K. It isn’t the answer to reversing Alzheimer’s. It does, however, include information and protocols that can help ANYONE become less susceptible to this disease. You may already know about it: The End of Alzheimer’s: The First Program to Prevent and Reverse Cognitive Decline, by Dale E. Bredesen, MD.

The book doesn’t promise what it can’t deliver. However, it lays out a program that’s healthy for anyone, sensible if sometimes difficult to manage, and filled with different ways to meet the goals of the program. It won’t heal Alzheimer’s. It can, however, delay onset or help reverse some kinds of cognitive decline — even though you’re not able to follow every recommendation all the time.

Given my status, it would be foolhardy not to do what I can to help my body. This includes not just my brain, but my heart and the whole nine yards. Having seen positive changes in a few areas since last January, I’m encouraged to do what I can — especially because it makes good health sense for me.

I’m already in the last chapter of my life. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I pray for grace to accept what I cannot change, and grit and courage to change what I can. Along with opportunities to write about it from various perspectives. Which I began doing in The Memory Unit.

Thanks for visiting and listening.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 May 2018
Photo of Valley Forge Winter found at pinterest.com

Catching up with myself

One of my faithful readers has challenged me (informally, of course) to tell you the story behind the photo above. It was my last photo in the Valley Forge National Park post about a week ago.

I immediately thought of three true stories, but another turned up this morning. Nonetheless, just so you don’t feel deprived, here’s a one sentence version of each story I’ve chosen not to tell in detail.

  1. Because Elouise is the firstborn of four daughters, she feels the need to keep running or walking faster in order to stay ahead of the pack breathing down her neck.
  2. Elouise and D love to go for walks during which D takes pictures while E just keeps walking ahead and circling back and then walking ahead again, again and again for as long as it takes.
  3. This was a very long walk with restroom facilities and a comfortable car at the end of the journey which Elouise has now almost reached.

OK. All true, and I could produce more of the same. However, on a more serious note, I’ve never thought of myself as needing to catch up with myself. Which means my self knows where it’s going and I need to learn to follow it. So I’ve chosen to see the photo as a kind of allegory of my current life: learning to listen to what I need and can deliver to myself.

Just over two years ago my life changed. Full stop. Don’t move. Breathe deeply, relax and learn to accept.

Short version: Multiple heart problems partially resolved by lovely Lucy Pacemaker. Two weeks later, nasty fall on sidewalk and a broken jaw that forever changed my walking and eating habits. Slow slide afterwards into adrenal fatigue with improvement, not yet resolved. And just over a year ago, a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease.

The impact on my life was sudden and confusing. I never dreamed recovery would be a long, slow forever slog. Or that other issues already residing in my body would be discovered and need attention as well.

The upshot was that I can no longer predict with certainty what I’ll need or be able to do day-to-day. I know the general limits and possibilities of each day, yet I never know how each day will play out. Things that seemed easy yesterday often feel impossible the next day. There isn’t much I can count on except that I have to eat, sleep, listen to and follow my body.

I remember when I first heard the phrase ‘listening to our bodies.’ I thought I knew what that meant. Yet I now know this is an invitation to controlled chaos. In the midst of this chaos, my body is the only reliable indicator I have to get me from here to there. That is, to a place of acceptance and gratitude without becoming bitter, cynical or despairing. And without making presumptions about tomorrow.

The photo reminds me that though this is a lonely task, beauty accompanies me. Sometimes it isn’t as obvious as Valley Forge National Park. Yet it’s always there waiting to be discovered. Sometimes in my backyard; sometimes in other people; sometimes in music or writing or the wanderings of my mind. I may seem alone and feel lonely; yet there’s more going on than loneliness when I’m willing to receive it. That’s when I truly catch up with myself and am grateful.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2018
Photo taken by DAFraser at Valley Forge National Park, 6 May 2018

islands of shade

islands of shade sprawl
beneath tall oaks and maples
wearing shiny bright green leaves
they rustle in the morning sun
this warm humid day in May

I’m just back from voting in the Pennsylvania primary plus an early morning walk in the local park near our home. No other walkers. Just unstoppable birdsong, humid breezes and the sound of a basketball hitting the pavement.

On many days I can’t say I’m proud of the way our country or its leadership is behaving. But today, Primary voting day in Pennsylvania, I’m grateful I’m not afraid when I go to vote.

I’m also grateful for the court-enforced redistricting plan that gives us a more balanced voting map than we’ve had for years. I care which candidates run in the November midterm elections. Yet overall, I care most deeply about the opportunity to vote safely in an election that hasn’t been gerrymandered to support (if not ensure) a certain outcome for any party or candidate.

Every two years we’re given an opportunity to have a voice. I admit things don’t always go as well as they might or should. Nor does everyone have an easy or fair experience when voting. Nonetheless, unless you’re disabled, unable to vote by mail, or not registered as a Republican or Democrat, to cast a vote in a Primary is still better than sitting at home or complaining about the system.

As for staying up to watch the returns, I’ll leave that to the younger generations!

Happy walking! And may islands of shade and birdsong welcome you.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 May 2018
Photo found at inspiredroombox.com

I like a look of Agony

It’s been a while since I’ve commented on one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Here’s one that seems right for this season of national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form.

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

c. 1861

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

Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she looks to Death for an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.

Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish strung upon the Brow. Thus Death gives strange birth to Truth. The truth of Agony and Anguish.

Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. I’m struck by how many ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.

With apologies to Emily:

We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight

Perhaps we forgot or never knew
How to have, much less allow air time
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony

The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment

Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers

Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name

Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018
Photo found at blog.xuite.net

bright ruffled poppies

bright ruffled poppies
dance along the garden wall
bowing and nodding

Here’s to the women in my life who mothered me along the way! You didn’t even know you were doing it. Sometimes I didn’t know, either. I’ll never forget the friend who invited me to a makeup demo. I’ve never been a big makeup fan. It was the devil’s paint when I was growing up–also a sad and sorry sign of being a ‘loose’ woman.

Nonetheless, by the time I got to the seminary as a professor in the early 1980s, I was in dire need of mothering. This little makeup demo was a tiny step that helped give me more confidence than I ever had as a child, teenager, or young adult.

Along with the makeup demo came a little tutorial on colors that would complement my summer beauty! Imagine that…thinking of myself as a ‘summer.’ Even more spectacular, these two little tips became the foundation of everything I wore or gently applied to my face. Colors that actually made me happy to look in the mirror.

Then there was my emotional/physical/spiritual storm during the late 1980s and 1990s. This time it wasn’t about what was on the outside. It was about what was eating me away on the inside. It took a while to get there, but in the early 1990s I met a gifted psychotherapist who actually listened to me and wanted to hear about my life. Without meaning to, she mothered me for decades, and still plays a role in my life. Encouraging me through this last chapter.

I wouldn’t be here at all without my birth mother. She was beautiful on the outside and inside, and her life was fraught from the beginning. Sadly, she never talked much about herself. I think she carried a lot of shame, along with physical pain and the challenge of living with my father for over 60 years. Some of what she wasn’t able to give me, a great host of women have given me in small and large ways. Often when least expected.

For these women, past and present, I’m sending these poppies. Small signs of the beauty to which you introduced me. I see bits and pieces of beauty in life, in nature, in friendships, in myself, and in hard places I thought I would never experience. All because you showed me your beauty from the inside out.

Yesterday afternoon I visited my neighbor’s backyard garden. He had planted a row of oriental poppies against his garden wall. They were magnificent. Hence the haiku and the photos above of gorgeous, crepe-paper-like oriental orange poppies.

Here’s to a Happy Mother’s Day and Year to all Mothers–including those we never expected to cross our paths along the way.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 May 2018
Photos found at cbsally.com

spring beauty

morning sun
bathes fir trees
heavy with new cones

bird pairs sing —
their broken records
stuck in a groove

I wrote these two weeks ago early in the morning, then prevailed upon D to take the photo at the top. It’s from our bathroom window, looking at what was once a baby Christmas tree planted along our property boundary. The unusually high number of new cones is visible in every variety of fir tree in and around our yard. Good news for the squirrels! They go crazy when it’s a bumper crop year.

Then there were and still are mating birds all over the place singing their loud songs–sometimes female and male birds call back and forth to each other, other times male birds belligerently announce and defend their territory. No need for an alarm clock these days.

I love this time of year! Hoping you’re enjoying whatever season is happening in your part of the globe.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 May 2018
Photo taken by DAFraser, 27 April 2018

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