Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Defending My Space

I’m about eight years old. I’m sitting at the dinner table, just around the corner from my father. The table is set, the food is spread before us, and we’re all in our seats waiting to begin. We haven’t yet asked the blessing. I’m playing with my dinner fork, just to the left of my plate. I’ve moved it a few inches away from my plate.

My father’s voice interrupts me. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it to the right, in the direction of my plate. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it slightly closer. My father’s voice remains firm and controlled. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

By now my sisters are watching to see what will become of me. My mother is silent. This has become an event. Slowly I raise my hand to my fork and move it ever so slightly closer to my plate.

My father persists. So do I. Many repetitions later he’s satisfied; the fork has been returned to its proper place.

He proceeds with the blessing. He doesn’t know what I know: the fork is ever so slightly to the left of its proper place.

My father’s mission as a parent was to train us to keep the rules. My mission as his child was to break and keep the rules simultaneously.

Back then, perseverance meant getting through another day, using whatever survival skills lay close at hand.

If my father was persistent, I would be more persistent. If outward rebellions were too costly, I would invent creatively invisible yet superbly effective inward rebellions. If I was ordered to sit down and stop talking, I could continue standing and talking on the inside for as long as it took to comfort myself.

Indeed, this was the better way. In the private spaces of my mind no one could put me down, refuse to listen to me or try to break my will. In a family system intent on turning out obedient daughters, I survived by being secretly disobedient.

This memory from the 1950s, published nearly 20 years ago, is as vivid today as it was then.

The territory I defended was interior. I applaud the little girl who figured out how to do this. Nonetheless, my efforts were costly. They required constant vigilance, no matter where I was.

Abuse of power destroys safe space. It expects and demands behaviors, words, looks on faces, subtle and open signs of unquestioning and subservient submission.

What does it take to create and maintain safe space? Not just in our marriages and families, but in neighborhoods, nations, churches and schools? And how does my personal history connect with the racial history of the USA?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 March 2017
Photo of 1938 family dinner found at bbc.com
Story excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Beginning Theologian (InterVarsity Press 1998)
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Territory

Why I Love Lucy

I still crack up watching this 1950s episode–
Lucy at her creative, in your face, unrehearsed and unashamed best!
The secret ingredient, of course, is alcohol….
a side-splitting spoof on all the snake oil remedies being foisted on us.

Lucy Pacemaker is soooooo excited I’m posting this.
I hope she doesn’t have a heart attack!

Happy Tuesday!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2013
With thanks to the hands that recorded, edited and uploaded this to YouTube.
Response to Daily Prompt: Elixir

petite violets

petite violets
dance with unassuming grace –
shrink into shadows

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2017
Photo found at healthyhomegardening.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Purple

Manufactured faces

Manufactured faces gaze
From magazines and brochures
Scattered around the waiting room
Wherever I turn my eyes
‘They’ smile knowingly
If not mechanically
Picture perfect features
Enticing sirens of perpetual youth
White skin gleaming
Radiant in life
And in death

What do they know that I don’t know?
Is this happy heaven or happy hell?
I seem to have lost my way.

It’s Friday, March 25. I’m sitting in a nearly deserted, picture-perfect, calm, shades of blue cool color-coordinated waiting room. Not, I’m sorry to say, the plastic surgery (yes!) waiting room above. A plastic surgeon, on site only once a week, is going to remove two suspicious growths from my skin. Due to unforeseen developments, the wait will be longer than anticipated.

Upbeat music plays relentlessly. Every chair, magazine table, shelf and counter space offers indoor advertising for the miraculous powers of plastic surgery and the good life. I search in vain for a normal magazine or newspaper.

Alas, I didn’t bring a book or even my iPad. All I have is my writing journal. Into which I enter the thoughts above.

An hour later, things finally get underway. I also learn a thing or two. The surgeon is probably in his late 30s or early 40s. I’ve often assumed plastic surgeons are in it for the money.

This one, however, doesn’t fit that stereotype. His primary work doesn’t involve what I’d call elective cosmetic plastic surgery for the wealthy seeking eternal youth, or even for the rest of us with routine things like suspicious growths. He does this only one day a week, at this site. A break from his demanding schedule.

The rest of the time he’s at a downtown university hospital doing what he loves most. A form of intricate, creative plastic surgery. Most of his patients are women who’ve had mastectomies or trauma victims whose skin needs repair. He loves the challenge of each case, and knowing that what he does helps people recover from life-changing events.

I left feeling chastened and grateful I’d heard a bit of his story. Well worth the wait.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2017
Photo of spectacular plastic surgery waiting room found pinterest

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

This poem from Emily Dickinson makes me smile every time I read it. My comments follow.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

c. 1860

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

From about 1860 until her death in 1886, Emily lived as a recluse, writing and serving as a caretaker for her family and servants. She left her family’s house only rarely. Today’s poem comes near the beginning of this prolific period of her life.

Imagine Emily looking around, seeing and hearing life in a great outdoor Orchard Dome. Perhaps leafy branches overhead? Like a cathedral dome, this one echoes with music–birdsong, a bell tolling and a soloist. And then there’s that noted Clergyman God, whose sermons are never long. Emily doesn’t need special Sunday clothes. She just dons her Wings and joins the chorus! Is she an angel? I doubt it. I think she’s probably a little bird. Perhaps the Bobolink?

The contrast is clear. Unlike others who keep the Sabbath by going to Church, Emily keeps it by staying at Home. Is this by choice, or due to the circumstances of her life? Probably by choice, temperament and the circumstances of her life.

In any case, Emily isn’t explaining or defending herself. Instead, she imagines a great advantage in her situation. She also suggests there’s more to Sabbath than meets the eye when we confine it to one day out of seven days. In fact, her situation is far better than the one-day-a-week slow track to Heaven.

Emily isn’t arguing a point of theology. Nor is she explaining why she isn’t showing up in church every Sabbath.

Rather, she celebrates God’s presence in the created world, and the delightful participation of all creatures great and small. As she sees it, she’s going to church daily in God’s outdoor cathedral! A mysterious world of truth that invites her to draw nearer to Heaven. Unlike the slow trackers, she doesn’t have to wait until the end to get to Heaven “at last.” She’s going there every day!

For me, this poem is about more than sunny days and a beautiful orchard. It’s also about more than Emily’s religious practices. I hear an invitation to view every day as a day of rest. A Sabbath. Why? Because Heaven is reaching out, wanting to connect with me every day. Not simply one day a week.

As for my part, I don’t need special clothes. I just don my Wings, retreat to the orchard, listen expectantly for nature’s music, join in when I feel like it, and listen to a short sermon from God. I, too, could be going to Heaven all along — with Emily! Even though I may never leave the house.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2017
Photo found at midewinrestoration.net

A Day! Help! Help!

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 this.’

Common ball, you say? Doesn’t that mean a formal occasion focused on gorgeous apparel and elegant dancing? The kind of show that delineates the rich from the poor, the ins from the outs, the titled from the untitled?

Perhaps, but I can’t help noticing these are the years leading up to the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States. Or the North against the South, or vice versa.

And so I vote for the ball being this terrestrial ball. The planet on which we live. Or even better, this great dance of life to which all are both invited and entitled. A dance choreographed by our Creator, the true Host of the Party.

For me, the question is simple: Will I participate as a full partner? Or will I be relegated to the kitchen, the stables, the dungeon, or any other situation that keeps me in ‘my place.’

“Your prayers, oh Passer by!” Will each and all of us win together? Or will business return to business as usual?

I pray your day might be dated a Victory that bodes good for us all. No matter how insignificant your Victory seems to you.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 March 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Ordinary

Racial History and Denial

It began with conversation on a call-in National Public Radio show, “Indivisible Radio.” The topic was racism and protest. The conversation explored public protests. Why protest? Does it matter? Aren’t there so many protests now that it’s just a fad, if not a huge cacophony of meaningless sound?

One caller, a younger African American, described his personal commitment to ongoing protest. It was his way of life. His occupation. Though he didn’t give his age, he was part of the younger generation of black men whose lives are in danger every day.

The topic turned to the effectiveness of these protests. When you protest, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you think you can bring about change in the system or in the people on the other side of the protest?

He thought for a few seconds and then responded. “I don’t know if I can change them. I don’t want them to change me!”

He further explained that protest is his way of holding a moral position on behalf of change—for the longterm. If he became ‘one of them,’ they would win, and the long-term prospects for change would diminish. For the next generations, not for himself.

There’s much truth in this man’s wisdom. In my observation, most protests are attempts to change or control someone or something. Or they’re expressions of fear.

So what does this have to do with symptoms, much less racial history and denial?

Clearly, the proliferation of protest in the USA is a symptom of something. Or of many ‘somethings.’ For me, given the current state of our disunion in the USA, I believe it’s at least a symptom of denial.

We aren’t just in denial about what’s happening to our country, neighborhoods and presidency today. We’re in denial of our history as a nation.

History comes home to roost, especially when denied. Of many strands in our national history, I believe denial of our racial history is biting us, hobbling us in ways we don’t understand, putting it in our faces, doing whatever it can to get our attention. Individually and collectively.

We ignore it to our peril. This symptom isn’t going away. It cannot be dealt with quietly or in secret.

So I’ll be posting my thoughts on this from time to time, whether the WordPress Daily Prompt gives me a way in or not!

Thanks for listening and thinking about this with me. Especially if you care about our future as a nation among nations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2017
Cartoon found at quotesgram.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Symptom

my heart skips a beat

my heart skips a beat
poised atop blossoming stems
ready to take flight
anticipation quickens
for this I was created

***

Turning words loose to go where they will
Clear about my identity and to Whom I owe my life
Introverted and grateful for it
Highly sensitive to winds of change
Sailing updrafts and downdrafts
Gliding and plunging
through the inexplicable logic of this universe
known only to my Creator
Taking an uncharted ride to places unknown
Giving wings to words

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2017
Photo credit: DAFraser, April 2015
Longwood Meadow Garden, PA
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Acceptance

subtle changes

subtle changes in color and texture
create a minimalist feast for spring-starved eyes

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 March 2017
“WU Blossoms” taken by WurzelDave in Somerset, UK
Posted on the WeatherUnderground App in February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Minimal

Crazy Happy Lady

For several weeks I’ve been thinking about end of life issues, wondering what my daily ‘plan’ is for getting from here to there. How will I order my life each day? I don’t own the time my Creator has entrusted to me. So how will I invest it?

Whatever chaos is, it’s the way I’ve experienced most of my life. A chaos of competing priorities, demands, expectations (yours and mine), rules and regulations, political realities….

I’ve spent years trying to get through and beyond chaos. Yet here’s what happened this past weekend.

From my journal:

It’s 3:30pm, Saturday afternoon. I’m not exercising in the house, not cleaning up the kitchen, not vacuuming, not playing music, not reading a book, not writing a poem, not going through files and piles, or anything else except this—showing up and writing this journal entry.

How I feel right now: weary, unmotivated, discouraged, somber….terrible. Wasting time. Trying to practice centering prayer yet falling asleep. Watching time slip away.

Do I enjoy this? I don’t think so, but sometimes I wonder. Perhaps this is more enjoyable to me than changing my habits.

…My most lethal enemy seems to be lethargy. A kind of glue that keeps me from having an active agenda of things I love to do.

My mind goes through tricks like these:

  • If I read a novel, I’m wasting time. If I play the piano, I’m wasting time. Can’t I see how much work needs to be done in the kitchen, the house, the attic, my office?
  • If I walk in the house or ride on my recumbent bike or bounce on the rebounder, it isn’t ‘real’ exercise—so why bother?

There’s a crazy logic here—if I do this, I won’t be able to do that. (Or it won’t count anyway.)

And then there are all those other good things I’m not doing that haunt me—

  • Sending notes and cards to friends who need encouragement
  • Vacuuming the house
  • Cleaning the curtains and windows
  • Weeding out unneeded kitchen utensils
  • Taking things to the Salvation Army or some other charity

Like I said in my last entry, I don’t have a plan for organizing my life. It seems all I do is make sure my food needs are met, wash laundry when absolutely necessary, rest and sleep enough, and do other maintenance work that demands my attention.

Later that same day (Saturday evening now), I was back to my journal. Here’s what finally broke through the chaos and lethargy and made me crazy happy.

From my evening journal:

The best part of today: posting this morning and getting tomorrow’s post ready to go. I can’t begin to express how important blogging has become for my growth and enjoyment. I’d even put it on the same level as walking out of doors. Even ahead of playing the piano…and reading.

Which led to my Crazy Happy Lady List of Priorities – things that top my list of things I love to do just for myself.

  1. Writing – if not for my blog, in my journal
  2. Walking – outside if possible, with no agenda but enjoying nature
  3. Music – playing the piano or listening to music I love
  4. Reading – poetry, novels, books that help me navigate my life
  5. Meditating — wherever I am, day and night

As for other activities,

  • As little as possible
  • As efficiently as possible
  • On an as-needed basis

Thanks for listening, and Happy Spring!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2017
Elegant Photo of Woman Writer found at salon.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Label

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