Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

The Memory Unit

The Memory Unit gathers –

A motley congregation
faces the long, high pulpit and
double-locked entrance.
Weary attendants gather behind
the pulpit busy with paperwork
and a phone that never rings
for these lost sheep.

Women and men in varied
stages of present non-presence
watch and wait for what will not
arrive today or tomorrow.
In various stages and styles
of dress and distress they sit
on chairs or in wheelchairs or
lie strapped on trolleys to
avoid inconvenience or upset.
Some moan or shout while others
eerily silent stare and a few
bright-faced parishioners knowingly
greet everyone and no one passing by.

Silent or babbling, singing or shouting
repetitive statements and vociferous
objections to no one and everyone
in particular the congregation of
expectant supplicants searches
not for lost sheep or a shepherd
but for themselves and worlds
they can never re-enter even if
they come through the locked door
caring for and loving them as they are
if only for this passing moment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 April 2018
Poem based on my memory of a visit several years ago to a Memory Unit in Philadelphia
Photo taken by Maja Daniels in a Memory Unit in France; found on npr.org

Longwood Gardens in April | Photos 2

This sleepy momma is sitting on her nest taking a mid-afternoon snooze. She’s next to the Longwood Gardens Lake, not far from her sleepy mate. He looks like he might fall into the water any minute now.

I took an opportunity to have a little lake-side sit-down myself, near the  geese and a lovely dawn redwood tree. I’m in the white sunhat. The other woman is having a snooze with the geese.

Now we’re walking on toward the back entrance to the flower walk. First, some baby ferns being born. Then a photo of bare tree roots that have been on top of the ground for years, holding up a dead trunk. They’re now a study tree for children doing a study tour of the gardens. I think it’s a statue of honor for all us oldies out there who just keep hanging on!


The flower walk was almost deserted. It’s early tulip, hyacinth, pansy, narcissus and daffodil season. Even though it doesn’t look lush, it’s full of early spring color and new growth.

 

 

 

In just over a week our daughter and her husband will arrive for a visit. On the agenda: a drive out to Longwood. We can’t wait to see them again. Portland, Oregon is a long way from Philadelphia.

This visit to Longwood was a welcome break from getting our attic ready to serve as a guest bedroom. I’ve decided cleaning out and repurposing an attic is sort of like having a baby when you’re too old to have a baby. Only this time, D did most of the heavy lifting, for which I’m grateful.

I’ll post some photos of our attic renovation later this week. It’s looking good!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 April 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser, 13 April 2018

Longwood Gardens in April | Photos 1


Last Friday we joined at least 98% of the metro-Philadelphia area at Longwood Gardens. The big draw? Temperatures in the high 80s. The pathway from the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center was lined with small early bloomers. Those are Wild Oats above (lavender with yellow eye).

We walked to the café for lunch, followed by a long-anticipated walk in the Meadow. Here’s a quick look on the way to the newly renovated café, and then to the Meadow. In the first photo, the Conservatory is on the left; the café is behind the trees in the center.


 

Our walk was invigorating and a bit eery. First, Spring was barely beginning to peek out from the ground. Second, 26 percent of the meadow was burned off in mid-March as part of good meadow practices. Third, we saw only a handful of birds (swallows and an occasional predator), but no butterflies or bees at all. Still, it was worth every minute. Definitely not crowded, and a great workout after a winter of relentless snow, ice and wind.


Here are two views from the top of the meadow, looking back toward the flower walk, outdoor theater and café areas.

Things perked up a bit on the downhill walk toward the pond. Here’s a lovely bird chalet ready for occupancy (#31 in case the birds get lost),  a reassuring message from Longwood saying this will indeed become grand beauty on an awesome platform, and a couple of murky cold pond creatures. The second was like a flash on top of the water! Out of there the minute we were spotted.

Happy Monday, everybody! I’m glad you stopped by. Next time: a selection of photos from the other side of our visit to Longwood.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 April 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser, 27 April 2018, Longwood Gardens and Meadow Garden

searching for Spring

haunting song
of a lone flicker
pierces cold damp air

azalea Springs
of pink coral and magenta
float in the distance

a teary sort
the woman searches for Spring
gone missing

Looking at these haiku, each written on a different day this past week, I’m struck by how well they tell me what’s happening. Not simply in nature, but in myself and in my life here in the USA where we seem stuck in a rut.

All I can do is follow my heart, the way these haiku follow it, and keep writing about it. There’s a blessing and a curse in being old enough to remember not just where we’ve been, but how eerily familiar the terrain feels. Especially in the realms of politics and religion.

And then there’s the unseen realm of things going on in my body and my spirit. Changes I didn’t ask for and never thought would happen to me.

All of it will play out. My part is to keep recording what I hear. When I’m able to write about it, I know I’m in touch with myself and I’m letting it go. Writing the last chapter of my life.

Looking forward to Sabbath rest,
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 April 2018
Photo found at greengateturf.com

I wake, reluctant

Winter HaikuD is a wonderful resource for my fertile imagination. He trolls the internet from time to time looking for things he thinks I’ll enjoy. Or he forwards crazy stuff that shows up on his FB page.

He’s particularly fond of cartoons. So this was irresistible. What could be better? An irreverent haiku with illustration–certain to please me, his Queen!

I filed it away. No way was I going to put this indignity in the face of my refined readers! Of course it’s funny. I laughed ’til tears were streaming down my face.

My deepest apologies if you fail to relate to this post–or, heaven forbid, fail to find it funny.

D and I are off to Longwood Gardens today. The weather forecast says we might have temperatures in the high 70s (Fahrenheit)! A welcome change from late winter/early spring chills of the last months.

Happy Friday the 13th!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 April 2018
Thanks to DAFraser for finding the cartoon

Life flew south last winter – encore

Why an encore? Because my March 31 post with all your comments has disappeared into the bowels of WP! That’s why. I have no idea why or when. I just know the post is gone. So here it is, minus your wonderful comments. I’m reposting it because I love it and want to see it out there. Sort of like my voice….Don’t mess with it! I love it, too, and want to see it live!

UPDATE: Thank you, John, for suggesting I look in the Trash Can. The original is now restored! Yay! And I have no idea how I did that, but it seems I am the culprit, not WP. Still, I’m leaving this one up…. Live and learn.

Life flew south last winter
Though I’m looking for its return
In vain I imagine it on
A southern beach somewhere
Soaking in rays of warmth
For this spring-starved season
Plus stories of birds and beasts
To lighten my waning energy
Sleeping day and night

Waking from a dream I search for
Resurrection of bones and sinews
With sight and sound and the mind
I used to have but find instead a
Stranger has taken my space
Demanding attention as the radio
Drones on about life out there
Though I no longer visit
Or entertain at home

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 March 2018
Photo found at pixabay – Baltic Sea Beach Clubs

Pieces of my mind

Pieces of my mind sprawl
Strewn before me across
The flat wilderness of my
Life now reduced to the
Size of my desktop littered
With small square papers in
Yellow, pink, light blue or
Lavender covered with words
And scattered like manna
Gone sour overnight

Reminders of what I may
Or may not want to do or
Read about or tell you once
Upon a time or show you
Someday when the time is
Right and I haven’t forgotten
What all the excitement was
About anyway

They sit there each morning
Looking my way bearing
well-intentioned witness to
multiple brilliant prompts now
transformed into misty clouds
Of plans and thoughts as yet
Unpursued though relieved by
Reduction to words jotted on
Small squares of paper the sum
Total of yesterday’s genius
Now staring at me wondering
Whether there is more to life
Than this

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2018
Photo found at LinkedIn.com

A vexing situation – Sexuality 5

I’m tired of dancing around the politics of sexuality, whether proclaimed by the church and church-related institutions, or by political parties on both sides of all aisles.

All my life I’ve lived by other people’s agendas. Toed the line (most of the time). Made sure I didn’t cause a problem for the powers that be (even though I did).

For a change, this is my agenda: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am to

  1. love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind
  2. love my neighbor as I love myself
  3. love myself

It couldn’t be simpler or more terrifying than that. Those three, taken together, are my bottom lines. Any attempt to gain my loyalty or affirmation falls short if it requires me to add or subtract from this list.

If I were applying to teach at a seminary and made the first cut of candidates, I might say something like this to the search committee.

  • I would like to hear from each of you about your personal journey, including things you’ve struggled with in your life, and how this affects the way you relate to seminarians, particularly regarding sexuality. In return, I’m committed to sharing the same thing with you about my struggles, and the way this has affected my work with seminarians, both male and female.

Perhaps this is unrealistic or unfair. In any case, I don’t think I would get many takers.

I am now and have always been an outlier about sexuality. Partly due to my troubled past with my father. But also because of multiple friendships with gay men and lesbian women, my own troubled past, and fear of being drummed out if people don’t believe me or, more likely, find me unworthy.

When it comes to sexuality, no one has an undamaged mind, heart or body. In addition to relentless private victimization, the advent of ritualized, commercialized pornographic images and social media voyeurism makes a mockery of our felt need to root out those who flagrantly (publicly or privately) violate their own sexuality or the sexuality of others. We have been sinned against, and we have knowingly and unknowingly passed along our anguish.

Finally, though this post is about men as well as women, we women have more to lose when it comes to sexuality.

Nonetheless, if we women keep arguing and distancing ourselves from each other, we’ve lost even more. It doesn’t matter whether we’re homosexual, heterosexual, transgendered or bisexual. It doesn’t matter what color we are or how many husbands or partners we’ve had, or what we have or haven’t done in our pasts. What matters are areas of common concern, and taking initiative to meet each other around those issues, even though it may mean meeting some sisters for the first time.

I’m a dreamer. So was Jesus Christ. As one of his followers, how can I refuse to go where he went? Yes, it’s a kind of death. But the kind that passes life along to our daughters and sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighbors, and even to ourselves.

As always, many thanks for listening.
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 April 2018

April Spring

sorting quickly
a robin selects fresh twigs
worthy of her nest

cold gusts
send Spring warmth flying –
a starling whistles

blanketed
beneath wildflowers
Spring takes root

I wrote each of these this past week, on different days following a chilly walk outdoors. This morning tiny snowflakes were whirling around for a bit before disappearing. Yesterday D and I walked in the late afternoon leaning into cold gusts.

This winter was the most difficult we’ve had in years. So cold, icy, windy and messy with snow that I couldn’t get out and about as much as I did last winter. Which isn’t great for my mood or my sense of being part of the world around me.

All I want is to see people, give and take a smile or two, maybe stop and talk a bit, admire all the dogs that don’t belong to me, watch children racing around in the street and on the playground, get my miles and hills done, dodge a few cars, listen to robins, tufted titmice, chickadees, cardinals, woodpeckers and flycatchers, then come home to our cat and a warm house.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2018
Photo of Claytonia virginica (spring beauty) found at nature.com

A vexing situation – Sexuality 4

When I interviewed for a faculty appointment at the seminary in 1983, no one asked about my sexuality or sexual history. I was married and had two children. I was an active member of the Presbyterian Church. I was interested in women’s studies and issues of importance to women, and as a theological student I had a good record and outstanding references. Besides, my guest lecture was well received.

Years later, I’m the dean, responsible for having a confidential conversation with each final candidate about sexuality and other topics. This includes conversation about the now-official standard of the seminary on human sexuality and moral conduct, questions they might have about this area, and questions I was expected to ask them. Which I did.

In order to help us through this sometimes awkward conversation, I used a one-page handout excerpted from a 1996 memo to the faculty. It was about the new board-approved policy on human sexuality and moral conduct. I sent it in advance to our final candidates, with other material about the seminary.

If the candidate was already inclined in the direction of the seminary’s policy, there was no hesitation. However, if the candidate had questions, it was sometimes awkward. Not just for them, but for me.

I couldn’t pretend that living with this policy wasn’t important. To my surprise, some were reassured by my history with students struggling with sexual issues. The same was true about ways I dealt with classroom presentations and dynamics. There might be room for them here, and it wouldn’t be easy. Especially in the classroom.

The new policy, nearly 10 years in the making, included a statement about behavior, and two implications for faculty.

  • Regarding behavior, those who affirm and practice forms of sexual intimacy contrary to the seminary’s guidelines will not be admitted as students, or employed at the seminary. A further sentence, for the benefit of faculty members hired earlier than 1996 said, “This item is in reference to all decisions subsequent to the adoption of this policy.”

Regarding faculty, there were two stated implications.

  • First, we were to make sure seminarians dealt with the range of positions about current moral issues the Church faced. These included human sexuality and moral conduct.
  • Second, in our teaching we couldn’t argue against the seminary’s policy about sexuality (whether heterosexual or homosexual). We could, however, tell students about our own struggles regarding human sexuality and moral conduct, including our present understanding of difficult issues related to sexuality. Nonetheless, we could not “undermine or invalidate” the seminary’s policy. Furthermore, when speaking publicly or privately on behalf of the seminary, we were to articulate clearly and uphold the seminary’s policy.

The first implication was fairly straightforward. The second, however, felt late and one-sided. I’d learned the hard way which questions I could and could not answer in large required courses. Now, however, any sign that I was still ‘struggling’ with these issues sounded to some like the equivalent of teaching against the seminary. The only safe professors were those in full and complete agreement with the policy as stated.

I keep wondering what I would do differently if I were being interviewed today for the same faculty position.

Thanks so much for reading, and for your comments along the way. One more post coming (I think)!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2018

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