Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Death and Dying

Smudge’s Health

How quickly life’s pages turn
Without an option to return
To yesterday’s life now fading

Everything changed in the time it took
To close and later open the front door
To unexpected pain and agony

Looking into our cat’s eyes I see
He already knows something is amiss
As he hobbles up to greet me

Smudge isn’t well. All day yesterday I thought about how hard it was to let our first two cats go. The first was 2 years old. The second was an overripe 19 years. Both were euthanized due to health issues. Now it seems Smudge’s days are fewer than we thought they would be. He’s about 7 years old.

The vet says he has a small heart murmur. It wasn’t there last year. He also thinks Smudge may be suffering from a small blood clot that lodged in his right back foot. He’s now on a very small baby aspirin dose every other day. If his foot pads are warm, that’s a good sign. Today they’re warm. Still, the likelihood that he’ll return to ‘normal’ isn’t high.

We tried to contact several cat cardiologists yesterday (referrals from our vet). To no avail. Maybe today? Covid-19 has made everything more difficult, including getting an appointment with a cat cardiologist. Sadly, I haven’t found one article that sounded upbeat about this particular health issue in cats. How long might Smudge beat the odds?

The last few days felt like a very sad dream. Today I’m being extra kind to Prince Oliver Smudge the Second. He still makes me laugh, and tugs at my heart. What’s a cat-lover to do?

Thanks for listening and empathizing.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2020
Photo taken above our kitchen sink by ERFraser, July 2014

Messenger | Mary Oliver

This is the opening poem in Mary Oliver’s slim volume, Thirst. The volume is dedicated to her partner of many years, Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005. My comments follow.

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Death stares us in the face daily. Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, raging forest fires, climate change and more bring it home.

No matter which political and/or religious side you’re on, we live in the world of 2020, not 2019. As I see it, we’re in a national and international valley of death. Some self-inflicted; some visited on us unawares.

Given these realities, what are we now to do?

In the midst of her valley of death, Mary Oliver seeks to clarify her work. Yes, she grieves the loss of her partner. In addition, she wants to know why she’s still alive, and what the meaning of her life is now.

Though I still have my partner, this is my question as well. What am I called to do and say right now, in this world of Covid-19 et al? Not in a drab and dreary way, but in a way that conveys my love for this world, focuses on what matters, remains open to the miracle of joy, overflows with gratitude, and proclaims “how it is that we live forever.” Not for ourselves alone, but for this world starving for love and for life.

We matter, singly and together. No matter how defeated or discouraged we feel.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 October 2020
Photo found at pinterest.com

To fight aloud, is very brave — | Emily Dickinson

charge_of_the_light_brigade

~~~Charge of the Light Brigade, painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

What does it mean to be brave? Emily Dickinson gets right to the heart of things with her focus on true heroes. My comments follow.

To fight aloud, is very brave –
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe –

Who win, and nations do not see –
Who fall – and none observe –
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love –

We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go –
Rank after Rank, with even feet –
And Uniforms of Snow.

c. 1859

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

The USA is besotted with romantic notions of Bravery. Captivated by monuments to those who fell to ‘ensure our freedom.’ Memorials to those who displayed Bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

We pause to honor those who stood or fell on our behalf. And yet….Who are the true heroes among us?

Emily’s poem is a slow, pensive hymn of remembrance for individuals who fought and fight battles, unseen and unacknowledged. Women, men, girls and boys more gallant than national heroes. In their hearts they charge daily against The Cavalry of Woe that would take them down in misery, sorrow, despair, pain, agony and defeat.

The poem, written in about 1859, brought to mind Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” along with paintings that memorialize tragedies.

Emily’s poem could also be a eulogy for uncounted heroes and heroines who bravely fought their internal enemies. Few, if any, know their names or the stories of their gallant deeds. Unseen and unsung, they remain hidden. Small bits of unexplored or never remembered history.

Does anyone notice or care? Emily does. She is one of these more gallant souls. Her poems remind us of her internal battles, though we don’t know what each was about.

Emily’s final stanza lifts up internal bravery for our respect, perhaps also for her personal comfort. She sees more than one Angel per warrior. Imagine it: unnumbered ranks of Angels process reverently in soft, snowy plumes. Their uniforms drop blankets of snow around and over uncounted heroes and heroines. Snowy flags of honor drape each unsung warrior who charged bravely ahead against all odds.

Angels also recognize the bravery of patriotic heroes, though not because of visible service. No one gets a pass when dealing with the internal Cavalry of Woe threatening daily to undo us.

My heart has been an unseen battlefield most of my life. It’s littered with spoils of war—war I’ve waged against my Cavalry of Woe. I fought much of it silently, assuming I was a loser. The woes weren’t strange or unusual, but common and everyday. Things like Fear of Harsh Punishment, Getting through Harsh Punishment, Perfectionism, Depression, Self-loathing, Self-doubt, Fear of Abandonment, Fear of Speaking in My Own Voice.

Whether we believe we’re gallant or not, Emily invites us to trust the cloud of Angel witnesses passing by, clothed in snow-white plumes. Reverently and respectfully they accompany us in life and in death. Honoring us as patriots who fought and still fight gallantly on behalf of our true selves.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 Sept 2016, edited and reposted 8 Oct 2020
Painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.,
found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade

On the death of many things

It’s the day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, and centuries after our founders declared themselves the owners of what did not belong to them.

troubled in her soul
the old woman weighs options
floating through her head

the clock ticks and chimes
outside cars rush by on wheels
today’s news falls heavy

even this poem
doesn’t know where to begin
or end

The arrival of Covid-19 turned the world into a tinder box. It also put on display the arrogance and ignorance of POTUS. Sadly, we’ve become accustomed to daily lies and innuendos, spread by all means possible.

Due to Covid-19 realities, I‘m in a boat with many senior citizens. Will there be a reliable, affordable vaccination before I die? In the meantime, writing has become my link to myself and to the world.

Late last week I had a particularly teary day, and went to bed feeling powerless. Even though reading books, writing, and working on An American Lament are important, I still felt restless and discouraged, especially in light of Black Lives Matter.

The next morning I checked my blogsite and found a comment. The commenter had been doing research on a slave market in her town, and stumbled on Haunted, an old photo and poem I published in August 2019. I teared up. Not because she left a comment, but because of what she said about herself and about the connection she felt with me. She lives in Deep South Georgia. The old slave market has become an issue. Will it remain in the center of town?

We talked on the phone this week. As a consequence, I’m turning another corner in my life. I spent most of my childhood and youth in the Deep South. I was, and still am determined to be my own person. I want to do what I can before I die. This unexpected connection is talking to me, pushing me. Some things can’t wait.

Besides, what better way to honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, along with the courage of Black citizens standing up for what’s right for all of us.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 September 2020
Image of the road ahead found at airstream.com

A Prayer of Lament | Pastor Leah Wenger

Reverend Leah Wenger has served for nine years as Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. Her prayer of lament (below) can be found with others on the Mennonite Church USA website. Each lament responds to the violence of racism in the USA.

Most churches aren’t accustomed to prayers of lament. A Psalter I own has changed many Psalms of lament into something else. Is that because we don’t like negativity?

Here is Rev. Leah Wenger’s prayer of lament, followed by a few comments.

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

Prayer from Pastor Leah Wenger,
Urbana Executive Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Prayer found at the Mennonite Church USA website

Can an entire nation lament the ongoing violence of racism in the USA? Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, it would be most appropriate for white churches in the USA (and their members) to lament. Not for a day or an hour, but for a lifetime of being major players in this sick drama. Sometimes we’ve joined the enemy outright. Other times we’ve looked the other way, or called what we see anything but ‘racist.’

We’re at a crossroad. We are not, however, out of options. Pastor Leah’s prayer is good place to start. It breathes life. The life of our Creator who understands and knows us inside out. Today is a good time to stop, lament, look around, and get moving in a different direction.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2020
Image found at mem.intervarsity.com

This season of lament

I’m frozen
Cut off from reality
Not sure where I am
Or where I’m going
Deep sadness wells up
Ancient dikes breach
Cracks in dishonest walls
That tried to contain a world
Held together by lies and
Decay deliberate and brutal
Now breaking through
Elephant-size breaches
Lying before me in shambles
Buried by an unrelenting
Avalanche of disinformation
Grinding us down to
Our lowest common
Denominator

The odds aren’t on our side. Especially if we rely on our limited understanding. Which is all we have on any day of the week.

There is no Top Genius of this world. No Strong Man or Strong Woman of this world who knows or understands the past, present and future with utmost clarity. All we have is what’s left of what we received the moment we were born, and what we’ve been given or taken. For good and for ill.

So here I am with you, in a season of Lament. Without a clue whether we’ll be spared the consequences of actions never taken, taken too quickly, or taken in spite.

Am I without hope? Not unless I try to carry on with life or business as usual. So yes, I’m muddling through with everyone else. Praying, and watching for moments of grace and unexpected connections. Small signs that our Creator is still at work.

Praying your day contains some of those small signs.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and we have yet another timely poem from Maya Angelou. My brief comments follow. Please note that periods indicate indentations in the poem.

Glory Falls

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
….which lies upon our necks
….and underfoot.
We have woven
….robes of silk
….and clothed our nakedness
….with tapestry.
From crawling on this
….murky planet’s floor
….we soar beyond the
….birds and
….through the clouds
….and edge our way from hate
….and blind despair and
….bring honor
….to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
….horror that we feed
….upon our own
….tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

On Monday, we celebrate Labor Day. Typically a holiday to celebrate the end of summer, the beginning of the school year, and all people who count as laborers. Who, of course, have Monday off unless they’re indispensable. A day for fun, relaxation, sports, the beach, the boardwalk, hiking in the mountains, and hotdogs.

In light of this, Maya Angelou’s poem may seem out of place. Yet given our history of slavery, her poem is a grim reminder of the cost slave laborers and people of color paid and still pay today. It also suggests a connection with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This connection can generate growth away from the horror of hate and despair. It can free the soul to “soar beyond the birds and through the clouds,” despite the horror “we feed upon our own tomorrow.”

Is there room for me in this poem? For you? I don’t know the answer for you. However, I believe this poem invites me to become brave. Not just in my personal homework, but in our current political context that reeks of unfinished business.

I’m grateful for your visits, especially given all that’s going on around us these days. I pray we’ll find ways this weekend to nurture our spirits and bodies with courage and strength. Plus enjoy unexpected moments with friends, neighbors and strangers. And grow just a bit closer to the persons we were meant to be.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 September 2020
Book Cover image found at amazon.com

By hook or by crook

No river runs through it
No sounds of mercy or grace
Pierce neglect and screaming injustice
Writ deep and wide through the heart
Of God bless America

Look the other way my children
Fence it in and hold your tongues
There is no sweet by and by
When the clock strikes twelve
And one more soul is taken

Now open your textbooks and read
With me the unbeatable story of
America’s Great Success
Betrayal heaped on betrayal
By hook or by crook

No, I haven’t given up hope. However, unless I examine the sad and sorry facts of our history with slavery, so-called post-slavery, lynching, and mass incarceration, I won’t get it. Ever.

Even though I’d rather live in my supposedly safe small world, I can’t. It doesn’t help when I avoid hard data. Especially the kind that shows the systemic costs of our nation’s failed approach to slavery and its perpetually reinvented substitutes.

We NEVER got rid of slavery. We just changed the way we thought about it–especially the costs of being black or brown in the USA. Worse, if we have white skin we might even get away with not thinking about it at all. Not my problem?

For the last two weeks I’ve been working in An American Lament about Slavery and so-called ‘Post-Slavery’ in the USA. Not fun. Depressing sometimes. Even tempting me to despair. But facts are facts, especially when they’re in my face.

Check out the 2010 graph at the top. Right now we’re in the midst of a ten-year census count. I wonder how the 2010 chart at the top will change?

Praying for courage to do what I’m able to do, one day at a time. Especially when it comes to changing my well-worn ways of coping in a nation built on too many lies.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2022
Graphic image found at prisonpolicy.org

Sursum Corda | G. A. Studdert Kennedy

What kind of day did you have so far? Mine was productive, though not the way I thought it would be. Here’s one of my favorite Studdert Kennedy poems. It seemed appropriate, given the state of things today.

*Sursum Corda

There are cowslips in the clearing,
With God’s green and gold ablaze,
And the distant hills are nearing,
Through a sun-kissed sea of haze.

There’s a lilt of silver laughter
In the brook upon its way,
With the sunbeams stumbling after
Like the children at their play.

There’s a distant cuckoo calling
To the lark up in the sky
As his song comes falling, falling
To his nest—a happy sigh.

Sursum Corda! How the song swells
From the woods that smile and nod.
Sursum Corda! Ring the bluebells
Lift ye up your hearts to God.

From The Unutterable Beauty: The Collected Poetry of G. A. Studdert Kennedy, pp. 95-96
First published by Hodder and Stoughton Limited (London, 1927)
Published in 2017 by Pendlebury Press (Manchester, U.K., August 2017)

*Sursum Corda -“Lift up your hearts.” The opening phrase of a traditional Christian liturgy dating back to the 3rd century. Normally used before celebrating the Eucharist.

Can there be beauty in a warzone? Especially with people dying all around, often in prolonged agony.

Studdert Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie, wrote this poem during World War I. He served as a chaplain, witnessing and participating in the laments, loneliness, pain and deaths of British soldiers. He dealt with the horror of war by writing poetry.

Many of his poems are heartbreaking. They deal with harsh realities of early 20th century warfare on the ground, and the daily struggles of human beings separated from their families. They also include some reality talk with God. This poem, like a number of others, found something to celebrate. A reason to hope, despite the daily suffering and dying that surrounded everyone.

Even though nature can’t solve all our problems, it’s there for the taking. A gift. Just look around. Lift up the eyes of your heart! In your memory, listen to the birds and admire the bluebells. They’re sending us an invitation to look and listen to the larger picture of nature, not just to our own small worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2020
Image of cowslips found at first-nature.com

weak as water

weak as water
the old woman bends
bowing to the floor
intent on finding
her lost coin

so quickly ages
drift just beyond sight
daring us to recall
or recoil from truth
about the past

Two sides warring with each other. Wanting to know and not wanting to know. Looking and looking away. Betrothed to truth and living in half-truth which is falsehood.

I don’t know any other way to describe what’s happening in me as I work through An American Lament. Yes I knew and I didn’t know about the history of slavery and racism in this country. Yes I want to know more, and please clear the table now. I’ve had enough.

Do I regret beginning this journey? No. Yet the internal duel shines a spotlight on what’s at stake, and challenges me. Not as a reader or leader, but as a white follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, a Jew, son of Mary and Joseph, on his way to die as a criminal would die.

Is this really what I want (with all my heart) to do with my one precious life?

Prayers for wisdom, courage and grace in these troubled times,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 August 2020
Image found at freebibleimages.org

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