Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Haiku/Poetry

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

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

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

a foreign land

Display at Jim Crow Museum of Memorabilia

I’m 71/2 years old. We just moved from California to a rural neighborhood 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. It’s 1951.

Today we drove
Out of our long driveway
Into a foreign land

Don’t stare, Elouise
Those are colored people
They were born that way

Which means
Many things you can’t
Understand just yet

See their small gardens
And rows of cheery flowers
In front of their homes?

And look!
That woman just waved
At us driving by

She’s even hung out
Her handiwork
A handmade quilt

Isn’t it lovely?
I wish we had enough
Money to buy it

Adults and children smile
When we drive by
Some even wave

It’s as though they already
Knew us even though
We’ve never met

Indeed

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2020
Photo of Jim Crow Memorabilia found at ferris.edu

Considering Loss on the Eve of Our Wedding Anniversary 2020

Wedding Day, 11 September 1965
11 September 1965

Fear of loneliness
Drifts in and out unbidden

Heavy eyelids droop
Head hangs low over keyboard

Tangled thoughts intrude
Try to distract me as though
I were the intruder

I am not.

Pulling myself together
I rouse myself to the occasion
Reaching for stars and light
I do not own.

What if he dies first?
What if I die first?

I don’t know.

So what do I know?
Only this –
That if he dies first, I will grieve.

And what will be the shape of that grief?
A hole that stretches from here to eternity
An unreachable planet long ago and faraway
A place I can no longer visit
An ocean of heaving sobs
Seaweeds of bitter regret and sweet longing
Washing up on the shore of each long day and night

Tomorrow David and I will celebrate our 52nd (now 55th) wedding anniversary. I thought I knew a thing or two about love the day we married. I did not. Nor will I know all about love the day one of us dies.

The older I get, the more precious each day becomes. I remember dreading retirement. Not simply because I would miss my colleagues and students, but because I would be spending much more time with D. More than I’d spent with him most of our married life.

Could we live with each other in the same house, including the same kitchen, every day? Would we get bored out of our gourds without deadlines and meetings and endless reports? Would one of us decide to find a part-time job just to get away from it all?

Happily, we’ve survived so far, including Kitchen Wars. But that would be another story.

I’ve had death on my mind in the last weeks, given events here and around the world. Death is about more than statistics, more than a moving memorial service, more than a huge display of candles and flowers. More than a gut-wrenching news story of the moment.

Somewhere, each moment of every day, someone is grieving. I want to honor the value of just one person’s life and the value of grief. The kind that can soften us, making us more human than we were before.

It looks like Monday, our anniversary day, will be a beautiful Longwood Garden day. Maybe another walk in the Meadow? We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2017, reposted for our 55th Anniversary, 11 September 2020
Photo taken at our wedding reception, 11 September 1965

the red cardinal revisited

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was his first-born of four daughters. I watched my tongue constantly. Smiled when expected. Stifled tears. Did as I was told. Set an example. And took the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal sang his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, this doesn’t make life easier. In fact, it’s more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

I still owe Candice thanks for this topic! Though I’ve written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging. Especially today.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018, lightly edited and reposted 7 September 2020
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

Bitter fruit of ignorance

Weariness and
Overload conspire
Eyes numb
Mind on go
Finds a mess
In everything

Neat and tidy lists
Stare at nothing
Wondering
If I’m lost
And whether
I’ll ever return

Feelings of
Futility wash over
Heart and brain

I want to cram
A lifetime of
Undigested history
Into my heart and mind
Even though
There isn’t time
Or space
To accommodate
The bitter fruit
Of ignorance
Looking the other way
Making false assumptions
Keeping secrets
And smiling
In weak attempts
To make all things
Come out right

Sounds pretty gruesome. And yet…

I wouldn’t change for a second the opportunity to examine the history of racism in the USA, the way it shaped me from the day I was born, and what needs to happen now, not later. Yes, it would be nice to have a President who cared about this as well.

Unfortunately, this buck doesn’t stop with POTUS. It stops with me. I owe it to myself, my neighbors, strangers, and my Higher Power who weaves all things well. Even though I don’t always get it, I’m committed to muddling through as needed.

Right now, the muddling is about what this 76-year old retired theologian, educator, administrator, writer might do. All things considered.

Thanks for stopping by today. Check out this link to read about W.E.B. Du Bois.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2020
Quotation found at azquotes.com

A lesson in humility

Great Blue Heron by John James Audubon

Aging waterfowl
Gaze into moving mirrors
Searching for treasure

This morning I watched
As daylight faded quickly
Into today’s tasks

Life slips into dreams
Grown old before their time
Bowing to reality

Growing old is a lesson in humility. Not so much about who I am, but about what I can do in the space of one day. Upkeep is a harsh taskmaster. Not to be ignored. And yet…

Life keeps slipping by, whether I’m ready or not.

This week I’m working through the sixth (of seven) sections in An American Lament. I’m also thinking about how to participate in ways that require more than my everyday bravery or courage.

What I most want to do is listen to the untold, under-appreciated stories of at least one traveler in a life and time I thought I knew, but didn’t. One story at a time. Unfiltered.

I wonder…How do you hope to spend your one precious life?

Happy Monday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2020
John James Audubon’s Great Blue Heron print found at http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com/

Governance by and for the people?

I’m sitting here
Wondering
How long
We have until
The end of governance
By and for the people
As we’ve never known it?

How long until
The end of faking it
As though we were one nation
On the streets
In the pubs
Or on the beaches
To which many
Seem wedded?

Then again,
Perhaps I’m wondering
About the wrong things
Asking myself
The wrong questions

How about this instead?

How long do we have
Until the last gasp
Of looking the other way
In nearly invisible glances
Drips end-stage poison
Into our veins
Insuring apathy forever
And the death of desire
For a more perfect
Union?

Confession: I didn’t watch Mr. Trump’s RNC “convention.” I have, however, paid attention–though not with much enthusiasm, and in small pieces.

I’m struck by how quickly our country has fallen under the spell of this man whose speech and behavior have crossed the line on innumerable occasions. It doesn’t matter whether we’re Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. Where has all our mojo gone?

Apathy is a silent poison. Strengthened every time we look the other way, or get mesmerized with The Show. Entertained even if horrified, outraged or fill in the blank. Addicted comes to mind.

Every day I wonder how much energy I’m using up in relation to Mr. Trump. Especially when I need my best energy for staying on course. Doing what I can to promote and support a more perfect union. Not for some, but for all of us–citizens, immigrants and refugees alike.

Thanks for reading, visiting, and doing what you can to promote and support “a more perfect union.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2020
Image found at slideplayer.com

A million distractions

A million distractions
rise daily from fertile ground
I close my eyes
trying to concentrate on Now

Now laughs at me
wonders whether I’m alive

Focus is for the birds
not for live human beings
swept up and along in
warped boats struggling
to stay afloat long enough
to be appreciated if not loved

The crowd roars its approval
begs for more showers of poison
from tongues wed to never-never land
coming your way today
unless you’d rather be
a bird

Just a few thoughts that reflect my desire to be over and done with the 2020 Election for our next POTUS. Why? Because  we have unfinished business. It isn’t about one thing. It’s about our entire history as a nation. We’re in a national ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment, invited to light a candle deep inside the hidden yet not-so-hidden history of this nation. Put another way, we’re invited yet again to stop walking over our history in Trance mode.

So yes, today I’d rather be a bird! Focused on what matters most.

This morning a couple of cardinals visited our recently-hung bird feeder. Clearly focused on food! Hoping this day offers food for our souls, and that we’re alert enough to accept it.

Happy Tuesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2020
Photo found at kaytee.com

%d bloggers like this: