Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Mary Oliver

Don’t Hesitate | Mary Oliver

I feel a tug of anguish these days. It’s in the air. It’s in my body. It’s in the newspapers. It’s in deluges of unsolicited email from candidates frantically running for office. On some days I just want to crawl back in bed and do absolutely nothing but hibernate.

On the other hand, I’ve been reading this short poem by Mary Oliver. Given our national and international anguish, plus my current health issues, I can’t say it’s easy to follow her wisdom. Still, I’m doomed if I curl up and shrink to nothingness.

Here’s the poem. I hope you find it as compelling as I do.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Thank you from my heart for your visits. I’ve been overwhelmed by how many visitors I’ve been getting in the last several weeks. Especially given my inability to post or visit as often as I would like. Which, of course, has been part of my anguish.

Writing is one of the most challenging and joyful things I do. Sort of like playing the piano or watching birds flocking and fighting around the bird feeders each morning.

Praying we all find space for joy (or even more joy!) in our lives today.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 October 2022
Photo of Smudge birdwatching taken by me in September 2022

The Arrowhead | Mary Oliver

My home is full of relics. Bits and pieces I’ve gathered over the years. Memories, yes. But is it more? Mary Oliver invites me to think about this. My comments follow.

The Arrowhead

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you still steal,
than lie as you still lie.”

Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early, 2004, p. 185
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books, 2020

Was this a waking dream? The last four lines of the poem gave me a jolt. The unexpected jolt I always have when Mary Oliver’s lovely poetic words suddenly rip the cover from our complacency. The topic of this poem is stealing. It seems our nation might be addicted to stealing.

However, this is about more than our nation.

It’s tempting to think of Mary Oliver as a nature lover who sees beauty in everything. But truth be told, many of her lovely poems are salted with barbed wire. Her words dare us (and herself) to ignore what’s right in front of us.

These are hard times. Some might say we’re headed toward doomsday. However, this poem isn’t about doomsday. It’s about what many, if not all of us, do daily and without forethought.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten what our own special versions of stealing and lying look like? Especially when it involves highly prized possessions or status.

I recall occasions when my words or ideas were stolen and passed off as someone else’s. Of course, there were also times when my words or ideas were scoffed at. However, most painful was hearing someone else use my words or ideas and pass them off as their own inventions.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire to ‘discover’ or pretend to own what doesn’t belong to me. Words, ideas, and even arrowheads that catch my eye.

Will we ever learn to live with integrity? As citizens, and as a nation? Or have we so muddied the waters that we don’t know where to begin telling the truth. Not just about ourselves, but about our nation.

Praying for honesty, integrity, patience, and determination to honor truth. Especially when it costs.

Thanks for stopping by today,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 September 2022
Photo found at rockseeker.com

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

The Morning Paper | Mary Oliver

Here’s another timely challenge from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver, in A Thousand Mornings, p. 63
 2012 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books

Dear Mary,
Your simple, straightforward words capture the horror and shame of life in these ‘enlightened’ times. If I could find a way of picturing this madness, I would.

But there is no picture to be had, apart from news items that focus on gasp-worthy news, too often distorted or misleading. Plus there’s the ongoing horror of death-by-murder rising. Not “over there” in some far-off country or galaxy, but right under our noses. Not just today or yesterday, but the grand total ever since we began waging war against each other and this planet we call home.

How can we live with integrity without putting our heads in the sand? Or without pretending this will all disappear, or that we will figure out how to save this planet from self-destruction. In the meantime, today’s struggles seem more than enough to keep us preoccupied with our own small worlds.

Your closing lines are a painful challenge.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Perhaps beginning at home would be a start. One person at a time. No heads in the sand, but with eyes and ears wide open, and hearts ready for changes that touch and support real life in real time.

With admiration and gratitude,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

Love Sorrow | Mary Oliver

Facing old age and death is no picnic. However, the post below still helps me re-imagine my relationship to my own sorrow. She’s a small version of me and needs to be loved day and night. Thank you once again, Mary Oliver.  

This poem from Mary Oliver struck a chord in me. Partly due to the current pandemic, with its waves of sorrow. But also because of my personal history. My comments follow.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird, a collection of poems
“Love Sorrow” is on p. 64

Dear Mary,

Your poem about loving sorrow brought back memories of my childhood and adult life. Especially things taken or withheld from me before I understood they were mine. Plus bits and pieces I lost or gave away throughout my life.

Sorrow, especially if it showed, was an indulgence I needed to give up. Or get over. What’s done is done. It won’t do to make my friends uneasy, or get into trouble with adults who wanted me to be someone else. I learned early to swallow or deny sorrow. Especially in public.

I think you would be horrified though not surprised at the world as it is today. We’re drowning in sorrow and anger, trying to figure out how this tsunami pandemic caught us so unprepared for death and dying, as well as living mindfully.

I don’t want to drown. I want to live and grow, especially now as time is running out.

Thank you for showing me how to befriend my sorrow. How to welcome her into my life, and learn to live with her as the child she is. And how to watch her begin to relax and grow into a strangely wonderful companion.

With gratitude and admiration,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2020, reposted on 20 June 2022
Image found at 123rf.com

The Gardener | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem has been getting under my skin (in a good way) for several months. This is for me, and for anyone out there addicted to being super-diligent about life. My comments follow.

The Gardener

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I
come to any conclusions?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 7
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

My mind and body are addicted to being super-reliable. Productive. Organized. Diligent. Prepared. These days, however, my body has rebelled. It loves to have its own agenda for each day. It really doesn’t matter what I think I ‘ought’ to do.

If I take Mary Oliver’s gardener (“a simple man”) seriously, I’ll tend the roses. Things like playing the piano, listening to music I love, reading what I want to read, staring out the window with no agenda except watching the birds engage in social antics and bravado around the birdfeeders. Or finding ways to be engaged without being overwhelmed.

This is NOT the way I was brought up. So now I’m learning to be my own wonderfully understanding parent, helping myself let go of things that stress body and spirit. Taking deep breaths. Listening to music from earth and heaven. Basking in the warmth of early spring. Taking on projects that bring me joy rather than trying to make things happen or go away.

A simple life? Not really, but today I can pretend. Or at least practice a bit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get it.

Thanks for your visit!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 April 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com

Today’s nightmare

Recent news from Ukraine is beyond grim. The post below is from September 2017. It’s about a dream, and my sense of being trapped when Trump became POTUS. Now we have Putin against Ukraine and most of the world.

~~~

This morning I woke up feeling strangely empty and weeping. Partly because of a near-nightmare and partly because we’re living, it seems, in a near-nightmare.

In the dream, I’m alone in a small room, just getting ready to exit. I’ve decided this small room isn’t going to work for me. Suddenly a man I don’t know and have never seen before walks into the room. He isn’t impressive in stature or looks, yet I know in my gut that he’s potentially bad news. He immediately flops down on the single bed near the door.

As I walk toward the door to exit, he reaches out and grabs my hand. His face clouds over with contempt and a sneer. I know I’m done for if I don’t take charge. I feel small and defenseless. Caught in a nightmare not of my making. I feel his grip tightening on my hand.

I wake up not knowing what to say or do next.

The man’s eyes, the sneer on his face, and the totally invasive nature of his presence and behavior communicated his firm belief that I was totally irrelevant. In his eyes my life mattered not a whit.

It’s sometimes difficult these days, especially since I’m on the older end of the age spectrum, to maintain a sense of relevance. But this was bigger than that. It was about the invader’s power and willingness to exercise it no matter who I might have been. Though I’ll admit it didn’t help to be female.

This tired old world is in a season of growing visible and present chaos. The kind this world has seen before, though not with so many growing warehouses of nuclear arms and an over-supply of trigger-happy leaders ready to prove their supposed virility. Ordinary people seem to have become irrelevant. Except as props on a political stage.

I don’t fixate on this every day. Nonetheless, it’s always in the air begging for my addictive attention. If I remain fixated, I’m a goner, dead or alive.

Instead of playing along with the ‘dream’ man’s agenda for me, I relax, ignore his eyes and disgusting speech, and pray out loud and in a strong voice these challenging words from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Six Recognitions of the Lord.”

Oh feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
The fragrance of the fields and the
Freshness of the oceans which you have
Made, and help me to hear and to hold
In all dearness those exacting and wonderful
Words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:
Follow me.

Mary Oliver, Thirst, stanza 5 from “Six Recognitions of the Lord”
Beacon Press 2006

Praying we’ll find courage to identify our True North and follow it, one day at a time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2022
Caught in a near nightmare was published on 27 September 2017
Photo found at givaudan.com

The world as God’s poem

Several years ago I posted “Emily Dickinson meets Mary Oliver.” A phrase from one of Mary Oliver’s poems had captured my imagination. As she puts it, we owe our dignity to being part of “the poem that God made, and called the world.”

With so much ‘undignified’ death flooding our news media, it’s difficult to hold onto Mary Oliver’s image. I don’t easily hear or see “the poem that God made, and called the world.” It’s easier to picture what’s happening today as a rising tide of undignified and wrongful deaths that should never have happened. Which may also be true.

Here’s my response, first posted in August 2017, and reposted below in light of today’s current events.

No mortal words of poetry will ever do justice to this world, God’s poem.

Nor do we understand ourselves
unless we give up all efforts to capture in our words
the reality of what God created and invited us to inhabit as caretakers.

We can look and point;
We cannot replicate.

Furthermore, no poetic words of ours
will ever improve upon God’s great poem.
Still, as humans we’re at our best when we reflect in our lives
the grandeur of creation.

Surely the summer sky, the deer,
and all parts of God’s creation are dignified
not because of what each does, understands,
or even writes in flowing poetry.

Rather, they and we owe our dignity to being part of
“the poem that God made, and called the world.”*

*Quotation from Mary Oliver’s poem,
“More Beautiful than the Honey Locust Tree
Are the Words of the Lord.” Published in Thirst, p. 31

~~~

Praying we’ll become open to seeing each human life and each creature great or small as part of God’s poem. Which, of course, includes each of us with all our flaws and our gifts.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 February 2022
Photo found at smartpress.com

The Uses of Sorrow | Mary Oliver

Have you ever dreamed a poem? Here’s one from Mary Oliver. Short and to the point. My comments follow.

The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Poem found in Thirst, p. 52
Published by Beacon Press

I first read Mary’s dream poem several years ago, then hurried on to the next page. I didn’t want to think about it. How could a box full of darkness be a gift?

In German, “das Gift” means poison. In some ways this blog was my way of beginning to take ‘das Gift’ seriously. When I began blogging, I agonized over what to say and how to say it. What was in my “box full of darkness,” and who gave it to me? Or, better put, who passed it on to me so that it became My Problem?

Sorrow isn’t a throw-away event, or series of events. As Mary Oliver says in the title, sorrow has its uses.

Nonetheless, real life doesn’t usually invite us to see a box full of sorrow as a true gift. Instead, we’re supposed to play the game ‘their way’ because that’s what the box of darkness is about. Put another way: It perpetuates the angst and anger of generations, without recognizing or fighting today’s poison. Easier all round for everyone, right?

Wrong. Understanding ‘das Gift’ as a true gift to be explored was and still is dangerous. Beginning to investigate the past brings an avalanche of consternation, anger, tears, honesty and humility. It dares me to turn my so-called gift into light. The kind that illuminates truth and empowers me to be the woman I am.

At this age, I’m still finding ‘stuff’ not yet examined from the box of poison passed on to me as a child and young adult. However, when I’m willing to step back and take a deep breath, I’m also able to take one more step in the right direction. For better and for worse, being in my elderly years means I have lots of material to work with, whether I like it or not.

Thanks again for stopping by. I’m doing quite well most days. Especially when I follow my heart instead of my head or my forever-lists of things to ‘do.’

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

Getting on with life

Though I haven’t fallen down the stairs, or tripped on my own feet, I haven’t figured out how to get up again and proceed with life.

Mary Oliver has a short poem in A Thousand Mornings (2012, p. 9) that says it all.

After I Fall Down the Stairs
At the Golden Temple

For a while I could not remember some word
I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
beloved friend?

My biggest fear right now is that I’ll fall down: Where are you, beloved feet?

It’s official: I have peripheral neuropathy. It’s in early stages, though given the fire and pain in my feet and legs, you could fool me. My doctor has ordered an MRI scan. I’ve never had one. I don’t want one now. And yes, I’ll have it.

Last Friday I had two diagnostic tests in the office. Together, they took about an hour. The first (scroll down in this link) (NCS) was supposed to be the easiest. Electrodes on my feet and legs were prompted to shock me. Sometimes my responses were minimal—or even nothing at all. However, most of the time (a good thing) the shocks were just that. Horrific. I thought they would never end.

So…moving on to the second test (EMG). It was supposed to be the most difficult. The doctor inserted thin needles into my legs and feet, prompting me to use or flex various muscles while he listened for noise. Then he did one more poke in my lower spine. The needle pokes weren’t fun, but they were nothing compared to the shock tests. In the end these results were also mixed. Another sign that this disease is in early stages.

I was surprised that my problem most likely began in my lower spine, not in my feet or legs. The MRI will help clarify what’s going on.

In the meantime, my feet are a mixed blessing. I’m grateful to be sleeping well most of the time. The best exercise these days is a walk outside with D or riding my indoor bike. My feet smile and even tear up a bit when I’m playing the piano or working at my computer. Yet when I’m working in the kitchen or around the house, they scream at me for mercy. Especially in the afternoon and evening.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this disease that shows up in various forms, I’ve found these two books helpful:

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes! The photo at the top is one of my Longwood Garden favorites–posted today just because.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 Oct 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in October 2019 at Longwood Gardens

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