Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

Coded language

Coded language
Covers fear lurking
Within contours of life
Under scrutiny
And the ungodly weight
Of being right and
Righteously unrighteous

Does this not become us?
Or are we becoming
The deepest fears
Haunting our dreams

Look in the mirror
Listen to your precious life
It doesn’t last forever
Lay aside childhood fear
Of not fitting in

Sit down and then
Stand up and speak out
On behalf of strangers

Our lives are the test
Not our coded words
Or the colors on flags
We wear and hide behind
In a desperate bid
For approval from our
Latest false gods

I wrote this last week after a particularly unspectacular news cycle filled with rage and vendettas. It isn’t ‘their’ problem. It’s our problem, born of lack of faith and lack of courage.

I applaud public figures who stand up and speak out on behalf of all of us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could change the atmosphere of our public discourse? However, even if we end up with leaders able to do this, I’m not counting on them.

I’m counting on the little people. People like you and like me. Everyday human beings who aren’t afraid to welcome strangers into their lives. Especially ‘political’ strangers who may include former friends, or family members.

When I look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t see a human being who hid behind coded words or political and religious party lines. Nor do I see someone on a great campaign to win votes. After all, in the end all that didn’t matter.

What mattered was his life of truth-telling, compassion and fierce determination to be human, pointing beyond himself to the One who matters above all others. The only One to whom he owed supreme allegiance.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 July 2019

The Ponds

Here’s a thought-provoking poem from Mary Oliver, followed by my comments.

The Ponds

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away—
and that one is a lumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

©Mary Oliver, in New and Selected Poems, Vol. One., pp. 92-93
Beacon Press, Boston, 1992

Of course imperfections aren’t necessarily nothing. Sometimes they’re distress calls. Or signs of neglect.

Still, like Mary Oliver, I also want and need to see big picture beauty in a water lily pond, garden or meadow. Because, as she puts it, “I want to believe [And I do!] I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.”

The mystery, it seems to me, isn’t simply about water lilies. It’s also about us. Especially now. Not simply because each of us is beautiful, but because taken together, we reflect the light of a mystery beyond ourselves. Something beyond our beauty, our flaws, and our “unstoppable decay.” To say nothing of the muskrats (whose days are also numbered) looking to take us down one by one.

Especially now.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 July 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

On a walk-around

On a walk-around
In my lofty attic
Sunday morning silence
Permeates the air

My mind and heart
Fly home revisiting
Large and small circumstances
Of my unscripted life

Memories flood back
Unsolicited reminders
Of turning points and
Individuals

Each a small piece of
What feels strangely like
Home away from the home
Of my weathered body

Not as it might have been
But as it was and is
In real time with real people
Some of them jerks

Important pieces
Of a great puzzle that
Still shape and encourage
Me into this —

A real woman with a real
Voice and calling
A disobedient beautiful
Daughter of Eve

Unfinished and sometimes
Impatient I wait wondering
What more will happen
Along the way

This week I’m going to schedule a first meeting with my new palliative doctor. I wasn’t expecting the end of my life to take this turn. Nonetheless, I see this new possibility as a wonderful gift. And yes, it will take significant thought and work on my part. Not just on behalf of myself, but with family members and doctors.

I anticipate getting things in some semblance of order, adjusting my thinking about what lies ahead, and enjoying what I most want and love to do. Which will certainly include writing.

Happy Monday to each of you!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 July 2019
Photo of Tybee Island Beach found at visitsavannah.com

Death and The Kookaburras

First, a poem from me, a few comments, and a poem from Mary Oliver.

One loss at a time
The challenge is laid down
So transparently
The message cannot
Be mistaken

It’s time to let go
To hold each day lightly
To give up great expectations
And the hope of getting
To the top of Mt. Everest
Or even within its foothills

Yet my body and soul
Cry out for more –
More time
More energy
More beauty
More music
As greed sets in
Along with hunger
For what I think
I’ve lost
Or never had

I’ve been unusually restless this past week. It was wonderful to connect with my new palliative care doctor on the phone. Now I’m waiting for my first face-to-face conversation, and find I’m uneasy.

Is this really what my life has come to? Something in me wants to hang on just a bit more, even though I know it’s time to begin letting go and shifting my attention and energy to what’s yet possible. On the other hand, who knows what Mt. Everest I’ll yet climb or even fly above in ways I never dreamed of.

Mary Oliver’s poem “The Kookaburras” has haunted me for the past week.

In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn’t want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

©Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, p. 87
Published by Beacon Press , Boston, 1992

That’s the challenge, isn’t it? The struggle between hanging on and letting go of what we were never meant to imprison. Not ourselves, not other people, and not kookaburras who just want to fly home to their river.

I want to let my spirit, my soul fly home. I also recognize the coward and procrastinator in me, wanting to say no, and walking away without unlatching the cage.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2019
Photo found at australianmuseum.net.au

A July 4 quandry

All day I’ve been wondering how to celebrate our nation. We have a system intent, it seems, on other-destruction and self-destruction. Though it’s most visible in the breakdown of our democratic ideals, it’s also visible in the way we treat strangers coming into our country. Is this the beginning of the end? Is there reason to hope? A few comments follow my poem.

Ignorance and Fear
clothed in swaggering Pride
peer down with Contempt
born of Lonely Bitterness
intent on Self-Destruction

And yet….“Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Today is our annual National Pride day—the 4th of July. A grand celebration of the nation I love yet scarcely recognize not simply today, but in the history of our occupation of this land.

It’s easy to point to the behavior of certain officials in public office. In fact, they might be at or near the top of my list. Nonetheless, their behavior amplifies and builds on behaviors and attitudes already festering in our daily lives.

From the perspective of an ant on the ground (that would be me), it seems we’re doomed to more downhill behavior from all quarters. The sky is falling, isn’t it?

Yet the verse above comforts me. Chiefly because of my own ignorance and fear clothed in swaggering pride. I no longer fear the Judge of my worst imagination. Yes, my fear was fed by faces and behaviors of persons who judged me harshly—and taught me to judge myself harshly.

However, unlike them, the Judge of all the earth sees everything about me. That includes what was and was not done to or for me, along with what I’ve done or not done, and why.

Even more amazing, this Judge of all the earth invites me to come just as I am, without fear and without excuses. Why? Because this Judge is the Only One who understands me better than anyone, including myself.

The challenge is clear. I can’t count on this for myself without counting on it for others. The Judge of all the earth will do right for each of us. Not necessarily in my lifetime or yours, but at the right time and perhaps in unexpectedly gracious ways.

Here’s to a thoughtful and happy 4th of July!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2019

The way from here

 

The way from here
Grows narrow
A finely chiseled path
From this life
To a world as unknown
As life beyond
The womb

When did birthing begin
And when will it end?

Wondering out loud
I search for midwives
To encourage me now
As in the past
How many and for how long
I cannot say
As I set out on another adventure
Another letting go
Another arrival
Somewhere
Into the waiting hands
And hearts of those
Who love me in life
And in death

How do we learn to die? How do we learn to give birth? How do we learn to say enough is enough? Or no, thank you, I’m not going to opt into our reigning medical model of trying whatever can be tried in order to live a bit longer. Comfort care is one thing; unrealistic hope for healing is something else.

My waking dream this morning led to the poem above. The dream suggested I need help, a midwife or two, to get through the last pieces of my journey on this earth. I might even need to become a midwife to myself. Not just by reading books, but by seeking out professionals to help me navigate what lies ahead.

I anticipate writing and talking about how this works out for me, and commenting on books I’ve been reading. My major guide will be a palliative care doctor I spoke with today. She won’t replace my other wonderful doctors. Instead, she’ll help me work with medical personnel, family members and others. I’m not willing to stay alive at all costs. So how will I get from here to there?

Today has been an up and down day. Lots of emotion about making the telephone call, and huge relief when the doctor said she would take me on. I know this isn’t a very popular topic. So I’m especially grateful if you’ve read to this point.

With hope, gratitude and a teeny tiny sense of adventure for what lies ahead,

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2019
Photo found at bastyr.edu

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring
Aunt Margie’s wooden jewelry box with drawers
Mother’s dainty embroidered handkerchiefs
Faded photos from years long gone
Fragile connections to my past and present
Links to times and people I knew
Reminders that I’m not alone

And what will remain of me –
What left-behind bits and pieces carry
Hints of the woman I was and now am
Woven into lives of family, friends and strangers
Lives that touched mine giving and taking
Hints of pasts we scarcely remember
Reminders that we are not alone

With gratitude for all who have left marks on my life. Memories, greeting cards, notes, photos, comments on academic papers and blog postings, my piano teacher’s pencil notes in my piano books, a small Celtic cross from a friend when a family member died, and on and on. Each a gem and reminder that we’re not alone.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2019
Image of old Valentines found at etsy.com

Staring at a blank page

Staring at a blank page
Wondering what lies within
This relentless transition
From life on earth to whatever
Comes next

This morning’s air is heavy
With unanswered questions
More waiting in the wings
And the invisible fog of
Not knowing

I hear the clock chiming out
The hour of the day and wonder
What day and hour it is in the
Brief picture of my life
On this earth

Surely this isn’t what You meant
By numbering my days
Though I do sometimes long
To return to the womb and
Start over

Today is already half gone
Never to be relived and likely
Never grieved just forgotten
A small yet significant piece of
Your great puzzle

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

The ‘one day’ plan

Rain comes and goes
Cold seeps into pores
Weariness descends in clouds
Of gray humid air

I wait for sunrays
To emerge even briefly
through tiny windows of escape
Reminders that beauty
Lives and loves life
Fiercely if not forever

The poem reflects what I saw from my kitchen window this morning. Rain followed by teases of sun. Back and forth through the entire morning.

The weather reminds me of my life right now. Dreary one moment, brilliant the next! Sometimes changing without rhyme or reason. Always happy to see the sun come out.

D’s photo at the top caught clouds dissipating into wispy, beautiful formations. Almost like giant feathers in the sky, blown along by a breezes high in the atmosphere. Slowly I’m learning to relax into not knowing how each day will unfold, and into letting go of half the stuff I think I can do in any given day.

Last week I met an intriguing young man in the Longwood Conservatory. Joe was sitting beside me, in a wheelchair. He told me he’s on the ‘one day’ plan due to a genetic disorder that isn’t going away. We talked awhile before his friends took him to see more beautiful plants and flowers.

Joe was one of those sunrays that managed to emerge through the clouds, intent on loving beauty and life fiercely. One day at a time.

Happy Friday to each of you!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens Meadow, 12 June 2019

The mind is the last to consent

Or, Semi-poetic thoughts about death and dying

The mind is the last to consent –
Alternative scenarios tease us
Surely this can’t be the end
Wispy threads dangle enticements
We could try this or look into that
Prayers for miracles multiply

Cheerful faces mask sad truth —
The patient is dying, yet anguish
And well-meaning hope sometimes
Impede consent to the obvious
Resulting in further digressions
That produce even more anguish

The end is upon each of us sooner
Not later, with or without goodbyes

To ‘give in’ to death may seem to be
Callous dismissal of those we love
Or loss of hope or lack of faith to
Demand of God great things with
Or without the patient’s consent

Worse, if I’m a medical person perhaps
Giving in means failure to do my job
Even though I may agree that this
Dying person is sick unto death and
We were not created to live forever
In these temporary earth-bound bodies

My hero when it comes to dying is my sister Diane. She chose to go on comfort care after living with ALS for ten years. When she learned she had ALS, she worked with trusted people to identify what she was and was not willing to endure, and where she wanted to die—at home.

Even so, in the end she had to consent to the criteria she herself had itemized. She had to communicate to her doctors and nurses, ‘Enough is enough.’ She also had to trust that those with power of attorney would honor her wishes.

So what does it mean for me to ‘prepare’ for death? At the least, it means living each day well, insofar as I’m able. Especially when it comes to self-care.

I wish that were enough. Unfortunately, given medical structures and practices here in the USA, it isn’t. If I want to avoid getting caught in an endless search for ‘health’ or extension of life, it’s up to me to take the initiative. This includes decisions, paper trails, agreements, and work with family and friends involved with my care and wellbeing.

I can’t do this alone. I’m reading books, and have family and a few friends with whom I can talk. Yet it’s up to me. Even so, there’s no guarantee my wishes and directives will be honored. We don’t always get to choose the time or manner of our deaths.

Blessings to each of you, and thanks so much for listening.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, 12 June 2019

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