Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Writing

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

Dancing with Reality

Taking stock from
The moment I put feet
On the ground
I wonder what this
Day will bring though
I already know the
News won’t be
What I expected

I always thought
A life of healthy choices
Would save me from
The ignominy of so-called
Failure or decrepitude
Despite external indicators
And internal mysteries
To the contrary

This morning I looked into
The mirror of today
Wondering how and
Where and when and why
Things fell out for me
In places I never dreamed
Of meeting on a cold or
Hot day in this short journey

Sinking into a chair I heave
Sighs of relief knowing that
Whatever the next checkup
Brings it won’t destroy
What already wants to
Dance without missing a beat
Or falling to the floor
In sheer exhaustion

I’m still learning what it means to live with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs. Each day offers multiple challenges. Which orthopedic shoes will I wear today? What can I do to keep the pain down? (Would you believe walk more?!) In three weeks I’ll have tests to determine how much damage has already been done.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for informative internet sites that aren’t trying to sell a product, a service, or a magic wand solution to a complex health issue. Here’s a reliable link to the National Institute of Health: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.

Thanks for stopping by, and a belated happy Fall (here in the USA), or Spring (in Australia, for example). In case you’re wondering, the photo at the top is there because I like it. A bit of fall foliage at Longwood Gardens in October 2019.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, October 2019

Life disrupted

Taken the day before our 56th wedding anniversary in
the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Life’s disruptions don’t
Knock politely at the door
No matter the time of day
Or night

How quickly
Things change or
So it seems
Though looking back
The signs were screaming
At me in early warnings
Burning through thick
Clouds of denial
And my belief that this
Couldn’t be happening
To me

I know what it is. I won’t know for over a month the extent of damage already done to my feet and legs. My kind, knowledgeable physician’s assistant will need to poke my feet and legs with needles, among other things. That happens in late October.

Still, I know what this intruder is. It’s already reshaping my life, though I’m not ‘officially’ a candidate for this plague. Peripheral Neuropathy. Fancy words for burning feet and all that goes with it.

Most difficult right now is learning (by hit and miss) how much I can walk or stand on my feet before they scream for mercy. I’m grateful for orthopedic sandals that help ease the pain, though even they can’t make the pain go away. I’m learning the hard way to sit as often as needed, and walk as often as feasible.

This morning I returned to an old discipline that helps me stay centered when things are tough: three pages of nonstop writing. Whatever pops into my mind, no matter what kind of language it requires! I highly recommend it.

Thanks for stopping by, and for being part of my life. The photo at the top is to let you know I haven’t forgotten the promised Longwood Gardens post!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory, 10 September 2021

I go down to the shore | Mary Oliver

Vernon River and Marshland, Georgia, USA

This short poem by Mary Oliver has been haunting me for over a week. My comments follow.

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 1
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

Compact. To the point. No nonsense. Nothing but truth.

That’s how I want to be. Not just in my writing, but in my ability to ‘hear’ what the sea and the sky, trees and birds, clouds and thunder are saying with their busy, if not always lovely work.

The last few months have offered several opportunities to say with Mary, “Oh, I am miserable.” Or better, “Growing older is much more daunting than I dreamed it would be.” Right now I’m inundated with forms to fill out for an appointment with a new doctor next week.

It would be nice to have a shore close by, with the sea “rolling in or moving out.” Or even the Vernon River of my childhood with its 24-hour cycle of ebb and flow.

On the other hand, every morning when I go down to our kitchen I’m greeted by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, flowering shrubs, trees, clouds, wind, rain or sunshine — all with work to do. Whether I feel like working or not. Whether I’m happy or not. Whether the sun is shining or not.

Thanks for stopping by today. And dare I say, in my lovely seashore voice, of course: “Excuse me, I have work to do.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2021
Photo of the Vernon River and Marshland found at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

What makes your heart sing?

On the edge of sanity
my heart skips a beat
uncertain whether to
laugh or cry or fade out
of sight without so much
as a farewell or a hug

Looking around I wonder
why I’m still here after
a lifetime of trying to prove
I’m not a failure or a witch
wanting to poison anyone
intent on taking me down

I no longer believe old lies
about the meaning of life
and who gets to decide
who or what is worthwhile
as too many of us lurch along
drunk with our own goodness

All my life I’ve held tightly to this mantra: “Whatever you do, Elouise, do it well and do it with all your heart, mind and body.”

Rarely did anyone ask me what I wanted to do, what I most enjoyed about life, or what dreams I might have for myself. To attend to what I loved was often seen as selfish.

Instead, the mantra was always about responsibility, showing up, and persevering until the job was done. It seemed sensible, sane, and part of what I could offer, even after retirement.

This past week, in conversation with a longtime friend, I finally got it straight. At this age, I am NOT responsible for most, if not all the things (files and academic records) I thought I needed to hang onto. It’s time to let them go, with thanks to shredders.

Besides life with D and my volunteer work, I love playing the piano, writing, reading, watching birds in the back yard, and looking through old cards, notes and pictures from long ago.

Praying for this tired old world, and opportunities to reach out as I’m able. Plus commitment to things I love. They aren’t distractions from the real work. They’re the main agenda.

What makes your heart sing? Thanks for stopping by!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2021
Tufted Titmouse photo found at thebirdnature.com

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

The Apple Tree

I want to be a poem tree. Reaching out and up to the heavens, blown by the wind of God’s Spirit, sheltering birds, bearing fruit, sinking roots deep into the ground, soaking up water, thriving in sometimes hostile circumstances. The kind of tree Psalm 1 describes.

A tree planted by living water
That brings forth its fruit in its season.
Its leaves don’t wither;
Whatever it does, it prospers.

Poem trees (surely you’ve seen one) don’t have only one way of communicating. Yet their impact is simple. They point to the inexplicable. The way a life sometimes can.

Which reminds me of Jesus of Nazareth. Not just as a human being and God’s beloved son-child, but as a tree. What kind of tree was he?

I think he was a poem tree. Pointing with ordinary words to the inexpressible, to what we discern through and beyond spoken or written words. The truth about God and about us. Grand, yet simple.

As simple and grand as a common, ordinary apple tree. Known and loved worldwide. Dependable, not full of exotic promises about heavenly hybrids that may offer curb appeal, but end up being a disappointment or just another pretty ad.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. I first heard this song in the 1980s when I was studying theology. The lyrics captivated me. I can’t be Jesus Christ the apple tree. Nonetheless, I want to be a poem tree with a small resemblance to the simple, poetic significance of this one life. I also want to rest a while, a very long while, beneath its shade.

To hear a performance of Elizabeth Poston’s haunting tune, click here. It takes only 2 minutes, 42 seconds. Well worth a listen!

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

* * *

Lyrics published in Divine Hymns and Spiritual Songs 1797,
written by Joshua Smith/William Northup

Tune by Elizabeth Poston, 1905-1987, sung here by
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, about 1993.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2015, edited and reposted 20 July 2021
Photo from chiefrivernursery.com

A Lament and a Catbird

Whatever falls from
My tongue daily betrays
My sad acknowledgement
Of growing limitations
And disinterest in
Keeping up with the latest
So-called improvements
Intended to make writing
A joy a bliss or even an ecstasy
Beyond knowing or understanding

Which would be my current
Problem precisely to a T –
Not knowing and not understanding
And beyond that not interested
in finding out how to navigate
the avalanche of ever so
unhelpful changes now multiplying
like lantern-flies or cicadas or
voracious ants or even Smudge’s
daily attempts to cool his body
via white-fur dumps everywhere

No, I’m not going crazy. I’m fed up with the pace of changes. Yes, I have a live-in expert who remembers everything. His on-line name is D. However, he is not paid nearly enough to save me from my own ineptitude.

Here’s reality in a nutshell: I am a writer. I love being a writer. Nothing makes me happier these days than letting what’s inside make its way onto the page and then sharing it with you.

My favorite thing yesterday was watching our back-yard catbird ecstatically splashing in the birdbath, throwing water up into the air with his wings, and catching the drops as they fell on his hot little body. I witnessed three such episodes. I also got a dose of his scolding call when I was cleaning and refilling his lovely little bathtub!

Praying today brings joy in the midst of everyday frustrations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2021
Photo of catbird bathing found at thebackyardnaturalist.com

In praise of meadows

This morning D and I drove out to Longwood Gardens for a visit. Imagine great weather, wonderful breezes, and puffy white clouds floating beneath a bright blue sky.

D is downloading his photos even as I write this. So yes, you’ll get to see some awesome photos later. In the meantime, here’s one of my early poems, written in 2015 after a visit to Longwood’s still new Meadow Garden. D took the photo above during a Meadow visit in August 2014.

By 2015 I’d been retired from the seminary for several years, and had been blogging since late December 2013. I didn’t have much self-confidence, and felt like an odd ball without a home.

Looking at photos taken in Longwood’s Meadow Garden gave me the idea for this poem. For me, the meadow is the highlight of Longwood Gardens. Not the meticulously planted, pruned and displayed wonders of an estate garden, but the wild, unpredictable beauty of a large meadow inhabited by birds, bees, butterflies and other small creatures.

Here’s the poem–unchanged from its first debut.

Is there something to be said
for wild, lightly cultivated gardens—like meadows?
Not showcases of stunning flowers and cultivated flower walks,
But life-giving, naked, raw beauty—
able to withstand harsh weather with grace—
Welcoming visitors of all kinds.

I want to be a meadow garden
With paths for thoughtful feet
Space for tears and laughter
Occasional butterflies and birds,
Spiders, moths, and ‘lesser’ life forms.

Perhaps the wildness of my internal life
Wants to be honored, named and lightly cultivated?
Recovery isn’t about taming life.
It’s about reclaiming it—
The semi-wild meadow
that hears and sees music 24/7.
That’s what I want to be. Living life
naked, lightly cultivated and beautiful.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 June 2021 (poem first published in March 2015)
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Meadow Garden, August 2014

Breakfast with the Birds

brazen bold bluejay
hogs large birdfeeder
grabs one seed and bolts

small chipping sparrow
flees to small feeding window
to make a withdrawal or two

quick brown chipmunk
vacuums between green grass blades
packing cheek pouches with loot

one male blackbird
flashes bright red wing bars
coming in for fast food takeout

I sit behind my kitchen window
grateful to be alive
and eating indoors

Most days I’m mesmerized by the way birds cooperate in order to get a bite to eat. Actually, I’m not sure they’re cooperating. They seem to love or at least tolerate their unspoken pecking order, which lies at the bottom of most of their unruly behavior.

Almost every day I wonder what it would take to live in a different human pecking order. One based on need and the desire to survive together. Not on our current order driven by size, brilliant feathers, or loud, rude voices.

Last night I was feeling down. Having my computer keyboard die on me yesterday was more than I’d planned on. Most evenings, I write in my journal. Last night I decided to read from Without a Flight Plan. It was just what the doctor ordered. A bit of birdseed to get me through the night.

This post was created with thanks to D for loaning me his ThinkPad.
Thanks to you for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2021
Photo found at ebay.com

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