Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Writing

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

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

Jesus and the Disinherited | Howard Thurman

His days were nurtured in great hostilities
Focused upon his kind, the sons of Israel.
There was no moment in all his years
When he was free.

Poem fragment quoted on p. 34 of Jesus and the Disinherited. From Thurman’s privately published volume of poems, The Greatest of These, p. 3.

This summer I’ve been reading Howard Thurman’s relatively short book (less than 100 pages), Jesus and the Disinherited. It’s more relevant today than ever before. A sad commentary on our nation’s untenable situation, past and present.

Thurman’s book describes

  • What happens inside the disinherited
  • What their most difficult struggles are about, daily
  • And why Jesus (not Paul) is the person to whom they are drawn when it comes to real life as they know it.

Like the disinherited of today, Jesus faced fear, deception, hate, and the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself. This didn’t happen one challenge at a time, but every day, no matter the circumstances. In addition, Jesus was one of the disinherited. He was not a Roman citizen, or an official religious leader of Judaism.

It’s one thing to study our history as a nation (which we must), or the history of slavery in this country (which we must), or our individual backgrounds that led to the prejudices and blindness that shape our lives today. All of this is important.

Still, one thing has eluded me. I’m finding it in Howard Thurman’s book, even though he didn’t write the book for me or other white people. He’s clear about this: This book is for people who are black and disinherited, every day of their lives. What white people will do or think when it comes to the disinherited of today is up to them.

I highly recommend Thurman’s book as a way of recognizing everyday racial realities from the inside out. For me, it makes crystal clear what I’ve lived with all my life. This isn’t just about different approaches to life. It’s about the disinherited, and what it takes for them to survive in this country.

I hope you’ll consider reading it. It won’t change everything overnight. It can, however, strengthen our understanding of what our black and brown citizens and church members are up against every day of their lives. It also shows the importance of listening. Silently. Without attempts to explain or justify ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 August 2020
Photo of book cover found at amazon.com

Faith — is the Pierless Bridge 2

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Two months after breaking my jaw in 2016, I posted Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem. Given today’s troubles, I’m as uncertain now as I was then. How am I to live my life? My comments follow, lightly edited.

Faith – is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not –
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side –
It joins – behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

c. 1864

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

Emily describes an impossible Pierless Bridge stretching out, with no horizon in sight but the sky and water. It doesn’t seem to have visible supports or buttresses. Instead, it seems to stretch out not in front of me, but with me, step by step, as I make my pierless way across the water.

My feet vacillate, uncertain where to go. I’m far from the shore, maybe not far to go. But I don’t know how much farther, or what I’ll find when I reach the goal.

Boldness and courage seem paramount. Closing my eyes, I feel my way along. Not with my hands, but through the bare soles of my feet connecting with what must surely be a mammoth construction of steel, boulders and cement. How could there not be a pier?

I open my eyes, hoping for a glimpse of the goal, but see nothing ahead and nothing behind. Even more distressing, what’s supporting me is no larger and no more visible than one slender, fragile thread of a spider web.

Closing my eyes, I grope along, too far out to turn back. I don’t feel bold or courageous. The way is precarious. I’m full of questions  and more than a bit of doubt.

I don’t have a map or a friendly GPS system to tell me when to leave one foot behind and shift my weight onto the other foot. I just know I’m being drawn and supported by something or someone greater than myself.

Is this journey about strengthening my faith? Perhaps the point isn’t my faith, weak or bold. In fact, I can’t believe that by the time I’ve arrived at the goal, my faith will be strong.

Before my faith and before my birth there was someone or something else. I imagine the Source of my life greeting me from within the Veil to which Faith leads me. Here is the One who birthed me. The One who boldly and courageously watches for me from the other side of my human life, spinning out as needed a fragile yet steel-buttressed thread of Faith—my Creator’s Faith in me. Faith that leads me home, just as I am and yet will be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 June 2016, reposted 29 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Thank you, Mr. Trump – Again

I have not changed my mind since I first published this on 20 June 2018. 

Thank you, Mr. Trump.

I don’t really want to say those words to you. Yet I must. It seems the abuse of power has more educational value than all the well-intended lectures and lessons of this world.

Just think about it for a half-minute. Who would have thought we could all so quickly know the meaning and the impact of things that are ‘systemic.’ Evil is systemic.

Simply put: What happens in one corner of the world has tentacles that reach to every other corner of the world, sooner or later.

Good is also systemic. Ultimately, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe good will triumph, though at an exceeding high cost. Perhaps we’re paying it now?

In the meantime, systemic evil seems to be our sad and sorry tutor these days. As I see it, thanks to your moves and counter-moves and flourishes of your pen, we now recognize and feel the impact of systemic evil.

Soy farmers get it; steel manufacturers get it; those without a living wage get it; people who live on the streets get it; human beings from the wrong side of our southern border get it; people with skin that isn’t your color get it; people in mansions get it; and so do people in power. All this and more.

Of course some ‘get it’ more than others. And some are happy to get it at great cost to others. This becomes crystal clear as the consequences of evil multiply and hive off faster than ants or bees. Though even the bees are feeling systemic neglect as well.

Perhaps the word evil is bothering you. No problem. I can use another word. How about systemic lying? Systemic cheating? Systemic abuse? Systemic violence? Systemic greed? Systemic robbery? Systemic inhumanity? Systemic distrust of scientific research? Systemic neglect of those most in need of help? Just to name a few.

We don’t live in air-tight surroundings. We live in complex webs of connections, even when we think we’re living disconnected. Or off the grid. Which is, in itself, another form of denial.

No President of the United States has made the word ‘systemic’ so clear in so little time as you have, Mr. Trump. As a theology professor who struggled often to explain how systemic evil works in the world, I have to hand it to you. You’ve done a masterful job in very short order.

There’s just one hitch. You give every sign that you believe you’re an island unto yourself. Able to push and shove the world around at will or by hook and crook, hiding beneath your POTUS status and your highly proclaimed ability to practice the art of the deal.

Sadly, your relentless pushing and shoving is painfully and abusively open to inspection every moment of every day, whether you attempt to hide it or not. I wish I could feel sad for you. Instead, I’m mourning what’s happening to my friends, my neighbors, my family, our country and our integrity as one nation among many.

Not that we were perfect before you became POTUS. We were not. Nor will we ever be. Still, it seems that what we’ve become as of today or even tomorrow will never, ever be called ‘great.’

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 June 2018, reposted on 28 July 2020
Image found at ideas.hallmark.com

The High Cost of Living in the USA | Part 2 Revisited

This old post gets regular random visits these days. So here it is again, with one exception: The high cost of living in the USA is much higher today than it was two years ago.  

The high cost of living in the USA has fallen on African Americans from the beginning of this nation. The goal has been and still seems to be this: Keep ‘them’ in their places and optimize the gains of those in power. Including the power of those of us who think we have no power.

The high cost didn’t go down when slavery was outlawed. We simply notched it up with lynching, and then discovered mass incarceration. Some argue that mass incarceration is simply the latest way to get cheap labor and ‘disappear’ black or brown Americans without getting into legal trouble.

Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes and no. Yes if you’re able to reach and maintain inner freedom and courage in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. Perhaps we’ve looked to the wrong heroes to show us what true freedom and bravery looks like.

More than one of my younger African American male seminarians said he didn’t think he’d live to be an adult. Besides a history of slavery, lynching and entrenched racism, we witness or read about random gun violence every day, entrenched poverty, and limited options regardless of ability. Add to this the availability of drugs and alcohol, and the mistake of being black or brown in public spaces.

In April 2018 a new Memorial to Peace and Justice opened. It makes visible our history of slavery, lynching and now mass incarceration. I want to visit this new Memorial before I die. Why? Because it’s also about part of my heritage.

In summer 1950, my family moved from California to rural Savannah, Georgia, just a short walk from what we called ‘colored town.’ I wasn’t aware of animosity between races. I was, however, painfully aware of economic disparities on display every day. Not just in our rural community, but in the city.

I now know, thanks to this interactive map, that the state of Georgia is #2 in states with the most lynchings on record between 1882 and 1930. From 1877 to 1950, Georgia lynched 586 black men, women and children. How many were lynched in your state?

I’m told I enjoy white privilege. It’s true. When I get up in the morning I don’t have to worry about things like being seen in public as a white woman. For me, this ‘privilege’ is white ignorance or worse. By breathing the air around me, I learned to be blind and unresponsive to what’s right before my eyes.

I don’t think the solution to our problem lies in miles of data. I’m rooting for poets, songwriters, storytellers, and truth tellers. Including truth-tellers like those who birthed this new National Memorial.  Plus pieces of lost history embroidered on small bags.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 May 2018, edited and re-posted 17 July 2020
Photo found at Wickipedia; y Shameran81 – Courtesy Middleton Place, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55786120

Lost in a maze of hallways

In August 2015 I wrote and never posted this poem. Prompted by a dream, it describes my inner sense of disorientation as a new blogger. I wanted and needed to tell the truth. Still, I was uncertain how to proceed, how to find my way home to myself.

Today, as a citizen of the USA, I’m in another maze of hallways. I’m not in a dream. I’m disoriented. Wondering where the exit might be. Not just for me, but for all of us. Our nation is in turmoil, anguish and pain. Denial won’t work. Neither will a constant diet of diversionary tactics, or fake promises about tomorrow.

I’m wide awake lost in a maze of hallways
filled with small shops and out-of-sight
merchandise if only I will give up my
determination to find the exit and go home.

The young man with me seems happy to
be there smiling at me while dragging
his feet and holding me back with his
nonchalant air of everything’s fine just fine.

It is not fine. I know it. I feel it. I keep
looking around searching for the way out
I know this mall. I’ve been here before.
What happened to all the old landmarks?

Doors are locked. Other doors open onto
new hallways filled with glittering shops
and female shopkeepers smiling and asking
for my attention and presence. Won’t I stay?

I seek help from a woman standing in the
doorway of a small shop. She assures me
I’m not lost and will find the exit if I keep going
Her words soothe but fail to help me.

I wake up troubled not anxious yet
eager to know the meaning of this
frustratingly endless dream lost
in a maze of diversions going nowhere

So what about today? In my real world? So far: A walk with D through the neighborhood, writing, pondering challenging material about white racism in USA churches, along with a Psalm of Lament. On the whole I’m feeling grounded, and grateful for friends and family members. Which includes Smudge, of course!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2015; posted on 15 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

Lost

Lost–

Not simply to myself
but to others who think
they’ve found me

as though I were a box
of brown/white/red/black/yellow rice
sitting on a bottom shelf

Even writing
feels like wandering
down neglected back roads

and fake inroads
littered with poisonous comments
I’d rather not hear

Much more of this
and I’ll be certified useless–
stuck in todays’ sorrows

wondering how this came to be
and why I find myself on the
bottom shelf in the back row

As a nation we’re lost in warring madness, even though there’s been no official declaration of war.

I’m grateful for heated dialogue, courageous and persistent protests, and demands for sorely needed change. I’m also grateful for medical and support personnel as well as researchers paying attention to Covid-19 patterns and realities.

Without them, we wouldn’t have documentation about the high cost of Covid-19 to Black lives (see visual chart above). Nor would we hear about the high inhuman cost of rewarding corporations and Fat Cats on the take.

Still, we don’t yet have a clear path forward that takes these realities into account, or nation-wide strategies to create fair playing fields for all denied basic human rights and dignity. The next Presidential election feels like light years away.

I wonder how all this affects you, and your daily decisions. I’m still feeling my way along, grateful for WordPress and for you.

Thanks for visiting and reading!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 June 2020
Graphic chart of COVID-19 impact on NYC neighborhoods found at rollingstones.com

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