Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

Our 9/11/1965 Wedding Anniversary

Saturday, 9/11/2021, is our 56th wedding anniversary. Tomorrow we’re taking off for Longwood Gardens to celebrate. Most of the news will be focused on what happened 20 years ago, and the way our nation has changed since then.

So what about 56 years of marriage? When D and I married in 1965, we inherited challenges we didn’t see coming. For my part, I thought all my problems, if I had any, would magically fade away. Instead, it took years to recognize how handicapped I was on our wedding day. Here’s a look at some of what it took for me to address habits and assumptions I brought into our marriage.

  • Admitting I needed help with depression, and connecting with trustworthy people such as Al-Anon friends and my psychotherapist, beginning in my mid to late 40s
  • Telling D things I didn’t want to talk about because I felt embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Listening to D without jumping in to have my say before he finishes what he has to say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Talking about painful mistakes and starting over with small steps, one at a time
  • Learning to accept and live with health issues I didn’t see coming
  • Letting D sometimes do things I’ve usually done for myself, but don’t now have energy to accomplish
  • Accepting less than perfection in housecleaning and keeping to a schedule
  • Taking time to get away from our house via walks in the neighborhood, visits to Longwood Gardens, church as we’re able, and back yard conversations with neighbors
  • Spending time together each evening with Smudge snoozing on our laps

Today my bottom line is still the same as ever: Marriage takes hard work and willingness to die. Not physical death, but dying to my dreams for us, my way of seeing D’s world, my brilliant ideas….and finding there’s hope in creatively rethinking together our daily or long-term challenges. Especially now, 20 years after the 9/11 attack, and just 2 years into Covid nightmares, weather-related upheavals, and a breakdown of goodwill.

Thanks for your visit today! Each moment of today is a precious opportunity to reach out to those we love.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2021
Photo of two lovely couples taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony in Savannah, Georgia. Sister #2 is on the left with her husband (now deceased).

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

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born on 10 September 1935 and died on 17 January 2019. Though today’s world isn’t the world she knew, I hear this poem speaking truth about today’s realities. My comments follow.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 49)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in A Thousand Mornings, 2012

I can’t read this poem without thinking about today’s world. We aren’t simply on the cusp of late fall and winter weather. We’re witnessing with our eyes and hearts the end of an era. The title of the poem is heavy with innuendo.

Mary looks at the changing of seasons and points to the goodness of what doesn’t always seem good enough or lovable enough. Who loves to see flowers wilting, or dry old leaves falling to the ground? Or the warm light of day giving way to the icy darkness of each night?

Instead of mourning the passing of warm weather and beautiful fall days, Mary points to what it means to love this world. All of it. No matter what we think about changing seasons, or about the lovability of family, friends, strangers, or even ourselves.

What’s true of nature reminds me of human relationships. Like flower petals falling to the ground, we, too, move from one season, to the next. No one said this would be easy. Nor do we have any idea what beautiful surprises may be waiting just around the corner. Especially in the midst of unfathomable loss and anguish.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2021
Photo by Sven Brogren found at fineartamerica.com

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

The Funeral

Sitting near the back row
Like a spectator at a show
I didn’t want to see just now
I look on wondering
How soon my short time
On this weary earth be over

The atmosphere is charged
With memories and the beauty
Of one man’s life well lived
As the world slowly fell apart
At its seams spilling the life
We’re called to nurture

I wonder what today’s generation
Feels as stalwart towers of
Strength and kindness crumble
Under the indignities of old age
And aching desires for more than
This world can possibly offer

What we have done we may never
Know with this exception that
Life as we thought it would be
has often become a race for fame
and glory if even for one minute
on an electronic device or poster

The distance from this life to the next
Is less than a heartbeat or breath away
With or without fanfare or our
Determined attempts to impact
This world saturated with lonely
Children and teens and aging adults

The most telling marks are made
By everyday giants who know how to
Listen and love and wait patiently
For vines to ripen and grapes to fall
Into the hands and hearts of lonely
Human beings looking for a friend

Thoughts after attending today’s funeral service for one of our church friends. Born in 1934, Harold knew how to listen, wait, and keep showing up to do whatever needed to be done. Always without fanfare.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2021
Photo of table grapes found at growingproduce.com

On being this old woman

When all is said and done
Who are we
really?

Today I struggled with
my humanity and
my pride

Being this old woman is
A fulltime job
These days

Not what I would wish
on my best friends
or worst enemies

Aching feet and heart
arrhythmias remind
me daily of my age

Yesterday I was a tired
fed-up old lady intent on
getting through

Today I’m still a tired
old lady whose external
glories are fading

And yet the beauty of a
sunset and the song of a
resident wren

To say nothing of that
spectacular rainbow
hugging the earth

make me feel young and
beautiful if only for
a dying moment

Rollercoaster days. Up one day, down the next—with a slowly growing predominance of down days.

This morning I had a check-up for my heart’s irregular rhythms. A young woman with way more expertise than I downloaded and analyzed data stored in Lucy Pacemaker for the last two (Covid) years. Bottom line: my heart is now beating irregularly almost 50% of each day and night. Not good.

This, plus other nagging realities, makes me eager to do what I can while I can. Though life is incredibly complex and unpredictable, it’s also beautiful. If only for a few passing minutes.

I pray you’re finding your way each day, making the most of small opportunities to affirm and support others like and unlike you. Always with one eye and ear alert for unexpected rainbows or the song of a Carolina wren.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 August 2021
Photo found at dewbow.co.uk

an extravagence

an extravagance
of beauty bursts into view
and passes away

Every day and every night beauty comes out of hiding whether I see it or not.

Quixotic, ephemeral, unexpected and gasp-worthy.

I want to hang onto this overflow of grace. Capture it. Tame it. Count on it forever.

Yet like a tantalizing tale, it refuses my misappropriations, and evades capture or any hint that I own it.

Yet there it is, unexpectedly showing up just around the corner, out of reach and in full sight,

Which is to say–life right now is full of extravagant beauty even as it passes away. I want to attend to every second, let go of keeping up appearances, and relinquish what is not mine to keep.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 August 2021
Photo found at forbes.com

Peace is a Gift

alpine-flowers_25137

Sometimes the most helpful thing I can do is listen to what I’ve already written. The last several weeks have been difficult. Not just for me, but for this tired old world that isn’t holding together very well. The poem below, first posted in August 2016, calls me back to what matters most for today and tomorrow, no matter what happens next.         

Nurture peace in your heart—
Welcome and savor it
Cultivate it
Water it
Let it rest
Give it space

Take its time for your time
Wrap it around your body yourself

Your shawl becomes you—
Blue as the heavens
Green as the garden
Brown as the good earth

Living, fragile
Strong, unpredictable
Invasive and healing
Tiny alpine flowers
Silken threads of peace
Woven into mortal beauty
Whispers of heaven

Peace is a gift waiting to be discovered. Not ‘out there,’ but in my heart. Sometimes I lock it away. Give it up for dead. Crowd it out because of fear, sorrow or disbelief. Throw up my hands and let it go as an unrealistic dream.

Other times I want someone to hand me peace on a platter. But peace won’t come from anyone else. It’s already in me, waiting to be re-discovered and cared for. Not once or twice, but as often as needed.

Some people talk about their prayer shawls. I want a ‘peace shawl.’ An outer reminder of an inner reality that’s mine when I’m willing to care for it. No matter what’s going on in my inner or outer world.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2016, reposted 14 August 2021
Photo of Alpine Flowers found at WallpaperWeb.org

For Today and Tomorrow | Psalm 121

The last several weeks have been a roller coaster ride. Up one day, down the next. Hot/cold. Content/discontent. Causes known and unknown such as unresolved health issues, political moves of the unhelpful kind, war and destruction, plus the sinking feeling we’re stuck in old patterns that leave the future of this planet in the hands of the next generation.

This morning D and I went for a walk. The air was warm, humid, and heavy with the sound of cicadas. Just drawing a breath felt like the beginning of the end. As we were walking home, the words of Psalm 121 popped into my head. It’s one of several Psalms I memorized as a child. That would be in the King James Version, of course!

Here it is, slightly updated by me. The Psalm invites me to do something besides ruminating on how I feel or what I think about what’s happening in and all around me.

I lift up my eyes unto the hills, from whence comes my help.
My help comes from You, the Holy One who made heaven and earth.
You will not suffer my foot to be moved; You keep me without drifting off to sleep.
Indeed, You who keep all creation shall neither slumber nor sleep.
You are my keeper; You are the shade upon my right hand.
The sun shall not smite me by day, nor the moon by night.
You will preserve me from all evil; You alone shall preserve my soul.
You will preserve my going out and my coming in from this time forth,
and even for evermore.

No promise of rose gardens, or an easy coast from this life to whatever comes next. Instead, I’m reminded that I owe my full allegiance to our Creator, and that whatever comes next, I won’t be abandoned.

Good words for a mixed-up world full of anxious people everywhere. Including me.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 August 2021
Photo of hills in Judea taken by David Shankbone; found at wikipedia.com

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