Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Thank you, Anita Hill

In October 1991 I listened to your courageous testimony about Clarence Thomas. Your words took me back to my first boss. It was 1960. I’d just graduated from high school and was now a clerk in a bankruptcy court. We called the boss ‘Judge,’ though he was actually a referee in bankruptcy. He’d held this governmental appointment for years. He was about 60 years old; I was 16.

By 1991 I’d told only my husband the truth about my first boss. From the beginning, the Judge was on a mission to take me down a notch or two by way of sexual innuendo and outright inappropriate behavior toward me. He knew I was under-age, that my father was an ordained minister, and that I was a Christian. He said he was a Christian, too, and reminded me from time to time of his church membership.

I didn’t know what hit me. I got through three summers plus one full year, thanks to the friendship of other women working in the office, and the kindness of a few male attorneys who knew the Judge and witnessed some of his behavior toward me.

Back then the term ‘sexual harassment’ hadn’t been invented, or connected to Abuse of Power as an issue in the workplace. In addition, my childhood home where I still lived didn’t offer a safe place to talk about anything related to sex.

Flash forward to October 1991, and your testimony before the Senate Committee. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude for at least two things.

  • First, your personal account was the first I’d ever heard from a professional woman talking about repeated sexual innuendo and inappropriate behavior in the work place.
  • Second, your courage gave me courage to begin talking about this without fear or shame.

I’m sad this happened to you. I’m sad things happened to me. I’m sad things like this still happen every day to others.

Am I angry? Yes, I am. Angry that even in today’s reports from powerful women about powerful men, we’re still using the language of “if this is true.” Which conveniently overlooks the power imbalance that was in place when the alleged behavior happened. To say nothing of optics and the appearance of evil that seems now to be embraced, not avoided. Embraced, and laughed at in a zillion cartoonish ways.

We are not the world’s latest sleazy entertainment opportunity. We are women with every right to stand up and tell the truth about what happened and didn’t happen to us. And why it must stop now if we’re ever to be Great. Not again, but for the first time ever.

May God grant us serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Thank you for showing me how this is done. Not just then, but throughout your professional career.

Respectfully,
Elouise Renich Fraser

For a 2016 PBS News Hour video discussion between Gwen Ifill and Anita Hill, click here. It’s outstanding.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2017
Photo found at gq.com

I was just a beginner…

I was just a beginner when it happened. In a supposedly safe place. I had a title and stature within an academic community.

From my childhood I’d experienced worse. Regularly. In ways that raised deep shame and self-blame in me. Bad girl.

But this was different. I was an adult. A colleague among adults who were followers of Jesus Christ.

It happened in a crowded hallway between classes. Without a whisper of warning. Just walking to my next class, in conversation with an adult man.

He wasn’t a stranger and he wasn’t my father. He professed to be a supporter of women’s full humanity, and our right to fair and equal access to theological education as students and as professors.

Perhaps he wasn’t thinking? I could give a thousand questions you might have asked me. None would have erased the sudden chill and shame of feeling an uninvited hand patting me on my butt.

I switched my briefcase to my right hand, moved over slightly and kept walking through the hallway as though nothing had happened. Indeed, it never happened again. I maintained my distance, without giving up my friendly demeanor.

My friend touched my body in a way I wouldn’t dream of touching his. It wasn’t a hand on my arm, but my butt. I believed that any attempt to draw attention to this would have made things worse. I felt trapped.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not my big #MeToo story. I’ve already told that in earlier posts—not just about the Shopkeeper, but about my father’s attempts to subdue me, and my first employer’s determination to humiliate me as a young woman just out of high school.

So why tell it? After all, it happened in the blink of an eye.

I’m telling it because we need to attend to the daily impertinences and seemingly small ways in which women, girls, boys and men who aren’t considered manly are reminded of their place and who has power over them.

I’m also telling it because there are millions of everyday people aching to let someone know what happened or is now happening to them. Are we able and willing to listen from our hearts? Without offering solutions or trying to re-write the stories we hear?

Sometimes silence and listening without judgment are the best gifts we give each other. In fact, to listen well is to follow well. The way I imagine Jesus Christ following us and being there when we’re ready for help.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…. (from Psalm 23)

I’m grateful for the women, men, young people and even children who have listened to my story, and shared with me their own experiences. In some ways, this is the table God has set before me in the presence of my enemies—who are more like I am than I could ever guess.

Praying you have a wonderful Sabbath rest.
Elouise 

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 November 2017
Photo found at theanvilnewsletter.blogspot.com
Daily Prompt:Neophyte

Our National Nightmare

Burning with contempt
We peer into the mirror
of our discontent
strutting proudly
through our dens
down hallways
of our disbelieving minds

Deliriously happy
to be Great Again
Or
Deliriously happy
we are Not Like That

There, but for the grace of God, go I?
Really, my heart?

This moment is full of danger and opportunity. The opportunity to work on our national homework—long overdue.

Perhaps it’s too late for some. It’s never too late for our surviving children and the surviving children of this world.

Is this a nightmare from which we’ll one day wake? Or is it the nightmare that will take all of us down—together yet divided.

Every time national events cause deep revulsion or fear in me, I know it’s time to take stock. What is this national nightmare trying to say to me right now?

It doesn’t matter which issue we’re dealing with. White supremacy, human trafficking, pornography, sexual abuse and predators, political gridlock, opioid epidemic, mass killings, racial profiling, homegrown terrorism, corporate greed, broken promises, or a hundred other issues. Plus a steady dose of twitter-like hyper-inattention.

It’s all part of our National Nightmare, not new, yet starkly in focus and fed by Mr. Trump’s persona and ubiquitous presence in our media.

No one can deal with everything. So I’ve chosen a few things to explore between now and Christmas. Things with which I’ve had close encounters of the uncomfortable sort, each of which boils down to one very large issue: Abuse of Power.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for caring and doing what you can to level the imbalance of power around you. Right in your own backyard.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2017
Daily Prompt: Strut

early morning

A flock of small birds
speeds south
high above tree tops

Early morning sun shivers
behind gray clouds
creeping across the sky

Next to the radiator
my cat huddles
soaking in precious warmth

Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were a bird or clouds or a kept cat. Then again, I don’t think that would be nearly as adventuresome as getting up each day wondering what it will become by nightfall.

I don’t know why I’m the woman I am, why I was born into this skin, or why I had no say about the family or country into which I was born.

I used to fret about this, as though things would be better if I were someone else. Born to different parents, at another time and in another place.

Today I love who I am as one of God’s creatures. Small, yet as precious as the smallest hummingbird making its annual migration from North to South. Flying, not tiptoeing my way into the next season of my life. Held in God’s large hand.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 November 2017
Photo found at pinterest.com
Daily Prompt: Gingerly

shades of dusk

cleansing water sweeps
sands of time with burning gold
dust dropped from heaven

***

I was just looking through some photos, getting ready to shut down for the night, and this haiku happened. I love dusk, when everything holds its breath, and the sky comes close to earth with no sound but waves washing onto the beach. The photo reminds me of my childhood and teenage years in Savannah, Georgia, and the old wooden pier at the Tybee Island Beach–though this one is a bit more substantial.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2017
Photo found at pixabay.com

Dancing with Chrysanthemums | Photos

Chrysanthemums have never been my favorite flower. When I was a starry-eyed teenager, getting a chrysanthemum corsage from an admirer was distinctly less impressive than an orchid corsage. Not that I had many opportunities to receive such favors, thanks to the strict No Dancing Rule in my family. Still, I got the occasional corsage for banquets, and orchids were the best!

Orchids are still magical–witness the orchid photo below, taken in Longwood’s ever-blooming orchid house.

Yet my appreciation for chrysanthemums is growing.

Longwood’s annual Chrysanthemum Festival is about more than flowers. It pays homage to Japanese Americans, their homeland, and the way they’ve enrich our lives daily with beauty and grace. The numbers of ‘pilgrims’ to this Festival is substantial, including homegrown and overseas families. I find this humbling, given our history with Japanese Americans during World War II, including the bombing of their country.

Here’s a quick tour, including a very short video about growing and shaping those huge Longwood Chrysanthemum ‘mushrooms.’ Did you know each of them is only one chrysanthemum plant, patiently trained, shaped and transported into the Conservatory?

First, some favorite photos from the main Conservatory. The huge Japanese lanterns rolling on the grass have tiny lights inside, not visible during the daytime–I’m sad to say!

As promised above, here’s what it takes to create just one of those stunning Thousand Bloom Chrysanthemum plants. Longwood Gardens made the video in 2009. It’s only 3 and a half minutes long.

Finally, here are a few more Japanese lantern photos. First, from the silver, gray and blue cactus garden. These lanterns also have tiny lights inside. You might be able to spot a few if you look carefully at shaded lanterns in the second photo.

And finally, a few spectacular shots of the passageway that runs beside this garden.

Thanks so much for taking time to stop by today!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2017
Photos taken by DAFraser, 28 October 2017, Longwood Gardens Chrysanthemum Festival
Daily Prompt: Dancing

Dear Friends,

No big post for today. Just a little report on what’s happening.

  1. I just got back from voting! Not a big election, but then that shouldn’t matter. I value my vote, especially as a woman with clear convictions and yes, hope for our future.
  2. The weather is going north today–temperatures dropping by the hour. On my way to our polling station I wore my down-filled winter walking coat for the first time this season. Walked fast, voted, and walked fast home, trying to dodge the cold wind. A great start to the day. Not for the faint of heart.
  3. Last Friday I spent most of the afternoon at my primary cardiologist’s office. He’s thorough and experienced–takes his time and looks at every possible angle to make sure my heart is functioning as well as possible. My biggest compliment of the year (so far) came at the end. He looked at my birth date, noted I would be 74 this month and told me I look like I’m 64! Now there’s a really smart doctor. And yes, he also said I’m doing just great, all things considered.
  4. Yesterday afternoon I met up with my friend Rita and her adorable little doggie. We had a wonderful walk and talk through the park and back to her place. She’s in her 80s and is as lively and engaged in life as possible. A beautiful woman from the inside out. Petite and energetic.
  5. Sunday was marked by news about the mass shooting at a church in a small South Texas town. Only 400 town citizens; over 25 dead and many more injured and/or in shock. There have been many mass killings in the USA. Not simply in recent years, but from the beginning. The difference today is that the last three massacres were carried out by loners using various means to kill as many people as possible. Homegrown terrorism, as have been most horrendous mass murders.
  6. Today I joined an online spiritual formation community, and hope to get into an online Advent retreat for poets. A friend sent me the link after reading one of my recent posts. I’m excited and energized, especially after studying their website and seeing the quality of people who work with this online community. It looks like just the thing for me right now.

Well, that’s about it. I hope your Tuesday is (or was) filled with gracious surprises!

Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 November 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser in Brisbane, Australia, November 2015 

Daily Prompt: Faint

ready for harvest


Ripe and ready for harvest
The meadow lies before me
Still standing yet stripped
Of all but essentials

The sum of my present life
Waits for release into new life
Seeds dropped here and there
With no guarantees

There is no cure for death
The goal toward which
Every heartbeat has driven me
The home for which I long

I feel only loneliness and sorrow
At leaving behind loved ones
And this beautiful threatened world

D took this photo on our last visit to Longwood Gardens. No more stunning meadow flowers, and not so many joyous birds and butterflies. Instead, it’s full of late term life, ready to give its well-aged beauty to anyone willing to spend time looking and listening.

It isn’t as perky as it was just a month ago. Still, it isn’t ugly, or a sign that all is lost. Rather, it’s a sign that life is brief and fragile, and that it’s important to love it while we have it. One way or another, death comes to each of us sooner or later. With or without time for last goodbyes or heartfelt conversations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 November 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser, 28 October 2017
Daily Prompt: Panacea

Ikebana and Bonsai at Longwood | Photos


Last Saturday D and I visited Longwood Gardens for a late summer/early fall walk. The flower beds had been put to bed for winter, and the meadow was a seedy expanse of dying yet still graceful grasses. We took a meadow walk, stopped by the children’s railroad display, ate lunch in the café, and then headed over to the conservatory to see the annual Chrysanthemum Festival.

This year the Conservatory went all out with an Ikebana display, a Bonsai display, and Longwood style Japanese Lanterns. Plus thousands of chrysanthemums.

Below are my favorites from the Ikebana display. First, a few things about Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arranging.

  • Ikebana goes back to Japanese Shinto worship of nature, and the Chinese Buddhist tradition of placing flowers on the altar to Buddha.
  • Today it’s more about flower arranging, following ancient rules and forms. Usually the arrangements are in the form of an asymmetrical triangle.

The exhibit hall is normally set up for musical concerts. This time it’s an Ikebana display of various kinds of Ikebana arrangements. All arrangements are by qualified members of the Ikebana Philadelphia Chapter, which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Ikebana International has over 10,000 members in more than 50 countries.

Here’s a look just outside the exhibit hall, back toward the entrance to the Conservatory. You can see Chrysanthemum ‘mushrooms’ popping up, lots of water flowing, and behind all the foliage, lots of visitors!


Turning around from this view, we walked into a large area lined with Bonsai arrangements. Again, this wasn’t a competition, but a display by members of the local Brandywine Bonsai Society. Here are some favorites. I was especially intrigued by the combination displays of ‘large’ and miniature arrangements. The miniatures are shown enlarged; you can also see them beside their exhibit ‘partners.’


Well, friends, I’ve barely touched the Chrysanthemum Festival, and haven’t even begun to show you Japanese Lanterns Longwood style! Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath. It’s bad for your blood pressure.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 November 2017
All photos taken by DAFraser, 28 October 2017

weapons of warfare

intention to harm
shot from loaded heart and tongue
backfires brilliantly
exposing raw self-contempt
seething beneath thin skin

What will it take to give us, as a nation, eyes to see beneath the surface of bully tactics?

The best solution I’ve found is to stand before the mirror of my loaded heart and tongue. I’m still learning to acknowledge, comfort and care for deep wounds inflicted upon me by others and by myself. The cost, however, is high. I have to let others in, allowing them to see and love me in my self-contempt, sometimes showing me how it’s done.

Is this lifetime skill of loving ourselves as damaged yet unspeakably valuable persons modeled in our homes, our churches, our schools? Do we know how to see into bullies without being hooked by their bows, arrows and buckshot ways? Do we know how to value them without giving up the duty of holding them accountable for the harm they do us and others? No matter who they are?

Our nation is drowning in an epidemic self-contempt raging across every boundary on our maps. It festers and erupts within national and state politics, and within the homes and streets of our neighborhoods. Directly and indirectly it fuels every shot of every firearm ever invented. How do we address this crisis? Or even begin to acknowledge it as a national emergency that touches each of us, whether we realize it or not.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2017
Image found at theodysseyonline.com

Daily Prompt: Simmer, Neighbors

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