Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

life takes the long road

I wrote the poem below just over four years ago. Today, we’re locked into national and international upheavals. They reverberate with hatred, fear, anxiety, and a level of human panic that grows by the hour. Sadly, the energy for too much of this comes from Christian churches who feel called to return us to a white, Christian nation.

I can’t help thinking about Hitler, the Nazis, and the torture and extermination of human beings deemed unacceptable as fully human or worthy of living. The USA’s role in meeting this worldwide crisis was less than stellar. For a stellar presentation of Hitler’s rise to power, and its impact on the world, check out this link. D and I watched the series recently. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Especially in light of today’s wars here, abroad, and in churches.

In addition to this, my health and age keep reminding me that I’m far along on my journey. Each day brings decisions I don’t want to make. If I do this, I can’t do that. Sometimes I’m tempted to give up. This poem helps bring me back to what really matters right now.

life takes the long road
through majestic terrain
gleaming and foreboding

daylight falls quickly
below horizons
of narrow vision
ablaze with dying day

The photo at the top, taken in Scotland, is breathtaking. As breathtaking as a single life that burns out boldly before fading into darkness.

It reminds me that what’s happening in and behind the “news” is often not good news, and easily becomes a distraction from the larger picture. The long view doesn’t promise me an eternity. It does, however, invite me to keep my perspective clear.

One of my readers left a wonderful comment in response to yesterday’s post. In it she shared a comment from a friend of hers in India. Here it is–a way of putting things into proper perspective:

WORLD: How could you stay in the Church after all the scandal?
ME: You don’t leave Jesus because of Judas.

Here’s to a thoughtful Wednesday.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2018, edited with opening comments, reposted 12 October 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Arrowhead | Mary Oliver

My home is full of relics. Bits and pieces I’ve gathered over the years. Memories, yes. But is it more? Mary Oliver invites me to think about this. My comments follow.

The Arrowhead

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you still steal,
than lie as you still lie.”

Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early, 2004, p. 185
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books, 2020

Was this a waking dream? The last four lines of the poem gave me a jolt. The unexpected jolt I always have when Mary Oliver’s lovely poetic words suddenly rip the cover from our complacency. The topic of this poem is stealing. It seems our nation might be addicted to stealing.

However, this is about more than our nation.

It’s tempting to think of Mary Oliver as a nature lover who sees beauty in everything. But truth be told, many of her lovely poems are salted with barbed wire. Her words dare us (and herself) to ignore what’s right in front of us.

These are hard times. Some might say we’re headed toward doomsday. However, this poem isn’t about doomsday. It’s about what many, if not all of us, do daily and without forethought.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten what our own special versions of stealing and lying look like? Especially when it involves highly prized possessions or status.

I recall occasions when my words or ideas were stolen and passed off as someone else’s. Of course, there were also times when my words or ideas were scoffed at. However, most painful was hearing someone else use my words or ideas and pass them off as their own inventions.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire to ‘discover’ or pretend to own what doesn’t belong to me. Words, ideas, and even arrowheads that catch my eye.

Will we ever learn to live with integrity? As citizens, and as a nation? Or have we so muddied the waters that we don’t know where to begin telling the truth. Not just about ourselves, but about our nation.

Praying for honesty, integrity, patience, and determination to honor truth. Especially when it costs.

Thanks for stopping by today,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 September 2022
Photo found at rockseeker.com

Lost in a maze of hallways

This poem, written in August 2015, was prompted by a dream. Today it captures my sense of disorientation as a citizen of this world that seems caught in nightmares. Not just those provoked by wars or the ravages of climate change, but by such ‘normal’ events as daily deaths, daily murders, and the horrors of extended wars.

This week, the death of Queen Elizabeth raised questions about the future. It also took from the world a ruler loved by many, though parts of the British Empire would prefer to be independent.

Today, as a citizen of the USA and of this world, I’m in another maze of hallways. I’m disoriented. Wondering where the exit might be. Not just for me, but for each of us. Our nation is in turmoil. Denial won’t work. Neither will false hopes, or lies about yesterday or 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’s real world? Where are we headed? Or, more important, how much of this make-believe maze of diversions are we going to tolerate?

Thanks, as always, for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2015; reposted on 15 July 2020; revised and reposted on 19 September 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

I could not prove the Years had feet | Emily Dickinson

Clothes that don't fit

In 2016 I first discovered this delightful poem by Emily Dickinson. She was about 32 years old when she wrote it. It’s full of wisdom and a touch of self-directed humor. I still hear it asking me to examine myself. Especially now. Not in a morose way, but with eyes and ears that understand I’m not the person I was when I first began blogging.

I could not prove the Years had feet –
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done –

I find my feet have further Goals –
I smile upon the Aims
That felt so ample – Yesterday –
Today’s – have vaster claims –

I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me –
But something awkward in the fit –
Proves that – outgrown – I see –

c. 1862

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

As usual, Emily speaks her truth indirectly with abrupt, even maddening pauses, and omitted words. Her poem, like her life, is cloaked in mystery and leaves me wanting more detail.

Yet without trying to do so, Emily invites me to reframe my life. To consider where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go.

When I was a child my great big goal was to learn to play the piano. If I could do that, I would be content and ecstatically happy. Or so it seemed back then.

In fact, my life has been shaped by a series of goals that promised a kind of heaven on earth. For example, playing the piano, going to college, having a real boyfriend who really loved me, getting married, having children, going to seminary, teaching in a seminary. Possibilities I never dreamed would come my way.

When I listen to my heart, it invites me to keep pushing the envelope of what feels comfortable to me. I know this feeling—a combination of excitement, dread and anticipation.

I even made a list of things that will keep pushing the envelope. Promise you won’t laugh!

  • Pick up the phone and call someone
  • Knock on a door and say hello
  • Send a card or note
  • Write poetry and share it

They may or may not mean much to other people. But for me, it’s about practicing small behaviors I’ve often found intimidating. In a way, my goal is to pretend I’m an extro/introvert! Oriented outward as well as inward. Though in my introverted way, of course.

Is this possible? Why not? It’s better than setting another lofty goal I don’t need anymore. I need clothes that fit me now. Outfits that allow me to follow my heart, be my own boss (sort of), and maybe even surprise myself every now and then.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 March 2016, edited and reposted 15 September 2022
Photo from the fashionfoot.com

Letting Go

How hard can it get? Pieces of my life surround me day and night. Always reminding me of something I don’t want to forget, or release just yet.

Tons. That’s how much it seems I’ve already let go—books, do-dads, clothes, cards and letters, kitchen utensils, Tupperware, cookbooks, dishes, and plates. Plus files and records from years of teaching and being a dean, boxes of still usable toys for children, and pictures that decorated the walls of our six homes from the East to the West Coast. Still, some days it seems I haven’t even scratched the surface.

In addition, I’m having to bid farewell to pieces of me. I never dreamed I would be so housebound as I am now. Yes, I get out to walk several times a week (when the weather cooperates). However, I don’t leave the house now without my very nice cane, and the added burden of having to step carefully. No more running up or climbing steep hills. No more wandering through the meadow at Longwood Gardens.

Then there are daily choices I didn’t anticipate. Instead of having a plan for each day, I do what I can and leave the rest. Sometimes it’s a relief; other times it feels like I’m losing part of myself in ways I never anticipated. Especially when I want to read or write or visit my blogging friends.

Letting go. I’ve almost always known that each day is about both life and death. Yet until now, I’ve thought of life as the major component of each day. Now, however, there isn’t a day that passes without reminders that death could come at any moment. Mine, or David’s.

For the last several months, I’ve been uncertain what to write about. Perhaps I was avoiding the obvious? Maybe. Still, I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I do, however, know that the community I’ve discovered on WordPress has given me great joy, a little grief, tons of affirmation, and a place to be myself.

Thank you for being there. I don’t know how things will work out, but I do know that I need to be writing about life as I experience it now. Not because it’s so great, but because it’s unspeakably precious.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2022
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, September 2021

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

I like a look of Agony | Emily Dickinson

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson that speaks to our current national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form. I first posted this in May 2018, in response to our escalating hunger for exaggeration rather than truth.

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

c. 1861

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

Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she sees in Death an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.

Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish are strung upon the Brow. Thus, Death gives strange birth to The Truth of Agony and Anguish.

Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. It seems ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.

With apologies to Emily:

We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations, but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight

Perhaps we’ve forgotten or never knew
How to have, much less allow airtime
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony

The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment

Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers

Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name

Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018, lightly edited and reposted 30 August 2022
Photo found at blog.xuite.net

We never know how high we are

Here’s a message for me. Perhaps for you, too? I never dreamed my most daunting challenges would come near the late end of my life. Thanks for stopping by today. Especially given the mess we seem to have gotten ourselves in.

~~~

Dear Emily,
I have one small suggestion to make about your poem below. Please add ‘or queen’ to your last line. Just in case that’s not possible, I’m going to do it for you every time I read it. You’ll find my comments below your lovely poem.
Respectfully,
Elouise

We never know how high we are

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king –

Poem #1176, written about 1870
Found on Poets.org

Dear Friend of this World,
I’m sending you this little poem today from Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never heard of her. I think she was a bit shy and bashful. You know, like many of us who don’t want to become a public ‘thing,’ even though we do enjoy being noticed and appreciated.

I think that deep down, Emily wanted us to know about her little poem. Or at least to notice it. So please read it over, and over again. Once is good, five times is better.

Do you know how important your words and deeds are? Perhaps you’re tempted to water them down by over-thinking. Or you get stuck in fear. Especially fear of failure, or fear of going against expectations–your own or those of others. I do.

Sometimes I wonder whether Emily understood her own queenly power.

If you have any doubt about yourself, look and listen to what you already do every day. Just getting up in the morning is a big deal. Or smiling and offering to help a friend or stranger. Or doing what you know will honor your body and spirit or someone else’s.

The way I see it, God gave us ourselves, each other, and this world with its unnumbered inhabitants as our earthly home. We’re the only caretakers God has on this earth. We’re a big deal, individually and together.

In fact, God loves nothing more than watching us step up to our full kingly and queenly stature. Especially despite our worst fears, and without expectation of payment, reward or even a ‘thank you.’ Sometimes it takes an emergency to jumpstart our royal blood. But we don’t want to wait for that, do we?

Thank you most kindly for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2017, reposted 26 August 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

Will there really be a “Morning”?

This child-like poem from Emily Dickinson still speaks to me. Especially now, five years after I first published it. Imagine you’re a child again, wondering about what comes after this life. Or even what’s already here in this life–given Emily’s historical setting and your own. My response follows Emily’s poem.

Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Man from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!

c. 1859

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

Dear Emily,
I wonder what was on your mind when you wrote this. Maybe the War between the States? Family members who fought in it? Or how about the devastation left behind when so many cities and fertile fields were laid waste via fire?

Some people don’t think things here are that bad now; others don’t agree. I’d say we at least have something like it.

Then again, maybe you were thinking of less visible things. Perhaps a personal loss you couldn’t show the world. Or the piled up anguish of watching one family member after another decline in health and leave this world. Or your keen awareness that this world doesn’t always value what you value, or see things the way you do.

I think we have all of that right now, and more just keeps coming. I also think we’re getting tired of it.

Maybe you were lonely when you wrote this. So lonely that you would have been happy to leave this life behind. You might have been lonely for the birds and insects, trees and shrubs, water lilies and butterflies, sunrises and sunsets. All creatures great and small. Your outdoor cathedral and congregation where you felt safe, understood and appreciated. Without having to explain yourself over and over.

In your poem you call yourself a little Pilgrim. I like that. It’s a very kind and tender way to talk about yourself. Almost, but not quite putting yourself down because you don’t happen to be a scholar, sailor or wise man from the skies. I think you’re already a wise woman, a sailor of sometimes treacherous social seas, and a deep scholar of human life.

Now that you’re There, I wonder whether, as a Wise Woman from the skies, you might tell me where the place called “Morning” lies. Could you? Would you? It seems we have many lost souls here who are looking for that place. If not here, then where? Can you help us find it? Or at least send us a little poem about it?

Your pen pal, Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2017, reposted 18 August 2022
Photo found at collegewritingpoetry.wordpress.com

The Morning Paper | Mary Oliver

Here’s another timely challenge from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver, in A Thousand Mornings, p. 63
 2012 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books

Dear Mary,
Your simple, straightforward words capture the horror and shame of life in these ‘enlightened’ times. If I could find a way of picturing this madness, I would.

But there is no picture to be had, apart from news items that focus on gasp-worthy news, too often distorted or misleading. Plus there’s the ongoing horror of death-by-murder rising. Not “over there” in some far-off country or galaxy, but right under our noses. Not just today or yesterday, but the grand total ever since we began waging war against each other and this planet we call home.

How can we live with integrity without putting our heads in the sand? Or without pretending this will all disappear, or that we will figure out how to save this planet from self-destruction. In the meantime, today’s struggles seem more than enough to keep us preoccupied with our own small worlds.

Your closing lines are a painful challenge.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Perhaps beginning at home would be a start. One person at a time. No heads in the sand, but with eyes and ears wide open, and hearts ready for changes that touch and support real life in real time.

With admiration and gratitude,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

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