Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

What’s happening in my life

Dear Friends,

The last two weeks have been a roller-coaster ride, mostly downhill and out of control. My youngest sister has been and still is in the hospital after a Christmas Eve health emergency. Her future situation is unsettled, and her adult son is looking into multiple scenarios and choices. It all feels topsy-turvy. Like being shaken, not knowing where Sister #4 will land, or how it will change the landscape of our relationships with her.

The photo at the top shows our mother on the left, and the four of us. From left to right: Sister #2, #3 (Diane), #1 (me), and #4, now in the hospital. The photo of the four of us was taken in the late 1990s. This was Diane’s last trip to Savannah before ALS made travel like this impossible. Mom died in 1999, Diane in 2006.

I’m exceedingly grateful today for each of my sisters and for the relationships we developed with each other as adults. I grew up starving for sisterly conversation. Not because I chose starvation, but because it was the only way to survive the strictly enforced Good Girl Rules of our family.

In the midst of all this I received a congratulations message from WordPress. I passed my 6th Year anniversary! When I started out, I was terrified. What would I say and how would I say it? I still ask myself that question almost every day. Yet it doesn’t feel as terrifying as it did back then.

If anyone asked me today what I’ve learned so far as a blogger, it’s this. I’ve learned to trust myself and my readers. Putting pieces of my life out there was, and sometimes still is difficult. Yet I don’t know any other way to keep healing and finding my way from here to there, wherever these places might be.

I’m still getting back to regular posting, and some semblance of resolution about the current family emergency. Thanks for your faithful visits and prayers.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2020
Photo of Sisters taken in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s.

Monday morning questions

This past week I had a serendipitous moment while shopping for groceries. No kidding!

In the produce department a gentleman stopped me and asked if I was a past president of the seminary where I taught and was dean. I laughed and said no way! I’d been professor and dean, but never president. Nor did I ever aspire to that office.

He laughed with me, and said he’d heard me speak at the seminary. He even remembered what I talked about. I was astonished. He wasn’t one of our students. Today he’s a pastor in this area, and is African American.

In the early 1990s the seminary was challenged by the Rodney King event. Because I was being promoted with tenure, I’d been asked to give the opening academic year address. My title and  text were from Psalm 23, “In the Presence of My Enemies.”  What did we need to do to begin coming to terms with our overt, covert and unrecognized racism?

The bottom line was simple. According to Psalm 23, we’re invited to a table prepared by God. There’s only one hitch. This table is prepared “in the presence of my enemies.” Not God’s enemies, but mine–whether real or perceived. Furthermore, there’s no clear reason to think my real and perceived enemies aren’t included at this table.

So now that we’re sitting at this table prepared for us (the seminary), who’s going to speak first? Who’s willing to break the silence so we can begin getting to know and perhaps better understand and support each other?

This morning I’m thinking about what’s happening all over this world, especially right here in my small territory. I believe God has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies–whether real or perceived.

So who’s willing to go first? Am I? How important is it to me? Otherwise, why am I taking up space at the table?

Events of today and last week make this a not so happy Monday. Yet the presence of our Creator in the territory means there’s more going on than meets the eye. Am I, are we, up to the challenge of daring to speak first? Not to talk about others, but to listen to each other and to ourselves. After all, it’s our Creator’s territory, not ‘mine’ or ‘yours.’

Happy Monday, despite the news and noise of the hour!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Disorder claims the winning hand

With breathless speed life takes us away
And back again to this grieving space
Where time stands still but not quite
Unfolding our own demise and deaths
One wrenching sorrow after another
Seen through the mirror of our likenesses

I thought being oldest was dangerous
When it came to death and dying
Surely I would go first followed in orderly
Succession of eldest to youngest with
Time to laugh and cry and grieve together
Built into the inevitable equation of aging

Yet disorder claims the winning hand
Changing landscapes forever through death
Or in life made more challenging through
Unforeseen clashing of genes and unexpected
Gifts of generations and the heaviness of being
Afflicted with maladies we never expected to visit

On Christmas Eve my youngest sister had a health emergency that will likely change her life, not for the better. I feel as helpless now as I did when Diane (#3) called in the late 1990s to tell us she had ALS.

As a writer, I’ve asked myself this question over and over: What is mine (and not mine) to write about?

I came up with several beginning ideas, including the theme of the poem above. That is, how strange it is to be the oldest, watching any of my younger sisters going through life-threatening health crises. In this case, Diane, who died of ALS in 2006, and now Sister #4 facing unexpected health challenges.

Thanks for visiting today. I’m slowly getting back to blogging regularly. Blessings to each of you and your families with whatever you’re facing today. Especially if it’s something about which you can do nothing but be present, supportive, and aware of what’s going on inside you.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2020
Family photo taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

Waking from dreamland

Waking from dreamland
with a start
I see reality
Simple – Clear – Disturbing

Who is this woman
watching me through
the mirror of today’s
screaming headlines?

Who cares for her
or notices anguish
on her face
and in her eyes?

For whom does she live
and die
this lonely death of
starvation by neglect?

My feet want to walk on by
pretending ignorance
feigning busy-ness or
could it be self-preservation

From her sea of turmoil
she proclaims
our sisterhood
and all that is warped in me

Quickly
I turn the corner
seeking the solace of
Not-seeing Not-hearing Not-living

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 January 2019
Photo found at metro.us

Landscape | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s daily walk around the pond offers a small sermon of sorts. My comments follow.

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, p. 129
Published by Beacon Press

Imagine you’re part of a sheet of moss covering the ground. Often small and unassuming except to students of mosses. Some might say you’re hardly worth noticing, even though the pond and the woods wouldn’t be what they are without your patient presence. Doing what you do best.

Or maybe you’re one of those towering black oaks offering food and shelter, in life and in death, to birds and small animals. Part of an ecosystem as fragile and beautiful as spring flowers.

Does nature have a heart? Mary suggests the crows have been thinking all night about the kind of lives they would like to live. Perhaps imagining “their strong, thick wings” and then bursting into flight at daybreak. Doing with gusto what they’ve already imagined they might do.

Life isn’t simply about the way we imagine ourselves. It’s also about keeping the doors of our hearts open, and going for it every day of our lives. Welcoming each day no matter what it brings. Doing what we do best, with spiritual patience, fragile humility, and hearty gusto.

Looking to the New Year, I want the doors of my heart to be open—no matter what each day brings. I know it’s a tall order. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be worth much, would it?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2019
Photo found at etsy.com

The Work of Christmas | Howard Thurman

This post from 23 December 2017 has had over 1000 visits, most of them this month. It’s as true today as it was back then–perhaps even more so, given the state of our current disunion. I hope you find Howard Thurman’s poem encouraging and challenging. 

This week I received a lovely Christmas note with a poem by Howard Thurman on the front. Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981), was a key figure in the life of the USA during the 20th century. Thurman was an author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was also an early leader and mentor in the nonviolence movement that shaped and included Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is Thurman’s poem, followed by a few comments.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, from The Mood of Christmas, p. 23
Published and copyrighted by Friends United Press, 1985

The work of Christmas isn’t about enjoying or returning gifts we received, feeling good about giving money to charities, getting on with the thankless work of putting away the decorations until next year, or writing thank you notes. In fact, it isn’t even about telling everyone the story of Christmas.

Rather, it’s about embodying it. Being and becoming the good news announced with the birth of Jesus Christ.

  • We, the lost now found, are to find other lost women, men and children. We the broken, the hungry, the prisoners, the residents of war-torn nations, the restless, the aggrieved, the disappeared—we are to pass along what we have received. A reason to hope, and a measure of peace in the midst of strife.

This isn’t about hoarding things for ourselves. It’s about making haste to share peace and hope that passes all understanding. Not with stingy hearts, but extravagantly. Making music in our hearts that spills over into our relationships and communities. Not always happy music, but music that tells the truth, especially when the truth isn’t pretty.

I’m praying I’ll find renewed peace and hope for myself, along with you, and new ways to do the work of Christmas in this coming year.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 December 2017, reposted 24 December 2019
Image found at examiner.com.au

When all is said and done

When all is said and done
The remainder reaches
Into infinity with salutary
Airs of expectation
Soon to be proven false
Or true if that’s the way
You see it from your side

Yesterday I labored
Stretching time and cutting
Corners that wouldn’t
Matter in the end not really
No matter how exhausted
Or exuberant I was about
All I’d accomplished for now

Eager to welcome me home
The queen and king arrive
At my front door in the middle
Of the night to my consternation
They want to take me home
Despite my hard work left lying
In the dust heap of my efforts

When St. Thomas said all he
Ever wrote seemed like ashes
I thought he was out of his mind
Either that or he was finally
At peace with himself minus
All the ornamental pages
Hanging in his closet out of date
And out of time

The best things we’ve done in this life are often those we don’t remember. Being at peace with ourselves and those we love is, however, one of the best things we can do for ourselves in this life.

I pray this season of the year will find you at peace with yourself and with those you most love. No matter how much or how little you believe you’ve accomplished.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 December 2019
Book jacket photo found at amazon.com

Near the end it gets easier

–this letting go of goods
No longer useful
Or likely to help anyone

Signs of plans and promises
To oneself and others
Do I really need these things?

Is it possible to start over?
A thousand questions linger
And if only I had known

What I now know seems
A thimble full of hot air
Not nearly enough to last

When will we get there?
I thought this would be easier
My dear I really don’t know

Saying goodbye to a few things
Each day helps ease the load
Of dying now and then

Momentary heart pain of
The good kind mingles with
Whatever was I thinking of?

Life on the fast track
Moves slowly toward the end
Rushing to greet me with open arms

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 Dec 2019
Artwork found at fabianperez.blog.cz

This house of cards

Nothing
Keeps me awake
Nothing

Every cell in my body
Wants to shut down
Pull up the covers
Abdicate responsibility
For this day

Gray clouds and
Lazy drizzle
Mask consequences
Long repressed
Between layers
Of paper-thin sheets
Crammed into closets
Rotting into
Nothingness
Moldy leftovers
Of a thousand
Ill-conceived plans
Now haunting
This house
Of cards

We live in a nation besotted with lethargy. Except, perhaps, when we’re enraged or enthralled. Or speaking with people with whom we already agree. Everything else is too difficult. Too complex.

Complexity is not one of our favorite things. Becoming fully informed seems a dying art. Withholding quick agreement is cause for suspicion. We like to be liked. Now. And we love to be catered to in word, if not in deed.

When did code words or hearsay repeated over and over become tests of truth? Or shows of outrage? Or the level of venom and loathing on Twitter?

Then again, what about lethargic retreats into silence because somewhere along the way, someone convinced me that Silence is the Best (Safest) Policy? How willing am I to let go of my desire for security and survival? It seems the longer I wait, the higher the stakes become.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 December 2019
Photo found at medium.com

Mesmerized

Living within my means
Stretches patience
To the breaking point
I want to fly high
Visit exotic places
And creatures beneath
Blue-green waters teeming
With bits of plankton
And luxurious seaweed
floating upward on
Wings like doves
Reaching for stars
In that great canopy
Above and beyond
Our understanding
Mesmerized

These days living within my means isn’t chiefly about income. It’s about physical reserves. The kind that run out a bit each day, sometimes scarcely noticeable.

And then there are other days, of which this is one. A day when my spirit goes soaring off to parts unknown. Leaving me virtually breathless in mind and body. Caught up in other times and places.

Hoping your Monday is mesmerizing!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 December 2019
Photo of New Zealand Seaweed Garden and Plankton found at dissolve.com

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