Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Vitamin D, Crows, and Daylilies

I’m feeling my way through
our neighborhood one step
at a time though a misstep
could end in heartbreak

Released from four walls
I find strange solace as
nature surrounds me with
glory and the piercing cries
of crows being chased by
tiny sparrows protecting
their nests and their young

An uninvited insect lands
on my ring finger thinking
I might have something to
offer though it’s way past
breakfast time as midday
sunshine streams down on
my naked arms depositing
bits of vitamin D as ordered
by the doctor just yesterday

I find myself at loose ends these days. Doing what I can on my lists, and leaving the rest. All too soon, however, I’m starving for whatever I’ve decided to leave undone. Such as writing poetry.

For the last few weeks I’ve been walking outside in the morning as often as the weather permits. About a week ago I got my new light-weight walking cane, which makes things easier.

Invariably, I end up feeling teary (in a happy way) when I see towering trees, hear scores of birds singing, or pass a friendly walker or two. Yesterday, I even had the opportunity to stomp out a red lantern fly! And never a day passes without daylilies breaking out all over.

Surely some of this deserves to be written down and passed along. Especially in these troubled times.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2022
Photo of daylilies found at pixabay.com

Terror, Faith, 9/11/2001 and Today

It’s no accident, this constant ringing in my head each time another unplanned attack takes place on home turf.

We have a long-practiced habit here in the USA. Instead of focusing on our personal problems, we focus intently on those of others. That includes leaders and residents of the USA as well as those of other countries.

Whether we like it or not, our bluff is being called every day and night. Instead of learning to live together as human beings, we’ve majored on becoming a country divided against itself. Worse, we don’t seem ready to examine ourselves as part of the problem.

Back in 2001, I spoke at a seminary-wide gathering to consider the still-fresh bombing of the twin towers in NYC. The only thing I could do with honesty was speak about myself, acknowledging my own lack of readiness to die in an instant.

Here’s what I said then and am saying again today in light of home-grown terror that’s tearing us apart.

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 am 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….”

These days I’m praying for small ways to make lifegiving connections with those I love and those I too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2022
News photo found at http://www.nbcnews.com

Tell me if you can, if you dare–

I wrote the poem below early in my blogging days. Back in the 1940s and 50s, I was the oldest of four daughters. My father was an ordained clergyman, loved by many, feared by me. It seems life in these “United States” is becoming more and more like my childhood. Especially, but not only, for women of any age. 

I’m grateful for women and men who helped me become the human I am today. Today I don’t bear a grudge against my father. I do, however, see my experience as a window into unnumbered worlds of madness for too many women, children, teenagers, and men. The calling of politicians, church leaders, or pimps is NOT to force us into the mold of their making. 

When did it all begin?
When did I enter your supply chain?
When did I become a commodity, a disposable object
not for sale but for use on demand,
with or without pay?

When did I become your toy
to imagine as prey,
to stalk, hunt down,
toss around and torment
with or without warning?

When did I become candy for your eyes,
your imagination,
the desires of your heart?

When did it all begin?
Was it the moment I was born?
The moment you laid your eyes on me?
Then your rules, your hands, your cane,
your ruler, and wooden spoon paddle?

When did paddling become beating?
As though you could whip me into shape.

What did you see in me?
A human being created in God’s image?
Or just another rebellious, angry, willful little girl—
A challenge to your male authority.
A game, an object to be studied, touched, scolded,
played with, experimented with,
held close/held at bay, shamed, humiliated,
denied voice, dignity, will and privacy.

What were you thinking?

When did I become a projection of your stern will
and your lonely, terrified heart?
Not even a ghost of myself
No matter what I wore or didn’t wear
What I said or didn’t say
How I said it or didn’t say it
What I did or didn’t do

When did I become your enemy to be hunted down and subdued,
locked in the bar-less cage of your aching, demanding,
never-satisfied self?

Tell me if you can, if you dare—
When did it all begin?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2014, reposted 5 July 2022
Image found at thewei.com

baptismal waters

I’m working on a book of poems selected from my blog. This morning I came to this description of my mother’s “baptism” not long before her death. The setting is a not-for-profit hospice near my parents’ home in Savannah, Georgia. Reading this account always makes me tear up with gratitude and sadness. 

baptismal waters
rise gently enfolding her
world-weary body

* * * * *

I’m standing in a windowless, high-ceiling concrete room
with a concrete floor, drainage holes and air vents.
A deep whirlpool tub stands in the middle
filled with warm steamy water.
The room faintly resembles a large sauna minus the wood.
Functional, not beautiful.

Mother is in hospice care after suffering a stroke weeks ago
and then developing pneumonia in the hospital.
Her ability to communicate with words is almost nonexistent.
Today she’s going to be given a bath.
I’m told she loves this, and that
Sister #4 and I are welcome to witness the event.

For the past hour caregivers have been preparing her–
removing her bedclothes, easing her onto huge soft towels,
rolling and shifting her inch by inch onto a padded bath trolley,
doing all they can to minimize pain and honor her body.
Finally, they slowly roll the trolley down the hall.

The hospice sauna room echoes with the sound of
feet, soft voices, and running water.
It takes a team to carry out this comforting
though strange and even unnerving ritual.
Mother is safely secured to the padded bath table and
then lowered slowly into the water.
Her eyes are wide open.

For a few moments she fixes her eyes on mine.
The table  descends bit by bit.
How does she feel?
What is she thinking?
At  first her eyes seem anxious.
Is she afraid?
The warm waters rise around her and the table stops descending.
Her face relaxes and she closes her eyes.

The team works gently, thoroughly, not in haste.
They focus on her, talk to her and handle her body with reverence.
My eyes brim with tears.
This woman who bathed me, my three sisters
and most of her grandbabies is being given a bath
by what appears to be a team of angels in celestial garments.

They finish their work and roll Mother back to her room.
Her bed has clean sheets.
Fresh bedclothes have been laid out.
Caregivers anoint her body with oil and lotion, turn her gently,
and comment on how clear and beautiful her skin is.
They finish clothing her, adjust the pillows to cradle her body,
pull up light covers and leave her to fall asleep.

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2014, reposted 28 June 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Ring of Truth

What is truth? The USA is lost in a post-truth society filled with anger, despair, and failure to thrive. Today it’s about the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. Who knows what might be next? Sadly, many of us haven’t even begun to tell our truths. Not just to ourselves, but to safe women and men willing to support us. Here’s what I posted nearly 4 years ago, lightly edited.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice. For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about–sexual abuse and harassment by men of power.

Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s more than enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018, lightly edited and reposted on 27 June 2022 following The Supreme Court’s ruling about abortion rights for women.
Image found at India.com

Love Sorrow | Mary Oliver

Facing old age and death is no picnic. However, the post below still helps me re-imagine my relationship to my own sorrow. She’s a small version of me and needs to be loved day and night. Thank you once again, Mary Oliver.  

This poem from Mary Oliver struck a chord in me. Partly due to the current pandemic, with its waves of sorrow. But also because of my personal history. My comments follow.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird, a collection of poems
“Love Sorrow” is on p. 64

Dear Mary,

Your poem about loving sorrow brought back memories of my childhood and adult life. Especially things taken or withheld from me before I understood they were mine. Plus bits and pieces I lost or gave away throughout my life.

Sorrow, especially if it showed, was an indulgence I needed to give up. Or get over. What’s done is done. It won’t do to make my friends uneasy, or get into trouble with adults who wanted me to be someone else. I learned early to swallow or deny sorrow. Especially in public.

I think you would be horrified though not surprised at the world as it is today. We’re drowning in sorrow and anger, trying to figure out how this tsunami pandemic caught us so unprepared for death and dying, as well as living mindfully.

I don’t want to drown. I want to live and grow, especially now as time is running out.

Thank you for showing me how to befriend my sorrow. How to welcome her into my life, and learn to live with her as the child she is. And how to watch her begin to relax and grow into a strangely wonderful companion.

With gratitude and admiration,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2020, reposted on 20 June 2022
Image found at 123rf.com

On singing myself to sleep

Before I go to bed each night, I make an informal entry in my evening journal. Here’s the heart of what I wrote last night. I had in mind the ongoing three-ring circus of politics in the USA as well as my own health issues. Though you may not have had a blood draw early this morning, perhaps you can relate.

Today was gone before it began
I never caught up with it or myself

Tomorrow already bears down–
An early morning blood draw plus
everyday tasks amid unrelenting
uncertainty and distractions

Be close to me this night
Open my ears to hear and follow You
It’s time to rest beneath Your wings
And sing myself to sleep

I’ve often sung myself to sleep. Whatever pops into my mind. As many lines and verses as I can remember. Followed by the next song–usually a hymn–that rises to the surface.

When I was in grade school, it was somewhat onerous to memorize hymns (all stanzas, no mistakes). Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the comfort they bring to me. Especially at night when I’m feeling a bit lost in the craziness of our war-weary world.

Singing myself to sleep isn’t magic. It is, however, a way to do for myself something I can’t remember anyone doing for me as a child–singing me to sleep. In addition, it shuts out all those other voices clamoring for attention.

Thanks for stopping by today!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 June 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com

Walking at Valley Forge | Photos

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today. Yesterday evening, D and I looked at his photos taken during a visit with our West Coast daughter and her husband. Today I miss long walks and hikes through Valley Forge. I also miss visits with our West-coast daughter and her husband since Covid days began. The photos below were taken in April 2018.

Nearly two weeks ago our daughter Sherry and her husband Scott arrived for a long-anticipated visit. Yesterday we drove them to the airport for a flight back to the West Coast. Always it’s too short. Always I weep my eyes out, during and after (not without happy breaks). Always I feel softened and vulnerable. Always I love this break from routine. Always I’m loathe to say goodbye.

The day after they arrived we went for a late afternoon walk through part of Valley Forge National Park. Two things strike me when we visit the Park. One is the stillness and quiet, despite being just a stone’s throw from crowded highways and huge shopping centers. The other is nonstop birdsong, whether we’re walking by the meadow or through a wooded area.

Here are a few photos, minus the beautiful birdsong. The photo at the top shows us (minus D who’s behind the camera) just beginning our walk.

Looking out over the meadows, it’s tempting to think they were always there. Before the 1977-78 winter encampment during the Revolutionary War, almost all Valley Forge was forested. During the 6-month winter encampment, most trees were cut down for firewood and buildings.

Reclaiming the land as a national memorial involved delineating swaths of forest, creating managed meadows, and leaving space for a series of state highways, walking and biking paths, visitor facilities, monuments, memorials, reconstructed troop huts, and other renovated facilities such as George Washington’s headquarters during the encampment (a gift to the Park). The Park covers 3,500 acres (1,400 ha), gets over a million visitors per year, and is open year-round. Click here to see a visitor’s map of the grounds (not true to scale).

Here’s a little jack-in-the-pulpit beside a trail through the woods.

Now we’ll pause to ponder the look of young poison ivy in Pennsylvania. Isn’t it beautiful in the late afternoon sun? And don’t forget as you hike through the woods that so-called ‘dead’ poison ivy vines (often as thick as ropes) are also virulent.


The lovely little flowers below are not poison ivy.

On our way back to the parking lot D got a photo of an elusive red-winged blackbird. In the last photo below, I’m almost to the parking lot. Notice the shaded picnic tables to the left, and facilities for visitors on the edge of the parking lot just ahead.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 May 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser, 29 April 2018, reposted 13 June 2022
Valley Forge National Historical Park

A Ramble for My Friends

The Vernon River, Savannah Georgia

Dear Friends,

I haven’t written much lately about my health, or what I’m doing these days. This post is about the big picture I now live with, especially aging and blogging.

As I see it, I’m turning a long, mostly slow corner. I call it acceptance. Not acceptance of any particular culprit, but a welcoming attitude about things that slow me down.

Physical challenges aren’t automatically my enemy. I’ve tried to ignore or fix them. It doesn’t always work. Instead, I’m learning to welcome some of them into my life, one day and one night at a time. Not for solution talk, but for acceptance rather than making my feet (for example) the enemy.

Of all that’s happened in my body the last ten years, top concerns are my kidneys, my heart, and my aching feet. Plus: whatever it takes to become a content and productive woman at this time in my life.

For the last several weeks I’ve been turning a corner. Suddenly I find myself ready to let go of many things I’ve collected over the years. Not just books and clothes I’ll never wear again, but files full of my academic and personal history. Not everything, mind you! Some of my documents remind me that I’ve had an unusual, difficult, and reasonably rewarding life as an academic in the classroom and as dean. I loved the challenge of working with women and men eager to learn and to teach.

And what about blogging? About a month ago I began working on a new poetry project. D gave me the idea, and at this point I’m all in. I’m doing it for our children and grandchildren. Basically, I’m making my way from my first published poem (2 January 2014), through other poems. Sometimes I let a poem stand alone; sometimes I include my comments. It reads as an informal family history–from my point of view.

In addition to this, I often pick out an older post someone visited and give it a good read. I’m stunned at how these almost-forgotten posts speak to me today. I’ve begun reposting some that have moved me to tears.

Then there’s always the fun stuff, like the post yesterday in ‘praise’ of Smudge! Plus occasional devotional pieces from my morning reading each day.

However….progress depends on how I feel from one day to the next. If I need a lazy day, I’m learning to grab it! Life is short, and I’m a latecomer to whatever it means to accept and honor myself as I was and still am.

Thanks so much for visiting, and reading this ramble!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2022
Photo of the Vernon River found at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

birds flutter

birds flutter swoop dive
cat’s jaw quivers, tail twitches—
agony of spring

* * * * *

To Prince Oliver Smudge the Second, aka Smudge:

I hereby dedicate this haiku to Your Royal Catness
with the clear expectation that you will
immediately cease and desist
from all yowls of neglect and outrage.

You say it deeply pains you to watch me day after day
writing only about Me, Myself and I.

To be brutally frank,
I know much more about Me, Myself and I
than I do about the mystery of
Your Inner Being/Inner Cat/Inner Stalker.

HOWEVER

If you read Your Very Own Haiku with an open mind
you will discern therein
just how much I DO appreciate your agony day after day
as all those Nasty Spring Birdies flaunt their freedom in the Great Outdoors.

No.  You may NOT go outside to play today!
I’m No Dummy.

Her Royal Highness,
Queen Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 April 2014, reposted 8 June 2022
Photo taken by ERFraser, 2 March 2022

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