Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Aging

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods | Mary Oliver

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else? Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Not the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings
by himself, at the edge of the green woods,
to each of us
out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
of every estrangement, exile, rejection—their
death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 63

A few weeks ago, out walking in the evening, I heard a wood thrush. One of the most haunting, beautiful sounds on earth. It was singing in the woods behind a nearby church and graveyard.

So many deaths right now. So many regrets, angers, crushing sorrow and disbelief.

I’ll never forget the cries of a mother Canadian Goose nesting just outside my office at the seminary. A noisy raptor had been circling and screaming for too many minutes. Father Goose was sitting nearby, clearly agitated, watching the sky from time to time.

Yes, the inevitable happened. The raptor stole the baby from the nest, unmoved by the parents’ frantic, furious cries and attempts to save their newly-hatched chick.

When I arrived at the seminary early the next morning, Mama Goose was sitting immobile, holding silent vigil on grass in the back courtyard of the seminary. Her loyal partner sat nearby, watching her and waiting. It looked and felt like a mourning ritual. They were there for most of the day before they flew away.

So much sorrow and anguish right now. That’s why I need to hear a wood thrush from time to time, along with its many neighbors calling out to me: There’s more to life than meets the eye. Mourn, have faith, and carry on.

Written a few days after the loss of one of my forty-nine first cousins, and in view of my own mortality and the current situation in this world.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

It’s been an age

Tree

This is one of my favorite poems, at least as true today as it was when I posted it in November 2014. Today has been filled with a mixture of happiness and contentment, along with a lurking feeling that we’re all at sea, and the ship of state is stressed.

How do you see yourself and others today? I hope you’ll give yourself a great big smile before the day is done. Then give away at least one more smile. All we can count on is the present.

It’s been an age since I first met you—
You there, looking back at me
Three score years plus eleven to be exact
You haven’t changed a bit, they say
You and I know better
Sometimes I can’t believe it’s you
I hardly know you
Could we start over do you think?
Would it be as much fun?

I don’t know.
Was it fun for you?
Are you as puzzled as I am?
I seem to have more questions than answers today
Where and when did we find each other?
We seem to get along
But then we always did even when we didn’t
So who am I to say?

All I know is looking back at me
Wondering where the time has flown
And who this beautiful woman is
Smiling at me through the mirror

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2014, reposted 18 June 2020
Photo Credit:  DAFraser, December 2012
Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon

Alternative tv | Dorothee Soelle

Four miners in mine shaft wearing hard hats and headlamps

Dorothee Soelle wrote this poem in the 1970s, an era roiled by the Vietnamese War. I was in my 30s. How old were you? My comments follow.

Alternative tv

The old man on the screen sang
in a loud and shaky voice
and had probably never been very clean
in addition he had hardly any teeth left
a miner with black lung
of course he spoke dialect and his grammar was bad
why after all should he
show his best side to the camera

When god turns on his tv
he sees old people like that
they sing
in a loud and shaky voice
and the camera of the holy spirit
shows the dignity of these people
and makes god say
that is very beautiful

Later
when we have abolished tv as it exists
and are allowed to look at the skin of aging women
and are unafraid of eyes
that have lost their lashes in weeping
when we respect work
and the workers have become visible
and sing
in a loud and shaky voice

Then we shall see
real people
and be happy about it
like god

Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love, p. 171
English translation of selected pieces from the German text © 1983 Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545
First published as Im Hause des Menshenfressers, © 1981 by Rowohlt Tashenbuch Verlag in Hamburg, West Germany

Now that I’m in my mid to late 70s, I find this poem more truthful than ever. I don’t often see aging women or men on TV, just as they are. Maybe in a news piece or documentary. But rarely, if ever, in flashy shows or advertisements. They’re busy reflecting our captivity to spending money on ourselves, our houses, our lawns, our cars, eating out and eating in, or getting ‘fixed’ so our embarrassing flaws don’t show.

As Dorothee Soelle points out, our Creator is watching Alternative tv. The kind that accepts us just as we are when we’re willing to show up just as we are. Happy to be in the presence of one who understands and loves us in all our real flesh.

As always, thank for visiting and reading. These are hard times for all of us. I pray we’ll find ways to help bring about hope, peace, and reconciliation, and courage to show up for our Creator and each other, just as we are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2020
Photo of miners found at WestVirginiaInjuryLawyers.wordpress.com

Longwood on the cheap and an update

I know. It isn’t quite the same as being there in person. But it’s the closest I’ve gotten to Longwood Gardens since last fall. Be sure to turn up the volume so you can hear the birds!

This morning I walked in our neighborhood and saw a few friends from years back. The humidity was atrocious. The birdsong, however, plus all the lovely green leaves were to die for. And yes, I wore my face mask.

I haven’t been out for any great adventures since the first Sunday of March. I’m grateful D is doing all our grocery shopping. Our ages put both of us in the high risk category for Covid-19. My health issues make me a higher risk than D. So I’m here at home virtually every day. I write, walk in the neighborhood, talk to family members on the phone, and keep in touch with our neighbors.

Speaking of family, our daughter turned 50 today! She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon. Our son, his wife and three children live about an hour away. But it might as well be Portland, given Covid-19 restrictions.

Even introverts don’t like being caged. Well….not exactly caged, but I’ve definitely had my wings clipped. I don’t foresee being out and about anytime in the near future.

I felt great relief after I wrote my most recent piece, It feels so good. Resisting Mr. Trump isn’t directly about resisting him personally. It’s about how I choose to spend my time. So I’ve made some choices, and will see how it goes.

I hear people talking about ‘getting back to normal.’ From my perspective, there is no going back to ‘normal.’ Instead, our country has a looming crisis on its hands. It didn’t begin with the current administration. It began centuries ago and has continued unabated ever since. Ignorance about our country’s history is rampant. So is ignorance about science and the way we’ve ignored and put off questions about the planet and our responsibility to look after it and the people who inhabit it.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the privilege of blogging. When I look back at my beginning posts, I’m stunned by how much you’ve contributed to my life. Some by reading faithfully; others by visiting from time to time; all a great encouragement to me.

Thank you. And may our Creator bless each of you with renewed vision for what you might do with your one, lovely life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 May 2020
Longwood Gardens video found on YouTube

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

Smudge and the Good Morning News

Our recalcitrant child. No, he is NOT allowed in the sink! Just on it….

You want me to do WHAT?

 

If you insist….

Other good morning news:

Just as I was finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. D answered. He’d just returned from grocery shopping. A not-so-young man reached out his hand to give D something. It was D’s wallet in a Ziploc bag! It had fallen out of his jacket pocket as he loaded bags of groceries into the car. After he left, I retreated to the kitchen with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It’s one thing to do something unexpected for someone else. It’s another to be on the receiving end. Especially as one of those ‘elderly’ people.

Also this morning, as I was drinking my breakfast smoothie, I signed up to follow Longwood Gardens on Instagram. Today’s theme is wisteria. Glorious lavender wisteria! Get the photos for yourself. Just go to the very bottom of the link above. Or, if you’re already on Instagram, add Longwood Gardens to your account. There are several other ways to get the photos. So take a look at the link above! No excuses!

Yesterday morning I had a scheduled phone conversation with my favorite cardiologist. I enjoyed it so much, I’m considering a request that there be No More In Person Visits! Bottom line: I got cleared for another six months. Nothing new, and my heart and blood pressure are doing well for now, all things considered.

Best of all, the sun is out today! Not as blistering hot as yesterday, but sunny enough for a nice late afternoon walk with D.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2020
Photos of Smudge taken by ERF, March 2020

Missing in action

Searching for myself
In this other-worldly place
My mind wanders
Down one path
and up another
Without a map
Or proper clothes
For a fading woman
Whose goal is
To get through today
Intact

Yesterday’s dreams
Sleep fitfully
In another time and space
Missing in action

I haven’t posted for several days, in part because of a few nagging health issues that required attention.

The biggest hurdle, though, has been coming to terms with my present reality. First, as a senior citizen with chronic pre-existing health conditions. And second, as a citizen of the USA, with the reality of Covid-19 as presided over (or not) by Mr. Trump.

The question I asked several weeks ago still nags at me. What will I do if I develop signs of Covid-19? What do I want, and what do I not want?

Last week I looked through old photos of my life with D and our family. I thought about what I want and do not want, should I need to be quarantined. I also consulted with a trusted friend who is going through a similar discernment.

In short, what I wrote in my Living Will eight years ago isn’t going to work for Covid-19. So I’m starting over.

I’ve decided to use Five Wishes as my framework this time. In large part because they offer a framework for talking about this with family members. I don’t want to be intubated, or moved to a hospital. What would that mean? Are we up for this?

In some ways, I’d rather stay lost in my old photos. They bring me laughter and joy. They remind me that I’ve lived a life I never thought I would have, and visited or lived in places I never expected to see. I want to be anchored to that reality instead of trying to figure out how I’ll stay alive for as long as possible.

A life isn’t made up of years. It’s made up of small and large moments. A mosaic, not a graph or timeline. D took the photo above in January 1976, the year I graduated from seminary. One small piece of our mosaic.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 May 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser in southern California, January 1976
 

Love Sorrow | 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
Image found at 123rf.com

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