Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Aging

When Death Comes | Mary Oliver

Death is on my mind. Not just because we’re in the season of Lent, but because it’s impossible to escape death. Here’s Mary Oliver’s take on death. My brief comments follow.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

© 1992 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press
From New and Selected Poems, Volume One (pub. 1992), pp. 10-11

It’s impossible to get through Lent without pondering death. Not just the death of Jesus of Nazareth, but my own death. How do I prepare to die?

Writing about death helps. So does revisiting deaths of family members and friends. Also, acknowledging holes in my life that will never be filled. And my own fear of dying before I think I’m ready.

So what does it mean to live each day as potentially my last day on this earth? Mary suggests I pay attention to the now of this world. Become more than a visitor. Become amazed at this world and its inhabitants. Especially those flowers of the field that have put up with the likes of us from the very beginning.

As for going through what Mary calls the “the door” of death, yes, I’m curious. Though not as curious as Mary. Still, the focus is today, the only way to prepare for tomorrow.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 February 2021
Image found at wwwreligionlac.net

Life shrinks daily | Lent 2021

Is it not enough
That I have survived?
That You have never
Turned away from me?

Life shrinks daily
A wrenching letting go
Of many things

Masks and pandemic protocols
Shroud me in a deathlike dream
From which I cannot wake
Before the next stanza
Takes me down

The sun is out today, though the air is still below freezing. White mounds of snow look like small mountain tops invading the back yard. The birds are basking in chilly sun, taking their turns at the birdfeeder.

I sit in my kitchen, an onlooker to life, wondering how and when things went sour.

Then again, this is the first Sunday in Lent. My heart tells me it’s time review what I’m giving up yet again for Lent. No, it hasn’t gotten any easier to say this prayer. Especially the last line.

I let go my desire for security and survival.
I let go my desire for esteem and affection.
I let go my desire for power and control.
I let go my desire to change the situation.

Quoted by Cynthia Bourgeault in Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, p. 147 (Cowley Publications 2004)

I wonder what Jesus of Nazareth felt and thought as he approached his coming death?

Praying for an accepting heart and a grateful spirit.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 February 2021
Image found on Facebook via Google search

Why this sudden lethargy?

Why this sudden lethargy
Unable to read today
A book that kept me awake
Yesterday riveted and alert

There is no cure it seems
For this childhood dis-ease
Struggling to be heard
Above distracting noise

That never ends beneath
The skins of white women
Caught looking back on life
Far from home and short on rest

Where did this come from? It feels like a bad dream or even a nightmare. Trapped in a situation not of my making, without survival skills, and unable to find or make my way home. Yes, it could be about Covid-19 or the state of our disunion. But it’s deeper than that.

Most of my early life was about mastering behaviors and attitudes that would insure my silence, cooperation, and ‘purity.’ The goal was put before me every day of my life. I was to be the opposite of cheeky females who dared speak and act for themselves or registered outrage at outrageous acts of neglect and violence toward themselves and others.

How many white women born in the USA look back and wonder, What was it all about? And have I yet found my way home to the voice and work I was meant to have from the beginning?

I’m not despondent. I’m angry. I don’t always know what to do with this anger of not being prepared for whatever ‘the real world’ was and still is. So I write.

And then I get on with the life I now have, for which I’m grateful.

Thanks for listening.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 January 2021
Image found at medium.com

How are you doing today?

Our pastor asked this at the beginning of today’s online sermon. It caught me by surprise. It’s also better than a thousand other things we might talk about. So I’m going to begin, and invite you to respond about yourself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Great, I’m scoring about 6 or 7 on most days. Why?

~Sometimes winter weather is harsh, meaning no outdoor walk with D
~My health, which requires constant attention 24/7
~The sudden unraveling last March of regular social life (Covid-19)
~Reverberations from chaos recently unleashed on Capitol Hill
~No in-person visits with family members or friends
~Grief that comes with acknowledging I won’t be here forever, which will come sooner, not later

Grief, disappointment, sadness, weariness, uncertainty, loneliness, heartache, fear. I could pretend they don’t bother me. But that wouldn’t be telling the truth.

Thankfully, things like the following bring me joy or gratitude.

~Having enough food (most of it prepared by me)
~Walking outside with David when the weather is decent
~Seeing neighbors and chatting a bit on the street
~Phone calls and email from family members and friends
~Playing with Smudge or holding him on my lap while he sleeps
~Watching birds on our backyard feeders
~Reading a good book and playing the piano
~Listening to music any time of day

Still, good times won’t cancel out down times. Nor do they answer all my questions about life and the world as we know it today. Each day is different. Making plans is difficult. At the same time, Christian faith gives me a foundation I sorely need every day. Scripture, music, devotional reading and journaling.

What about you? How are you getting through this long passage of time, including loss of people you know and love?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2021
Image found at makeameme.org

A bit of bravado

The space between
My father’s voice and
The voices of those
In authority over me
Is very small indeed

With one quick stroke of
A heartbeat my confidence
Drains away like blood
Refusing to flow through
My body red and strong

I spoke my naked mind
To my father hoping to
Reclaim a voice lost
Somewhere in the now
Distant past of childhood

Today I must speak my mind
To systems that like my father
Believe they have the answers
Without any desire to listen
To real people with real lives.

I don’t have visible power or
The glory of being in charge
Or standing without guilt before
God and country or even the
Church I still love despite it all

Thoughts and feelings like these resurfaced in the last several days. It began with the attack on the Capitol building, followed by the feeling of being invaded in my own home. Which led to wondering whether I should smooth out some of my yet to be written blog entries.

I’m grateful I’ve moved beyond that for now. Still, I’m no less aware that we here in the USA are in a situation for which there is no map.

My mother wasn’t allowed to speak her truth. Neither was I or my three younger sisters. Instead, we often ended up vying for Daddy’s favor. My main objective was to get through the next bad scene without another beating. It took bravado, though I often got into trouble anyway. Still, I scraped together enough bravado to maintain my sense of self, desecrated as it was.

For this coming year I’m counting on truth, and hoping for a bit of bravado! My blog is still about telling the truth. Now notched up a bit, given the woman I am today, the situation in which we find ourselves, and the reality of my impending death. Time is running out.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 Jan 2021
Photo of Bravado Echinacea (coneflower family) found at garden.org

Yesterday’s sorrows

A chain of prayer
Rises in midnight hours
As restless sleepers
Wake to the sound
Of yesterday’s sorrows
Rising to the surface

Perhaps one’s own trials
Or a loved one’s emergency
Or dense silence inviting
A song or a prayer to
Fill the empty void of night
Broken only by the wind

Since the beginning of Covid-19 social distancing, I sometimes find night silence distressing.

It happened again last night. Not just because of what’s going on out there, but also what’s rising to the surface in me. Sadness, sorrow, and trepidation. Names of family members who tested positive for Covid-19, now in quarantine because of contact with someone else. An urgent request for prayer from a former colleague. Or even a welcome email from a former student now living in another country, without many options.

One of the gifts of this painfully long social distancing has been a measure of quiet in the house. At night, however, silence weighs heavily when I want to get back to sleep. Hopefully unheard by D, I sometimes begin singing (very softly) favorite hymns as they pop into my mind. Not just one verse, but as many as I can recall. Think of an extended lullaby.

Other times I go down my mental list of friends and family members having more challenges than usual just now. Then I whisper (often with tears) my gratitude for D, for Smudge, for our neighbors, and for opportunities to support local and worldwide relief efforts.

Somewhere in the middle of all that it usually happens. I drift off to sleep. If I don’t, I go to my office, close the door, open my journal, and write my heart out. Thankfully, this last resort is rare. Still, it works like a charm. The tears flow freely, and then I’m back to bed and sleep.

I pray each of you finds ways to sleep well, and exercise your faith and gratitude during these strange months of Covid-19 et al, already extending into another year. Happy Wednesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

Life and Death | New Year’s Eve 2020

Words flow like honey
Filled with sharp barbs
Invisible and relentless

Each birth
Each birthday
Each anniversary
Each retirement whether
Planned or not
Each debilitating accident
Each political chess game
You didn’t see coming
Plus Colvid-19 and who’s
Who in the Electoral College Zoo

Grace and glory mixed with
Wormwood and gall
Invite us into the reality of death
Not once in this precarious life
But over and over one day
Following another like a bad
Or good dream depending on
How the ball bounces or
Where it lands on the roulette wheel
Or where we place our trust
As the end precedes the beginning
One day at a time inviting our
Attention not to things that
Dissipate inevitable sorrow
But to sweet gifts of life
Small and almost invisible
Accompanying us into
Each new day and
This new year

Most of my life I’ve assumed New Year Day was the beginning of another great adventure. This year I’m taking it as an invitation not to ignore my coming death. Not because I’m “old” but because I’ve never known when my last breath would leave my body.

Add to that the shape of things today. Not just Covid-19, but streaming refugees, loss of trust between the USA and former allies, the nightmare-like nature of post-Election 2020 claims, grossly inadequate attention to issues related to race, ethnicity, local economies, and growing wealth among those who need it least.

What does this mean? I’ve lived most of my adult life by daily lists. To-do lists. The kind that invite a feeling of despair because they’re never finished. Never.

During the last few weeks I’ve focused on four things that bring me joy: blogging, music, writing poetry, and walking with D. I can’t attend to all of them every day. Still, any one of them is, for me, a way of acknowledging life is short. I don’t have time to waste by avoiding them. Besides, avoiding what I most love won’t bring me joy I could be having right now.

Praying you’ll find your way into joy and alert peace this coming year. This life isn’t over until it’s over.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 December 2020
Image found at travelmanitoba.com

Christmas Eve 2020

Torn between competing worlds
I can’t remember when life felt
this precarious on the eve
of Your birthday celebration

Would You understand
if I told You I don’t feel like
celebrating this year?

Instead I want to be in that
stable with Mary and Joseph
Not just because it’s wonderful
But because it’s dangerous

No, I’m not looking for trouble. I’m wondering what it takes to put myself out there at this age. Can I hope for anything but being treated like a little old lady?

Not that I mind being a little old lady. In fact, WordPress makes it as easy as possible for me to speak my mind freely. So do my followers and visitors.

Nonetheless, I wonder what would happen if I said in my large family circle or in my church, straight-out, what I often say here when I’m blogging. I don’t know the answer, though I expect some might be distressed, or try to fix me. Others might pray for me, which is never a bad idea.

I’m no revolutionary. Still, sometimes the effort of putting out just one post lets me know I’ve had a relatively easy life. In addition, I wasn’t given the gift of confidence in my own voice when I was growing up.

Today the stakes are painfully high. We’re caught here together on this planet. It’s Christmas Eve, and too many of our political, social and religious leaders already know the script. The one called “How to Pretend I’m God and You’re Nobody.”

I don’t mean to sound cynical. Instead, it strikes me as miraculous that Jesus of Nazareth was born as a Nobody. The kind who kept getting in the way, until what amounted to a lynch mob tried to take him down. Yes, he died, and yes, the dance goes on.

Praying you have a thoughtful, encouraging Christmas Eve and Day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 December 2020
Night sky image found at astronomytrek.com

Advent haiku and more

a day
unlike all others
wakes unannounced

I first posted this piece three years ago. The last three years brought major changes for all of us. With a few edits, here’s what I said then, and need to hear again today.

Writing haiku is an exercise in listening. Slowly. Without preconceptions. Without urgency. Without wondering when the alarm will go off to jolt me into action.

I readily admit that being retired is an advantage. Yet my internal life doesn’t always remember what it means to be retired. Much less where to focus long, patient listening that does more than take me in circles.

Three years ago, an on-line retreat invited me to write one haiku a day not just during Advent, but for the next six months. As a daily exercise it put the brakes on my urge to do something. It turned my attention toward nature and our Creator, and invited me to make new connections.

The haiku above suggests life is a daily gift to each of us from our Creator. A page-turner. An open, still-being-written adventure lived one day at a time. A puzzler without answers or clues at the back of the book. One of a kind.

Today, thanks to Covid-19, I’m enjoying Sabbath rest and the first day of Advent at home. I pray each of you takes time to listen with your heart and rest in the one-of-a-kind person you are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2017, reposted 29 November 2020
Photo found at pinterest.com, Sunrise in North Dakota

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention | Mary Oliver

Here’s my pick for today: a lovely poem from Mary Oliver about life and death. Why today? Because it’s my 77th birthday! See my comments below.

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, found on p. 9 of Thirst 
Published by Beacon Press 2006

Rue: regret
Lassitude: fatigue, weariness, apathy
Vainglory: excessive vanity, inordinate self-esteem

I know it isn’t spring or summer, but neither do the roses. They do their thing, then disappear until it’s time to start all over.

Death is making the rounds these days. Not just death that follows old age, but death from Covid-19, suicide, broken hearts, incurable illnesses, street fights, unleashed hatred or anger, and more. Still, death isn’t our worst enemy.

We’re not on earth to live forever. We’re here to discover and fulfill our earthly purpose as human beings. Welcoming the stranger, accepting our own strangeness, giving and receiving help, taking our personal histories seriously.

In some ways, the roses have it easier. It isn’t easy to be human. We need each other if we’re going to thrive.

Still, like roses, we’re meant to be extravagant. Giving, giving, and giving again. Not obsessively or compulsively, or because we feel guilty, or for personal gain. But as an overflow of beauty and grace.

Think about it! Fragrant roses, baby birds, clouds, sunrise and sunset, fields of tulips, new-fallen snow, and gnarled old tree trunks soaring toward the sky. All this and more with thanks to our Creator.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2020
Photo found at etsy.com

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