Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Childhood and Youth

Land of the Brave?

My erratic heartbeats
Find calm in the sound of
Music drifting through
Air spun with gossamer webs
Transporting me through
What I experience daily
Of this life threatening to
Undo us from the inside out
Unraveling threads of truth
And justice for each and all

Waking with a start
My heart searches for
Courage and bravery to
Speak even one word against
Forces paying to play the
Game of hide and seek –
Cowards banging on the
Heart of our so-called union
And commitment to justice
For every human being

What does bravery look like
During national upheaval and
Underground warfare against
Humanity if not the constant
Repetition of what we see
Through the windows of hearts
Made brave the hard way beginning
The instant we were born into
This world of deceitful revenge
And false prophets of nirvana

Mary Tyler Moore’s well-known statement comes to mind:

“You can’t be brave if you’ve had only wonderful things happen to you.”

Perhaps this is true of each of us, no matter the circumstances of our early lives. At the same time, bravery now isn’t necessarily the same as bravery then. As a child and teenager I was brave and uncomplaining in order to stay out of trouble. Especially when someone was watching, measuring me by my father’s Rules for Good Girls.

Today, bravery is called for even when no one seems to be looking. It isn’t about staying out of trouble. It’s about being honest, no matter the consequences.

Easier said than done. For me, posting what I write is the bottom line. If I’m willing to write about it, am I willing to post it? Without turning it into harmless childhood mush? My childhood still shapes me. It doesn’t, however, control me. I  still have a lot to learn about telling the truth as I see it. Especially in today’s atmosphere.

Thanks for listening!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2019
Cat image found at bookstr.com

cool midsummer breeze

cool midsummer breeze
reminder of things to come
balm for my body

Out this morning for a walk with D. Taking advantage of an unexpected change in the air. Thinking about what’s going on here in the USA and abroad. Especially in churches and religious communities.

Recent revelations of clergy sex abuse of more than 1000 minors in Pennsylvania have sent our state and religious communities reeling. Not a moment too soon, yet decades too late for victims robbed of their childhood, adolescence, and sense of worth as children of God.

This time it’s about priests, bishops and the highest governing bodies of the Roman Catholic Church. It could easily have been about ordained leaders in conservative and liberal churches of all Christian denominations, including those that claim not to be denominations.

Abuse of power has no boundaries.

In the meantime, thousands upon thousands of children, young people and adults wonder when and how this madness will end. Everything in us cries out for freedom, though many of us have believed the lies of our perpetrators:

  • This is for your own good.
  • You made me do it.
  • God told me to do it.
  • I can’t help myself.
  • This will bring you closer to God.
  • No one will ever find out.
  • This is our little secret.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself.
  • I can help you with your career.
  • If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your brother.
    …..

Our lives are precious. We’re here for a purpose. What’s yours?

Today mine is to spotlight the reality of this rampant non-secret that’s eating away at families, communities, religious and secular institutions. To think these things don’t matter in public life is to live on another planet. These aren’t private matters. They are public and private relations disasters at every level.

No, I haven’t given up on following Jesus. I have, however, given up the notion that what happened to me in my youth and childhood should be over and done by now. It’s never over and done. Especially when there are millions of other victims out there. Overlooked, uncounted, discounted and left to their own devices. From the outside, some get along better than others. Yet deep inside, competing voices vie for everlasting attention.

I know, because I’m still doing battle, though not without hope. My purpose today is to tell the truth, without loss of hope and with the most powerful voice I have–my writing.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2018
Photo found at kalynskitchen.com

Keeping on the sunny side

Last night I opened my journal to make a short entry about the day—generally gray and dismal, including a computer-related crisis. Instead, this is what came out:

A thought just came to me. I’m almost afraid to write it down.

For every day and night I live without Alzheimer’s, I want to be grateful – and take advantage of things that bring me joy. I don’t want to live each day under a growing cloud of fear and anxiety about my future or our future [mine and D’s].

I grew up consumed by anxiety, dread and fear. They followed me every day of my life. They were in the air, even when we were having fun. Never too much fun, of course.

I enjoy life, and I generally enjoy being myself and not someone else. Yet often hanging over all of it are clouds of anxiety, dread or fear.

Today it’s easy to point to fear of Alzheimer’s as the chief culprit. But it isn’t. Sometimes it seems I inherited a gene that predisposes me to the dark side of life.

I can’t stop the bad stuff from happening, and I can’t get back what I’ve already lost.

So instead of focusing on what might happen today or tomorrow, I’m choosing to focus on things that bring me joy. No matter how small or ordinary they may seem to others.

If you’re scratching your head wondering why this is such a revolutionary thought, I don’t blame you.

In my family of origin, community and church settings, the struggles of life were often celebrated and even rewarded with attention. Or so it seemed to me. The fun stuff was cake and ice cream we might get to enjoy someday if we were good girls.

I’m choosing instead to feast right now on the sunny side of life. With gusto and without apology, no matter how small or insignificant my choices seem to anyone else.

As for the other stuff, it is what it is. I can’t make it go away. I can, however, shower it with small gifts of joy and delight as often as possible.

Thanks for listening!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 July 2018
Keep on the Sunny Side found on YouTube
Live performance by The Whites and Jerry Douglas (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou arrangement)

Open Mic Night!

I woke up this morning already excited about this evening. I get to read some of my poems again! Out loud! In front of a friendly audience of children, young people, parents and friends of all ages. In the gym at the church. A fundraiser to help support our young people’s summer project in Philadelphia.

Despite my heavy-duty awesome age, I still feel like a little kid when I share bits of my life by way of my poetry.

I’ve never been one for writing or telling stories. I know a good storyteller when I hear or read one. That means I know I’m not One of Them. Though happy accidents do happen now and then.

Prose has been my main thing for most of my life. Yet I’m more than ready to let it take a back seat to poetry. In fact, when I reread some of my prose, I hear the poet in me already sneaking a poetic spirit into my prose.

I can’t help thinking about Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, “They shut me up in Prose.” None of that flighty poetry stuff! We want to hear a story or a well-reasoned argument. Something we can take apart, piece by piece. Or at least keep under control. To keep you under control, of course.

The ability to write prose with an ear for cadence and choice of words got me where I am today. Not just as a student, educator and administrator, but as an adult woman whose childhood and youth were ruled by a relentlessly letter-of-the law father. Flights of poetic fancy were frowned upon. As were overt emotions spontaneously expressed. With the occasional exception of Christmas and birthdays.

When I read through early posts about my childhood and youth, I’m grateful for the ability to write prose. Yet even there I hear the cadences of poetry. Though it isn’t direct, it’s a persistent sign of life already aching for attention.

So tonight I get to revel in the poet I’m becoming. One step closer to the little girl and woman I am and have always been on the inside.

Am I going to give up prose? No way. I’m not locked up in anything–not in poetry and not in prose. Still, you can expect more poetry. A delightfully underground way of getting just about anywhere.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 July 2018
Image found at resetco.org

A vexing situation – Sexuality 2

Almost all my life I’ve been aware of sexuality, especially my own. Since my birth in 1943, I’ve been a member or participant of multiple religious communities that have talked about sexuality only when necessary. Usually when cultural pressures seemed to endanger ‘our’ young people.

I don’t remember sermons or safe conversations about everyday situations such as how to have a safe conversation with someone whose heart is aching or carrying a heavy secret. Nor have I had much training in how to watch or change my behavior so that I’m as clear and safe as possible when it comes to my sexuality.

For me, this unspoken agreement not to talk openly about sexuality made things worse. Especially after I arrived at the seminary in 1983, one of a small number of female faculty members. I felt alone and confused, left to figure things out by myself.

So here I am, a new assistant professor at a theologically conservative seminary with socially responsible roots and programs, along with a still-fresh wound from the former president. My new colleagues and students have their luggage from the past, and I have mine.

Perhaps the approach of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the seminary’s way of allowing us to feel safe. Which, of course, many of us did not.

The first three years of my appointment I was exhausted, confused, anxious and fearful. Not because of what I knew, but because of how much I didn’t know. Not chiefly about how to teach or how to deal with classroom situations (though that was no cakewalk), but about being an academic advisor to each of my assigned advisees.

They appeared at my door, several times a year. Women and men with multiple issues about scheduling, grade point averages, work load, childcare, job requirements, immigration requirements, culture shock and yes, secrets. Heavy, untold stories about past history, realities about current history, sometimes things they’d locked away in a closet as though that would take care of it.

I think back to those three years as my Apprenticeship in Real Life. Classroom dynamics were nothing compared to the atmosphere in my office when an advisee or other student decided to tell me a secret about his or her sexuality. My job was to respond appropriately and with integrity.

Did I stumble around? Absolutely. Was I confident? NO! Did I have all the answers to life’s burning questions? No. Did I make mistakes? Yes, I did. And I learned a lot.

The most painful thing I learned was that my own sexual issues from childhood were still haunting me. Things I thought I’d left behind were suddenly right there in front of me or inside me. They demanded a hearing, even though I was there to listen and offer guidance to others.

I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning a personal curriculum that eventually humanized me. My closely guarded secrets about childhood and teenage years as well as secrets about my adult years weren’t the end of the world. They were keys to joining the human race, especially in the one area of my life I couldn’t understand no matter how much I tried to normalize it.

And I wasn’t there yet. In fact, things became more difficult after my first three years of teaching.

To be continued.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2018

disappeared


disappeared seeds
sown in haste germinate –
my heart skips a beat

It’s the late 1950s. I’m a young teenager, sitting at the supper table with my parents and my three sisters. I’m teary, feeling crampy and a bit nauseous. Not eager to eat anything.

My father tells me to stop crying and eat my dinner. I can’t stop crying, and my stomach ache isn’t going away.

My father tells me to stop this nonsense immediately, or he’ll give me something to really cry about. I burst into loud tears and run upstairs to my bedroom, sobbing my heart out.

My childhood, youth and adulthood are littered with occasions that replicate or echo these dynamics. My biggest problem, so it seems, is that I’m over-emotional and haven’t yet learned to control myself.

I learned to ‘disappear’ myself by choking on my emotions, swallowing them, eating them alive, or trying to paste a happy face over my true face.

When I wrote about the pain of retirement, I said I feel ‘disappeared.’ I didn’t hear it then as a loaded word. But now I do. A cue of sorts. The kind that suggests the opposite of what it seems to say. Following is my un-disappeared, crystal clear comment about myself.

No, I do not feel sorry for myself. No, I’m not stuck in a gear I need to shift out of. No, I’m not simply repeating myself over and over and over again.

My words are my words. My feelings are my feelings. I’m as entitled to them as anyone else is to his or hers. I dare not sit on them, deny them, modulate them to suit your ears, or beg forgiveness for not living up to what you believe should be the standard for my life.

I’ve never understood why some men (also some women) have, throughout my life, felt free to give advice about how I should NOT be. Or about what I should be ‘over’ by now.

My father buried and tried to smother in his body and soul the very things he demanded I bury in my body and soul. Not because they would harm me, but because they made him uncomfortable, or didn’t fit his view of the woman he wanted me to become. Or the man he thought he was.

I’m grateful for my feelings. I admit to feeling uneasy sometimes about letting them show. Yet overall, I’m grateful to be a highly sensitive woman of a certain age. Unleashed, untamable, not prone to shame or responsive to scolding.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 December 2017
Image  found at ucg.org

Working on My Nightmare

This morning I poured creative energy into rewriting a nightmare I had over a week ago. In the dream I was in charge, and found myself suddenly in a situation of growing danger. Yet I couldn’t speak directly and clearly to the danger. Not just danger to me, but to others.

This inability to speak clearly and directly in situations of danger is the most difficult damage I carried into my adult life. I don’t like the physical, spiritual and health fallout from being abused in body and spirit, but I can handle it.

Yet when it comes to my voice, whether written or spoken, I sometimes flinch when dealing with difficult issues. Or I speak out, followed too often by loss of confidence and the urge to sit down and shut up. Or stop being so emotional.

We live in a shrinking world tormented by personal, familial, national and global horror. It stares us in the face every day. Almost like a nightmarish taunt that won’t go away.

So I had this nightmare that began badly, became even worse, and finally woke me with my heart pounding, afraid for my life. It was all about threatening men, or so it seemed.

Since then, I’ve thought about a nightmare I had back in the 1990s, after I’d begun working with my psychotherapist. In it I’m running for my life from two or three men carrying loaded rifles, determined to silence me. I’m carrying a large umbrella. Hardly a match for loaded rifles.

I run into a room with an exit door at the top of concrete steps. The men are close behind me. There’s no way I can fight them off or stop them physically. I race up the stairs to exit the room and discover to my horror that the door is locked.

Of course I wake up with my heart pounding, afraid for my life.

Back then (as now), my psychotherapist encouraged me to rewrite the nightmare. Creatively, using only the material I have in the nightmare. Which includes my voice.

I’ll never forget how excited I was when I figured out what to do. I was at the top of the steps. Suddenly I turned around and pressed the button on my large umbrella. It flew open immediately, and I danced and, as I recall, sang my way back down the stairs and into the small room. The more I danced, the happier I was. I even invited my pursuers to dance with me!

The men were so flabbergasted they didn’t know what to do next, and I was suddenly in charge of my voice and the situation.

That’s the kind of ending I want for this nightmare. And I think I’ve got it! Which is for another post.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 November 2017
Image found at bgartshop.com

Oh Lolli-Lolli-Lolli


Can’t get it out of my mind. Thank you WordPress for this delectable word of the day: Lollipop!

No, I wasn’t allowed to listen to it at home, or dance and romance to it, but I loved it. It was alive, incredibly fun to sing and cheeky in days when cheeky wasn’t on The Good Girl’s List of Acceptable Behaviors.

Here it is, in its original glory, performed  by the Chordettes. One of their glorious hits from the 1940s and 50s, recorded and filmed in the good old days. Their biggest hit was Mr. Sandman.

Don’t blame me if you can’t get it out of your mind….

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2017
Tootsie Roll Lollipop image found at sweetcitycandy.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Lollipop

Why I haven’t buried God

I can’t count how many times people ask why I haven’t given up on God. Why I don’t curse God. Why I still call myself God’s beloved daughter-child.

Even though I’m a theologian, my reasons are deeply personal. Rooted in childhood experiences with my father who insisted I call him Daddy.

Daddy, a preacher, had his own kind of God. He desperately hoped his God would have mercy on him, though I never knew exactly why. Daddy also hoped his God would straighten me out into the submissive little girl and young woman Daddy thought proper and seemly for his #1 of 4 daughters, no sons.

So why didn’t I curse God, or at least bury God with honors? After all, Daddy kept saying he was following God’s law. God’s order. God’s instructions for parents and for children. And then he would beat me. All within a strangely church-like ritual that required my full attention, cooperation and submission to Daddy as God’s servant.

It wasn’t church. And it didn’t feel like a safe home. It was worse than being left out in the cold. Furthermore, I now know the God on which Daddy called was not God. He was more like a quixotic bully to be avoided and feared. Friendly one moment; cold and calculating the next.

So why haven’t I buried God? Because my parents did something for me, early on. My primers weren’t little Jack and Jill reading books. They were hymns, choruses, verses and entire passages from the Bible. All memorized and reviewed at home, and later in my grade school Bible classes from grade 2 through 7.

My father had a phenomenal memory and was eager for me, his daughter, to exercise her memory as well. Especially Scripture, but also hymns and poetry. I took to it like a duck to water.

My favorite was Psalm 23. Yes, it’s beautiful. And it’s more. It helped me endure many beatings. Daddy wielded his rod. But Jesus used his to comfort me. To shield my soul and give me strength to endure.

I also grew up hearing and reading the Bible. I loved the story about Jesus welcoming the children when large, grownup know-it-all disciples tried to send them away. Jesus rebuked the disciples, called the children to him and blessed them.

I don’t know what God looks like. But I know what God’s Son Jesus did with children just like me. The kind who seem to make too much noise. A distraction from the serious things of life. Always getting into trouble, or wanting to talk to Jesus about trivial stuff—not theology, or when the kingdom is going to arrive.

Like Jesus, God never sent me away, but offered a safe haven, especially when things weren’t safe. I never felt rejected or unwelcome. Nor do I today. I like to think that as God’s beloved daughter-child, I look a bit like one of Jesus’ sisters from time to time.

Why would I ever want to bury this God?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2017
Image found at pinimg.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Bury

writing life backwards…

The past
a muddled conglomeration
bits and pieces
scraps
in colors drab
dripping red
rags

Socks with holes
that hold no water
no deep thoughts
nothing worth saving
but my embodied soul
such as it was
small
scared
scarred
hypervigilant and
anguished

Dressed for church and company
Awkward, unseemly nice
Plain and forgettable

I will not forget

I write obsessively now
since the dam burst

Is this my confession?
Relieved capitulation to truth?
Sorrowful search for a little girl lost?

Yes Yes Yes and Yes –
All that and more

Written with a feather–
Backwards

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2017
Image found at salon.com, previously featured in Crazy Happy Lady
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Quill

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