Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Conversation

A Tribute to Brian

Golden Wattle, Australia’s National Flower

One of my faithful blogging friends has died. Gone on from this world to whatever lies beyond and within. I hope he won’t take offense at what I’m about to say. Then again, if he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t be Brian.

I never met Brian in person. In his younger years he visited the USA and studied our history. Especially military history. He was a proud immigrant (by choice) from England to Australia, always aware he was British, and proud of it.

Brian was about 12 years older than I. He was afflicted with difficult physical challenges, and blessed with a memory for historical detail. As he said about his posts, they were rambles. Rambles through the past of just about any world issue or slice of his personal history you might enjoy hearing about (or not).

As you might have observed in his comments on some of my posts, Brian was a self-proclaimed atheist. However, he enjoyed reminding me that he was raised in the church and sent his children to church schools. Definitely an enlightened atheist. Never afraid to confront me, miss the mark entirely, or listen to my responses. Every now and then he even ended up agreeing with me.

Sometimes Brian’s comments annoyed me just a bit. More than once I had to wait a day before responding. A few times I considered trashing a particularly off the wall comment. However, sleep and my better angels out there somewhere helped me listen and respond. It’s fair to say his challenges went way beyond the ‘normal’ challenges I got when teaching in seminary. For that, I owe him many thanks.

Brian was also a self-proclaimed curmudgeon. From my perspective, he pulled it off gloriously. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to discover that behind his curmudgeonly atheist persona lay a tender, sometimes lonely heart. Which may be what drew me to him.

The world is less interesting with Brian gone. I’m blessed to have met him here in Bloggy Land where anything and everything can happen. I’m also grateful for the experience of walking with him just a bit of the way. All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if our paths crossed again…somewhere and sometime beyond our knowing.

If you’d like to learn more about Brian, here’s a link to his blog.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 October 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

Still searching for myself

I’m most alive when I write –
If only for myself.
I don’t understand this deep urge
To put myself on paper,
To make visible things
I’ve held closely guarded –
As though I could keep my life
Safely contained
Within the walls of my mind
Secret, lonely, fearful.

Was or am I a big mistake
Parading as reality?
Worse yet, a fraud trying to be
What she was never meant to be?

I wonder –
Is this related to being white in the USA?
Or better – being white and female in the USA?

My mind has been on race and skin color for the last several days, triggered by one of the books I’m reading. It’s titled White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Dr. Carol Anderson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. The book was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Press.

Chapter titles:
1. Reconstructing Reconstruction
2. Derailing the Great Migration
3. Burning Brown to the Ground
4. Rolling Back Civil Rights
5. How to Unelect a Black President

I don’t understand the depth of our racial divide here in the USA, or of today’s white rage that seems to be spilling over at every turn. I do, however, understand that white rage is deeply embedded in this nation’s history. It’s part of our nation’s history from the beginning. Our old, old story. The one it seems we’d rather bury underground than face head on.

I don’t have answers, so I’m going to keep reading Dr. Carol Anderson’s well-researched, well-written book, and see what happens. Not out there, but in me.

Comments are welcome, whether you’ve read this book or not.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2019
Bookcover image found at amazon.com

What I can’t take with me

My electric toothbrush died this morning. After more than 20 years. Burnt out. Busted. Going nowhere.

Which got me thinking about something else I can’t take with me. Not because it’s tangible, but because it’s intangible. Irreplaceable. Even valuable.

I struggle with giving it up because it’s valuable. Which is another way of saying two things.

  1. It isn’t valuable unless I give it away. Hoarding it does nothing for me.
  2. If I hesitate, the opportunity will be lost. Whether it helps anyone or not isn’t the point. I don’t want to live in fear mode. Especially about things that relate to me personally.

So what is it? It’s the opportunity to speak now, in this present moment, on behalf of all women everywhere who, with me, carry scars piled on scars. I don’t omit men and their scars. This time, though, I’m focusing on women.

Women are yet again (in my lifetime) pushing beyond the ‘normal’ cycle of news reporting. Insisting on being heard not once or twice, but over and over. Relentlessly.

Sadly, this has set in motion growing push back, with calls for ‘time out’ to slice and dice various permutations of inappropriate behavior toward women. Why? Because the men being talked about may be unfairly lumped together with all men. Which suggests we have generations of men and women who don’t yet get it.

Sexism, like racism, is in the air. The air we breathe, consciously and unconsciously from cradle to grave. No amount of slicing and dicing will ever capture the reality of what sexism does to the embodied soul of one woman or one little girl. Or the reality that no one is safe from sexism’s fallout.

It will take all of us—women and men alike—to begin turning the tide. We desperately need safe spaces for women to breathe, stand up and speak their minds. Telling their stories, often for the first time. Without fear of being judged, questioned as though on trial, or turned into side shows.

I’m tired of hearing subtle and not-subtle calls for women to Shut Up and Sit Down. It’s time to move on and try Listening for a change. Asking how we got here, and what we already know in our hearts needs to change, and what each of us can do about it.

Last night, just before I went to bed, I wrote these words in my journal as a kind of prayer:

I crave the companionship of women and men who carry scars like mine. Perhaps by naming my scars yet again I’ll find them, or they will find me. And then what will we say to each other and to the world?

Thanks again for listening, and for considering what part you might play in your neighborhood, or wherever you have a voice.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 January 2018
Quote found at squarespace.com

A Poem and Reflection on Death

Death haunts the pages
Of our minds and hearts
A shadow reality bearing down
On irreplaceable relationships

Who am I without you?
Where am I to go without you?
How much agony can one soul bear?

Each beginning moves
Ineluctably toward its end
Knowing and not knowing
How the plot will play

Your death becomes my death
Bankrupt dreams and hopes
Why didn’t we see it coming?
As though we were omniscient

I’m left asking myself what must I/we do to be ‘ready’? The question is urgent, and yet…

It’s always too soon, until it’s too late.

Dr. Ira Byock, M.D., quotes this saying in his book The Four Things That Matter Most. The book isn’t just for people facing imminent death of a loved one. It’s for anyone, anytime, anywhere.

The four things are simple and life-changing. They won’t take away the pain of death. They will, however, help the people we leave behind deal with the reality of our absence.

Here they are, four things to say to those you love before it’s too late:

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Especially now, in light of multiple tragedies here and around the world. Death piled on death. Expected and unexpected. Close to home and in our news feeds daily.

Of course there are things that ‘need to be done’ to decrease the kinds of death we’ve witnessed already this year. Yet none of that will prepare me for my death or the deaths of those I love. That’s what’s on my heart this afternoon.

Blessings of peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2017

Racial History and Denial

It began with conversation on a call-in National Public Radio show, “Indivisible Radio.” The topic was racism and protest. The conversation explored public protests. Why protest? Does it matter? Aren’t there so many protests now that it’s just a fad, if not a huge cacophony of meaningless sound?

One caller, a younger African American, described his personal commitment to ongoing protest. It was his way of life. His occupation. Though he didn’t give his age, he was part of the younger generation of black men whose lives are in danger every day.

The topic turned to the effectiveness of these protests. When you protest, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you think you can bring about change in the system or in the people on the other side of the protest?

He thought for a few seconds and then responded. “I don’t know if I can change them. I don’t want them to change me!”

He further explained that protest is his way of holding a moral position on behalf of change—for the longterm. If he became ‘one of them,’ they would win, and the long-term prospects for change would diminish. For the next generations, not for himself.

There’s much truth in this man’s wisdom. In my observation, most protests are attempts to change or control someone or something. Or they’re expressions of fear.

So what does this have to do with symptoms, much less racial history and denial?

Clearly, the proliferation of protest in the USA is a symptom of something. Or of many ‘somethings.’ For me, given the current state of our disunion in the USA, I believe it’s at least a symptom of denial.

We aren’t just in denial about what’s happening to our country, neighborhoods and presidency today. We’re in denial of our history as a nation.

History comes home to roost, especially when denied. Of many strands in our national history, I believe denial of our racial history is biting us, hobbling us in ways we don’t understand, putting it in our faces, doing whatever it can to get our attention. Individually and collectively.

We ignore it to our peril. This symptom isn’t going away. It cannot be dealt with quietly or in secret.

So I’ll be posting my thoughts on this from time to time, whether the WordPress Daily Prompt gives me a way in or not!

Thanks for listening and thinking about this with me. Especially if you care about our future as a nation among nations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2017
Cartoon found at quotesgram.com
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Symptom

Three Days, Three Quotes Challenge | Day 1

The more you talk, the more likely you are to sin,
If you are wise, you will keep quiet.
(Proverbs 10:19, New English Version)

The first time I read this proverb in the New English Version of the Bible I laughed out loud. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Marriage | Part 7

1966 Aug Cambridge Apt Kitchen and Windo3

Kitchen Curtains by Elouise

It’s late fall/early winter, 1965-66. I don’t know it then, but I’m slipping into depression. I have long periods of silence, unmotivated, disconnected and withdrawn. It’s like being in a trance. Sitting and staring into space for hours at a time. Especially in the evenings. At work I’m doing just fine.

Besides anguish about sex, I have a shadow identity (I’m D’s shadow), especially at church and in social settings with D. It seems people aren’t interested in me, except my colleagues at the law school and a small number of others who include me in conversation.

Now I have another anguish. Spirituality.

Not long after we arrive in Cambridge, D suggests we begin reading the Bible and praying together. He knows my family did this together when I was a child. He wants us to do this, too.

It sounds like a good idea, especially since I’ve left home. That means the weight of childhood experience around the dinner table and elsewhere is behind me. I’m a bit hesitant, but willing to give it a try.

At the beginning I feel slightly uncomfortable. I’m not wired for routine like this (with one other person). As a child, I had no choice. In Bible college this was required at a certain time every day, with bells to regulate the beginning and end of ‘quiet time.’ But that was by myself, not with a partner. This feels different.

I want to please D, and I’m still not sure about my status in this marriage. I don’t refuse or complain. I just grow increasingly withdrawn and uneasy.

For one thing, we often have this Bible reading and prayer time when we’re sitting in bed. From my perspective, sharing like this is deeply personal—somewhat like sex. This doesn’t sit well with me.

We talk about whatever we’re reading together in the Bible. I  quickly discover that D processes what he reads differently than I do.

It isn’t that he’s wrong and I’m right, or vice versa. It’s about how we process and interpret what we’re reading. I like leaving things open, and ‘trying on’ different ways of looking at things. D does a bit of this, but not as much as I do.

Gradually I stop talking about what I hear and am wondering about in what we’re reading. It takes too much effort to describe it. D already has clear ideas and is verbally adept at expressing them. It’s easier to listen to him than to go through the agony of finding ways to express what I see, feel or think.

Each of us is highly verbal. Sometimes I’ve jokingly described D as having ‘verbal diarrhea.’ All that means is that once he gets going on an idea, he develops it fully, and the words just keep pouring out.

I also develop my ideas fully. I prefer talking them out on a listener. Looking at them various ways, trying them on to see whether they fit a larger picture. It makes sense to me, but I see D isn’t interested in this verbal avalanche called trying things on.

So I go into my ‘verbal constipation’ mode. I think about it on and off all day, but I don’t try to talk about it with D. I’m not sure he understands me.

Instead, I yield the floor to D. Sort of like swallowing my anguish about sex. This time, however, I’m swallowing my voice. My contribution to conversation about things that matter.

As for praying together, I pray, but I also feel painfully self-conscious. My mind is on alert–as though I’m watching myself. Voices make a ruckus in my head:

  • Don’t do it! This isn’t safe!
  • You’re being judged by how you pray!
  • There’s no way you can pray the way D prays!
  • You should be ashamed of not knowing how to pray with your own husband!
  • Are you trying to hide something?
  • Don’t you know that couples who pray together stay together?

As with sex, I didn’t have a clue how deep these roots went. I thought it was all about D and me.

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 May 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, August 1966

Early Marriage | Part 2

FRASER_S_0314

Fall 1965-Spring 1966. That’s Park Street Church in the photo. It’s on a corner across from the Boston Common (to the left), and down the hill from the Statehouse. Stately and elegant, the church has a history of outdoor preaching at mid-day from the balcony you see above the corner doors. (click to enlarge)

I’ve never been a member of a church like this. In fact, I’m almost allergic to great big famous churches. Still, it’s an interesting church, and we decide to attend there.

On Sunday mornings traffic is decent. That makes it easier to navigate the twisting cow-path back streets of Boston. On the map below, Park Street is down on the left, just next to the green area–the Boston Common.

~~~Boston Street Map 1960s

~~~Boston Street Map 1960s

Every now and then the senior pastor of Park Street Church hosts a small group of students in his home. It’s for men interested in theological studies or in becoming ministers. Spouses are included, though I don’t remember meeting any except the pastor’s wife. As I said, it’s for men.

Sunday evenings we go to a group for young adults. Most are men, students in colleges and universities. Not many women. Definitely a place to meet, greet and look for interesting people. It seems women have yet to make a substantial mark on the Park Street Church.

Right now D and I are mingling with the large young adult group, meeting and greeting each other. The meeting hasn’t begun yet. Just the mingling.

The following short-version ‘dialogues’ are in my voice. You’ll have to imagine the other sides.

~Hi, I’m Elouise. Pleased to meet you. ‘Elouise.’ Yes, with a ‘u.’ It’s OK. I understand.
~Hi, I’m Elouise. Yes, I’ve been here before. No, I came with David. Yes, he’s my husband. Nice meeting you, too.
~Hi, I’m Elouise. It’s OK. It’s hard to remember names and faces. No, I came with David. See you around.
~Hi, I’m Elouise. That’s right; Elouise. No problem. I’m David’s wife. Nice meeting you, too. See you around.

Is there a sign on my back that says ‘MARRIED’? Why aren’t there more women here? Why am I here?

I know I’m a good listener. But do I really want to hear which courses everyone is taking this semester in college or at a university? Or who’s got which professor? Or the resounding silence with which I am received?

Who am I, anyway? I used to have a name, an identity, friends and a family. And people wanted to know what was happening in my life!

Today I have D. That’s all, besides myself. And ‘MRS’ emblazoned somewhere on my person or hovering above my head.

I know D is interesting. Have they already decided I’m not? Maybe they’re afraid of me. And where are all the women? Aren’t any of these men married? They seem to be allergic to me. Why am I here?

I move a bit closer to D. At least he knows who I am. D reaches his arm around me, smiles, and keeps talking. I think he wants to reassure me.

I’m thrilled to be married to D. But why do people look past me to D when we’re together? Some just walk on by without even acknowledging me. Am I invisible? I know I’m much shorter than D. But surely they see me! Am I that uninteresting?

After several weeks, it seems everybody knows D’s name. I can count on less than one hand how many know mine and actually talk to me. Though when they do talk to me, it’s usually about D! What am I? A robot? A decoration?

I tell D how I feel about this. He sees it, too. He tries to include me in conversations. Most of the time this works for about two seconds. It’s all in the eyes that look away, refocusing on D.

Sometimes I wish I hadn’t come.

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 April 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, Spring 1966 (Park Street Church), and
http://www.city-data.com (Boston Street Map 1960s)

The Dean and I | Part 2

Dean's Office Langdell 2,1965

Mr. Griswold’s office, 1965

A grandfatherly looking gentleman opens his office door and comes out to greet me. He’s wearing a plain dark gray suit and a tie. He has graying hair and a serious yet friendly face. I like his unassuming demeanor. This is not what I expected. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Mom, I miss you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Forsythe Park Fountain, Savannah, Georgia

Dear Mom,
I miss you. I’d love to sit down with a cup of tea and continue the conversations we had before your stroke. Though you didn’t particularly like all my questions about your past, you did your best to answer them.

I’m grateful for every conversation we had back then. I’m also grateful that you wrote down memories of your early life. A bit of your personal history. Every now and then I find myself hungry for more, though most of the time it’s enough. Your written words give glimpses of your heart and your struggle with circumstances over which you had no control.

I’ve been thinking about your memorial service in 1999. I got to make remarks on behalf of the four of us, your daughters. I decided to show and tell how much you loved teaching children music. Not just to the four of us, but to the kindergarten children you taught after I’d married and moved away.

I still have your old spiral music notebook, filled with children’s songs. For your service I picked out several of my favorites and said a bit about each song before I played the music. I also read the words and demonstrated motions for at least one of the songs. The one about how elephants kalump along, their long noses swaying in time to the music!

The most fun was coming to the end of “The Polliwog’s Story,” and (like you, without warning) suddenly turning around on the piano bench to give everyone a big scare with the last line! They loved it! For a moment we felt your joy and exuberance, and celebrated your lively spirit and your love for children and music.

I also played some of your favorite adult hymns. Not too many, but just enough, with comments about why I chose each. The most difficult to get through was “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” That was the hymn you tried to sing so often when you first got polio, even though your vocal chords were paralyzed.

I’m tearing up as I write this part. I owe you so much. I’ve been reading a book by Henry Nouwen. He talks about the way absence can cause our love for someone to grow. I’m beginning to understand what he’s talking about.

Part of it is my freedom to write you these letters and say things I couldn’t say while you were with us. It’s also because I understand our family dynamics more than before, and how costly they were for you, not just for me.

A few days ago I was thinking about my grandparents and how little I knew any of them except for your father, my California Grandpa. That got me thinking about the way you and he related to each other, especially since your Mom wasn’t around for most of your life.

When we lived on the West Coast, we spent lots of time visiting Grandpa and going with him to fun places like the Wilson Observatory and the Griffith Park Zoo. Even his apartment was fun! There were long sidewalks outside. I remember learning to ride my first bike on them. The bike he gave me, with training wheels.

After we moved to the East Coast, things changed. But you still kept in regular touch through letters. I know you wrote to him about us and what we were up to, because his letters to you sometimes included comments back to each of us.

He seemed to dote on us. It meant a lot to me back then to know he thought we were the best and the brightest little girls in the whole wide world. I’m guessing it meant a lot to you, too. You must have missed him terribly. I think you inherited your love of fun and of children from him.

How do you like the photo of the Forsythe Park Fountain? I love the water droplets flying through the air! If you enlarge it, you’ll see pink azaleas blooming in the background.

Love and hugs,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 March 2015

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