Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Courage and Bravery

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.


The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44


I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
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How to write my life backwards

No one ever taught me to do this. Not directly. Yet I find myself wanting to write my life backwards. And with a feather, no less!

I’ve already written many posts on my childhood, youth and beyond. I drew on memories, records and old photos to describe my interior life along the way and how all that affected me as an adult.

It’s one thing to describe and reflect upon my experience as a traumatized child in a Christian family. Just doing that has been more daunting and rewarding than I ever dreamed it would be.

Yet when I read what I wrote three years ago, I’m aware of perspectives I didn’t consider back then. I want to name and explore them. Not for my sake, but for the sake of the little girl and young woman I was back then.

Here’s a small example from one of my first posts. In The Shopkeeper, I describe what happened to me that day, how I felt, and how I concluded that I didn’t really need to tell my parents about it and why. I dreaded, for good reason, that the consequences for me would be grim.

Yet now, over three years since I posted that memory and my reflections on it, I have at least one more question. Not for me, but for my parents. It’s simple.

Why did you send me into that shop in the first place?

This was the only shop near the campground we stayed at during those summers. More than likely, one of my parents had already been buying milk there and collecting the deposits. One or both had likely seen the filthy environment and experienced first-hand the unkempt, uncouth old man who ran the place.

I never thought about this back then. My job wasn’t to question my parents. It was to answer their questions—and accept the consequences.

Yet the question remains, and looms large today. Larger than dread about questions my parents would ask, and the possible verdict that I was, as usual, somehow at fault. Or that this wasn’t really all that important when I knew it was.

In going back, I don’t want to retell what’s already been told. I want to give a voice to this young girl that I am. She already seems to believe that no matter how she talks about what happened to her, she’ll be found guilty.

I believe she deserves to be heard, especially at this distance. Her courage astonishes me, even though she didn’t feel brave most of the time.

How to do this is the great discovery I have yet to make!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 July 2017
Image found at

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