Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

Messenger | Mary Oliver

This is the opening poem in Mary Oliver’s slim volume, Thirst. The volume is dedicated to her partner of many years, Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005. My comments follow.

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Death stares us in the face daily. Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, raging forest fires, climate change and more bring it home.

No matter which political and/or religious side you’re on, we live in the world of 2020, not 2019. As I see it, we’re in a national and international valley of death. Some self-inflicted; some visited on us unawares.

Given these realities, what are we now to do?

In the midst of her valley of death, Mary Oliver seeks to clarify her work. Yes, she grieves the loss of her partner. In addition, she wants to know why she’s still alive, and what the meaning of her life is now.

Though I still have my partner, this is my question as well. What am I called to do and say right now, in this world of Covid-19 et al? Not in a drab and dreary way, but in a way that conveys my love for this world, focuses on what matters, remains open to the miracle of joy, overflows with gratitude, and proclaims “how it is that we live forever.” Not for ourselves alone, but for this world starving for love and for life.

We matter, singly and together. No matter how defeated or discouraged we feel.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 October 2020
Photo found at pinterest.com

To fight aloud, is very brave — | Emily Dickinson

charge_of_the_light_brigade

~~~Charge of the Light Brigade, painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

What does it mean to be brave? Emily Dickinson gets right to the heart of things with her focus on true heroes. My comments follow.

To fight aloud, is very brave –
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe –

Who win, and nations do not see –
Who fall – and none observe –
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love –

We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go –
Rank after Rank, with even feet –
And Uniforms of Snow.

c. 1859

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

The USA is besotted with romantic notions of Bravery. Captivated by monuments to those who fell to ‘ensure our freedom.’ Memorials to those who displayed Bravery in the face of overwhelming odds.

We pause to honor those who stood or fell on our behalf. And yet….Who are the true heroes among us?

Emily’s poem is a slow, pensive hymn of remembrance for individuals who fought and fight battles, unseen and unacknowledged. Women, men, girls and boys more gallant than national heroes. In their hearts they charge daily against The Cavalry of Woe that would take them down in misery, sorrow, despair, pain, agony and defeat.

The poem, written in about 1859, brought to mind Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” along with paintings that memorialize tragedies.

Emily’s poem could also be a eulogy for uncounted heroes and heroines who bravely fought their internal enemies. Few, if any, know their names or the stories of their gallant deeds. Unseen and unsung, they remain hidden. Small bits of unexplored or never remembered history.

Does anyone notice or care? Emily does. She is one of these more gallant souls. Her poems remind us of her internal battles, though we don’t know what each was about.

Emily’s final stanza lifts up internal bravery for our respect, perhaps also for her personal comfort. She sees more than one Angel per warrior. Imagine it: unnumbered ranks of Angels process reverently in soft, snowy plumes. Their uniforms drop blankets of snow around and over uncounted heroes and heroines. Snowy flags of honor drape each unsung warrior who charged bravely ahead against all odds.

Angels also recognize the bravery of patriotic heroes, though not because of visible service. No one gets a pass when dealing with the internal Cavalry of Woe threatening daily to undo us.

My heart has been an unseen battlefield most of my life. It’s littered with spoils of war—war I’ve waged against my Cavalry of Woe. I fought much of it silently, assuming I was a loser. The woes weren’t strange or unusual, but common and everyday. Things like Fear of Harsh Punishment, Getting through Harsh Punishment, Perfectionism, Depression, Self-loathing, Self-doubt, Fear of Abandonment, Fear of Speaking in My Own Voice.

Whether we believe we’re gallant or not, Emily invites us to trust the cloud of Angel witnesses passing by, clothed in snow-white plumes. Reverently and respectfully they accompany us in life and in death. Honoring us as patriots who fought and still fight gallantly on behalf of our true selves.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 Sept 2016, edited and reposted 8 Oct 2020
Painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.,
found at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade

What’s on your menu today?

What will become of us
cooped up in our small islands
of cautionary restrictions?

Do we have what it takes
to get through the next six weeks
much less the next four years?

Despair is a cruel partner
easily allowed through the front door
and welcomed at the table

Sadly, today’s menu isn’t great —
Warmed up soup thickened
with yesterday’s moldy bread

Gagging is in order —
Precursor to starved hearts
sour innuendos and warmed-over lies

The perfect ending
to a less than perfect storm
of neglect, pride and presumptive prejudice

All coming our way
whether we ordered it
or not

This is a bit of what creeps around the edges of my mind these days. I know and believe the Judge of All the Earth will do right. I also know The Supreme Court of the United States is not now and will never be the Judge of All the Earth. Or even of the USA.

Nonetheless, prospects for our shared future aren’t looking good. We’ve lost our way, or never found it.

We are not now and have never been a White Nation. We’re a nation founded by immigrants who came in and, by whatever means possible, took over what didn’t properly belong to them or to us.

There have always been clear, humane alternatives. Thankfully, there are still women, men and children who care about and do the right things. Small reminders that it isn’t over yet, and that the Judge of All the Earth will have the final say.

I think I’ll throw out that warmed-over gruel, and start over from scratch. Good scratch!

How about you? How are you dealing with today’s imperfect storm?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2020
Cartoon found at npr.org

No matter who wins the 2020 Election

Here’s a short list of things that matter to me, going into the 2020 Election.

First, a battle is on for the heart and soul of this country, no matter who wins the 2020 Election. Conflict isn’t going away. It may, in fact, get worse.

Second, those of us who’ve been raised to believe in the rule of justice, or the rightness of law and order need to think again. We can’t afford to dismiss the way our current justice and legal systems too frequently favor white (or any color) money and stature.

Third, we already have among us a great company of witnesses. They’ve lived with injustice most if not all their lives. In the unlikely case you don’t know who they are, meet your black, brown, American Indian, and immigrant neighbors. Many are skilled in the kind of spiritual discipline it takes to live in an unjust world.

Fourth, it would be foolish to ignore neighbors and strangers. Some know me better than I know myself. Still, even they can’t do for me what I must do. They might, however, stand with me in spirit, and pray for me.

As a white woman, my life has been shaped by so-called national realities, and figments of human imagination. Now I must question them. Daily. In writing if needed.

As a senior citizen, I can’t afford to tie my hopes to the outcomes of the 2020 Election. No matter who wins, we’ll have a mess to clean up, a pandemic to attend to, and divisions in this country that are eating away at our soul.

Praying we’ll get through another week, one day at a time, and that we’ll find small ways to make a difference.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

On the death of many things

It’s the day after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death, and centuries after our founders declared themselves the owners of what did not belong to them.

troubled in her soul
the old woman weighs options
floating through her head

the clock ticks and chimes
outside cars rush by on wheels
today’s news falls heavy

even this poem
doesn’t know where to begin
or end

The arrival of Covid-19 turned the world into a tinder box. It also put on display the arrogance and ignorance of POTUS. Sadly, we’ve become accustomed to daily lies and innuendos, spread by all means possible.

Due to Covid-19 realities, I‘m in a boat with many senior citizens. Will there be a reliable, affordable vaccination before I die? In the meantime, writing has become my link to myself and to the world.

Late last week I had a particularly teary day, and went to bed feeling powerless. Even though reading books, writing, and working on An American Lament are important, I still felt restless and discouraged, especially in light of Black Lives Matter.

The next morning I checked my blogsite and found a comment. The commenter had been doing research on a slave market in her town, and stumbled on Haunted, an old photo and poem I published in August 2019. I teared up. Not because she left a comment, but because of what she said about herself and about the connection she felt with me. She lives in Deep South Georgia. The old slave market has become an issue. Will it remain in the center of town?

We talked on the phone this week. As a consequence, I’m turning another corner in my life. I spent most of my childhood and youth in the Deep South. I was, and still am determined to be my own person. I want to do what I can before I die. This unexpected connection is talking to me, pushing me. Some things can’t wait.

Besides, what better way to honor the legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, along with the courage of Black citizens standing up for what’s right for all of us.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 September 2020
Image of the road ahead found at airstream.com

Half truths + Half lies = Lies

From a 1950s Texas textbook for school children.

And what about real life?

Half-truths
Half-lies
Does it really matter?

Yes means ‘Yes…but’
Not now means ‘maybe
In the sweet by and by’

Mind your manners
Sweeten your voice
Remember who you are not

You do care
About your children
Don’t you?

Or your job
Or your good reputation
Or your life

Sly words
Strung like pearl
Bullets

If you flee
They will find you
In the end

Now….
What did you want
To say?

It’s difficult to convey the slyness of slavery. It happened on both sides, though for different reasons. The scales were, of course, heavily weighted in support of sly masters and mistresses.

Words are indispensable. Easily twisted by the powerful into lies. Or toned down and prettied up in American History textbooks of the 1950s and 60s. (See photo at the top)

We may say we’ve moved ‘beyond slavery,’ yet the record shows we have not. As a nation, we haven’t begun to recognize, much less take seriously its legacy in our lives today. No matter where we are or what we’re doing.

Pointing to heroes and heroines is important, yet it isn’t enough. What about exploring the unsung courage, strength and ingenuity embodied in unnumbered black lives that mattered then, and matter now? Or looking into some of those textbooks and pictures that tried to make us one happy family?

Praying for courage to face the past as part of facing our future.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2020
Image found at kut.org

weak as water

weak as water
the old woman bends
bowing to the floor
intent on finding
her lost coin

so quickly ages
drift just beyond sight
daring us to recall
or recoil from truth
about the past

Two sides warring with each other. Wanting to know and not wanting to know. Looking and looking away. Betrothed to truth and living in half-truth which is falsehood.

I don’t know any other way to describe what’s happening in me as I work through An American Lament. Yes I knew and I didn’t know about the history of slavery and racism in this country. Yes I want to know more, and please clear the table now. I’ve had enough.

Do I regret beginning this journey? No. Yet the internal duel shines a spotlight on what’s at stake, and challenges me. Not as a reader or leader, but as a white follower of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, a Jew, son of Mary and Joseph, on his way to die as a criminal would die.

Is this really what I want (with all my heart) to do with my one precious life?

Prayers for wisdom, courage and grace in these troubled times,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 August 2020
Image found at freebibleimages.org

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built | James DePreist

DePreist’s star along Portland, Oregon’s Main Street Walk of Stars

James DePreist is on my mind again, thanks to a note from a long-time friend. DePreist was a world-renowned orchestra conductor, a survivor of polio contracted while conducting the Bangkok Symphony, and a nephew of his world-renowned Aunt Marian Anderson. He was born in Philadelphia in 1936.

DePreist died in 2013. You can read about his life in The New York Times obituary or on Wikipedia. At the time of his death, he had been conductor of the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon since 1980.  He had also written two volumes of poetry in his own free style.

Of all his poems, this one has challenged me most. Not just in the past, but today. Given our current situation regarding Black Lives, and Covid-19, it resonates loudly. A timely invitation to examine walls I’ve built, and deal with questions now “breeching my barricades.”

I’ve been weakened by the walls I’ve built,
robbed
of strength-drenched testing,
protected into an unprepared defense
of self.
Failing in my futile fortress to see
contentment’s numbing trap
I
answerless
must battle the questions now breeching
my barricades.

Poem written by James DePreist
©1986 and published by University of Portland Press in This Precipice Garden, p. 6

This is where I find myself today. Answerless. Not so much for my childhood upbringing in Georgia, but for my adult years when I thought I knew better.

While it’s true we never know how much good we’ve done, it’s also true we never know how much pain or damage we’ve inflicted. And then there’s always the question about now. What now? What next? How must I change, what will it cost, and what will I gain?

Thanks, as always, for visiting and reading. I pray you’re finding ways to deal with questions now breeching your barricades.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2020
Image found at en.wickipedia.org

The dam has been leaking for years

In honor of Covid-19 victims in the USA, from NBC News

The dam has been leaking for years
Giving up secrets great and small
Holding back others for fear
They’ll be rejected or tossed into
Another bin of bankrupt fake news
Now delivered daily from the top down
Burnished with self-righteous contempt
For humanity and all self-evident
Truths now being exposed as lies

The so-called mighty are falling
Taken down by the truth of a virus
Delivered daily without fanfare
And without so much as a knock
On the door or nod to fake protocols
Of a society already drowning in
A flood of its own making

One day at a time
One human being at a time
One lust for wealth at a time
One unanswered call for help at a time
One refusal to repent at a time

***

I don’t feel defeated. I feel lost. And challenged to change, thanks to Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter.

I’m relieved to be one of many citizens immersing themselves in the untold, untaught, neglected history of how we in the USA got to this point. How can it be that we still don’t honor and practice equal rights for each citizen of this nation?

So yes, I’m feeling lost in my own backyard, though not without hope. The kind that feeds on truth, and grows a bit stronger each day.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 August 2020
Image found at abcnews.go.com

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