Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

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

stripped of color

stripped of color
bare branches shiver
falling leaves take flight

D and I are just back from a blustery walk. Dead leaves whipped through the air and across the road. A few trees still looked spectacular. Yet on the whole, the achy beauty of autumn colors has become torn, tattered browns of brittle leaves.

What does it take to survive late Fall and early Winter? Or the unsettling reality of climate change? Or the huge surge of Covid-19 cases in the USA, coupled with the refusal of millions to take simple precautionary measures?

As a citizen of the USA, I shiver as I watch the barometer of Covid-19. It isn’t chiefly about our health. It’s about our relationships with each other. Especially with those most affected by the pandemic. We seem to have forgotten we’re all human beings.

Many of us run away from truth about our country. We harbor persistent, deep-rooted racial ignorance, and neglect citizens and visitors who fall near or beneath the poverty level. It isn’t difficult to see this, no matter which political party we favor.

Even so, I have hope. Not because Spring always follows Winter, but because hope is for any season of any year. Someone Else with far more gracious eyes than mine is in charge. My part is to follow Someone Else (Jesus of Nazareth), and do what I’m able to do.

I’m relieved that POTUS, our Governors and politicians, the Supreme Court, Wall Street investors, and deep-pocketed billionaires are not in charge of how and whether Spring will follow Winter.

With the exception of most conifers, leaves fall freely every Autumn. Why? Maybe they know Spring follows Winter. Today their job is to step aside, and let Someone Else figure out how we’ll get from here to there. My job is to do my part, and leave the rest to my true Leader, Jesus of Nazareth.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2020
Image found at merriam-webster.com

seeping through pores

Seeping through pores
The virus takes root
Invisible at first
A sense of not being
At home or abroad
In this sea of strangers
Wandering in and out
Filled with good will
They come and  go
Dry and desolate
A thought takes root
Without reason
The only welcome visitor
Whose words unheard
Make perfect sense
In this dying hope for miracles
That never arrive on time

In recognition of our national upsurge in suicides attempted and/or completed, and in honor of family members and friends who ended their lives on this earth, or made the attempt and failed.

Always a thousand unanswered questions. Always a sense of ‘what could I or we have done differently?’ Always a desire to go to sleep and hope for something better when I wake up.

Multiple resources are available online. Hotlines and chat rooms are open night and day.

I first posted this poem with comments in June 2018. Now it’s October 2020, and the number of USA deaths by suicide is climbing. How would you respond if a family member or friend confided in you? What would you say? What would you do?

Every situation is different. However, based on experience, here’s a way to begin conversation immediately. Don’t forget to take notes, including the date and time.

  • What’s your plan?
  • How would you do that? (Describe the process and preparation as of right now.)
  • Have you talked with anyone else about this? (If so, with whom did you talk, and what did they say?)
  • Do you have the suicide hot-line number? (If not, give them the number. You can’t force them to use it.)
  • Promise you’ll call me before you carry out your plan.

We’re not trained to have these conversations. Nonetheless, it’s important to make this real and present. The worst thing would be to commiserate (I call this ‘polishing the furniture’), and then hang up because it seems your friend or family member is feeling ‘better.’ Now we have two people in denial. Hardly a good outcome.

Bottom line: An awkward one-to-one conversation is the best possible place to begin. Honor their pain. They’ve just reached out for help. Not for a feel-better conversation.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2018, expanded and reposted 30 October 2020
Signs of Suicide found at mentalhealthfirstaid.org
Chart found at Wikipedia.eng

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

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