Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: COVID-19

The Fist | Mary Oliver

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for yet another challenging poem. I imagine you watching us, willing us to do better. My comments follow your poem.

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, poem found on pp. 46-47 of Thirst,
Published by Beacon Press

Dear Mary Oliver,

I don’t know where to begin. Things are such a mess down here since you left. And still the sun goes down, often in blazes of glory that fade and then, right on time, return the next day.

Never resting, really. Just moving on to circle this war-weary earth every 24 hours so everyone knows we haven’t been left to our own devices, or shut down due to human failure.

As if it weren’t amazing enough to see the sun setting, songbirds join in the morning sunrise chorus. Especially in spring when their hormones seem to go wild with passion. Or at least the urge to procreate.

This morning I watched with disbelief as a fat red robin jumped into a pan of freezing cold water and splashed away before running off to pursue a female robin. Just two minutes later, a small gray junco did the same thing even though, as you know, they don’t procreate here in Pennsylvania. Are they crazy? Do they know something I don’t know, sitting behind my kitchen window, shivering?

There’s so much we don’t know right now. Why did this person got Covid and die while that person didn’t? Or why did my friend die who didn’t have Covid at all?

When I was growing up, they said most brutish behaviors were about lack of self-control. Today I’d say most of our crazy choices seem to be about fear. Not fear of Covid, but fear of having our “rights” taken away. I’m sorry to say we don’t seem to be softening as a nation, cleaning up our brutish ways, or finding our places in this strange world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all accept the sun’s invitation? I imagine us jumping into the cold water together to clean our tired bodies and revive our aching souls.

I hope you’re doing well today. And please, pray for us as you’re able.

Your admirer,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2021
Sun setting over a city found at wallpaperaccess.com

 

 

Eulogy for Sister #3 – revisited

Diane, Sister #3, is on my mind today. Diane died from ALS in February 2006. Her death was a mixed blessing. A release from imprisonment in her physical body, and a reminder that the ‘good’ life is about more than being free of catastrophic illness. Including Covid-19.

Houston, Texas – 17 February  2006

Diane directed that my remarks today be “personal, with no preachy tones.”  As I thought about what to say, I came up with only one topic that guarantees I’m being personal—that I’m not avoiding the subject Diane knows none of us can avoid when we talk about her.

Remembering Diane’s Body

Diane had a human body—loved by God
A female body:
—The body of God’s beloved daughter child
—Known to Jesus Christ as a sister for whom he died
—A female temple of God’s Holy Spirit on this earth

A one-of-a-kind body:
—Created and sustained by God
—Loved and nurtured by God’s ministering servants here on earth:
——Her husband, two sons and one daughter
——Her large, extended biological family
——Her church family
——Her nursing family
——Even the family collection of dogs

Diane’s life was shaped by bodily infirmity.
—She would hate that I just used that word!

Diane refused to think, act or behave as a person identified by an “infirmity.”
Yet the truth is simple:
—Diane’s life was shaped by loss in her left arm due to polio.

From a parental point of view, Diane’s weak arm was cause for protective measures.

From Diane’s point if view it was cause for excelling in whatever she supposedly couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Not only would she do all these things,
She would do most of them better than any of us, things like
—Riding a bike, swimming and playing basketball
—Sewing dresses and suits
——not hankies and curtains, but fancy dresses, and suits with tailored blazers
—Then there was photography, not with small, lightweight equipment,
——b
ut with the best possible equipment and attachments she could afford and lug around!

Diane developed an uncanny knack for figuring out how to carry out activities like these without compromising quality or expertise in the slightest.

She also developed an uncanny knack for taking advantage of our parents’ desire to protect her.

Only as an adult did she confess that her habit of disappearing from the house to do yard work (and not housework) was not motivated chiefly by her pure desire to help Daddy.  Rather, she knew neither Daddy nor Mother would send or call her back inside the house for the latest instruction or practice in vacuuming, dishwashing, dish-drying, table setting, ironing or putting clothes away.

To us, Diane’s body was both normal and different—though it all felt pretty normal most of the time.  Certainly not life-threatening.

Then each of us, her three sisters, got a telephone call from Diane in January 1996.
Diane had ALS.  She was direct and clear:
—There is no cure.
—The disease is terminal.
—I’m going to need help.  Lots of help.

Diane’s left arm shaped her as a child, as a young person and as an adult.
Now Diane’s entire body began shaping her and her family,
beginning most painfully with her husband, two sons and daughter,
and reaching out to all of us gathered here today.

For the last 10 years I’ve flown down to Houston about 4 times a year to visit Diane.  But not just to visit her.  I’ve come to witness a journey—Diane’s very personal journey with ALS.  A journey that relentlessly put Diane’s physical body at the center of attention.

As young girls we weren’t encouraged to pay much attention to our bodies. 
Bodies were a necessary but usually uncomfortable necessity—especially female bodies.  Now, with ALS, Diane was consumed by what was and was not happening in her body.

She suffered losses beyond comprehension—most in fairly rapid succession over a period of years, starting with physical losses such as mobility, ability to care for her own personal needs, eating and swallowing, ability to speak on her own, and breathing. 

She also suffered loss of her position here at the church:
—Loss of her dream of being ordained
—Loss of work and personal relationships as her body more and more seemed to intrude as a difficulty or a problem to be solved
—Loss of time for herself or her family and friends, as personal care began gobbling up hours out of each day
—Loss of privacy:  total and absolute, with only one exception—the thoughts in her mind, which included her life with God
—Loss of little things such as swatting at a mosquito feasting on her neck (as she put it); scratching where it itches; singing in church; being in the middle of the action and making wisecracks

More painfully, she suffered loss of other things such as giving her children a hug, or embracing her husband face to face.  As a female she suffered what most women dread—loss of control over personal presentation of herself:  hairstyle, makeup, body language.  She became the subject of stares and quickly averted eyes.

Diane’s body seemed to be calling the shots.

True to who she already was, however, Diane kept showing up—fully with and in her body marked more and more by ALS.  It was as though she were saying

  • I’m still here—in my body
  • I’m still Diane—in this body
  • I am not whatever you think a terminally ill person should be
  • I am not predictable
  • I am not a saint
  • I’m still Diane!
  • I’m still here and I’m still fully engaged in living–living with ALS
  • I will be who I am—angry, frustrated, filled with anxiety, filled with human longings and everyday needs; direct and clear without being mean
  • I’m dying
  • We need to talk
  • Now

As always, nothing was too sacred for a good healthy laugh.  Especially about her body with its unpredictable body parts, behaviors and small crises:  facial movements, biting her own lip, laughing uncontrollably, head falling over from time to time, drooling from time to time.

Diane continued to be who she already was:
—Determined to speak for herself in her own words, not yours or mine
—Determined to be heard and heeded

She was still directive—now in ways that boggled the mind:
—To-do and Do-not-do lists for family, nurses, friends and strangers
—Rules for how Mom is to be driven in her new van and who gets to say when the rules are being broken (Mom, of course).
—She was still a masterful strategic planner—only now she had to figure out how to get you to do what she could no longer do, but somehow knew must be done.

As always, Diane wasn’t about to fade into the woodwork.  She kept showing up in the flesh—in her ALS-shaped flesh:  at church, in shopping malls, at weddings for her daughter and one of her sons, and even—one month ago, believe it or not, to inspect her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter’s new home.

Diane remained insistent that she be given choices, and that her choice was the final choice:
—Clothes and accessories for church
—Medical options
—What to keep and what to discard from the kitchen cupboards
—Which movie to watch
—And how this service today would be shaped,
——including the names of all active male pallbearers
——and the names of all 25 honorary female pallbearers!

Diane made her concrete mark in, with and through her concrete, ALS-shaped body.
To deny she was among us in the flesh would be to deny her existence.

To some extent, each of us gathered here to honor and grieve her passing has been a witness.  So many of you are so full of memories.  I can’t speak for you and I won’t get preachy, but I will be confessional:

  • I’m listening, God, for what my relationship to Diane means for the rest of my life in this world you love so much.  Amen.

Eulogy delivered 17 February 2006, © Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2006
Blog post © Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 April 2014

The Life we have is very great – revisited

Here’s a second look at Emily Dickinson’s poem about Life, Infinity, and the Human Heart. A good poem for today when we’re missing family members or friends for any reason, plus Covid-19, political standoffs, hate crimes, or the harsh reality of wildfires, avalanches and hurricanes. My lightly edited comments follow.

The Life we have is very great.
The Life that we shall see
Surpasses it, we know, because
It is Infinity.
But when all Space has been beheld
And all Dominion shown
The smallest Human Heart’s extent
Reduces it to none.

c. 1870

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

It doesn’t matter how many worlds we discover beyond this world. It doesn’t matter how far the distance is from here to there and beyond. It doesn’t even matter that the universe is still expanding.

None of this, as surpassingly great or expansive as it may be, holds a candle to the smallest of human hearts.

According to Emily, the Life we now have is ‘very great.’ The Life we’ll have beyond this Life is even greater. Yet it’s infinitesimal compared to what our hearts can see and grasp right now.

Emily describes the heart’s capacity to love Life. Especially when we can’t see those we love. She suggests that the expansiveness of one small human heart outshines infinity itself.

Yes, it’s fascinating to explore the universe, what may lie beyond it and how it’s ordered. Yet what we discover externally will never match the capacity of one small human heart to connect with another human heart.

It doesn’t matter whether that heart is what we call dead or alive, here or there, or somewhere in between. Nor do we need to understand exactly what Space encompasses, how it is governed, or where Infinity resides.

This isn’t about measuring or mapping Life beyond our present Life. Or discovering where those we love now reside.

It’s about connections. All it takes is one small human heart to leap beyond unmapped, immeasurable boundaries, expanding outward in a heartbeat to enfold the hearts of those we love. No matter where they or we may be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2017, lightly edited and reposted 10 December 2020
Image taken from Hubble Spacecraft, found at nasa.gov

empty bird feeder, a cat and Mr. T

the bird feeder swings
empty in morning sunshine
a cat sleeps soundly

~~~

What will this auspicious day tell us
about ourselves
or will it all be about Mr. Trump
whose dis-fortune has waxed eloquent
in decades and years past

Some may wish to disappear
Just withhold needed food
And we will all surely starve
From our homemade C-19 stew
Without a roadmap or remedy in sight

There’s nothing so naked
As hanging out in the public eye
Bereft of sustenance
Without a plan
And without a leader

The saddest part is that no matter who wins this election, Mr. Trump still has over two months in office.

Thank you for your visits during this year of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter. I can’t tell you how life-giving it has been to write and post my thoughts. Today I’m feeling worn out. Not yet ready for whatever comes next.

For now, I’m going to cook, walk, enjoy the sunshine, listen to music, play with Smudge, and maybe even play the piano.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2020
Photo of Smudge taken by ERFraser, 2014

The Unreality Show

The Unreality Show
Continues unscripted
Relentless and determined
One labored breath at a time
Inhaled then exhaled
Wincing and fidgeting
Drifting and struggling
To keep it all together
As things fall apart

Mr. Trump returned to the White House. Not quietly in the middle of the night, but with a show of defiance that reveals his weaknesses. All caught on camera and in tweets to the world. It seems he decided he had to get Covid-19 in order to demonstrate how important it is not to give in to it.

Surrender to the realities of Covid-19, and to experienced Covid-19 experts? Forget it. That might look like defeat. Yet how else is a body to heal? Much less a soul and a heart well practiced in the proud clamor of unpredictable, destructive behavior now vainly turned to his own vain advantage.

I grieve what Mr. Trump has done to and against this country. We’re not perfect, and never will be. Not by a long shot. Today, however, we’re farther than ever from what we might have become in the last four years. This is true even though the past four years have clarified fault lines we would rather not (yet must) examine.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m instructed to pray for leaders of this nation. Today my prayer joins others, beseeching God for mercy. Not by sending a special healing miracle for Mr. Trump, but by mercifully removing him from his current position of seemingly limitless power. Power Mr. Trump does not now, and has never had.

May God have mercy on us all.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 October 2020
Photo of POTUS returning to the White House found at theintercept.com

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Covid-19 has been disproportionately deadly to populations already struggling to survive. Especially, but not only, Black Americans. The blatant killing of yet another Black citizen is pushing us to the brink of chaos.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to and reading responses to our current situation. Today I’m passing along a few notes, and the link above to Pastor Charles Montgomery’s excellent discussion this morning. It’s well worth watching.

Pastor Montgomery begins with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question: Where do we go from here: chaos or community? (The title of his last book before his assassination in 1968)

If we want to understand what’s happening today, Pastor Montgomery suggests we begin with three reasons for our current chaos.

  • polarization caused by fear
  • politics fueled by anger (and  driven by fear)
  • radicalization inflamed by injustice, real or perceived

These three tensions are pulling at the fabric of our nation. Trying to tear us apart.

What’s the alternative? Choosing not to live in fear, but to love God and one another.

This echoes the question Jesus asked one of the religious elite, and then answered with a story-question, Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37). The unexpected answer: The Samaritan who dared to stop and become the neighbor of a Jewish man beaten up, left to die on the side of a road, and bypassed by the religious elite. Go thou, says Jesus, and do likewise.

The Samaritan got involved. Not out of sympathy, but moved by empathy. He understood what it was like to be ignored, belittled, or even left dying on the side of the road.

Furthermore, he didn’t waste any time. He used what he had at hand, and did what he could until this man was healed.

If I want to be like the Samaritan, Rev. Montgomery suggests I ask myself questions like these:

  • What captures my attention when I see someone different who’s in trouble? What’s the first thought that goes through my mind?
  • Who are my friends? Not just at church, but in my neighborhood, on Facebook or WordPress.
  • With whom do I talk? What do I read? (Or do I cocoon myself in a ‘safe’ small world?)

Distance is a barrier to peace. Empathy comes close to pain without minimizing, ignoring, dismissing, or questioning the other person’s character. It remains present, asks questions, offers support, prays, dresses wounds, uses what it has at hand.

Empathy doesn’t try to fix the situation. Take charge. Pontificate. Or ignore.

Please pray for us, and for millions of others in similar situations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 June 2020
Video posted on Facebook.com

Acid | Mary Oliver

When I first read this poem, I shuddered. I didn’t like it. Then I discovered “Of the Empire,” which seems cut from similar cloth. My comments follow.

Acid

In Jakarta,
among the venders
of flowers and soft drinks,
I saw a child
with a hideous mouth,
begging,
and I knew the wound was made
for a way to stay alive.
What I gave him
wouldn’t keep a dog alive.
What he gave me
from the brown coin
of his sweating face
was a look of cunning.
I carry it
like a bead of acid
to remember how,
once in a while,
you can creep out of your own life
and become someone else—
an explosion
in that nest of wires
we call the imagination.
I will never see him
again, I suppose.
But what of this rag,
this shadow
flung like a boy’s body
into the walls
of my mind, bleeding
their sour taste—
insult and anger,
the great movers?

© 1992 by Mary Oliver
Found in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 130-131
Published by Beacon Press

I don’t think Mary’s intent was for us to like this poem. Instead, she describes an incident in Jakarta, and what happened to and within her. It’s so disturbing that she can’t forget it. As she puts it, she carries this image “like a bead of acid” so real that for a moment she’s able to become this child.

Mary puts her own experience in Jakarta out there like a mirror, and invites us to ponder her closing question. What am I going to do with this “shadow” flung into the walls of my mind? This image that bleeds  a “sour taste—insult and anger, the great movers.”

It doesn’t matter how I feel about the person in front of me. What matters is the blatantly visible truth, and how I choose to respond to it.

None of us can change the world single-handedly. Perhaps we could begin by noticing encounters that distress us, and go from there.

We don’t have to go abroad to understand this poem. It’s alive and well right now. The perfect storm is upon us here in the USA. Covid-19 plus yet another brutal murder of a black man.

Am I prepared to take this storm seriously? Or am I going to keep trying to get back to business as usual, distract myself to death, or worse–give up all hope of something better?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2020
Flower Market in Jakarta found at TripAdvisor.com

Longwood on the cheap and an update

I know. It isn’t quite the same as being there in person. But it’s the closest I’ve gotten to Longwood Gardens since last fall. Be sure to turn up the volume so you can hear the birds!

This morning I walked in our neighborhood and saw a few friends from years back. The humidity was atrocious. The birdsong, however, plus all the lovely green leaves were to die for. And yes, I wore my face mask.

I haven’t been out for any great adventures since the first Sunday of March. I’m grateful D is doing all our grocery shopping. Our ages put both of us in the high risk category for Covid-19. My health issues make me a higher risk than D. So I’m here at home virtually every day. I write, walk in the neighborhood, talk to family members on the phone, and keep in touch with our neighbors.

Speaking of family, our daughter turned 50 today! She and her husband live in Portland, Oregon. Our son, his wife and three children live about an hour away. But it might as well be Portland, given Covid-19 restrictions.

Even introverts don’t like being caged. Well….not exactly caged, but I’ve definitely had my wings clipped. I don’t foresee being out and about anytime in the near future.

I felt great relief after I wrote my most recent piece, It feels so good. Resisting Mr. Trump isn’t directly about resisting him personally. It’s about how I choose to spend my time. So I’ve made some choices, and will see how it goes.

I hear people talking about ‘getting back to normal.’ From my perspective, there is no going back to ‘normal.’ Instead, our country has a looming crisis on its hands. It didn’t begin with the current administration. It began centuries ago and has continued unabated ever since. Ignorance about our country’s history is rampant. So is ignorance about science and the way we’ve ignored and put off questions about the planet and our responsibility to look after it and the people who inhabit it.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the privilege of blogging. When I look back at my beginning posts, I’m stunned by how much you’ve contributed to my life. Some by reading faithfully; others by visiting from time to time; all a great encouragement to me.

Thank you. And may our Creator bless each of you with renewed vision for what you might do with your one, lovely life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 May 2020
Longwood Gardens video found on YouTube

Small Bodies | Mary Oliver

Here’s a small parable for today. What do you think it’s about? My comments follow.

Small Bodies

It is almost summer. In the pond
The pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything—
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world,
for which I am afraid.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 31
Published by Beacon Press 2008

Without top-dog animal predators, the natural world would cease to function efficiently. Without judicious pruning, trees wouldn’t develop strong, healthy branches or fruit.

But what about this ravenous, bold turtle with his greasy mouth? And what small bodies does Mary have in mind? Is this only about the pickerel, young teal and little ducks?

Mary Oliver opened her heart to nature – observing, describing and pondering what it might be telling or showing her. I imagine she discerns allegories or sees mirrors of what she experiences in human nature, including herself.

Given our current situation here in the USA, Mary might make connections between our pandemic world and the pond. We, too, have ‘so many small bodies’ vulnerable to predators and greasy-mouthed turtles. So many that, like Mary, I don’t know what to do or say except this:

I know you know everything—
I rely on this.

To be small and needy today is as dangerous as being a small duck in a ravenous turtle’s pond. Predatory behavior thrives at every level of governmental, public and private life. Especially when the pond is well-stocked with small bodies unable to fend for themselves, the number of ponds is drying up, and greasy-mouthed turtles grow ever larger and more ravenous.

Mary’s poem wasn’t meant to be a sermon. Still, it asks me to consider how I’m looking out (or not) for small bodies in our USA-style shrinking pond with its ravenous turtles.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 May 2020
Photo of baby Wood Ducks found at pinterest

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