Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Female Bodies

Tell me if you can, if you dare–

I wrote the poem below early in my blogging days. Back in the 1940s and 50s, I was the oldest of four daughters. My father was an ordained clergyman, loved by many, feared by me. It seems life in these “United States” is becoming more and more like my childhood. Especially, but not only, for women of any age. 

I’m grateful for women and men who helped me become the human I am today. Today I don’t bear a grudge against my father. I do, however, see my experience as a window into unnumbered worlds of madness for too many women, children, teenagers, and men. The calling of politicians, church leaders, or pimps is NOT to force us into the mold of their making. 

When did it all begin?
When did I enter your supply chain?
When did I become a commodity, a disposable object
not for sale but for use on demand,
with or without pay?

When did I become your toy
to imagine as prey,
to stalk, hunt down,
toss around and torment
with or without warning?

When did I become candy for your eyes,
your imagination,
the desires of your heart?

When did it all begin?
Was it the moment I was born?
The moment you laid your eyes on me?
Then your rules, your hands, your cane,
your ruler, and wooden spoon paddle?

When did paddling become beating?
As though you could whip me into shape.

What did you see in me?
A human being created in God’s image?
Or just another rebellious, angry, willful little girl—
A challenge to your male authority.
A game, an object to be studied, touched, scolded,
played with, experimented with,
held close/held at bay, shamed, humiliated,
denied voice, dignity, will and privacy.

What were you thinking?

When did I become a projection of your stern will
and your lonely, terrified heart?
Not even a ghost of myself
No matter what I wore or didn’t wear
What I said or didn’t say
How I said it or didn’t say it
What I did or didn’t do

When did I become your enemy to be hunted down and subdued,
locked in the bar-less cage of your aching, demanding,
never-satisfied self?

Tell me if you can, if you dare—
When did it all begin?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2014, reposted 5 July 2022
Image found at thewei.com

baptismal waters

I’m working on a book of poems selected from my blog. This morning I came to this description of my mother’s “baptism” not long before her death. The setting is a not-for-profit hospice near my parents’ home in Savannah, Georgia. Reading this account always makes me tear up with gratitude and sadness. 

baptismal waters
rise gently enfolding her
world-weary body

* * * * *

I’m standing in a windowless, high-ceiling concrete room
with a concrete floor, drainage holes and air vents.
A deep whirlpool tub stands in the middle
filled with warm steamy water.
The room faintly resembles a large sauna minus the wood.
Functional, not beautiful.

Mother is in hospice care after suffering a stroke weeks ago
and then developing pneumonia in the hospital.
Her ability to communicate with words is almost nonexistent.
Today she’s going to be given a bath.
I’m told she loves this, and that
Sister #4 and I are welcome to witness the event.

For the past hour caregivers have been preparing her–
removing her bedclothes, easing her onto huge soft towels,
rolling and shifting her inch by inch onto a padded bath trolley,
doing all they can to minimize pain and honor her body.
Finally, they slowly roll the trolley down the hall.

The hospice sauna room echoes with the sound of
feet, soft voices, and running water.
It takes a team to carry out this comforting
though strange and even unnerving ritual.
Mother is safely secured to the padded bath table and
then lowered slowly into the water.
Her eyes are wide open.

For a few moments she fixes her eyes on mine.
The table  descends bit by bit.
How does she feel?
What is she thinking?
At  first her eyes seem anxious.
Is she afraid?
The warm waters rise around her and the table stops descending.
Her face relaxes and she closes her eyes.

The team works gently, thoroughly, not in haste.
They focus on her, talk to her and handle her body with reverence.
My eyes brim with tears.
This woman who bathed me, my three sisters
and most of her grandbabies is being given a bath
by what appears to be a team of angels in celestial garments.

They finish their work and roll Mother back to her room.
Her bed has clean sheets.
Fresh bedclothes have been laid out.
Caregivers anoint her body with oil and lotion, turn her gently,
and comment on how clear and beautiful her skin is.
They finish clothing her, adjust the pillows to cradle her body,
pull up light covers and leave her to fall asleep.

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2014, reposted 28 June 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

man walking my way

I first posted this haiku and commentary on 13 December 2013. I wish I could say women feel more secure today than we did in 2013. Sadly, the main point of this haiku was to bring my inner fears to light. I can still feel my heart pounding. It isn’t about the man. It’s about the way I was brought up female, and the mess in which we find ourselves today.

man walking my way
across deserted playground
trees inhale . . . . . . . . hold breath

Is he safe?  It’s 6:30am.  What’s he doing here at this time of day?  Looks like he’s been sleeping in the park. Rumpled work clothes—not very clean or stylish. He’s watching me. Thank goodness I’m wearing sunglasses.

I glance around, trying to seem nonchalant. No one else is in sight. He doesn’t look friendly or unfriendly. His face doesn’t register any emotion I recognize.  I’ve never seen him before.

I have my cell phone; it’s turned on. What should I do? Yes, I’m out in the open in a public space. But it’s deadly silent and I’m alone. My anxiety spikes. I know he sees me.

The distance between us is closing. If I keep walking my normal route, I’ll pass him before we pass each other.  Then I won’t see him at all–where he is or what he’s doing.

Why is he here?  Why isn’t anyone else out for an early morning walk?  The leaves on the trees are silent.  I’m holding my breath; my heart is pounding.

I walk on. Now he’s behind me.  When I turn around to walk home I see him walking out of the park.  When I get home I write the haiku above.

Even after decades of personal work I feel undone.

Is it right to call 911 when the emergency is internal, not clearly external?  How do I justify calling 911 or raising a ruckus? Is it enough that I don’t feel safe?

Moments like this remind me of the shopkeeper and other unwelcome experiences.  Some men pushed the envelope verbally or bodily, putting me on edge and on guard. Others went over the line.  Even then I didn’t raise a ruckus.

Do I really know how to take care of myself?

Is this inner turmoil common to being female?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 Dec 2013, reposted 3 June 2022
Photo found at foursquare.com

baptismal waters

During her last years on this earth, Mother and I found each other in ways I never dreamed possible. The hospice near my parents’ home (income not a consideration) took exquisite care of her during her last three months. This piece honors her and the angels who cared for her pain-wracked body. 

baptismal waters
rise gently enfolding her
world-weary body

* * * * *

I’m standing in a windowless, high-ceiling concrete room
with a concrete floor, drainage holes and air vents.
A deep whirlpool tub stands in the middle
filled with warm steamy water.
The room faintly resembles a large sauna minus the wood.
Functional, not beautiful.

Mother is in hospice care after suffering a stroke weeks ago
and then developing pneumonia in the hospital.
Her ability to communicate with words is almost nonexistent.
Today she’s going to be given a bath.
I’m told she loves this, and that
Sister #4 and I are welcome to witness the event.

For the past hour caregivers have been preparing her–
removing her bedclothes, easing her onto huge soft towels,
rolling and shifting her inch by inch onto a padded bath trolley,
doing all they can to minimize pain and honor her body.
Finally, they slowly roll the trolley down the hall.

The hospice sauna room echoes with the sound of
feet, soft voices, and running water.
It takes a team to carry out this comforting
though strange and even unnerving ritual.
Mother is safely secured to the padded bath table and
then lowered slowly into the water.
Her eyes are wide open.

For a few moments she fixes her eyes on mine.
The table descends bit by bit.
How does she feel?
What is she thinking?
At first her eyes seem anxious.
Is she afraid?
The warm waters rise around her and the table stops descending.
Her face relaxes and she closes her eyes.

The team works gently, thoroughly, not in haste.
They focus on her, talk to her and handle her body with reverence.
My eyes brim with tears.
This woman who bathed me, my three sisters
and most of her grandbabies is being given a bath
by what appears to be a team of angels in celestial garments.

They finish their work and roll Mother back to her room.
Her bed has clean sheets.
Fresh bedclothes have been laid out.
Caregivers anoint her body with oil and lotion, turn her gently,
and comment on how clear and beautiful her skin is.
They finish clothing her, adjust the pillows to cradle her body,
pull up light covers and leave her to fall asleep.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2014, lightly edited and reposted 26 November 2021
Photo found at etsy.com, John McManus Fine Art

The Meeting with My Parents

Diane and Elouise standing by the Savannah River
20 Nov 1993, the day after meeting with my parents

On 19 November 1993 I met with my parents in Savannah, Georgia. A gift to myself on the eve of my 50th birthday.

It took 1 ½ years to prepare for the meeting. It wasn’t a declaration of war. It was an attempt to see whether my parents and I could begin talking about my childhood. Put another way, could I hold my own viewpoint without trying to change my parents’ viewpoints?

The biggest unknown was how my father would respond. His habit was to talk over and down at me.

Now I’m in Savannah. My father is sitting directly across the table from me, with my mother next to him. I’ve asked a pastor we all know to be present. He convenes the meeting and turns it over to me. David is on my left hand; my sister Diane is on my right—both instructed not to talk or try to argue on my behalf.

I read from a single-spaced, 1 ¼ page statement. Here’s the heart of what I said about the way my father punished me as a child and teenager.

The spankings were abusive. I was very small; you were very big. I had no power; you seemed to have all the power. The spankings happened regularly for most of my growing-up years. They were terrifyingly predictable. I dreaded nothing as much as I dreaded being spanked. Worst of all, the spankings were administered in a way that shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. . . .I have been lost for most of my adult years. Lost in a sea of shame, humiliation, and fear–fear of opening my mouth and saying directly to you what I need to say: I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, and silenced.

Though my parents were in this together, my mother wasn’t in the room when I was being punished. My question for her was simple: What was it like for you when I was being punished? Where were you? What was it like to hear us crying and pleading? She didn’t remember hearing anything.

From my father, I wanted one thing: an apology for the way he shamed, humiliated, and silenced me. I asked for an apology, which was immediately denied. Thankfully, getting an apology wasn’t my goal.

There was one unexpected disruption during the meeting. My father abruptly walked out of the meeting, left the building, and sat in his car. We could see him through the window. No one said anything. It was my meeting. I waited several minutes. Then I signaled to David to come with me for moral support. We stood on the sidewalk beside the car while I talked with him for a long time. Eventually he agreed to come back and finish the conversation. I was astonished and relieved.

After this meeting, D and I visited my parents (in Savannah) on several occasions. I always had a list of questions to ask. I learned a lot from these informal conversations, though my father was clearly set in his ways and unwilling to change. Still, these conversations were a gift I hadn’t anticipated. Not surprisingly, many of my father’s rough ways reflected my grandfather’s unpredictable, harsh beatings of my father. A sad legacy.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 November 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser on 20 November 1993; Diane (on the left) and I are at the Savannah River waterfront.

misaligned | Int’l Women’s Day

Claude Monet, Poppy Fields near Argenteuil

I posted this three years ago. Sadly, things haven’t changed for the better. If anything, Covid-19 and four years of growing neglect, abuse, and animosity toward women have made things worse. Not just in the USA, but worldwide. This is for women everywhere, and the men who support and care about them:

in the waiting room
perfectly aligned paintings
greet the misaligned

I’m back at the physical therapy center, sitting in the waiting room. Directly across from me, above a row of chairs, hang two huge paintings. Doubtless chosen for their ability to calm and reassure patients bearing all kinds of physical misalignments. Most patients are women.

The paintings are meticulously hung and feature lovely outdoor scenes. Expansive, bucolic and natural without being overly sentimental. Unobtrusive  gentle colors and bright sunshiny days.

Nothing to rattle our nerves or make us wonder about untold stories or what might happen next. No storms brewing in the background. No signs of aging structures or broken-down bridges. All is serene.

The haiku, written several weeks ago, came to mind this morning as I scrolled through photos celebrating International Women’s Day. If even a few of these photos were hung on walls in our public spaces, what would happen? Here are three that caught my eye.

Bhubaneswar, India – Sand Sculpture by Manas Sahoo

Thane, India – Fashion Show by Acid Attack Survivors

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March in support of Int’l Women’s Day 

Never underestimate the power of women. Especially when we’re in one accord on just one thing we need. Equal status as human beings.

This means equal status in a society that honors each woman and girl as a full human being, regardless of color, country of origin, economic or social class, religion, or marital status. Not a fraction of a human being, but 100 percent human. Welcomed into every room in the house without having to wear masks, special clothes, smiles or makeup on our faces, or anything that signals we are less valued than men or boys.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 March 2018, reposted 8 March 2021
Monet painting found at quadrosetelas.com.br
International Women’s Day photos found at Getty Images

Human rights and Women’s rights

Days of disorientation verging on despair
Parade in and out of my life
Uninvited

Meanwhile Trumpian unrealities
Sink ever deeper roots
into the great swamp of male privilege

I don’t know how to document this. I’m sure there’s a way, and that it’s already being done. I just want to know why all the uproar about human rights seems blind to the rights of all women in the USA.

This isn’t just about color. It isn’t even about income or educational status.

It’s about backbreaking expectations that women of all colors can and will do all things all the time with or without children, with or without a fair, steady income, and with or without adequate representation in every branch of our government and our judicial system. Yes, it feels like a run-on sentence because it’s already a run-on recipe for disaster.

The laundry list of virtual slaps in the faces of women and girls continues to grow. Comments and so-called jokes; growing numbers of men feeding the MeToo movement; the rapid disappearance of adequate medical support for women and girls; unequal pay for women doing the same work men do.

None of this is new. What’s distressing is the obvious, in-your-face deconstruction of equal support for females of any color.

Yes, we have a huge race issue here in the USA. And yes, the color of our female skin matters wherever we go, whether we like it or not.

Still, women living in poverty or hand-to-mouth are as likely to be white as black or brown. The current argument over our non-living wage (in most states) is disheartening, though being female in the USA is about more than a living wage.

We deserve politicians and judges that include women and men of all colors, fully representative of females as well as males, united by their opposition to outrages committed against women and girls every day of the week. Is this too much to expect?

This is also an issue for our churches and neighborhoods. Yes, people might get tired of hearing about the same thing over and over. Then again, perhaps our silence is asking women and girls of all colors to get used to living with the same thing over and over.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2021
Photo found at pewresearch.org

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 Shepherdess Speaks

Simple elegance
Strong body
Sun bonnet
casts shade over
tumbling tresses
Hint of smile
Head turns slightly
Eyes averted
Basket of posies
loops gracefully
around bare forearm
Sweet dress
swirls gently over
exposed ankles
Feet clad in
flat slippers
firmly grounded
Left arm cradles
shepherd’s crook
worn and ready
at her side
Beware wolves
in shepherd’s clothing

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September, 2014, reposted 20 January 2021
Photo credit:  DAFraser
Statue stands in the Main Fountain Garden of Longwood Gardens, PA

Are you willing to be condemned? | Lent, Holy Week and Life

I learned condemnation from my father. When I was very young I heard and felt it in his voice and punishments. Or was it the day I was born female? I wasn’t the son my father hoped for.

If only you would keep your mouth shut and play the piano more often! I really like it when you play the piano. It makes everybody happy and proud. And don’t forget to listen to the men. I like that, too!

No, sweetheart, you don’t need to read all those books. Though we’re proud when you make the honor roll. Still, I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for at a big university.

You want to be what???? A theologian? A professor? But you’re married aren’t you? Well….if your husband approves of it, who am I to stand in your way?

How dare you cut your parents off until you’re willing to talk with us again? You need to wake up and remember who you are! You were always rebellious and angry. Too bad you couldn’t be more like your sisters.

Am I willing to be condemned? It’s the question I’ve lived with for years. Not because I live in the past, but because I’m always in the present.

Condemnation can arrive cloaked as something else: being overlooked, underestimated, disbelieved, targeted for harassment.

So…For what am I willing to be condemned? For being the woman I am, fully accepted and loved by our Creator. Not always right; not always wrong. Always one of our Creator’s beloved daughters.

In the meantime, my goal is to keep True North in view, and put one foot, one word, one poem, one truth in front of another.

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2020
Image found at kissclipart.com

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