Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Gratitude

Sunflowers and Cicadas

Lost in a crowd
Wondering who I am
today and what will
become of us

A sunflower dropped
into the earth by
accident or design
pays no attention

Cicadas raise their
shrill chorus and fall
back into waves of
welcome silence

Hot sunrays pierce
the haze of dawn
with a vigor I cannot
mimic or resurrect

Climbing a small hill
and moving from shade
to shade I wake up
to this burning day

What is progress? I hope I’m making some today. A recent appointment with my integrative doctor produced more follow-up than I like. It feels like being in half-here mode. Living between what I’ve been and whatever comes next. It’s pushing me back to hard questions about what I will and will not agree to at this time of my life. And, more important, what I want to do with my time right now.

In the meantime, I’m mesmerized by our impromptu sunflower family springing from the earth beneath last winter’s large bird feeder. You’d think I’d never seen a sunflower. Nevertheless, it’s magical to find unplanned beauty right in our back yard.

Hoping you’ll find beauty in small things today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2021
Backyard photo taken by DAFraser, 25 July 2021

Masks

 

Horst Lemke sketch for Psalm 139:1-6, Die Gute Nachricht, published by Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart, 1978

Every morning, along with enjoying the birds and squirrels, I read a bit of German. It’s a way to stay in touch with a language in which I was once fluent. I begin with a Bach Chorale each day (music plus 1st stanza in German). Most of the time that’s more than enough!

However…A few days ago, right after the Bach Chorale, I picked up my copy of The Good News in German, purchased in July 1980. It fell open to the sketch above by Horst Lemke. It struck a chord in me, partly because of our current situation in the USA and elsewhere. But mainly because Psalm 139 rightly assumes each of us owns at least one mask–though we may not own or be wearing a Covid-style mask.

I teared up as I read the passage below, given our current national and international challenges and catastrophes.

Psalm 139:1-12 from the Good News Bible in English (pp. 744-45)

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say,
You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.

Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me; you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

The rest of Psalm 139 is equally beautiful and powerful. Just what I need during these days of chaos, unplanned disasters, deep divisions, and masks behind masks.

Praying you’ll find your way today, knowing that the One who created each of us hasn’t forgotten our names, our faces, or our circumstances.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 July 2021
Sketch by Horst Lemke found in Die Gute Nachricht, p. 419
©1978 Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart

ready or not

Staring into the dark
Behind my eyelids
I see nothing
Though the buzzing
In my ear never stops
Like insects in night air
Accompanying the sound
Of tires racing downhill
Outside my window

I imagine the sun
Beaming down brightly
And backyard birds
Feasting on birdseed
Thanks to the kindness
Of the old couple who
Inhabit this old house
Now gone quiet without
The excitement and anguish
Of teenagers to color
The air or play with the
Cat or slowly but surely
Abandon this old house
For their own

Opening my eyes I see
A desk full of ideas
And papers to be sorted
Not my wildest dream
Though I want to begin and
End somewhere before
The sand in my hourglass
Runs dry whether I’m ready
Or not

Despite all the books I’ll never read, countries I’ll never visit, friends and family I may never see again, and daily news that colors the air we breathe, I love life. I also love family members and friends who helped me become the woman I am today.

Death is on my mind today. On Father’s Day our daughter’s father-in-law died. Yet another reminder that I don’t know when my time will end on this earth.

Thanks for stopping by today, and telling someone you love them.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 June 2021
Photo found at labmonline.co_uk

We live on the verge

This poem isn’t for the faint of heart. Nor is it about life writ large. It’s about daily choices now dwindling down to a precious few.   

We live on the verge
the daily edge
the cutting edge
the bleeding edge
between breakdown
and breakthrough

Born with limited opportunities
we leap
stumble
fly
or die of indecision

I opt to sail beyond the verge
against all odds
into uncharted territory
where no woman in her ‘right’ mind
has ever gone before

With gratitude to Star Trek
and all other mortal friends and strangers
who helped make this moment possible,

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 April 2017, reposted 21 June 2021
Photo found at pixabay.com

Rita

My unquiet mind
Twisting and turning nonstop
Ponders a mystery

Without a trace
Or signal from anywhere
A friend vanishes

Bare windows stare
Unable to voice answers
To unasked questions

So much of life today is about what I don’t know. Social distancing has broken casual and formal ties to friends and even strangers whose lives intersected mine daily.

A great emptiness has descended, daring me to fill in the blanks. Where did it all go? Why isn’t my beautiful friend Rita out walking her dog every morning and evening? Why doesn’t she answer my email? And why is her phone out of service? I don’t have an answer.

Rita was in her late 80s. She walked her lively little dog Charlie in the park every morning and evening. Then came Covid and social distancing. Before that, besides seeing her in the park, I sometimes went to her place. Never a dull moment! It was all about tea, health, politics, religion, food, and whatever Rita wanted to tell me about her life.

Now my life feels smaller. I’m tormented by memories that are themselves becoming strangers. I want to be born once again. I want a starting point, a middle, and an end. Something that will hang together into a believable story of who we are, who I am, and why all these silences refuse to answer our questions.

The rhododendron at the top is for Rita, wherever she is.

Thanks for stopping by today,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, 24 May 2021

A personal letter

fraser_s_0238b

~~Mom Elouise and Daughter, 1974, Altadena, California on a Sunday morning

Death and dying are on my mind these days. Not just because of Covid-19, but because of how I’m feeling about my own death, plus regular reports of friends dying or facing end of life decisions. I’ve lightly edited this post from February 2017. 

Today was our adult daughter’s last full day visiting us. Tomorrow she flies back to the West Coast. I’m teary, lethargic, achy, sad, and already lonely.

I’m also feeling the certainty of death these days. Nothing in particular. Just the awareness that every time I see our daughter it might be for the last time. So what do I want to say to her before she leaves?

I lay awake a bit last night thinking about this. Whatever I say, I don’t want to pretend I’m taking life for granted, as though neither of us is going to die just yet. I also don’t want to say simply, “I love you.” Even though I will and I do!

Here’s what I want her to know.

  • I want you to know how honored I am to be your mother, and how much I admire you as a woman. You’re a fighter. A brook-no-nonsense human being. An artist in every way, especially as a musician.
  • You’re an intelligent, gifted woman who knows how to engage others, and when to disengage. An astute political observer. A woman who knows how and when to get help. A survivor of trials and tribulations. A wise observer of human nature and of yourself. A faithful ally and friend.
  • I’m grateful you’re in my life. You’re a touchstone. Sensible and funny. Kind and clear. And you’re my daughter! I still don’t understand how you became the woman you are today. I do know it was “through many dangers, toils and snares….”
  • I gave you to God decades ago, knowing I would never have the answers to all the challenges you would meet. Instead, I pray for you regularly, that God’s grace that has kept you so far will lead you home. No matter whether you go first or I do.

One more thing. I feel old age coming on. Not like a flood, but with slow certainty, accompanied by a number of health issues that challenge me. I don’t want to give up. I want to be fully alive, and alert enough to enjoy my family and friends as long as I can.

Not so many years ago I was afraid to let my heart show to my family members. I was afraid to let them know how much I’ll miss them if they die before I die. Better to stay cool and calm than show my feelings. That way maybe the pain of loss won’t be so great. But that’s another topic.

Thanks for reading and listening with your hearts.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2017, reposted 17 May 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, 1974, Altadena, California

The life of birds

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, adult male

Mouthing birdseed
and surveying what lies
around and behind him,
a young male grosbeak
shows off his brand new
white back feathers and
blossoming rose-breasted chest

Nowhere to go
in particular and
not much to say,
he munches birdseed
and enjoys an early
morning breakfast
before moving on

Reminder of a new day; reminder of Spring’s heartbreaking beauty; reminder of how vast this world is and how small and earthbound we humans are.

For the last few weeks D and I have been (yet again) sorting through our many books that sometimes weigh us down. We’ve been through this drill more than once, thanks to our academic lives and limited shelf space. I’ve often said our main decorative scheme is Books and More Books, closely followed by Shelves and More Shelves.

Some books and manuscripts are sacrosanct. This includes my collection of hymnbooks and piano scores going back to my childhood piano lessons. Plus those favorite recipe books (now antiques) that I rarely use anymore. Plus our bird and plant identification books, old college and graduate school yearbooks, and would you believe multiple translations of the Bible?

Sometimes I wish I had the life of a bird. Especially on a sunny Spring day with plenty of food and water available and not a hawk in sight.

However, on the whole, I’m grateful for the life I’ve had. Not because it was easy, but because it was and still is difficult, breathtaking, exciting, nerve-wracking, crazy-making, beautiful and precious.

On that note, I’m back to the attic to work through another bookcase.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2021
Photo found at pinterest.com

My Mother’s Depression

I’m reposting this in honor of my Mother and all other mothers who have suffered from depression. As you may already know, depression is a widespread problem here in the USA. Especially for mothers.  

My mother’s depression
Is not my depression

It doesn’t belong to me
Nor did I invite it in to stay
Yet it lives in me now and again
A link to this woman who bore me

Deftly intertwined it moves
As though it were mine
A weight I bear unbidden
My lot in this half-life

What would it be like
To let it go as an alien?
To visit without falling into the pit?
To understand it from her point of view?

I’ve been turning things like this over in my mind and heart for the last week. The insight isn’t mine. It’s a gift from a friend who has walked with me for several decades.

‘My’ depression isn’t mine. Yes, it’s real and present. Yet it was and still is my mother’s deep depression, fed by my father’s behavior toward her and toward me.  It’s the sad price of being a gifted white woman in post-depression (ironic) and post-World War II life in the USA.

Held back, kept in check, insanely busy with housework and babies, submissive preacher’s wife, versatile church musician without a pay check, resourceful volunteer ever ready to help others in return for nothing, cheery and even-tempered, industrious and persistent, she held it all together in her bent and broken body.

Uncomplaining, weary, in pain 24/7 and depressed. Sometimes crying herself to sleep. Other times waking with horrifying cramps.

My heart goes out to her today in ways it couldn’t years ago.

Yet I can’t accept her depression as my depression. It isn’t mine. This one insight invites me to stay connected to her reality without making it my reality. I can only breathe my air, not hers.

These days it seems ever more acceptable to trash women of all colors and make them into problems they are not. In response, I want to do justice to the woman my mother was while showing mercy to her as the woman she could not be or become.

She was not the problem then, just as I am not the problem now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2018, reposted for Mother’s Day on 8 May 2021
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

Loneliness | Mary Oliver

I still tear up when I read this lovely, perceptive poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

Loneliness

I too have known loneliness.
I too have known what it is to feel
misunderstood,
rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful.
Oh, mother earth,
your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.
Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.
Oh, motions of tenderness!

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Blue Horses (2014)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 23

When we’re born we have one chance. One chance to hit the jackpot of perfect parents, perfect siblings, perfect grandparents and all the other stuff that comes with perfection.

Yes, it includes gender, color of skin, color of hair, cuteness or ugliness, fat or skinny. You name it, and someone somewhere has known loneliness over these or other unchosen marks of our supposed superiority or lack thereof.

I grew up feeling like a fat girl with three younger sisters who were invariably cuter and more exciting than I was. To be fair, the preferred family term that stuck with me wasn’t ‘fat.’ It was ‘pleasantly plump.’

Every dress my mother made for me was ‘adjusted’ to mask my pleasant plumpness. My thin, straight hair was subjected to permanents every three months, even though the perms disappeared down the bathroom sink within two or three weeks. I never seemed to smile enough, laugh enough, or have enough girlfriends or boyfriends.

Yet thanks to our living arrangements, mother earth was always right there waiting for me. Unlike my father, she never told me to suck in my stomach, stand up straight, or wipe that frown off my face. Never.

Nor did she say “I told you so” when I was one of the last girls chosen for athletic teams. She just kept showing up, giving me time and space to turn my loneliness into freedom and a life of my own.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for this heartwarming poem. I cried the first time I read it, and the second, and the third…. What a gift we have in rivers and roses. The handiwork of a Creator who understands us better than we understand ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 May 2021
Photo by Phil Banks, pixels.com

The Gift | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem is for anyone who is, as she was then, aware of the clock ticking down. My comments follow.

The Gift

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Felicity (2015)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 14

When I read this poem, I tear up. Of all the things on my daily to-do lists, not once have I included “Love…as once you loved, deeply and without patience.”

From my perspective, slowing down means giving up some of my most loved habits and wants. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The puzzle of my life shrinks with each passing day. If I can’t do this, can I do that? If not, what other options do I have?

Mary’s poem jolts me out of resignation mode. Yes, my walk, “that was confident and quick, has become slow.” Just ask D when we go out for a walk in the neighborhood. Or observe me agonizing between doing this or that. It isn’t because I don’t want to do this or that. It’s because I still want it all (or most of it!), yet don’t have the energy I had just yesterday.

I imagine Mary looking at me and saying,

So what?! Even if you slow down, that doesn’t mean your heart’s ability to love “deeply and without patience” has slowed down. If anything, it’s stronger now than ever!

And yes, time is running out. Today, in my imagination, I’m a tiny wren. The kind that can’t stop letting everyone know what a beautiful life this is, and how grateful I am for our Creator, and for you. Especially in the midst of pandemic tragedy, uncertainty, and diminishing energy.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2021
Photo of House Wren found at welcomewildlife.com

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