Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing

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

Life on whose terms?

Falling asleep,
my body cries
for attention
and the comfort
of doing nothing
while awaiting new life
and energy that endures
forever and ever

Listening to the news,
I hear the beginning
of the end in post-Easter air—
especially if Jesus of Nazareth
isn’t allowed to rise from his
unseemly death and confront
our lackluster attempts
to live life on our own terms

I’m struck by how busy things become each year as Easter Sunday approaches. Part of the busyness is about special church services for those able and willing to attend.

But that isn’t what catches my eye. Instead, we have the tug of Easter egg hunts, Easter dinner arrangements, fancy Easter clothes or even mini-vacations that can suck the life blood out of Easter.

I like to enjoy life on my terms. However, Easter challenges me to look beyond myself and my limited resources. I wonder what it would look like for me to keep up with Jesus instead of the current idols of this world?

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2021
Image found at anona.com

Haunted by fear

Forcing my eyes away
From today’s headlines
I catch myself also avoiding
What’s already captured
In our history and multi-media

It begs me not to forget
And not to believe the lie
That by solving this one
Crime we will solve all
Crimes against humanity
Or prove ourselves more
Committed to human rights
Than other countries that
Never seem to get it right
In our self-righteous eyes

Daily distractions
Continue unabated
Headlines and reports
boldly steal attention
from what’s happening
in our back yards and streets
now haunted by fear
of unannounced annihilation

Is this our pro-USA reflex action kicking in? The one that doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth about our nation? Many news reports seem determined to focus on the perpetrator at the expense of victims. Especially when the so-called ‘lone’ perpetrator is a white male.

The most recent killing targeted mainly Asian women. Much news coverage went into various profiles of the perpetrator, though not the significance of his victims’ race and gender. I applaud news organizations that chose to investigate connections between our nation’s history, and our past and current treatment of Asian citizens and immigrants.

Another lone white male gunman? I don’t believe it. I see it in large part as the result of coddling white boys and men of all ages and ranks in life when they ‘misbehave.’ And then, adding insult to injury, refusing to pursue justice for their victims.

On top of that, there’s this. Many life-denying behaviors have deep roots in family histories and wartime experiences. We haven’t dealt adequately with this reality. It seems we prefer looking the other way because it’s easier than facing reality, and our own unintended collusion.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 March 2021
Photo found at democracynow.org

Sometimes I want to give up

I want to turn into a bird and
join the community at the birdfeeder
A sometimes raucous group and yet
they manage to fly in and out
without mayhem or madness
taking them down bird by bird

This little poem was in the middle of a long list of things bothering me yesterday.  They included personal health issues, life with our dear cat Smudge who vomits every now and then, the mess that passes as my desk, and our national mayhem and madness.

Early yesterday morning I was watching birds at the feeders outside our kitchen window. Even though it was freezing cold with ice and snow on the ground, I suddenly got all teary. I wanted to be a bird! Free to come and go without fear.

Thankfully, a telephone conversation with a longtime friend helped get me back on track.

There’s a reason I felt like packing it in. The real problem isn’t what’s out there, or even my health challenges. It’s my voice. My writing voice. Put simply: Writing on WordPress is about as safe as it can get. Visitors don’t have to agree with me, and I have the privilege of speaking my mind.

For several years I’ve wondered about publishing some of my writing, and have said No. I’ve already published as an academic; I don’t need to publish anything else.

And yet…I wrote my two published books while I was a professor and my father was still alive. I hedged my language, thinking he might read them. They included memories about my childhood, but not about the way things really were for me at home.

Blogging gave me an opportunity to describe my childhood and youth, come to terms with them, and move on as a writer. So here I am today wondering why, with a manuscript nearly ready to publish, I’m nervous and even fearful.

Yet the truth is simple: Though I don’t write to please or appease my father, I still have a whisper of fear in me. This may sound crazy. Still, I need to do this for myself, my mother and sisters, our children and grandchildren, and women and men who have encouraged me as the writer I now am.

More later about the book. Right now I’m back to proofreading.

Happy Friday, and a prayer that we’ll find our way through these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2021
Photo found at news.wisc.edu

Disputed and Forbidden Words

“Boundaries”—
Demolished by DT & Friends

“Truth”—
It’s all relevant, right?

“Justice”–
Just for me and mine and those who support me

“Facts”—
What I wanted to see or think I saw, or what I wrote/read on Twitter

“Incitement to Riot”—
Who, me?

We’ve arrived at DT’s second Impeachment Trial
However, it isn’t only about DT
But about every Senator casting a vote
And, most importantly, about us

How did we arrive at this moment?
It isn’t as though we couldn’t see it coming
What sickness unto death infects our nation?

Denial comes to mind

We’ve become experts at our own forms of group denial.
We go along to get along. We feel helpless.
We look the other way. We roll our eyes.
We entertain gossip instead of hanging up the phone,
turning off the TV, or leaving the room.
Or we try to explain away what just happened
as though it weren’t important.

I’m as impacted by all this as the next person. Writing about it isn’t the same as taking a stand. Though I’ll admit it helps me focus.

Bottom line: We need more than Covid-19 vaccinations. I pray there’s still time to begin telling our national truth and seeking national justice for those we’ve harmed, ignored, or belittled. Plus those to whom we’ve cozied up because they had power we thought we needed or deserved.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 February 2021
Photo found at ft.com

Clouds hang heavy

Clouds hang heavy
with moisture waiting
for release into
an atmosphere of
winter snow and ice

My heart beats heavy
with tears for those
who know not what they do
even though I’m also in
the same sinking boat

Is it this person or that
who will point us home
somewhere or anywhere
within the space of this
world trembling on the brink

What a strange season this is. We live in the aftermath of a contentious election. At the same time, we’re charged with the task of helping inhibit Covid-19’s still inflating whirlwind of death, destruction and denial. It seems attacking this sickness unto death is more than we’re able or prepared to accomplish on our own.

Will we make it as a nation? In the meantime, people are hungry, thirsty, living and dying on the streets, in mansions, or in temporary shelters. Do they have hope? Do you? Do I?

One thing I know for certain. Praying might not change things overnight. It can, however, force me to be truthful not so much about ‘them’ as about myself. I don’t have a clue how to point the way home in our present catastrophe.

All I can do is follow the example of my leader, Jesus of Nazareth, for whom nothing was impossible. The secret? One faithful step after another, no matter how I feel about it. Plus prayer for our new POTUS and his team, charged with addressing the death that is upon us if we fail to find common ground and a reason to work together.

Happy Tuesday to each of you, and a prayer that each of us will find our way one faithful step after another.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 January 2021
Image found at youtube.jpg

Egrets | Mary Oliver

I wonder what Mary Oliver would say about us today. Especially about the last year and the coming four years. We can’t know, given her death on 17 January 2019. Still, there’s a message for us in this poem. I need it. Do you? My comments follow.

Egrets

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
the mosquitoes
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.

And that’s how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
wrinkled suddenly
into three egrets –
a shower
of white fire!

Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them –
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.

Poem by Mary Oliver.

Do you hear it in the poem? Mary keeps going, and the egrets keep going.

Mary is determined to find the pond, no matter how obliterated the path has become, how many thorns tear into her arms, or how many mosquitos dive-bomb her for a bite or two.

Finally, Mary comes to the pond and sees three beautiful egrets! They aren’t sweaty or frustrated. They’re not batting away the mosquitoes. Instead, not by logic but by faith, they “opened their wings softly and stepped over every dark thing.” All this despite hot, humid, mosquito-infested air, and rot lying beneath the surface of the pond.

Am I prepared to keep going as Mary did?

I’m grateful and relieved to have President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the helm. Still, we already know at least some of what they know: We’ve inherited a nation filled with untended paths, thorns, pesky mosquitoes, and a swamp full of rotting hulks and hidden traps lying just beneath the surface.

Slogging and soaring. It seems both are necessary. Though slogging, on its own, isn’t enough.

We need to soar. Not by flying away from the swamp, but by banking on faith, not simply logic. The egrets show Mary and us the way. They use their wings not to leave the swamp, but to step quietly and without fanfare over “every dark thing.”

Praying we’ll find our way, plus unexpected beauty from time to time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2021
Photo found at pixels.com

Photographer: TF Baccari

What next? | Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

As some of you know, I’m a survivor of childhood PTSD. My father’s behavior toward me was the most difficult part of my growing-up years. It cost time, money and effort to become the woman I am today.

Yet I still haven’t faced what it means to be a white woman right now. Specifically, this particular white woman whose childhood set the table for racial blindness. It’s ironic. Nearly every day of my life from age 7 ½ to 14 I rode through colored town, and witnessed the realities of colored life in the Deep South.

My father’s approach to Deep South manners amounted to ‘be polite, smile a lot, and just keep going.’ Don’t ask questions, don’t debate anything, and remember you’re the eldest daughter of the white preacher who speaks from time to time at the Colored Community House.

Still, I was inquisitive. I remember asking my father more than once why things were this way. I’d lived most of my early life on the West Coast. I don’t remember seeing black people in Seattle or in Southern California.

According to my father, it all came down to the way colored people ‘like’ to live. Or what they found ‘most comfortable.’ Or how much money they made, or how they spent it. That was their choice.

Every school day during my grade school years, my father or a neighbor drove us through colored town on our way to and from school in the city. Colored town was about a quarter of a mile from our house.

Yet my father never talked with us about why colored town was there in the first place, why most of the houses needed repair, or what this meant in the larger picture of the Deep South. Perhaps he’d never looked into it.

I’ve decided I can’t avoid looking into it. Not as an academic exercise, but to face what happened before, during and after Jim Crow years, and how I’m now part of the problem.

Thanks for reading. This is a busy month for everyone, so I appreciate your visits even more than usual!

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 December 2020
Photo of segregated city bus in the 1950s found at aapf.org

James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time

In the mid-1960s I first read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a collection of two published pieces. Each deals with how to survive as a black person in the USA. The first is a painfully realistic letter to James Baldwin’s nephew. The second describes Baldwin’s own struggle as a black Christian, beginning at age 14.

Now, at the end of 2020, I’m reading Baldwin’s small book again. Sadly, most white citizens of the USA still haven’t figured out how to do the right thing by our black citizens.

Instead, we’ve formed factions for which we ‘need’ an enemy (who isn’t necessarily our enemy). Something or someone to squabble about. A diversion from painful realities. Sadly it seems to offer a way of winning, even though we’re all losing.

Remember divide and conquer? As children, we played it all the time.

Sadly, people in power love to see us fighting each other instead of fighting against an unjust system in which some human beings continue to pay an unjust price. Given our history, it seems white citizens would rather fight each other than deal with injustice to people of color.

Early in his second essay, Down at the Cross, James Baldwin describes our perennial problem. I’ve highlighted the line that caught my attention.

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

The Fire Next Time, pp 21-22;
First published by The Dial Press, NY, 1963
Vintage International Edition first published 1993

If this is the biggest question we white citizens face, it doesn’t matter which way we voted. What matters is whether we can learn to “accept and love ourselves and each other.”

We don’t need our perennial “Negro problem” in order to feel good about ourselves. Why not? Because this never was a “Negro problem.” It’s been a White problem from the very beginning.

Highly recommended, even if you read it way back when.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Token presence and absent voices

Token presence rarely hides
absent voices in weighty matters
of life and death

Games rigged from the start
of nothing new are as deadly
as no token at all

Yet who am I to question
privileged presence in
the land of the free and the brave?

Yes, I’m a white woman.

And yet…I know the haunting feeling of being chosen at least partly because we ‘need’ a woman (of any color) in order to validate our committee, our faculty, our administration. Just think of how this will impact our promotional material! All for the price of less than a white male.

Potential money makers. That’s what women were and too often still are. A way of showing the world our school, our company, our church is doing the right thing. Put another way, you can trust us with your daughters of any color.

I don’t mean to sound cynical. I mean to be clear. Especially now, in this transition from Trump to Biden. Tokenism still happens every day at every level of hiring and top-level appointments. Especially here in the USA, land of the “free” and home of the “brave.”

We live with the sad and sorry outcomes of decisions made and unmade in light of political, personal, and financial considerations. It isn’t just the White House. It’s also businesses, local churches, hospitals, educational institutions, community leaders, and who gets to drive the garbage truck and who doesn’t.

After all, we don’t like it when things get overly-complicated or contentious. Especially in our own small worlds. I’m praying our new administration won’t fear complex, contentious discussion that broadens our small worlds, and brings us closer to other worlds.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 November 2020
Image found at medium.com

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