Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing

A Prized Possession

A prized possession sits in front of me. It’s small, worn and faded. I found it years ago, when I was working at the seminary. It was sitting on a give-away table.

I’ve always had a weak spot for books, especially when they’re free. So I picked it up and couldn’t put it down—a small hymnal, pocket-book size.

The stamp on the inside cover says “Property of Trinity Church, Vineland, N.J.” Title: The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America 1940.

My relationship with this little book has been sporadic, though with a theme. It keeps me centered and focused when I’m going through tough times. I first appreciated it fully after I broke my jaw in April 2016. When I couldn’t find words or sleep, it offered something to calm my heart.

Now, in April 2020, I’m using it regularly. My life and death aren’t unfolding as anticipated. The hymn I read and sang today is spot on. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. It offers a joyful, realistic description for any day of the year—especially now.

Even if you aren’t overtly religious, these words might be for you, too. The sun doesn’t rise and set on orders from any human being. I find that immensely reassuring in these troubled times.

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise!
Triumph o’er the shades of night:
Day-spring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day’s return,
‘Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, radiancy divine;
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display
Shining to the perfect day. Amen.

Words by Charles Wesley, 1740
© 1940, 1943 by The Church Pension Fund
Published in The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America – 1940

Praying we’ll all make time to breathe deeply today, and be grateful.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2020
Photo of sunrise in Acadia National Park, Maine, found at pinterest.com

Heavy | Mary Oliver

Here’s a lovely, if difficult poem from Mary Oliver. It’s about death. It’s also about learning to be a survivor. I’m posting the poem as a tribute to Diane (Sister #3), born on this day, Easter Sunday 1949 (leap year). Diane died in February 2006 after living more than ten years with ALS. My comments follow.

Heavy

That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger to admire, admire, admire
The things of this world
That are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Thirst, pp.53-54
Published by Beacon Press

Dying isn’t for the weak; neither is surviving. Not as victims of cruel fate or the current pandemic.

In the end, we often don’t have any choice but to live with what we’ve been given. True, we might prefer to die. But Mary challenges us to welcome grief and the opportunity to let it shape our lives for the better, without destroying them.

I also hear Mary inviting us to give ourselves time. Enough time to be surprised at ourselves when laughter and joy sneak in unannounced.

In her case, Mary unexpectedly discovers herself seeing nature differently. Not just as shows of beauty, but as survivors. Like us, the roses and sea geese also live out their love of life in the midst of harsh winds or steep waves.

What could be more invitational and healing that that? Not as a pill we take, but a possibility we choose to embrace.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 April 2020
Roses in the Wind painted by Anne Costello
Found at saatchiart.com

Unwelcome truth

Sometimes truth
drops bursting
through dark layers
deep beneath
my sea of normal

What is this and
why now and am I
all washed up
flailing uselessly
in this murky sludge?

Tentacles reach out
pulling in strained
nets of strangers and
enemies I’ve never
Seen or met before

Looking around
I take stock of
unwelcome truth
long gone underground
waiting to be acknowledged

I want to rant and rave about something. Or swim in an ocean of poetic images. But the ‘something’ that keeps haunting me is Trance.

Why? Because it’s complex at every level. A reality that both attracts and puts me off.

But Trance won’t be kept waiting. What self-evident truths already swim beneath the surface of my everyday life, unacknowledged?

This might be a slow process. Nonetheless, I’d rather be a turtle making it across the road than a squirrel, possum, or crow caught in the headlights. Though there is something to be said for flaming out.

Thanks for visiting and reading!
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 March 2020
Photo found at shutterstock.com

I believe in god | Dorothee Soelle

Here’s one of the most compelling personal credos (statements of belief) I’ve ever read. Soelle wrote it after World War II and during the Vietnamese War. Even if you’re not an outwardly religious person, I hope you’ll give it a read. It’s down to earth and challenging no matter what your beliefs might be.

Credo

I believe in god
who did not create an immutable world
a thing incapable of change
who does not govern according to eternal laws
that remain inviolate
or according to a natural order
of rich and poor
of the expert and the ignorant
of rulers and subjects
I believe in god
who willed conflict in life
and wanted us to change the status quo
through our work
through our politics

I believe in jesus christ
who was right when he
like each of us
just another individual who couldn’t beat city hall
worked to change the status quo
and was destroyed
looking at him I see
how our intelligence is crippled
our imagination stifled
our efforts wasted
because we do not live as he did
every day I am afraid
that he died in vain
because he is buried in our churches
because we have betrayed his revolution
in our obedience to authority
and our fear of it
I believe in jesus christ
who rises again and again in our lives
so that we will be free
from prejudice and arrogance
from fear and hate
and carry on his revolution
and make way for his kingdom

I believe in the spirit
that jesus brought into the world
in the brotherhood of all nations
I believe it is up to us
what our earth becomes
a vale of tears starvation and tyranny
or a city of god
I believe in a just peace
that can be achieved
in the possibility of a meaningful life
for all people
I believe this world of god’s
has a future
amen

Dorothee Soelle, Revolutionary Patience, pp 22-23, 3rd printing May 1984
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books
Published by Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY

Wishing each of you a thoughtful, challenging day.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 February 2020
Image found at cia.gov

The distance between then and now

The distance between then and now
Boils down quickly to a handful of
Opportunities lost in translation

Heavy baggage dumped in swamps
Still unopened and never claimed

On-demand smiles of yesterday hidden
Beneath faces lined with sadness and grief

Moments of vulnerability unexplored
In favor of stiff upper lips and privacy

The openness of childhood and youth
Shut down in favor of family reputation

Yet miles of heart-stopping space open
Like the Grand Canyon between us and
old photos tugging at our lonely hearts

I feel sad and happy every time I look at this old photo. I’m sitting on the bench surrounded by my mother, her father, and her father’s mother. Four generations. The poem reflects how difficult I find it to become a human being. Especially when working on family-related issues.

Becoming human may be our greatest achievement. Not wealth or happiness or helping people all over the world, but the ability to become who we are from the inside out. Sort of like the velveteen rabbit, so that by the time we leave this world, we’ve become Real human beings.

Here’s to heaps of practice and a few great breakthroughs every now and then!

The photo at the top was taken by my father in 1944. We’re in California, visiting with my Grandpa Gury and my very proper Great Grandmother Gury (an immigrant from France). I’m sitting in the middle; my beautiful mother is on my right.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 February 2020
Photo taken by my father, JERenich in 1944, California

At loose ends with myself

I posted this poem with brief comments a few days after mid-term elections in November 2018. Now there’s another election coming up in November, with large stakes for all of us. My biggest challenge today is to stay on target. Not just with my health and well-being, but the reality of our current state of our disunion. I want to ignore it, and cannot. My poem and earlier comments follow.

At loose ends with myself
Wandering up and down
The stairs of my distraction
Overturning this and that
Within my overactive mind
A clock ticks relentlessly
Counting down the corridors
Of tasks undone and words
Never recorded yet dissipating
Into a gray atmosphere silent
And secretive not yet menacing
Though the thought occurs
to me that I am being unraveled
strand by limp strand falling
to the floor of unknown reality

Unraveled. A word rich with possibilities. Terrifying and welcome all at the same time. Loss of control. Change of direction. Once-blind eyes coming out of misty half-truth and patched-together personas. Fragility unbound and hanging out there. Human. Vulnerable. Out of control in the best possible way.

All this and more went through my mind today. It isn’t just about getting older. It’s about getting real. Becoming a real rabbit, a real human being, a real baby. Not just a make-believe look-alike.

Here’s to more loose ends of the fruitful kind. Those that lead to something greater than you or I could ever become on our own.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 November 2018, reposted 12 February 2020
Image of unraveling butterfly found at movestrongkbs.com

A Visitor | Mary Oliver

This haunting poem by Mary Oliver comes from a 1986 collection called Dream Work. My comments follow.

A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
returns
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 116-117
Published by Beacon Press

Mary Oliver left home early in life to get away from an abusive situation. Now, years later, wild knocking in the dark of night reminds her of what she ran away from. If she opens the door, she must confront the man she remembers having a “waxy face” and “a lower lip swollen with bitterness.”

She ignores the pounding on the door. The knocking persists at all hours of the night. And so she “stumbles down the hall,” and the door “falls open.”

In an instant, Mary Oliver knows she has nothing to fear. In fact, it seems she’s surprised to discover her father is “pathetic and hollow.” Even his smallest dreams have frozen, and his meanness has vanished.

She greets him, invites him to come into her house, lights a lamp, looks into his “blank eyes” and sees what was needed when she was a child, plus what might have been “had we loved in time.”

The poem isn’t about Mary Oliver’s father; it’s about Mary. In the end, It affirms her decision to leave home, and acknowledges the high cost she and her father paid. With grief, and without apology.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Outcomes predetermined

Outcomes predetermined –
No need for witnesses

News cameras keep rolling —
Capturing unwillingness
to accept self-evident truths

We have not administered
justice for all with an even hand

We have not allowed freedom for all
in this land of the free and home of the brave

We have not believed
Each person of any color or religion
is created equal and entitled
to full protection under the law

Nor have we been able to stem
today’s flood of party-line mantras
and childlike temper tantrums
from The White House

Welcome to Trump’s world and
the world in which brothers and sisters
now celebrating Black History Month
have lived all their lives

Thank you Mr. Trump
for this unexpected opportunity
to move beyond our current state
of habitual denial and fear

Now playing in your city or town
Every night of the week
No tickets needed

Several days ago I read a news report from CNN. It was about the farce of Trump’s impeachment trial. The message from black folks for white folks: “Welcome to our world.” Ironically, this is Black History Month. What will we make of it?

The meaning of justice has always been skewed against black people in this country. The movie Just Mercy shows how difficult it is in this so-called ‘enlightened age’ for black citizens to get justice. The so-called impeachment trial simply used the same tactics, this time to the advantage of a white male President.

  • a pre-ordained verdict
  • jury nullification (deliberate rejection of evidence or refusal to apply the law)
  • the judge as a prop, offering a pretense of impartiality
  • one of similar trials in which white men are favored

This is a rare opportunity for all of us. Especially, but not only white citizens. It’s still Black History Month. What better topic than the state of our union?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 February 2020
Photo of Lynching Memorial found at heraldnet.com

Habits of firstborns die hard

What is this burden
I can’t seem to lay down
Yet know I can’t carry
On these weary shoulders

Unknowns and what ifs
Flood my mind
Plus the nagging weight
Of being the eldest

A shadow cloud follows me
Day and night in one door
And out another
Searching for solace

And understanding
Not my thing you see
Especially now that
I’m older and should know

By heart how to carry
The weight of the world
Without a care or fleeting
Thought of rest or peace

Habits of firstborns die hard
Eternally peering back
Making sure we’re all here
Even when we are not

I don’t know if what I just wrote is true of all firstborns with siblings. I know it’s true of me.

I look back through old photos and see a sober, sometimes somber young woman with the face of a responsible first daughter. The lovely photo above, taken by my father in the 1950s is an exception to the rule. Nonetheless, being the responsible first daughter felt normal back then. Not quite, but almost my destiny.

My youngest sister is making slow, steady progress on her rehab issues. As for me, I’m getting plenty of practice being and feeling relatively helpless to be physically present with her. Which leaves open the possibility of learning, at this difficult time in her life, to be her creative cheerleader and long-distance friend. Right?

Thanks for your visit today, and Happy Wednesday to each of you!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2020
Photo of Sister #1 and me taken by JERenich on Easter Sunday, mid 1950s, Savannah, Georgia

What we have lost

The Big Girl in me
Got lost somewhere
Hiding in a closet
Ruminating on her
Most recently acquired
Impotence

How do we
Make our mark
On life that wants
To run ahead of us
Eager to get home and
Resume things as though
Nothing happened at all
Or if it did it wasn’t
That bad was it?

A thousand voices
Scramble my weary brain
Already cluttered with
What cannot be known while
What ifs accumulate —
Fake time and fake money
Thrown after dreams
Of what may never be

The clock moves in one direction
Steadily relentlessly counting down
To the last moment of last breath
And the sudden shock of what
We will have lost
All of us

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 January 2020
Image found at rubylane.com
Hand-painted Wood Face of 1810-20 Pennsylvania Grandfather Clock

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