Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Health and Wellbeing

Green, Green is My Sister’s House | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem has been on my mind for over a week. The photo above was taken in the front yard of our first home in Southern Georgia, near Savannah. That’s my small, petite sister next to me. Just hanging there, swinging back and forth, was exhilarating! Sister #3 was still a baby. Sister #4 hadn’t yet arrived. My brief comments follow.

Green, Green is My Sister’s House

Don’t you dare climb that tree
or even try, they said, or you will be
sent away to the hospital of the
very foolish, if not the other one.
And I suppose, considering my age,
it was fair advice.

But the tree is a sister to me, she
lives alone in a green cottage
high in the air and I know what
would happen, she’d clap her green hands,
she’d shake her green hair, she’d
welcome me. Truly

I try to be good but sometimes
a person just has to break out and
act like the wild and springy thing
one used to be. It’s impossible not
to remember wild and want it back. So

if someday you can’t find me you might
look into that tree or—of course
it’s possible—under it.

Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings
Published in 2013 by Penguin Books, p. 49
© 2012 by NW Orchard LL.C.

I love this poem. Not because I want to climb the tree in the front yard of my childhood home, but because it understands and honors the agony of aging. It remembers how things used to be. The good, the bad, the ugly, and those unrepeatable moments of sheer joy. The dear old tree understands there’s nothing left but to lie down under the lovely tree I used to climb. Or beneath it, in the good earth.

Perhaps this is no more than a romantic twist about my aging heart. The heart that wants it all back again. Not just in fading moments or vague memories, but in reality. Like a beautiful statue that captures  the glory, agony, and excitement of life with trees. Special trees. Those that remember us and welcome us home. Wild or weary. It doesn’t matter.

Praying this finds you thriving in your own way, making progress at your own pace, and learning to trust your Higher Power to carry you when you can’t walk so quickly anymore.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 February 2023
Photo taken by my father in the early 1950s. The house looks out on the Vernon River. We’re hanging from an old mimosa tree.

Hurricane | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s hurricane has been on my mind for the last few weeks. There’s so much we can’t predict or count on these days. Not only in nature, but in human experience and global disasters. It doesn’t matter how centered we may be, or how ‘safe’ we think we are. My comments follow.

Hurricane

It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything
. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

Mary Oliver, from A Thousand Mornings
Published in 2013 by Penguin Books, pp. 21-22
© 2012 by NW Orchard LL.C.

I’m making it up, one day at a time. I never thought I would be faced with so many decisions. Some feasible; a precious few doable. The trees showed Mary the way. Don’t let the goblins scare you. And don’t give up.

Forget about right and wrong seasons of life. Grab what’s available now, and love with all your heart. Forget what others think. They don’t own your body or your soul. This too is a gift from above. Especially when things are bleak.

My health has an unpredictable mind of its own these days. Still, I want nothing more than the opportunity to be my real self before I die, regardless of impossibly “correct” rules or regulations. No fear. No anger toward myself or others. Just the right season to blossom before the next right season arrives.

Thank you for visiting and reading. I pray all is well with each of you, no matter what the weather.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 January 2023
Photo found at pixabay.com.

Mary Oliver | Three Poems for 2023

How are we doing today? Not just as individuals, but as citizens in a world screaming with pain. Mary Oliver’s three short poems below, one after another, ask us to turn our attention inward. Whether we like it or not, we’re in this together. My brief comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground, ashamed, ashamed?

~~~

The Poet Compares Human Nature
To The Ocean From Which We Came

The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth,
it can lie down like silk breathing
or toss havoc shoreward; it can give

gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth
like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can
sweet-talk entirely. As I can too,

and so, no doubt, can you, and you.

~~~

On Traveling To Beautiful Places 

Every day I’m still looking for God
and I’m still finding him everywhere,
in the dust, in the flowerbeds.
Certainly in the oceans,
in the islands that lay in the distance
continents of ice, countries of sand
each with its own set of creatures
and God, by whatever name.
How perfect to be aboard a ship with
maybe a hundred years still in my pocket.
But it’s late, for all of us,
and in truth the only ship there is
is the ship we are all on
burning the world as we go.

~~~

Published by Penguin Books in A Thousand Mornings/Mary Oliver, pp. 65-69
Copyright © 2012 by NW Orchard LL.C

I love poems about beauty and truth. I’m not sure, however, how to mix beauty and truth when we seem to be falling apart. Ignoring what can’t be ignored. Making ‘exceptions’ for those who seem to hold the most power of any kind.

Mary Oliver invites and even dares us to see the world as it is. Not the world as we wish it were, or the world we think we can ignore. She also invites us to repent. To turn around. To see and live whatever truth we can with at least one other person. One day, one problem, one fleeting moment at a time, regardless of what others may think about us.

Praying we’ll find renewed life with each other in the coming year, regardless of our country, religion, politics, gender, or age. And . . . I wish each of you a truly happy new year in which you find courage you never thought possible.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2022
Photo found at phys.org/news/2022-23

winter then and now

Looking back just 1 1/2 years ago, I never would have guessed I would be so housebound, or that this would become my new normal.

Days dwindle down quickly, especially in winter. First light turns into fading light. The list of things I can reasonably accomplish grows shorter by the day. However, the amount of time I think I need to get through each day grows larger. For example: food prep and cooking, exercises, walking, doing my laundry, and endless weeding out of papers and other items I no longer need.

Still, I’m more as ease with my aging body than I was just one month ago. Today it’s way too cold to walk with D in the afternoon. Besides, there’s no way I can keep up with him. Our attic (remember the renovations?) has been my home away from home on most days. It’s quiet, with windows at each end, and plenty of space to get moving, or go through my exercises.

I cry more than I did a year ago. I’ve always been a weeper. However, it hasn’t been easy to weep at will when I feel pain or am discouraged. Yet if I don’t, it won’t help me accept present realities. In addition, though I’m content to post only as I’m able, I’m not thrilled with the constraints I now have.

Here’s an early haiku and poem about ‘frozen grief’. It seems I’m still learning to deal with this. Not just grief from my childhood, but the grief I’ve experienced at the hands, mouths and attitudes of people who wanted to change or take advantage of me.

winter sun
6 February 2014

winter sun pierces
my paralyzed heart waking
frozen grief at will

***

Buried deep, forgotten
Denied, minimized, ignored
Silenced, unexamined

Held at bay
‘It wasn’t that bad’
‘Others had it worse’

Ashamed of my own story
Just another privileged woman
Who doesn’t get it

Afraid to shine a light
On darkness that seems
To have overpowered me

You mean you’re this old and
You still haven’t gotten over it
Beyond it, done already?

Normal
We want normal
How much longer will this take?

Winter sun does its work
In the fullness of God’s time
Not one moment sooner


Thanks for stopping by today. Or tomorrow…
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 December 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com
Attic photos taken by DFraser and me in 2018

This weariness of mine | George MacDonald

For several months I’ve been up, down, and all over the place trying to figure out who I am now, and why I feel so weary. To things that fell apart years ago, new things arrive unannounced, no matter how long or short the distance may be from here to the end of life as I’ve known it.

On January 1 of this year I began reading one of George MacDonald’s sonnets each day. It’s my 3rd or 4th time going through them. This time, however, I’m finally beginning to hear MacDonald as he was when he wrote them. He was living through a slow, painful death following many years of chronic tuberculosis, the loss of five of his children (4 to tuberculosis), and ongoing debates with church officials who didn’t find his brand of Christianity fully acceptable.

My life has been a lark compared to his. Yet even as I write this I know it’s not the truth. My life has NOT been a lark. I have often not been fully accepted as the person I am, beginning with my upbringing and continuing through my adult years. I must also say I wouldn’t have made it without unnumbered friends and strangers along the way.

These days, weariness is a constant companion. Some of it because of new and old health issues; other pieces because of what it has cost, and still costs me to be the woman I am. I’m often tempted to feel sorry for myself, or angry because of what I inherited the day I was born.

This sonnet, however, isn’t about the past. It’s about the present and the future. It’s about the wonderful gift of accepting weariness as a sign that I’ve done what I could do. Like fruit past ripe, I too am waiting to drop wearily into the good earth. Finally at rest.

Here’s the sonnet I didn’t understand until today.

3 December, from George MacDonald’s The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul

This weariness of mine, may it not come
From something that doth need no setting right?
Shall fruit be blamed if it hang wearily
A day before it perfected drop plumb
To the sad earth from off its nursing tree?
Ripeness must always come with loss of might.
The weary evening fall before the resting night.

© 1994 Augsburg Fortress, page 120

Thanks for reading and listening. I couldn’t ask for a better audience.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2022
Tanbirul Islam, photographer; photo found at http://www.pexels.com

from the podium

Beethoven at Longwood

I seem to have gained a year overnight. Birthday #79! Here’s one of my oldest poems, first posted in March 2014. I didn’t write it for my birthday, but today it’s just right! I pray your day is filled with gratitude, thanksgiving, and hope for our weary world. After all, the wrens and sparrows haven’t stopped singing. So why should we?

from the podium
Beethoven in floral garb
conducts ode to joy

* * *

Things that gladden and soften me,
making me deeply happy and grateful to be alive:

the carolina wren and white-throated sparrow
singing outside my window at dawn

opening notes of orchestral music
warming my heart, releasing tears, relaxing my body

walking in our neighborhood at sunset
as fading light catches the tiptop of trees and steeples

being with our family for sit-down meals
to celebrate birthdays and each other

the sound of waves breaking rhythmically
on sandy beaches and rocky shores

the smell of damp pine needles on the ground
following a rainstorm in the deep South

unexpected moments of deep grief
for Mother and for Sister #3

playing the piano for no one but myself,
weeping for the beauty and comfort of music

the smile in David’s eyes
when I walk into the room

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 March 2014, lightly edited and reposted 20 November 2022
Photo credit: DAFraser
Longwood Gardens Orchid House Display

What I’m FOR today

Here’s my short-version report about my health and wellbeing. I am alive; I am reasonably happy most days; I am unreasonably crabby at night when I can’t sleep so well; I have several unresolved health issues upon which I will not dwell at this time. I am, however, Alive! And coming up on my 79th birthday.

I first posted this piece in August 2018. Just looking at this photo, reminiscent of my childhood home in Georgia, makes me happy, though not equally happy for every day of my life. I pray this finds you reasonably at peace with yourself.

~~~

There’s so much going wrong today that I decided to make a roll call of what I’m FOR on this remarkable day. Remarkable because I lived to witness it! Including, in my past, the Vernon River, and dock-life when I was growing up. Plus at least the following other items for which I’m grateful:

  • this beautiful world in places increasingly touched by human tragedy
  • family members more distant in miles than ever, yet close to my heart
  • churches standing up to tough challenges without capitulating to visions of grandeur, glory or isolation
  • real places that offered me refuge and peace when I needed solitude and reassurance that my life matters
  • our son who lives reasonably nearby, and reminds me why I risked everything with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday
  • our daughter who lives on the other side of the USA yet is present to me in ways I was never present to my mother
  • the Carolina Wren, Chickadees and Cardinals singing and chirping, plus the small ground squirrel who sits on our back yard wall surveying his spacious kingdom
  • courageous women, men and children who speak out and work for a better world for all of us
  • my neighbors: Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Protestant, or Nothing at All who greet me, invite me into conversation, groan and smile with me, and sometimes offer me tea
  • my dear husband whom I sometimes thought might be the wrong man for me, yet has become precious beyond words
  • my local church with its challenging mix of cultures, ethnicity, political persuasions, youth and decrepitude
  • days of such unexpected delight that I don’t want them to end, yet can let go because I love my water-bed and the partner swimming in it with me
  • my body and the way it’s leading me deeper into and out of myself in these early days of autumn

And of course, I’m for you, my wonderful readers–an invisible family loosely held together somewhere out there beyond our control.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2018; lightly edited and reposted 15 November 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com

Defending My Space

For the last several weeks I’ve been dealing with more health issues, which I’ll report on later. I’ve also been re-reading my book, Confessions of a Beginning TheologianThe excerpt below gives a peek into life with my father, an ordained clergyman. It also describes my inner struggle to maintain my identity as a young white girl in a preacher’s family.

The memory may seem to be about parental authority. In reality, it’s about what it took daily for me to live (and die) due to my father’s overbearing commands, passed on to him by his rage-aholic clergy father.

We’re in a mess these days, dealing with layers of abuse, anger, and self-righteousness passed from one generation to another. Tomorrow is an official voting day. What will become of us? Do we have the courage to step up and out of order? Not just in our frightened hearts or minds, but in the way we live our adult lives regardless of the cost.

~~~

I’m about eight years old. I’m sitting at the dinner table, just around the corner from my father. The table is set, the food is spread before us, and we’re all in our seats waiting to begin. We haven’t yet asked the blessing. I’m playing with my dinner fork, just to the left of my plate. I’ve moved it a few inches away from my plate.

My father’s voice interrupts me. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it to the right, in the direction of my plate. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it slightly closer. My father’s voice remains firm and controlled. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

By now my sisters are watching to see what will become of me. My mother is silent. This has become an event. Slowly I raise my hand to my fork and move it ever so slightly closer to my plate.

My father persists. So do I. Many repetitions later he’s satisfied; the fork has been returned to its proper place.

He proceeds with the blessing. He doesn’t know what I know: the fork is ever so slightly to the left of its proper place.

My father’s mission as a parent was to train us to keep the rules. My mission as his child was to break and keep the rules simultaneously.

Back then, perseverance meant getting through another day, using whatever survival skills lay close at hand.

If my father was persistent, I would be more persistent. If outward rebellions were too costly, I would invent creatively invisible yet superbly effective inward rebellions. If I was ordered to sit down and stop talking, I could continue standing and talking on the inside for as long as it took to comfort myself.

Indeed, this was the better way. In the private spaces of my mind no one could put me down, refuse to listen to me or try to break my will. In a family system intent on turning out obedient daughters, I survived by being secretly disobedient.

This memory from the 1950s, published nearly 20 years ago, is as vivid today as it was then.

The territory I defended was interior. I applaud the little girl who figured out how to do this. Nonetheless, my efforts were costly. They required constant vigilance, no matter where I was.

Abuse of power destroys safe space. It expects and demands behaviors, words, looks on faces, subtle and open signs of unquestioning and subservient submission.

What does it take to create and maintain safe space? Not just in our marriages and families, but in neighborhoods, nations, churches and schools? And how does my personal history connect with the racial history of the USA?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 March 2017, reposted 7 November 2022
Photo of 1938 family dinner found at bbc.com
Story excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Beginning Theologian (InterVarsity Press 1998)

The view from my attic

Two days ago I retreated to my attic. It was a cloudy, windy, cold day, late in the afternoon. Not the kind of weather that invites a lovely outdoor walk. So there I was, making do by walking up and down the attic, wondering why I’m still here.

The last several months have been difficult. Living with peripheral neuropathy is a mystery. Some days I feel normal; other days I feel like a stranger in a body that doesn’t seem to be mine. And I wonder how much longer I have on this earth.

But back to walking in the attic. The curtains at the back of the attic were open. Without warning, the sun came out, and the maple leaves suddenly came to brilliant life. Yes, they were being blown around, falling to the ground. But they were also a gorgeous reminder that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So what beauty is there in me? In you? Especially those of any age who don’t have the options they used to have. The leaves are going to fall, no matter what. So I’m working on enjoying each day as it comes, laughing and crying as often as needed, bidding goodbye to parts of my life that were wonderful. And being grateful for the bit of wisdom I’ve learned along the way.

All things considered, I’d rather be the woman I am now than the woman I was before I began blogging.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2022
Photo taken by me on 25 October 2022

Don’t Hesitate | Mary Oliver

I feel a tug of anguish these days. It’s in the air. It’s in my body. It’s in the newspapers. It’s in deluges of unsolicited email from candidates frantically running for office. On some days I just want to crawl back in bed and do absolutely nothing but hibernate.

On the other hand, I’ve been reading this short poem by Mary Oliver. Given our national and international anguish, plus my current health issues, I can’t say it’s easy to follow her wisdom. Still, I’m doomed if I curl up and shrink to nothingness.

Here’s the poem. I hope you find it as compelling as I do.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Thank you from my heart for your visits. I’ve been overwhelmed by how many visitors I’ve been getting in the last several weeks. Especially given my inability to post or visit as often as I would like. Which, of course, has been part of my anguish.

Writing is one of the most challenging and joyful things I do. Sort of like playing the piano or watching birds flocking and fighting around the bird feeders each morning.

Praying we all find space for joy (or even more joy!) in our lives today.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 October 2022
Photo of Smudge birdwatching taken by me in September 2022

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