Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Hope and Healing

Anguished Hope

Our granddaughters at the Tyler Arboretum, 2008

Yesterday D and I attended our twin granddaughters’ senior presentations. Half an hour each, talking about themselves and their journeys. Their self-understanding and transparency were painfully beautiful to hear. And their immediate plans for their lives offered hope that each of them would make contributions to the people of this world and to our planet. And yet….

Anguish —
An uncommonly daily experience
Giving birth to life
A thousand small losses
At a time

My feelings exactly
Sitting there in an attentive
Audience listening
For hope against
All odds —

A future for this
War-torn worn-out dis-eased
World of shrinking resources
And mounting debt
Now bankrupt

Which court
Will adjudicate the rape
Of this land and its people
Without bowing to
Human idols?

Who will believe
The verdict handed down
Without taking a moment
To make a buck or two
On lies?

Tomorrow’s
Pyramid schemes sophisticated
And irresistible stand ready
In the wings eager to swoop down
Filling their gaping craws with
Anguish

When I look at our human resources and our history over the last centuries, I despair — almost. When I see how dedicated our young graduates are to making a difference, I cringe and hope — against all odds.

The weight of past and present doesn’t offer grounds for a declaration of hope. Nor is there a strange new world waiting that meets the standards of our precarious dreams.

Yet I dream, hope and pray —

  • For each graduate’s stamina, and my commitment to being present in their lives
  • For openness to others, and other ways of living in this world
  • For faith to triumph over despair, disbelief, scorn and disappointment

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2008 at the Tyler Arboretum near Philadelphia; our granddaughters were 8 years old.

Choosing to embrace the possible

Several weeks ago I finished reading Dr. Edith Eva Eger’s riveting memoir, The Choice. Dr. Eger is in her 90s. She’s a psychotherapist and a survivor of the Holocaust. One of thousands, including her entire family, rounded up by Nazis and sent from Hungary to Auschwitz. This is a 5-star book, well worth reading.

When it appeared the Nazis might not win World War II, Dr. Eger, a young Hungarian Jew teenager, was evacuated from Auschwitz. Eventually she ended up in the Death March of young girls who walked to a prison facility at Gunskirchen in upper Austria. Many didn’t make it.

Dr. Eger begins and ends her memoir by describing her work with several types of clients suffering from PTSD. Each had a different version of PTSD; each had to unravel the tangled knots of past histories; each had to find within him or herself the courage to change.

After recounting her own story, Dr. Eger describes the way these cases challenged her to understand more about her own traumatic experiences as a young Hungarian Jew. Recovery from PTSD isn’t over until it’s over.

The map of Dr. Eger’s journey from Hungary to the USA is convoluted, filled with high personal drama and heartbreaking choices. Some would call it a page-turner. I could only take several pages or short sections at a time.

Here’s what grabbed me: The one thing Dr. Eger did not want to do was, in fact, the most important thing she had to do to be at peace with herself and those she most loved.

This got me thinking. If she still had unfinished work even after she was a well-known, sought-after psychotherapist, what might that mean for me? What have I missed seeing back there in my history?

Short answer: I missed seeing my lost self. Not my family history or my father’s abusive, unyielding treatment of me, but myself! Yet there I was. From the second month of my mother’s pregnancy until I was 10-months old, my father was not a daily presence. He was in a TB sanatorium somewhere, fighting for his life.

Those ten months are a small piece of ground that belong to me. They aren’t marked by his attempts to beat anger out of me and make me into a tame, submissive ‘good girl.’ It’s not too late to take care of that young infant in me. The one I overlooked for so many years.

I highly recommend Dr. Eger’s book, even if you’re only interested in a no-holds-barred, first-hand account of part of World War II. On the other hand, you might also find a bit of your lost self along the way.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2018
Image found at mdmemories.blogspot.com

cool midsummer breeze

cool midsummer breeze
reminder of things to come
balm for my body

Out this morning for a walk with D. Taking advantage of an unexpected change in the air. Thinking about what’s going on here in the USA and abroad. Especially in churches and religious communities.

Recent revelations of clergy sex abuse of more than 1000 minors in Pennsylvania have sent our state and religious communities reeling. Not a moment too soon, yet decades too late for victims robbed of their childhood, adolescence, and sense of worth as children of God.

This time it’s about priests, bishops and the highest governing bodies of the Roman Catholic Church. It could easily have been about ordained leaders in conservative and liberal churches of all Christian denominations, including those that claim not to be denominations.

Abuse of power has no boundaries.

In the meantime, thousands upon thousands of children, young people and adults wonder when and how this madness will end. Everything in us cries out for freedom, though many of us have believed the lies of our perpetrators:

  • This is for your own good.
  • You made me do it.
  • God told me to do it.
  • I can’t help myself.
  • This will bring you closer to God.
  • No one will ever find out.
  • This is our little secret.
  • You should be ashamed of yourself.
  • I can help you with your career.
  • If you tell anyone, I’ll kill your brother.
    …..

Our lives are precious. We’re here for a purpose. What’s yours?

Today mine is to spotlight the reality of this rampant non-secret that’s eating away at families, communities, religious and secular institutions. To think these things don’t matter in public life is to live on another planet. These aren’t private matters. They are public and private relations disasters at every level.

No, I haven’t given up on following Jesus. I have, however, given up the notion that what happened to me in my youth and childhood should be over and done by now. It’s never over and done. Especially when there are millions of other victims out there. Overlooked, uncounted, discounted and left to their own devices. From the outside, some get along better than others. Yet deep inside, competing voices vie for everlasting attention.

I know, because I’m still doing battle, though not without hope. My purpose today is to tell the truth, without loss of hope and with the most powerful voice I have–my writing.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2018
Photo found at kalynskitchen.com

Shaming and Punishing Women

One of my longtime followers, Fran Macilvey, left the following request in response to my recent post, Voices long silent.

I’d like to hear more about your view on “….shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women…” because I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to women, and I’m curious to consider why we do it. What are we frightened of? Disapproval??

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially about how things like this happen to men. At the same time, from my childhood on it seemed women and girls had to be kept in their places. My personal fear wasn’t disapproval. It was harsh punishment. Not just as a child, but even as a professional. It was important to ‘walk the line’ and remember that I was not in charge. Today I might simply walk out. But that freedom didn’t happen overnight.

In a recent telephone conversation with one of my sisters, we talked about ways young boys shamed us at school when we were in the 5th grade. Our father also shamed us at home every time one of us was beaten. I was the prime example of what would happen to my three younger sisters if they dared to live ‘outside’ the lines of what my father considered proper behavior for females.

So we shared our experiences in the 5th grade. Both involved shaming by a male classmate. There was no one safe to talk with us. Not at school, and not at home. Each of us lived with the burden of believing we were the problem. The truth, however, is that our young, developing female bodies were the problem. Not to us, but to the boys who tormented us.

Silence about things like this, when carried for decades and magnified by repeated body shaming is like carrying a dead weight in one’s body and soul. Still, the only safe way to get through was to keep our young mouths shut and just keep going.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of release I felt because my sister and I had finally dared tell each other about this insult to our souls and bodies.

Then there’s the companion side of this dilemma. Often when women stand up and report harassing behavior, they become the subject of investigation. Maybe it was your clothes, your tone of voice, the look in your eyes, the perfume you wore to work today. Hence the silence of women afraid to report abuse of any kind on the job, at home, in schools and universities, in churches, or even in friendship circles.

I’m not saying all women are as pure as the driven snow. Instead, I’m saying that experiences like this need to be unpacked. Perhaps we can change our behavior. Not because what we’re doing is ‘wrong,’ but because it isn’t putting our own safety first. Often we need trusted friends and qualified psychotherapists to walk with us.

Reading books about how to survive various forms of shaming or PTSD isn’t a bad thing to do. We can learn a lot. Yet there’s that internal stuff that isn’t going to go away because we read a book. Sometimes we need a safe person to hear us out and help us examine our feelings and behaviors without blame or judgment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2018

no poems today

no poems today –
somewhere young children
cower and weep

fear and longing
hold their collective breath
waiting the verdict

And when the verdict is in, then what?
How do bodies and souls find their way
In a world that quickly forgets
Just what the commotion was all about

Are we ready for masses of victims
Supposedly set free by newsworthy justice
Yet marked indelibly by sordid daily injustices?

And what about today’s other children
Living in bubbles of make-believe normalcy
Inhaling lies about love as an
Overnight fling or great adventure?

Every 24 hours soul-breaking rites of passage
Leave bitter spirits and aching bodies behind

Who will pick up our broken pieces
And love them back to life?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 January 2018
Image found at jewishcommunitywatch.org

The cost of endurance

The cost of endurance drags heavy
on my feet increasingly unwilling
to put one step before another at this
snail’s pace – a lifetime sentence of
fallout from disasters beyond control
out of synch with my world-weary soul

Outside the front door sirens scream
their way toward yet another disaster
while beyond my kitchen windows
trees beneath blue skies and home to
songbirds entice me into yet another
day – interest enough for this old soul

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2017
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, June 2017
Daily Prompt: Interest

kneeling for justice

hot sun focuses
with laser-beam precision
on one fallen leaf
illuminating darkness
barely hidden beneath rot

I’m a white woman with a history of being beaten and humiliated. A history I can pretend to ignore if I so choose. In fact, many people I’ve met in my adult life would prefer it that way. It’s easier for everyone if I’m an exception to the rule.

The rule, of course, would be that good girls are rewarded. I don’t buy it. In my experience, good girls rarely find their voices or their strength. They’re too busy trying to please or appease whoever is just above them on the food chain. Or the love chain. Or the work chain. Or the social chain. Need I go on?

Fallen leaves. We love to sing their praises, especially in autumn.

Yesterday evening I went out for my evening walk. The air was exceedingly hot, dry and heavy. Not a cool downdraft anywhere. Walking my favorite paths was like pushing through desert heat. Beautiful in its way, yet almost unbearable.

The search for justice is like slogging through a wasteland of dry leaves falling prematurely from still-green trees. They’re just dead leaves. No problem. A dime a dozen. There must be something wrong with them.

The analogy isn’t perfect. Yet my hat goes off to brothers and sisters who dare kneel for justice denied.

Kneeling wasn’t a safe action in my girlhood, unless it was to pray alone before God who never abandoned me. As an adult white woman I choose to kneel today with those who focus light yet again on what has long been barely hidden beneath rot. Wherever it resides.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 September 2017
Daily Prompt: Focused

I wonder if when Years have piled —

I don’t wear a crucifix around my neck, yet I find myself in the company of those who, like Emily Dickinson, can’t escape Grief. It doesn’t matter how many years have lapsed. My comments follow her poem.

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one –and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There’s Grief of Want – and Grief of Cold –
A sort they call “Despair’ –
There’s Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they’re mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like My Own –

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Emily begins by wondering whether Harm that has Years “piled on” it might be like a Balm. Perhaps like piling ice or heat on an injury? Some would say time heals all wounds.

Does it? Perhaps the passing of Time simply multiplies the Pain of this Harm. Especially in contrast to Love lost, withheld or betrayed.

Emily does a brief roll call of various kinds of Grief. She names Death first, yet doesn’t dwell on it since once it arrives, it simply “nails the eyes” shut. She may have in mind the person who dies, not the survivors.

She then points to other forms of Grief. They’re examples of the barely recognized yet obvious Grief humans carry every day. She names Grief of Want, of Cold, and of Despair. This is the kind of Grief that doesn’t nail the eyes shut. It’s the Grief of being invisible, shunned, ignored, banished from sight in full view of others. Not allowed to breathe air that supposedly belongs to everyone. Native Air that makes one a ‘real’ person.

In the last two stanzas, Emily imagines Grief as a crucifix, a fashion item. Something like a personal Calvary. She observes an assortment of styles and ways of wearing them.

I imagine some are barely obvious; others weigh the bearer down like a heavy wooden cross. Some are flaunted like medals of honor; others hidden beneath bravado or bullying. Yet each is real, whether acknowledged or not.

Emily finds ‘a piercing Comfort’ in her observations. Perhaps she isn’t as alone as she sometimes feels. Perhaps some Crosses are like her own.

When I was growing up, no one told me that grief could be an asset. It was something I would eventually get over. Not a strange gift that could connect me with others.

I don’t want to know everything about each person I meet. I do, however, need to take into account the reality of human grief. There’s nothing so isolating as having one’s grief overlooked or ignored. Or making it a personal problem to solve or get over–as quickly as possible.

Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Surely as his followers we can do a bit of this for each other, if not for ourselves.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2017
Image found at wallcrossesandmore.com

writing life backwards…

The past
a muddled conglomeration
bits and pieces
scraps
in colors drab
dripping red
rags

Socks with holes
that hold no water
no deep thoughts
nothing worth saving
but my embodied soul
such as it was
small
scared
scarred
hypervigilant and
anguished

Dressed for church and company
Awkward, unseemly nice
Plain and forgettable

I will not forget

I write obsessively now
since the dam burst

Is this my confession?
Relieved capitulation to truth?
Sorrowful search for a little girl lost?

Yes Yes Yes and Yes –
All that and more

Written with a feather–
Backwards

***

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2017
Image found at salon.com, previously featured in Crazy Happy Lady
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Quill

Writing

woman writer

I’ve said it so many times—if I don’t write, I’m not living. I’m not in touch with myself. I’m drifting. Sinking. Lost in a fog. Unable to focus.

Since my fall and surgery, add to that: Read the rest of this entry »

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