Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Hope

The Journey | Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver talking about herself in this poem? What do you think? My comments follow.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver, reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 114-15, Published by Beacon Press 1992

The first time I read this poem I was puzzled. Instead of writing directly about herself, Mary seems to be writing to someone else. Or to a past version of herself?

This poem was first published in 1986 in a collection called Dream Work. The current collection includes 18 poems from Dream Work. They focus on Mary Oliver’s personal life. Not a subject she’s particularly thrilled to write about. And yet….

Without her personal story, it’s possible to think Mary Oliver enjoyed a charmed life of wandering in the woods. Visiting ponds and streams. Watching foxes, fish and birds. Lying in fields of Spring flowers. Making notes in her hand-made notepads. Living a magical life in her chosen world that celebrates nature, beauty in the presence of death, and the perfectly sad and glorious ending of each season.

Wrong. Mary Oliver worked hard to ‘save’ her life. She left home. Literally. She walked away from her father’s abusive behavior, and from voices that incessantly cried out for her to mend their lives. Death followed by what? Nothing?

This poem celebrates Mary’s decision to make a clean break. It also celebrates what she found along the way. Something she didn’t even know she had: a life of her own and a voice of her own.

For that alone, I’m grateful. I’m also challenged to keep listening for my own voice in unexpected places.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2019
A Dark and Stormy Night, by Warren Criswell, found at saatchiart.com

Monday morning trilogy

calm of new morning
just born and alive with hope
seeps into my pores

curled into a ball
white fur with pink ears sleeps
oblivious

down to earth robins
pull juicy worms from soaked ground
business as usual

Happy Monday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 July 2019
Photo found at freestak.com

A July 4 quandry

All day I’ve been wondering how to celebrate our nation. We have a system intent, it seems, on other-destruction and self-destruction. Though it’s most visible in the breakdown of our democratic ideals, it’s also visible in the way we treat strangers coming into our country. Is this the beginning of the end? Is there reason to hope? A few comments follow my poem.

Ignorance and Fear
clothed in swaggering Pride
peer down with Contempt
born of Lonely Bitterness
intent on Self-Destruction

And yet….“Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Today is our annual National Pride day—the 4th of July. A grand celebration of the nation I love yet scarcely recognize not simply today, but in the history of our occupation of this land.

It’s easy to point to the behavior of certain officials in public office. In fact, they might be at or near the top of my list. Nonetheless, their behavior amplifies and builds on behaviors and attitudes already festering in our daily lives.

From the perspective of an ant on the ground (that would be me), it seems we’re doomed to more downhill behavior from all quarters. The sky is falling, isn’t it?

Yet the verse above comforts me. Chiefly because of my own ignorance and fear clothed in swaggering pride. I no longer fear the Judge of my worst imagination. Yes, my fear was fed by faces and behaviors of persons who judged me harshly—and taught me to judge myself harshly.

However, unlike them, the Judge of all the earth sees everything about me. That includes what was and was not done to or for me, along with what I’ve done or not done, and why.

Even more amazing, this Judge of all the earth invites me to come just as I am, without fear and without excuses. Why? Because this Judge is the Only One who understands me better than anyone, including myself.

The challenge is clear. I can’t count on this for myself without counting on it for others. The Judge of all the earth will do right for each of us. Not necessarily in my lifetime or yours, but at the right time and perhaps in unexpectedly gracious ways.

Here’s to a thoughtful and happy 4th of July!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2019

Portals

Doors and windows
Hopes and fears
Toy with my mind
Restless in sleep

What lies within
beyond or behind?
Is this a point
Of no return?

I don’t remember
Leaping into this
Semi-other world not
Reality as I know it

Everyday events
Morph into unfamiliar
perspectives and tastes
Soon turned normal

Is this my home away
From home or a new
Portal ushering me from
This life into another?

I haven’t had many dreams in the past several years. However, they’re beginning to re-emerge.

In my latest waking dream I’m in a great, mixed company of people, including children. We’re in a large conference-like venue. I’m surrounded by strangely familiar and unfamiliar bits of reality.

Overall, I like the unfamiliar bits. First, the food — living plants and flowers eaten without plates or utensils. It tastes good, and there’s plenty of it. Second a room filled with children singing. Their music floats into a large corridor where adults of all ages sing along. What could be more uplifting than that?

I’m not afraid, though my level of uncertainty and sense of being a newcomer is sky-high. I don’t feel out of place. Instead, I feel my way along like the beginner I am, surrounded by people I know or knew, and some I don’t know at all.

Is this a party? Will it end? I don’t know. I wake up teary, wishing the dream would just keep spinning out.

That’s where I am as of today. This was a busy week, with more time away from home than usual. Today I’m chilling out, grateful for friends I saw this week, for good doctors, and for plenty of plant food (minus flowers) for my ridiculously cruciferous smoothies.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 May 2019
Photo of Smudge in our attic, taken by me in February 2019

Born to Die


Teach us to number our days;
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12, New International Version

I can’t help thinking these days about a theme in the gospels. Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Not for political fame or religious adulation, but to die. He seemed to know what it meant to number his days.

Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem
Stubborn and determined
Abrasive and unconventional
Observant and angry
Weary and compassionate
Single-minded and welcoming
With his face set toward Jerusalem
From the beginning
Born to die sooner not later

I’m used to celebrating Jesus’ life and all the good and challenging things he said. I’m not so accustomed to celebrating his dogged, stubborn, insistent daily orientation toward death.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t just happen to fall into the hands of his political and religious enemies. He knew who would betray him, yet didn’t try to stop him. Instead, he sent his betrayer out to do the deed. He met death straight on. Just as he was. Without machines of warfare, without fame or fortune, and without an army of loyal supporters.

“Teach us to number our days.” It’s a tough standard. I’d rather add to my days. Pretend it won’t happen to me today. Or that I’ll die in the best of circumstances.

We live in a time of global and local upheaval. Everywhere. What does it mean to set our faces toward death? I think it would mean setting our faces differently toward each other and toward nature.

I could sit back and say what will be, will be. The future isn’t mine to see. Still, what does it mean to number my days? And how does this change the way I live in the present, no matter how long it is before I die?

Writing about death (instead of ignoring it) is comforting. It’s also challenging. My hope is that the challenging part will bring more joy, gratitude, empathy and compassion into my life. Not just for myself, but for family members, friends, neighbors and strangers. We’re all in this together, though strangely alone in our deaths.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 April 2019
Photo found at nateholdridge.com

An Easter Lament and Question

Nothing comes easy these days
Small deaths and large
Gaping holes
Clutter the landscape

Rain falls sideways
Streaking over my back yard
Daring me to will it
To the ground

Out of control and out of time
Bombs tick silently
Within this fragile planet of creatures
And plant life whipped
By gales of political
And personal expediency

So many deaths
Not enough tombs
Or people with vision
And voices to help us
Find our way home

‘Come to me
All who labor
And I will give you rest’
Yet even You were hung
On a tree whiplashed
And left to die

How will Easter
Arrive on this good earth
Not just for the flowers
But for all of us?

Is dying our only option?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 April 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Why Mary Oliver’s words matter

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Mary Oliver via one of her books of poetry, Thirst. Spare on words and extravagantly beautiful, her forty-three poems grabbed my heart and my imagination. The collection focuses on her grief after the death of her longtime partner, and her struggle to find words that capture the reality of her faith.

Mary Oliver challenges me in ways similar to Emily Dickinson, with one exception. Oliver’s poetry, also heavy with meaning, is remarkably and painfully direct. In each poem she invites me to enlarge the way I see, experience and respond to what seems everyday and ordinary.

Since her death on January 17, scores of visitors have visited this site looking for posts about Mary Oliver. At the top of the list: It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, a poem about prayer.

In the last week I’ve read and listened to multiple tributes to Mary Oliver. Her poetry is stunning; her challenge to us as human beings is direct and piercing: Wake up, Observe, Report. Not simply about nature, but about this world and its creatures as part of God’s great poem. A reality we ignore to our great loss.

Here’s one of Mary Oliver’s shorter poems. I love the way it makes simple what isn’t always easy.

Musical Notation: 2

Everything is His.
The door, the door jamb.
The wood stacked near the door.
The leaves blown upon the path
that leads to the door.
The trees that are dropping their leaves
the wind that is tripping them this way and that way,
the clouds that are high above them,
the stars that are sleeping now beyond the clouds

and, simply said, all the rest.

When I open the door I am so sure so sure
all this will be there, and it is.
I look around.
I fill my arms with the firewood.
I turn and enter His house, and close His door.

Mary Oliver, from poems in Thirst, p. 38; published by Beacon Press (2006)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2019

Dancing in the face of partisan politics

Pray tell me
How do I dance
In the face of partisan politics
Straining to separate me
From other human beings

And how do I dance with freedom
In the face of threats
To undo me
Or you
Or us

Age and health
Weigh heavily on me
As does diminished ability to move
Freely on my own

And this dance floor seems too small
To hold my aching heart
Longing for more
Than I can ever accomplish

Or perhaps
The ‘more’ is already here

Behind and around me
Invisible
Doing what You intend it to do
Making its way unseen in
Bits and pieces I gladly gave away
And passed along so that
They don’t belong to me
Anymore

As health issues come creeping or crashing into my life, I feel like fighting back. Making sure I’m still out there, doing my thing. I feel the tug of wanting to make a difference.

Perhaps it’s time to rest, dream and even drift through each day. Grateful for living this long. Grateful for opportunities to connect with neighbors near and far.

It seems slow dancing is what’s called for. Listening to internal and external music. Connecting with family, neighbors and strangers. Reading. Listening. Praying for the next generation. And writing my heart out. Preparing for whatever is around the next corner.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 November 2018

A Day! Help! Help! | Take 2

Emily Dickinson’s short poem came to mind this morning. I first commented on it in March 2017, after the 2016 election and January 2017 inauguration of Mr. Trump as POTUS.

Tomorrow we get to vote again, though not for another president. My comments follow in the form of a letter to Mr. Trump.

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!
From such a common ball as this
Might date a Victory!
From marshallings as simple
The flags of nations swang.
Steady – my soul: What issues
Upon thine arrow hang!

c. 1858

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

Dear Mr. Trump,

I am not one of your fans. I am, however, a believer in more than chance happenings.

First, a confession. For months, I’ve been captive to the anti-Trump approach to daily happenings. I didn’t think about you all the time. Nonetheless, following your election and inauguration, my days seemed governed by what you did and what I thought and felt about it. Usually it felt like going from one bad scene to an even worse scene.

Looking  back, I don’t regret thinking all that through, or writing about some of it. In fact, I rather enjoy going back to see my small trail of contributions to what’s been a national preoccupation and discussion. Trying to figure you out.

There isn’t, of course, any figuring that will balance things out nicely. Especially for those whose lives are in disarray thanks to your words and deeds. Plus the words and deeds of others you’ve enabled, if not unleashed.

And so I’ve moved on. I still believe each day contains the possibility of Victory, no matter how tomorrow’s midterm elections turn out. I also imagine Emily Dickinson’s “common ball” as our planet, which I would describe as this grand terrestrial ball. A dance, open to anyone who wants to accept the invitation. There’s only one hitch. Our Creator presides over this dance. Not any human leader, billionaire or organization.

So I’m taking dance lessons again. My neighbors and their pets are teaching me to lighten up. Women and men of color are teaching me to listen deeply to what’s happening. Children of all colors are teaching me to forget about how I look and how old I am. Friends of many years are helping me reconsider my dance partners. I’m tired of the same old rhetoric, the same old hopes for tomorrow, the same old anxiety about whether I’ll be asked to the dance.

I’m already in the dance! Stumbling along, sometimes gifted with a bit of insight, scraping together my courage, and showing up in the grand ballroom of life. You might like to try it yourself, if you dare.

From one voter among millions,
Elouise Renich Fraser

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 November 2018

%d bloggers like this: