Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

Farewell, Savannah

secrets of the Deep South
are etched in and on my body

scars and memories fester
even as they grow faint with age

what I love about Savannah
no longer makes up for what I loathe

steaming fear and flashbacks
to my growing up years sometimes boil

transporting me back to childhood trials
and the belief that I’m a misfit

not entitled to happiness or joy
or feelings of deep satisfaction

hence the necessity of these two words
I don’t want to say–

Farewell, Savannah

I’ve been pondering these two words for the past week. My youngest sister (#4) is selling the last house she and her deceased husband, and our deceased parents lived in.  It’s a small, cozy, beautiful little house. Full of memories and full of heartache.

I didn’t grow up in this house. I grew up in a large house that looked out on the Vernon River (above). I only know the house that’s now up for sale because I visited as often as possible after my parents moved in. It’s a lovely house in a small semi-rural community. A great place to visit. Neighborhood houses are built along and near marshy muddy banks and creeks near the end of the Vernon River.

It isn’t that the house holds memories (it does). It’s the reality of the Deep South and the way it both encouraged  and covered up abusive behavior in families like ours, in churches, in schools, and in work places.

Sometimes, when I’m discouraged or frightened, my mind, body and emotions revert to childhood fears and realities of my growing up years in the Deep South. Especially, but not only, my father’s treatment of me. I’m tempted to believe The Big Lie that says I’m Nobody. Or the other Big Lie that says Things Will Never Change.

It’s time to move on. Which is exactly what my youngest sister is doing. I celebrate her bravery and her sense of adventure as she moves from Savannah to be with her granddaughter and family far from the shores of the Vernon River.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2021
Photo of the Vernon River taken by DAFraser in 2010

The Gift | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem is for anyone who is, as she was then, aware of the clock ticking down. My comments follow.

The Gift

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Felicity (2015)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 14

When I read this poem, I tear up. Of all the things on my daily to-do lists, not once have I included “Love…as once you loved, deeply and without patience.”

From my perspective, slowing down means giving up some of my most loved habits and wants. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The puzzle of my life shrinks with each passing day. If I can’t do this, can I do that? If not, what other options do I have?

Mary’s poem jolts me out of resignation mode. Yes, my walk, “that was confident and quick, has become slow.” Just ask D when we go out for a walk in the neighborhood. Or observe me agonizing between doing this or that. It isn’t because I don’t want to do this or that. It’s because I still want it all (or most of it!), yet don’t have the energy I had just yesterday.

I imagine Mary looking at me and saying,

So what?! Even if you slow down, that doesn’t mean your heart’s ability to love “deeply and without patience” has slowed down. If anything, it’s stronger now than ever!

And yes, time is running out. Today, in my imagination, I’m a tiny wren. The kind that can’t stop letting everyone know what a beautiful life this is, and how grateful I am for our Creator, and for you. Especially in the midst of pandemic tragedy, uncertainty, and diminishing energy.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2021
Photo of House Wren found at welcomewildlife.com

Just as I am

My unquiet mind
Spins out of control
Restless and uneasy

Unvoiced conversations
Saturate space yearning
For calm silence

When did it begin?
When will it end?

An old habit from childhood,
I explain myself to myself
As though minus these many words
I would not exist or be believed
Or convince myself or others
Of my worthiness

Like comfortable old clothes
I pull them close
Trying to assure myself
That I am worthy
Just as I am

The older I get, the more likely it is that ‘just as I am’ can’t possibly be good enough. Too much water down the river and over the dam. Too many roads not taken. Too many opportunities turned down because I was too busy, or afraid. And too many mistakes and unhappy chapters already written into my life.

I want to believe that the older I become, the less I need to prove my worth as a human being. I want to say without hesitation, “It doesn’t matter what you (or I) think about my life.”

I also want to accept the daily invitation to be who I am today in the eyes of my Creator. Not who I wish I were. And not who I might have been in the eyes of my father, my worst boss, or any other human being who has tried to make me into their image of me.

Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right. Not just by me, but by each of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 April 2021
Photo found at medium.com

Early Spring at Longwood | Photos 1

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Rosebud popping out and a vacant bird nest for rent near Longwood’s large lake

Here’s a repost of some favorite photos. They’re about new life and new growth emerging from what often looks like death or the end of the world as we’ve know it. Signs of hope and beauty. Not forever, but for a season.

Yesterday was gorgeous! Cloudy, breezy, mild. Perfect for visiting Longwood Gardens. Here are some favorites taken, as always, by D. All I did was point my finger now and then if he hadn’t already clicked the camera!

We’re at the front end of the flower walk, near the main entrance.
These perky blossoms were in the cacti and succulent area,
popping up out of the gravel.
They look like they’re crafted from crepe paper.

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Nearby were more sedate, formal stonecrop
in different shapes and patterns.
This one wasn’t as uptight as some of the others!

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The following are from the flower walk itself–
a formal promenade between ever-changing seasonal plants and flowers.
Yesterday only the early signs of spring were out.
Even so, it was spectacular, and had me in tears a few times.
There’s something healing about seeing life
spring from the still-cold ground.

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Here we have early spring tulips,
followed by daffodils against a stone wall
and another variety of tulip.

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This is one of Longwood’s magnificent Japanese cherry trees in full bloom.
We’re just over halfway through the flower walk.
You can see scores of tulips and other bulbs not yet in bloom.
Three views of the cherry tree–

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P1120793 P1120803
Finally, a few more early tulips in creamy white,
and dainty snowdrops.
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I wish I could have taken all of you with me in person!
I have more photos, though, and will share some of them later.
Happy weekend, everybody!
Smell a flower today and smile at someone you don’t even know.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2016, reposted 8 April 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, March 2016
Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

For Horace O. Russell

National Bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ found only in Jamaica

Grief arrived last night
on the other end of a phone call
from a dear friend

Grief not just for us and the family
but for the world our friend knew and loved
from the bottom of his generous heart

Colleague, Brother, Church Historian
Master of all things Jamaican
Wise and Eternally Optimistic

I hang up the phone
and weep for us and for this world
made better by your faithful presence

It’s impossible to capture in words the worldwide reach of our colleague’s life.

Horace O. Russell served the seminary as Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Historical Theology. I worked with him as a teaching colleague and as an administrator. He was also the retired Senior Pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Russell was Jamaican by birth, and world citizen by choice. He and his gifted British wife made their mark not just on the seminary, but on the church worldwide. Thankfully, his wife and another family member were with him when he left this world.

Today I’ve been thinking about Dr. Russell’s generous, optimistic support for me, and about the senior seminar we co-led more than once.

During these seminars, Dr. Russell sometimes shared case histories he’d written about his pastoral work in Jamaica. They sometimes made life in these United States seem a bit dull.

The actual outcome of each case wasn’t revealed until each student worked with it and shared what she or he would do next, and why. Never a dull moment, and always plenty of surprises at the end. His ability to enlarge our vision was one of his many gifts to the seminary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dr. Russell carried a small camera at all times (so it seemed to me). Usually he didn’t wait for people to pose. Informal was the way to go. No matter what we looked like in the photos, he was generous with prints of these historical records. Here’s where we were on this date; this is what we were doing; and this is what we looked like.

Today I’ve been going through my collection of his photos, torn between gratitude and grief. Grateful to know his suffering has ended, and that he was not and is not now alone.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2021
Photo of Jamaica’s national bird found at jamaicanconsulate.rs

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

Gethsemane | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver places this poem just after The Poet Thinks about the Donkey. Clearly an invitation to compare them. My comments follow.

Gethsemane

The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe
the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move,
maybe
the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
blue pavement,
lay still and waited, wild awake.

Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
so utterly human, knowing this too
must be a part of the story.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 45

This one stings. How many vigils have I slept through? Or how often do I look the other way when injustices are playing out before my eyes.

When I was growing up, I had nothing but scorn for those three sleepy, self-absorbed disciples who couldn’t stay awake and keep watch for their friend Jesus. Surely they believed him. They’d already shown themselves capable of going to extreme lengths on his behalf.

Mark 14:32-42 doesn’t say Peter, James and John were reluctant to stay with him and keep watch. It says they couldn’t keep watch as Jesus asked them to do not once, but three times. Meanwhile, Jesus is left alone to face his coming betrayal.

In contrast, all nature (except human nature) was wide (wild!) awake that night. The only witnesses to Jesus’ agony, betrayal, trial, and eventually death on a cross outside the city of Jerusalem. The same city that welcomed him on the little donkey not a week earlier.

Mary suggests the stars and moon, trees and insects all kept watch that night. I like to think they offered some peace, perhaps even solace as he prayed, weeping and agonizing for all of us and for himself.

In the final stanza Mary offers grace to them, to herself and to us. The three disciples were “dear bodies” and “utterly human.” They weren’t deadly co-conspirators. They were human, just as we are. Weary.

Praying we’ll be as understanding about Jesus’ three companions as we are about ourselves, even as we lament Jesus’ coming betrayal by Judas, also one of his chosen disciples.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2021
Painting found at touchstonemag.com

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver

Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

~~~~~

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadows,
    leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
    clatter away, splashed with sunlight!

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44

~~~~~

I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.

All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.

Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.

No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.

Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?

Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
Image found at threadreaderapp.com

The Fist | Mary Oliver

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for yet another challenging poem. I imagine you watching us, willing us to do better. My comments follow your poem.

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, poem found on pp. 46-47 of Thirst,
Published by Beacon Press

Dear Mary Oliver,

I don’t know where to begin. Things are such a mess down here since you left. And still the sun goes down, often in blazes of glory that fade and then, right on time, return the next day.

Never resting, really. Just moving on to circle this war-weary earth every 24 hours so everyone knows we haven’t been left to our own devices, or shut down due to human failure.

As if it weren’t amazing enough to see the sun setting, songbirds join in the morning sunrise chorus. Especially in spring when their hormones seem to go wild with passion. Or at least the urge to procreate.

This morning I watched with disbelief as a fat red robin jumped into a pan of freezing cold water and splashed away before running off to pursue a female robin. Just two minutes later, a small gray junco did the same thing even though, as you know, they don’t procreate here in Pennsylvania. Are they crazy? Do they know something I don’t know, sitting behind my kitchen window, shivering?

There’s so much we don’t know right now. Why did this person got Covid and die while that person didn’t? Or why did my friend die who didn’t have Covid at all?

When I was growing up, they said most brutish behaviors were about lack of self-control. Today I’d say most of our crazy choices seem to be about fear. Not fear of Covid, but fear of having our “rights” taken away. I’m sorry to say we don’t seem to be softening as a nation, cleaning up our brutish ways, or finding our places in this strange world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all accept the sun’s invitation? I imagine us jumping into the cold water together to clean our tired bodies and revive our aching souls.

I hope you’re doing well today. And please, pray for us as you’re able.

Your admirer,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2021
Sun setting over a city found at wallpaperaccess.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

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