Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

What we need to hear

Maybe I’m the only one. The only white PTSD survivor who didn’t get it. Do I feel humiliated by this? No. Chagrined? Yes. Yet above all, I’m challenged to find out more.

Here’s what I didn’t and still don’t get.

I know this is hard for many enlightened and well-meaning Christians to hear, but here’s the truth: If you are white, you have no clue as to the PTSD-like realities black people in this country face every single day. —James Ellis III

It’s one thing to accept this as information. On the other hand, are we willing to let this sink into our understanding of the way things play out here in the USA? Not just in public places, but in white (often lightly colored) churches?

The quote above challenges me to learn more about “PTSD-like realities” black people face daily here in the USA. The easiest connection (for me) is to think about post-Viet Nam War veterans with PTSD who showed up in my theology classes in the 1980s. Yet even that isn’t the same as what’s happening today on our streets. Neither is my own history with childhood PTSD.

One quote doesn’t explain everything. But that isn’t James Ellis III’s point. His point is that we white, so-called “enlightened and well-meaning Christians” have a hard time hearing and accepting truth about Black Lives.

How tragic if we fail. Not because we didn’t try, but because we don’t like hearing bad or disturbing news about ourselves. It’s easier to push it off on the government, or ‘those white people’ over there, or even on Black citizens themselves.

James Ellis III’s article, from which the quote above comes, was first published in May 2020. Read it here, if you dare. It’s titled “A Lowdown, Dirty Shame: Ahmaud Arbrey’s Murder and the Unrenounced Racism of White Christians.”

Praying we’ll find our way out of this mess. Not the mess created by our government, but the mess we’ve created for ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Pyramids and Camels | Photo Memories Revisited

Camel rides and Pyramids

The worlds of 2010 and 2019 are gone. I pray we’re up to the task of making wise, faithful decisions about our lives as world citizens, not isolated human beings. Enjoy the pics! This was one of many great adventures. Getting married 54+ years ago was the first!

It’s a good thing, being married to D. My life might have been dismally dull without his get-up-and-go. He’s no extrovert, mind you. He just has the Travel Bug in him, bigtime. Our trip to Egypt, piggybacked onto a week of D teaching in Cairo, was a Spectacular Adventure.

It’s January 2010, just one year before the uprising in Egypt. Our driver and guide picked us up early in the morning. We arrived at the pyramids of Giza before the site was crowded with visitors and vendors.

It’s winter, yet the sun blazes down almost every day like a hot flame. The air temperature begins chilly but often rises into the low 70s.

Hence our sun hats and my white sun shirt peeking out from my travel jacket. The jacket is a small men’s silk blazer—a thrift shop find here in Philly. It has ample side pockets (note water bottle peeking out) and vest pockets inside. Best bargain ever! It doesn’t bother me a bit when airport personnel and passengers call me “Sir,” then beg profuse pardons….

Now we’re going to back track a bit. I want you to appreciate how tiny we feel. I’m there in the center, standing at the base of a pyramid.

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Here are a few pictures of us on and next to the largest pyramid.
Note the size of the building blocks!

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David and Elouise on Giza pyramid

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Time to go get on a camel or two! Just for comparison, here’s an expert camel rider. Note his legs resting casually on the back of his camel, his super comfortable clothing and air of confidence. Even his camel looks relaxed, if not smiling. Nothing to it! The rider doesn’t even have foot stirrups.

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So here we are, getting up close and personal with our rented camels. They’re going to take us off on a little trek into the desert. No problem. Our guide will be right there if anything untoward happens. Just relax and do what the patient camel guide tells me to do.

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Whew!

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Do I look like the cat that just swallowed the mouse, or what?
Now it’s D’s turn!!!

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Showoff!
Here we go….off into the desert.

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Note: Without our trusty guide who accompanied us on foot, we wouldn’t have these photos of the two of us. And, I must add, without workouts at Curves my legs would not have been up to the task of keeping me on top of the camel!

Here’s a bit of what we saw, including a photo of Cairo in the distance.

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The camel ride ended near the Sphinx.
After spending time there, we said farewell and left.

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This was only one of our Egypt adventures. The others simply added to my sense that I owe Egyptian history, culture and inventions a debt I can never repay.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2016, reposted 8 July 2020
Photo credits: DAFraser and our Egyptian tour guide

Invitation | Mary Oliver

This morning I’m tempted to rush into battle mode. So many things are going so wrong. This poem from Mary Oliver helped restart my day–though I’m still not sure what will come of it. My comments follow.

Invitation

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake  of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver; poem found on pp. 18-19 of Red Bird
Published by Beacon Press

The line from Rainer Maria Rilke is found at the end of his poem, Archaic Torso of Apollo. There, as here in Mary Oliver’s poem, we’re offered no clear interpretation of “You must change your life.”

Here’s how I’m thinking about it today:

This shared world, filled with beauty, seems intent on self-destruction. Would we throw it all away by refusing to act, just once, with beauty and courage? Do the unexpected? Change the conversation, or our knee-jerk reactions to things that annoy and offend us?

Perhaps the most courageous thing I can do today is as simple as a smile. Especially in tense or fearful situations. We say a smile is worth a thousand words. It’s what most of us are starving for every day. True, smiles won’t heal or resolve every problem. Nor are all smiles to be trusted.

Still, Mary Oliver challenges us to stop, listen and (I think) smile at these crazy beautiful goldfinches. They just can’t stop singing for sheer delight and gratitude! Trying, perhaps, to tell us something we desperately need to hear from each other?

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2020
American Goldfinch songs found on YouTube

What the world needs | Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman made things straightforward, simple and down to earth. My father did not. I was raised in a Christian culture (presided over by my father) that saw life outside our ‘safe’ space under attack by twin demons: complexity and danger. Especially if life outside made me come alive.

  • Dancing? No way! Definitely the first step toward raucous, immoral behavior.
  • Lipstick? No way! A sure sign of debauchery. (Until it suited my father to make it imperative.)
  • Dating unchurched and thus unreliable (might grope or rape me) males? No way! (Not that dating was high on my list.)

So here I am today. A supposedly grown-up white woman still figuring out how, at this age and under our current circumstances, to go and do what makes me come ALIVE!

All things  considered, I don’t plan on going anywhere for a while. However, reading and writing make me come alive. Along with music and poetry. Talking with my children and grandchildren. Stopping for a street-side chat with neighbors. Hearing from friends all over the world. Playing with Smudge.

Then there are lovely morning walks. I’m just back from one with D, seeing and hearing birds sing at will. No officious patrol cars tracking them down and locking them up for looking suspicious or disturbing the peace.

The end of the matter is this: I’m most alive when I’m an uncaged songbird! I want to spend my short life singing songs of truth, especially when I’m surrounded and it looks like the sky is falling.

These are trying times. It’s the 4th of July. I wish I could say Hurray for the USA! We’ve come a long way baby! Break out the champagne! Let the fire crackers fly through the air!

But I cannot. Why not? Because right now this contentious, at-risk world needs people who have come alive. Women, men and children willing to tell the truth about their lives regardless of the cost. Willing to listen long and hard to songs they’ve never heard before. Willing to look into the eyes of strangers, smile, and say “Good morning! Would you be willing to tell me about your life?”

Hoping you have a thoughtful 4th of July filled with songs and stories you’ve not heard before.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2020
Image found at quoteswave.com

James Baldwin on Race Relations

It’s 1943, one of the years Harlem race riots break out. It’s also the day James Baldwin’s father was laid to rest.

In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father. The chapter ends with his account of what sparked the 1943 Harlem riots, the nature of the rioting (only in the ghetto, chiefly against white businesses, not white people), and the nature of Black America’s long relationship with White America.

His account of this relationship is telling. Here’s how he describes “the Negro’s real relation to the white American.”

This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene….The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison. And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist.

In some  ways, this is discouraging. As a white woman, it suggests I’m in bondage to a perpetual dilemma. Even more distressing is the possibility that this was brought on by my need to forget, not see, disremember, dress up in different clothes, and ultimately, dismiss as someone else’s battle or disease to fight.

Nonetheless, I find James Baldwin’s description of the relationship between Black and White Americans/America compelling. I’ve often heard Black women and men say they know us (White people) better than we know ourselves. I believe them, though they may not know me personally.

Put another way, I can’t count on being White-but-not-really due to my years of serving at a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational seminary. Instead, I can only be the White woman I am, a beginner every day of my life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2020
Moon Over Harlem painting by
William Henry Johnson found at americanart.si.edu

In the Evening, in the Pinewoods | Mary Oliver

Who knows the sorrows of the heart?
God, of course, and the private self.
But who else? Anyone or anything else?
Not the trees, in their windy independence.
Not the roving clouds, nor, even, the dearest of friends.

Yet maybe the thrush, who sings
by himself, at the edge of the green woods,
to each of us
out of his mortal body, his own feathered limits,
of every estrangement, exile, rejection—their
death-dealing weight.

And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, p. 63

A few weeks ago, out walking in the evening, I heard a wood thrush. One of the most haunting, beautiful sounds on earth. It was singing in the woods behind a nearby church and graveyard.

So many deaths right now. So many regrets, angers, crushing sorrow and disbelief.

I’ll never forget the cries of a mother Canadian Goose nesting just outside my office at the seminary. A noisy raptor had been circling and screaming for too many minutes. Father Goose was sitting nearby, clearly agitated, watching the sky from time to time.

Yes, the inevitable happened. The raptor stole the baby from the nest, unmoved by the parents’ frantic, furious cries and attempts to save their newly-hatched chick.

When I arrived at the seminary early the next morning, Mama Goose was sitting immobile, holding silent vigil on grass in the back courtyard of the seminary. Her loyal partner sat nearby, watching her and waiting. It looked and felt like a mourning ritual. They were there for most of the day before they flew away.

So much sorrow and anguish right now. That’s why I need to hear a wood thrush from time to time, along with its many neighbors calling out to me: There’s more to life than meets the eye. Mourn, have faith, and carry on.

Written a few days after the loss of one of my forty-nine first cousins, and in view of my own mortality and the current situation in this world.

Thanks for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2020
Video found on YouTube

What ‘human rights’ don’t look like

Recently a friend sent me the following list. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. It was compiled by Dr. Valerie Bryant, a Black therapist in Brooklyn, NY. In the list she names black citizens threatened or killed in recent years while engaging in the behaviors she names.

Think of Dr. Bryant’s list as a roll call clarifying the difference between living black or brown, and living white in the USA. It’s also an invitation to reflection about ourselves, and the meaning of human rights.

…As a white person when you go out in the street, you don’t have to think twice of being murdered by a police officer or citizen acting like a police officer.

Or as a white person,

I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and
#AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and
#RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
I can be arrested without the fear of being murdered. (#GeorgeFloyd)

***These are NOT human rights if only white people have them.*

With compassionate rage
Valerie Bryant, PhD
Fort Greene Bklyn 11205

How would my world change if I woke up with different colored skin than I now have? Can I remember how I was taught to think or talk about skin color?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 June 2020
Image found at stlpublicradio.com

It’s been an age

Tree

This is one of my favorite poems, at least as true today as it was when I posted it in November 2014. Today has been filled with a mixture of happiness and contentment, along with a lurking feeling that we’re all at sea, and the ship of state is stressed.

How do you see yourself and others today? I hope you’ll give yourself a great big smile before the day is done. Then give away at least one more smile. All we can count on is the present.

It’s been an age since I first met you—
You there, looking back at me
Three score years plus eleven to be exact
You haven’t changed a bit, they say
You and I know better
Sometimes I can’t believe it’s you
I hardly know you
Could we start over do you think?
Would it be as much fun?

I don’t know.
Was it fun for you?
Are you as puzzled as I am?
I seem to have more questions than answers today
Where and when did we find each other?
We seem to get along
But then we always did even when we didn’t
So who am I to say?

All I know is looking back at me
Wondering where the time has flown
And who this beautiful woman is
Smiling at me through the mirror

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2014, reposted 18 June 2020
Photo Credit:  DAFraser, December 2012
Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon

I just struck gold!

Who was Amelia Boynton Robinson, and who is that young man sitting next to her? And do you know who’s in the photo on the right? Or what year it was? To find out more, check it out right here. It’s the second entry from the top. You can read more about Amelia Boynton Robinson’s life right here.

For the last few weeks I’ve been searching for gold, interpreted by me as

  • easy to read/watch
  • lively and informative
  • brief, riveting commentary with real photos of real people
  • a semi-crash course only better
  • attention to women as well as men
  • inspiring without glib promises
  • tuned into today’s challenges
  • excellent communicator

It’s impossible to take in everything all at once. So I’m now following Chris Preitauer’s blog.

Beginning at age 7 I grew up, went to college and had my first ‘adult’ job in the Deeply Segregated South. I saw and heard a lot. Sadly, I didn’t formally or informally hear much about Black Lives. Nor was I encouraged to get curious about why. In the 1950s and 60s, Black citizens were treated differently than White citizens. Not just in the Deep South, but in the not so Deep North.

So yes, I’ve found gold! Someone from my era (sort of) who became involved.

I hope you’ll look at a few of his pieces. They’re to the point, challenging, and inspiring without pretending our current challenges will be easily resolved.

Thanks again for visiting, reading, and leaving your footprint!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 June 2020
Photos found at ChrisPreitauer.com

Alternative tv | Dorothee Soelle

Four miners in mine shaft wearing hard hats and headlamps

Dorothee Soelle wrote this poem in the 1970s, an era roiled by the Vietnamese War. I was in my 30s. How old were you? My comments follow.

Alternative tv

The old man on the screen sang
in a loud and shaky voice
and had probably never been very clean
in addition he had hardly any teeth left
a miner with black lung
of course he spoke dialect and his grammar was bad
why after all should he
show his best side to the camera

When god turns on his tv
he sees old people like that
they sing
in a loud and shaky voice
and the camera of the holy spirit
shows the dignity of these people
and makes god say
that is very beautiful

Later
when we have abolished tv as it exists
and are allowed to look at the skin of aging women
and are unafraid of eyes
that have lost their lashes in weeping
when we respect work
and the workers have become visible
and sing
in a loud and shaky voice

Then we shall see
real people
and be happy about it
like god

Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love, p. 171
English translation of selected pieces from the German text © 1983 Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545
First published as Im Hause des Menshenfressers, © 1981 by Rowohlt Tashenbuch Verlag in Hamburg, West Germany

Now that I’m in my mid to late 70s, I find this poem more truthful than ever. I don’t often see aging women or men on TV, just as they are. Maybe in a news piece or documentary. But rarely, if ever, in flashy shows or advertisements. They’re busy reflecting our captivity to spending money on ourselves, our houses, our lawns, our cars, eating out and eating in, or getting ‘fixed’ so our embarrassing flaws don’t show.

As Dorothee Soelle points out, our Creator is watching Alternative tv. The kind that accepts us just as we are when we’re willing to show up just as we are. Happy to be in the presence of one who understands and loves us in all our real flesh.

As always, thank for visiting and reading. These are hard times for all of us. I pray we’ll find ways to help bring about hope, peace, and reconciliation, and courage to show up for our Creator and each other, just as we are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2020
Photo of miners found at WestVirginiaInjuryLawyers.wordpress.com

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