Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

I want to go back

They say memories are
what really matter
But I want to go back

to classrooms shaped by
women and men from afar
Places I’ve never visited

How narrow we’ve become today
in our virtually segregated schools and
neighborhoods overflowing

with unfamiliar cuisines or clothes
and customs that give us away as strangers
not friends or even neighbors

Years of serving seminarians in
multinational multiethnic classrooms
turned my small world upside down

You helped make me the woman
I now am sitting here at home
wishing for just one more class

So you can show up and teach me
What I need to know today
Before it’s too late to dream

I’m feeling a bit nostalgic these days. Also heavy-hearted about what we’re becoming as a nation. It seems curiosity about the world and about people who don’t look, act or vote the way we do isn’t as interesting as it used to be. In fact, it seems easier to ignore each other. Look the other way.

When I was still teaching at seminary, diversity made everything more exciting. Granted, it wasn’t always easy for any of us.

Nonetheless, it opened up opportunities to re-examine our assumptions and broaden our knowledge. Not just about the subject matter, but about the way we dealt with each other.

Are we losing touch with our humanity? Is that possible?

I don’t want to be a robot, or a puppet on strings controlled by other human beings. Or by the ups and downs of the stock market, or the latest headlines in scandal magazines.  Nor do I want to be locked into my own small world because of fear or unexamined assumptions.

This morning I received my second Covid-19 shot. The room was filled with people who didn’t look or act like me. I wonder. Would they be interested in an informal discussion group? There’s so much I wish I understood better…..

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 March 2021
Image found at ceu.edu

Thank you, Marian Anderson

 

Today is the anniversary of Marian Anderson’s birth in 1897. You may remember that James DePreist, musician and poet, was her nephew. Some might even remember that she was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Anderson died on  April 8, 1993.

This morning I watched and listened to a number of YouTube videos. Most focused on Anderson’s amazing voice. After listening to more than one recording of “They Crucified My Lord,” I chose the one you see above. It isn’t dressed up, and we don’t hear or see the audience. Instead, we’re invited to hear and feel the full weight of Anderson’s interpretation. One tragic note at a time.

I hear connections between Anderson’s interpretation of this song and James Cone’s book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.  Not just in the music itself, but in her subdued yet determined delivery of the song. Often followed by silence from the audience.

I wonder. How many white people felt pierced in their hearts, as I do now, when they heard and saw her interpretation of it? We’ll never know. However, the fact that this song was often met with silence instead of enthusiastic hand-clapping suggests the message was clear to all.

Jesus of Nazareth didn’t say a ‘mumbling word’ and was known to be innocent of charges brought against him. It follows that we dare not applaud this travesty (lynching in its changing costumes) that continues to haunt us in the USA.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 February 2021
Image and song thanks to YouTube.com

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Now read this, if you dare

Yesterday my longtime blogging friend in Australia posted a thought-provoking piece about Australia and the USA. John is now a retired history teacher, and a superb writer. His mind wanders back and forth, here and there, before coming to the end of it all. This short piece is about where our two countries find ourselves today. Read it, if you dare.

I’ll start you off with the opening paragraph, followed by a link to his piece.

Lebanon, Kansas, USA

There is a small stone pyramid about two miles northwest of Lebanon, Kansas. Lebanon has a population of something a little over two hundred people. It is on the crossroad of highway 36 and highway 281. Highway 36 runs in an almost straight line about 1400 miles or 2200 kilometres from Ohio to Colorado. In the middle, near where the town of Lebanon lies the country is flat wheat fields and looks a lot like much of Australia – small towns with few people and huge grain silos. And the highway isn’t a big highway. As in much of wheat farming Australia, the road is two lanes and narrow.

None of this is relevant but it does add to the poetry that is to come. . . .

Thanks for visiting. Yesterday’s post raised a number of questions. We like to talk about our ‘exceptionalism’ here in the USA. I’m grateful for another viewpoint from the other side of the globe.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 February 2021
Photo found at KansasTravel.org

Eulogy for Sister #3 – revisited

Diane, Sister #3, is on my mind today. Diane died from ALS in February 2006. Her death was a mixed blessing. A release from imprisonment in her physical body, and a reminder that the ‘good’ life is about more than being free of catastrophic illness. Including Covid-19.

Houston, Texas – 17 February  2006

Diane directed that my remarks today be “personal, with no preachy tones.”  As I thought about what to say, I came up with only one topic that guarantees I’m being personal—that I’m not avoiding the subject Diane knows none of us can avoid when we talk about her.

Remembering Diane’s Body

Diane had a human body—loved by God
A female body:
—The body of God’s beloved daughter child
—Known to Jesus Christ as a sister for whom he died
—A female temple of God’s Holy Spirit on this earth

A one-of-a-kind body:
—Created and sustained by God
—Loved and nurtured by God’s ministering servants here on earth:
——Her husband, two sons and one daughter
——Her large, extended biological family
——Her church family
——Her nursing family
——Even the family collection of dogs

Diane’s life was shaped by bodily infirmity.
—She would hate that I just used that word!

Diane refused to think, act or behave as a person identified by an “infirmity.”
Yet the truth is simple:
—Diane’s life was shaped by loss in her left arm due to polio.

From a parental point of view, Diane’s weak arm was cause for protective measures.

From Diane’s point if view it was cause for excelling in whatever she supposedly couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Not only would she do all these things,
She would do most of them better than any of us, things like
—Riding a bike, swimming and playing basketball
—Sewing dresses and suits
——not hankies and curtains, but fancy dresses, and suits with tailored blazers
—Then there was photography, not with small, lightweight equipment,
——b
ut with the best possible equipment and attachments she could afford and lug around!

Diane developed an uncanny knack for figuring out how to carry out activities like these without compromising quality or expertise in the slightest.

She also developed an uncanny knack for taking advantage of our parents’ desire to protect her.

Only as an adult did she confess that her habit of disappearing from the house to do yard work (and not housework) was not motivated chiefly by her pure desire to help Daddy.  Rather, she knew neither Daddy nor Mother would send or call her back inside the house for the latest instruction or practice in vacuuming, dishwashing, dish-drying, table setting, ironing or putting clothes away.

To us, Diane’s body was both normal and different—though it all felt pretty normal most of the time.  Certainly not life-threatening.

Then each of us, her three sisters, got a telephone call from Diane in January 1996.
Diane had ALS.  She was direct and clear:
—There is no cure.
—The disease is terminal.
—I’m going to need help.  Lots of help.

Diane’s left arm shaped her as a child, as a young person and as an adult.
Now Diane’s entire body began shaping her and her family,
beginning most painfully with her husband, two sons and daughter,
and reaching out to all of us gathered here today.

For the last 10 years I’ve flown down to Houston about 4 times a year to visit Diane.  But not just to visit her.  I’ve come to witness a journey—Diane’s very personal journey with ALS.  A journey that relentlessly put Diane’s physical body at the center of attention.

As young girls we weren’t encouraged to pay much attention to our bodies. 
Bodies were a necessary but usually uncomfortable necessity—especially female bodies.  Now, with ALS, Diane was consumed by what was and was not happening in her body.

She suffered losses beyond comprehension—most in fairly rapid succession over a period of years, starting with physical losses such as mobility, ability to care for her own personal needs, eating and swallowing, ability to speak on her own, and breathing. 

She also suffered loss of her position here at the church:
—Loss of her dream of being ordained
—Loss of work and personal relationships as her body more and more seemed to intrude as a difficulty or a problem to be solved
—Loss of time for herself or her family and friends, as personal care began gobbling up hours out of each day
—Loss of privacy:  total and absolute, with only one exception—the thoughts in her mind, which included her life with God
—Loss of little things such as swatting at a mosquito feasting on her neck (as she put it); scratching where it itches; singing in church; being in the middle of the action and making wisecracks

More painfully, she suffered loss of other things such as giving her children a hug, or embracing her husband face to face.  As a female she suffered what most women dread—loss of control over personal presentation of herself:  hairstyle, makeup, body language.  She became the subject of stares and quickly averted eyes.

Diane’s body seemed to be calling the shots.

True to who she already was, however, Diane kept showing up—fully with and in her body marked more and more by ALS.  It was as though she were saying

  • I’m still here—in my body
  • I’m still Diane—in this body
  • I am not whatever you think a terminally ill person should be
  • I am not predictable
  • I am not a saint
  • I’m still Diane!
  • I’m still here and I’m still fully engaged in living–living with ALS
  • I will be who I am—angry, frustrated, filled with anxiety, filled with human longings and everyday needs; direct and clear without being mean
  • I’m dying
  • We need to talk
  • Now

As always, nothing was too sacred for a good healthy laugh.  Especially about her body with its unpredictable body parts, behaviors and small crises:  facial movements, biting her own lip, laughing uncontrollably, head falling over from time to time, drooling from time to time.

Diane continued to be who she already was:
—Determined to speak for herself in her own words, not yours or mine
—Determined to be heard and heeded

She was still directive—now in ways that boggled the mind:
—To-do and Do-not-do lists for family, nurses, friends and strangers
—Rules for how Mom is to be driven in her new van and who gets to say when the rules are being broken (Mom, of course).
—She was still a masterful strategic planner—only now she had to figure out how to get you to do what she could no longer do, but somehow knew must be done.

As always, Diane wasn’t about to fade into the woodwork.  She kept showing up in the flesh—in her ALS-shaped flesh:  at church, in shopping malls, at weddings for her daughter and one of her sons, and even—one month ago, believe it or not, to inspect her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter’s new home.

Diane remained insistent that she be given choices, and that her choice was the final choice:
—Clothes and accessories for church
—Medical options
—What to keep and what to discard from the kitchen cupboards
—Which movie to watch
—And how this service today would be shaped,
——including the names of all active male pallbearers
——and the names of all 25 honorary female pallbearers!

Diane made her concrete mark in, with and through her concrete, ALS-shaped body.
To deny she was among us in the flesh would be to deny her existence.

To some extent, each of us gathered here to honor and grieve her passing has been a witness.  So many of you are so full of memories.  I can’t speak for you and I won’t get preachy, but I will be confessional:

  • I’m listening, God, for what my relationship to Diane means for the rest of my life in this world you love so much.  Amen.

Eulogy delivered 17 February 2006, © Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2006
Blog post © Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 April 2014

Trapped in an iceberg

Male Cardinal hunkering down after last night’s snow storm

Trapped in an iceberg
Called social distancing
Just when we need
Each other more than ever

Rankles my soul while
Day and night I ponder
My options for becoming
A real human woman

I exist on the internet
I exist in my email
I exist at great distances
On a phone or through a window

Grateful, Angry, Grieving,
Lethargic, Energetic,
Engaged, Disengaged,
Where and Who am I?

The mantra goes through
My weary brain daily
‘We’re all in this together’
Though I know we are not

Like an unexpected tsunami
The pandemic exposes us
In vivid colors and attitudes
Mirrors of our own making

It’s been nearly a year since we embarked on an experiment for which we still have no map. I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful I can read, write, enjoy Smudge, watch birds in our back yard, and walk with D in the neighborhood.

Nonetheless, none of that takes the place of regular interaction with regular human beings who don’t live in my house. It doesn’t matter who they are, or whether I like them a lot or a little. There’s something life-giving in these encounters that’s irreplaceable. Even for introverts.

Imagine that we find a cure, or the perfect vaccination for Covid-19. We’ll still need each other. Not to go back to our old ways, but to get on with the tough work of becoming a nation in which black lives matter as much as white lives. And those without great financial riches matter as much as those with giant incomes.

If that’s too far a reach, how about learning again to be neighbors? Or how to welcome strangers into our lives?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 February 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2 February 2021

Psalm 1 | Zephania Kameeta

Bishop Zephania Kameeta wrote this version of Psalm 1 during Namibia’s struggle for human rights. Born in 1945, Bishop Kameeta’s life work has revolved around the fight to end apartheid in Namibia.

It seems we here in the USA are still trapped in our own USA-style apartheid system, with no end in sight.

Psalm 1 introduces the entire collection of 150 Hebrew Psalms. It describes two ways we can live. The way of wisdom, or the way of folly. Which will we individually, and as a nation, choose to take? Here’s how Reverend Kameeta saw these two ways or paths of life playing out in Namibia.

Psalm 1

Happy are those who reject the evil advice of tyrants,
who do not follow the example of sell-outs
and are not resigned to live as slaves.

Instead they find joy to be in God’s commission
for the liberation of the oppressed,
and they work day and night without rest.

They are like trees that grow beside a stream,
that bear fruit at the right time,
and whose leaves do not dry up.
They succeed in everything they do.

But the traitors of the liberation cause are not
like this;
they are like straw that the wind blows away.
Puppets in the hands of the oppressors
will be condemned by God.
They will have no share in the blessings of the Lord.

Those in God’s service for the liberation of the downtrodden
are guided and protected by God.
But those who are instruments in the hands of the oppressors
are on the way to their doom.

Psalm 1 interpreted by Zephania Kameeta
Published in Why O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, p. 24
No. 28 in The Risk Book Series, pub. by World Council Publications
In collaboration with the Lutheran World Federation of Churches
© 1986 World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Psalm 1 offers us two choices. God’s way of wisdom and truth, or the oppressor’s way of folly. Each Psalm is about one or both of these ways. Over and over, they show us what it looks like to take one way or the other.

I’m caught by the third line: “Happy are those who…are not resigned to live as slaves.” Though I’ve never been called a slave, I know how easy it is to hunker down and make myself small or silent, when I should be speaking up or raising a ruckus. No matter what color my skin is.

Then again, if I’m living as a slave to the evil advice of tyrants, perhaps I need to listen more and make less ruckus.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 January 2021
Photo of Bishop Zephania Kameeta found on Facebook

Clouds hang heavy

Clouds hang heavy
with moisture waiting
for release into
an atmosphere of
winter snow and ice

My heart beats heavy
with tears for those
who know not what they do
even though I’m also in
the same sinking boat

Is it this person or that
who will point us home
somewhere or anywhere
within the space of this
world trembling on the brink

What a strange season this is. We live in the aftermath of a contentious election. At the same time, we’re charged with the task of helping inhibit Covid-19’s still inflating whirlwind of death, destruction and denial. It seems attacking this sickness unto death is more than we’re able or prepared to accomplish on our own.

Will we make it as a nation? In the meantime, people are hungry, thirsty, living and dying on the streets, in mansions, or in temporary shelters. Do they have hope? Do you? Do I?

One thing I know for certain. Praying might not change things overnight. It can, however, force me to be truthful not so much about ‘them’ as about myself. I don’t have a clue how to point the way home in our present catastrophe.

All I can do is follow the example of my leader, Jesus of Nazareth, for whom nothing was impossible. The secret? One faithful step after another, no matter how I feel about it. Plus prayer for our new POTUS and his team, charged with addressing the death that is upon us if we fail to find common ground and a reason to work together.

Happy Tuesday to each of you, and a prayer that each of us will find our way one faithful step after another.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 January 2021
Image found at youtube.jpg

How are you doing today?

Our pastor asked this at the beginning of today’s online sermon. It caught me by surprise. It’s also better than a thousand other things we might talk about. So I’m going to begin, and invite you to respond about yourself.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Great, I’m scoring about 6 or 7 on most days. Why?

~Sometimes winter weather is harsh, meaning no outdoor walk with D
~My health, which requires constant attention 24/7
~The sudden unraveling last March of regular social life (Covid-19)
~Reverberations from chaos recently unleashed on Capitol Hill
~No in-person visits with family members or friends
~Grief that comes with acknowledging I won’t be here forever, which will come sooner, not later

Grief, disappointment, sadness, weariness, uncertainty, loneliness, heartache, fear. I could pretend they don’t bother me. But that wouldn’t be telling the truth.

Thankfully, things like the following bring me joy or gratitude.

~Having enough food (most of it prepared by me)
~Walking outside with David when the weather is decent
~Seeing neighbors and chatting a bit on the street
~Phone calls and email from family members and friends
~Playing with Smudge or holding him on my lap while he sleeps
~Watching birds on our backyard feeders
~Reading a good book and playing the piano
~Listening to music any time of day

Still, good times won’t cancel out down times. Nor do they answer all my questions about life and the world as we know it today. Each day is different. Making plans is difficult. At the same time, Christian faith gives me a foundation I sorely need every day. Scripture, music, devotional reading and journaling.

What about you? How are you getting through this long passage of time, including loss of people you know and love?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 January 2021
Image found at makeameme.org

Egrets | Mary Oliver

I wonder what Mary Oliver would say about us today. Especially about the last year and the coming four years. We can’t know, given her death on 17 January 2019. Still, there’s a message for us in this poem. I need it. Do you? My comments follow.

Egrets

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
the mosquitoes
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.

And that’s how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
wrinkled suddenly
into three egrets –
a shower
of white fire!

Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them –
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.

Poem by Mary Oliver.

Do you hear it in the poem? Mary keeps going, and the egrets keep going.

Mary is determined to find the pond, no matter how obliterated the path has become, how many thorns tear into her arms, or how many mosquitos dive-bomb her for a bite or two.

Finally, Mary comes to the pond and sees three beautiful egrets! They aren’t sweaty or frustrated. They’re not batting away the mosquitoes. Instead, not by logic but by faith, they “opened their wings softly and stepped over every dark thing.” All this despite hot, humid, mosquito-infested air, and rot lying beneath the surface of the pond.

Am I prepared to keep going as Mary did?

I’m grateful and relieved to have President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the helm. Still, we already know at least some of what they know: We’ve inherited a nation filled with untended paths, thorns, pesky mosquitoes, and a swamp full of rotting hulks and hidden traps lying just beneath the surface.

Slogging and soaring. It seems both are necessary. Though slogging, on its own, isn’t enough.

We need to soar. Not by flying away from the swamp, but by banking on faith, not simply logic. The egrets show Mary and us the way. They use their wings not to leave the swamp, but to step quietly and without fanfare over “every dark thing.”

Praying we’ll find our way, plus unexpected beauty from time to time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2021
Photo found at pixels.com

Photographer: TF Baccari

Made in the USA

Wouldn’t it be grand
To write Trump’s presidency off
And say Done!
As he walks into the setting sun

Yet even as we sleep
A trillion seeds
Sow discord and
Disdain from sea
To shining sea
From the mountains
To the prairies

This isn’t the Trump Brand
It’s the USA Brand
“Made in the USA”
Our perpetual motion display
Of disdain for neighbors
And for strangers within
Our gates looking for
Nothing more than
A life on this earth
Free of the relentless
Task of living in two or more
Worlds at the same time

Black lives
Shades of Brown lives
And don’t forget the women and children
And men of any color at all
Struggling to make ends meet
In every state of our disunion

The Not Welcome Sign
Now rusty and ugly
Hangs in the breeze
Mourning and begging
To be taken down

Are we too late?
Worse yet, have we begun
Another endless chapter
In Our Great Myth of the USA?

As long as our Creator gives me breath, I’m committed to telling the truth.

Sometimes I’m tempted to hold back. Guard my flanks. Lower the flag of protest or truth just a bit. Yet I didn’t begin this blog in order to tell the truth about what’s sweet and nice.

When I posted yesterday’s poem, I felt a bit edgy. Not because of what I said, but because I said it at all. Silence might seem safer and easier. From my childhood, however, I know that’s a lie.

Whether written, lived or spoken, it doesn’t matter. Truth is the only way we’ll find ourselves and make our way together, whether we like the truth or not. Otherwise, we’re running around or hunkering down in our small worlds, or we’re trying (like Trump) to make huge splashes that might feel good, yet do nothing to promote our common welfare.

Thanks again for visiting and reading,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 January 2021
Image found at forbes.com

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