Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

Lost in a maze of hallways

This poem, written in August 2015, was prompted by a dream. Today it captures my sense of disorientation as a citizen of this world that seems caught in nightmares. Not just those provoked by wars or the ravages of climate change, but by such ‘normal’ events as daily deaths, daily murders, and the horrors of extended wars.

This week, the death of Queen Elizabeth raised questions about the future. It also took from the world a ruler loved by many, though parts of the British Empire would prefer to be independent.

Today, as a citizen of the USA and of this world, I’m in another maze of hallways. I’m disoriented. Wondering where the exit might be. Not just for me, but for each of us. Our nation is in turmoil. Denial won’t work. Neither will false hopes, or lies about yesterday or tomorrow.

I’m wide awake lost in a maze of hallways
filled with small shops and out-of-sight
merchandise if only I will give up my
determination to find the exit and go home.

The young man with me seems happy to
be there smiling at me while dragging
his feet and holding me back with his
nonchalant air of everything’s fine just fine.

It is not fine. I know it. I feel it. I keep
looking around searching for the way out
I know this mall. I’ve been here before.
What happened to all the old landmarks?

Doors are locked. Other doors open onto
new hallways filled with glittering shops
and female shopkeepers smiling and asking
for my attention and presence. Won’t I stay?

I seek help from a woman standing in the
doorway of a small shop. She assures me
I’m not lost and will find the exit if I keep going
Her words soothe but fail to help me.

I wake up troubled, not anxious, yet
eager to know the meaning of this
frustratingly endless dream lost
in a maze of diversions going nowhere

So what about today’s real world? Where are we headed? Or, more important, how much of this make-believe maze of diversions are we going to tolerate?

Thanks, as always, for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2015; reposted on 15 July 2020; revised and reposted on 19 September 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

I could not prove the Years had feet | Emily Dickinson

Clothes that don't fit

In 2016 I first discovered this delightful poem by Emily Dickinson. She was about 32 years old when she wrote it. It’s full of wisdom and a touch of self-directed humor. I still hear it asking me to examine myself. Especially now. Not in a morose way, but with eyes and ears that understand I’m not the person I was when I first began blogging.

I could not prove the Years had feet –
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done –

I find my feet have further Goals –
I smile upon the Aims
That felt so ample – Yesterday –
Today’s – have vaster claims –

I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me –
But something awkward in the fit –
Proves that – outgrown – I see –

c. 1862

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

As usual, Emily speaks her truth indirectly with abrupt, even maddening pauses, and omitted words. Her poem, like her life, is cloaked in mystery and leaves me wanting more detail.

Yet without trying to do so, Emily invites me to reframe my life. To consider where I’ve been, where I am, and where I want to go.

When I was a child my great big goal was to learn to play the piano. If I could do that, I would be content and ecstatically happy. Or so it seemed back then.

In fact, my life has been shaped by a series of goals that promised a kind of heaven on earth. For example, playing the piano, going to college, having a real boyfriend who really loved me, getting married, having children, going to seminary, teaching in a seminary. Possibilities I never dreamed would come my way.

When I listen to my heart, it invites me to keep pushing the envelope of what feels comfortable to me. I know this feeling—a combination of excitement, dread and anticipation.

I even made a list of things that will keep pushing the envelope. Promise you won’t laugh!

  • Pick up the phone and call someone
  • Knock on a door and say hello
  • Send a card or note
  • Write poetry and share it

They may or may not mean much to other people. But for me, it’s about practicing small behaviors I’ve often found intimidating. In a way, my goal is to pretend I’m an extro/introvert! Oriented outward as well as inward. Though in my introverted way, of course.

Is this possible? Why not? It’s better than setting another lofty goal I don’t need anymore. I need clothes that fit me now. Outfits that allow me to follow my heart, be my own boss (sort of), and maybe even surprise myself every now and then.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 March 2016, edited and reposted 15 September 2022
Photo from the fashionfoot.com

Letting Go

How hard can it get? Pieces of my life surround me day and night. Always reminding me of something I don’t want to forget, or release just yet.

Tons. That’s how much it seems I’ve already let go—books, do-dads, clothes, cards and letters, kitchen utensils, Tupperware, cookbooks, dishes, and plates. Plus files and records from years of teaching and being a dean, boxes of still usable toys for children, and pictures that decorated the walls of our six homes from the East to the West Coast. Still, some days it seems I haven’t even scratched the surface.

In addition, I’m having to bid farewell to pieces of me. I never dreamed I would be so housebound as I am now. Yes, I get out to walk several times a week (when the weather cooperates). However, I don’t leave the house now without my very nice cane, and the added burden of having to step carefully. No more running up or climbing steep hills. No more wandering through the meadow at Longwood Gardens.

Then there are daily choices I didn’t anticipate. Instead of having a plan for each day, I do what I can and leave the rest. Sometimes it’s a relief; other times it feels like I’m losing part of myself in ways I never anticipated. Especially when I want to read or write or visit my blogging friends.

Letting go. I’ve almost always known that each day is about both life and death. Yet until now, I’ve thought of life as the major component of each day. Now, however, there isn’t a day that passes without reminders that death could come at any moment. Mine, or David’s.

For the last several months, I’ve been uncertain what to write about. Perhaps I was avoiding the obvious? Maybe. Still, I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I do, however, know that the community I’ve discovered on WordPress has given me great joy, a little grief, tons of affirmation, and a place to be myself.

Thank you for being there. I don’t know how things will work out, but I do know that I need to be writing about life as I experience it now. Not because it’s so great, but because it’s unspeakably precious.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 September 2022
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, September 2021

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

I like a look of Agony | Emily Dickinson

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson that speaks to our current national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form. I first posted this in May 2018, in response to our escalating hunger for exaggeration rather than truth.

I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –

The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.

c. 1861

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

Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she sees in Death an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.

Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish are strung upon the Brow. Thus, Death gives strange birth to The Truth of Agony and Anguish.

Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. It seems ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.

With apologies to Emily:

We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations, but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight

Perhaps we’ve forgotten or never knew
How to have, much less allow airtime
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony

The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment

Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers

Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name

Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018, lightly edited and reposted 30 August 2022
Photo found at blog.xuite.net

Will there really be a “Morning”?

This child-like poem from Emily Dickinson still speaks to me. Especially now, five years after I first published it. Imagine you’re a child again, wondering about what comes after this life. Or even what’s already here in this life–given Emily’s historical setting and your own. My response follows Emily’s poem.

Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Man from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!

c. 1859

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

Dear Emily,
I wonder what was on your mind when you wrote this. Maybe the War between the States? Family members who fought in it? Or how about the devastation left behind when so many cities and fertile fields were laid waste via fire?

Some people don’t think things here are that bad now; others don’t agree. I’d say we at least have something like it.

Then again, maybe you were thinking of less visible things. Perhaps a personal loss you couldn’t show the world. Or the piled up anguish of watching one family member after another decline in health and leave this world. Or your keen awareness that this world doesn’t always value what you value, or see things the way you do.

I think we have all of that right now, and more just keeps coming. I also think we’re getting tired of it.

Maybe you were lonely when you wrote this. So lonely that you would have been happy to leave this life behind. You might have been lonely for the birds and insects, trees and shrubs, water lilies and butterflies, sunrises and sunsets. All creatures great and small. Your outdoor cathedral and congregation where you felt safe, understood and appreciated. Without having to explain yourself over and over.

In your poem you call yourself a little Pilgrim. I like that. It’s a very kind and tender way to talk about yourself. Almost, but not quite putting yourself down because you don’t happen to be a scholar, sailor or wise man from the skies. I think you’re already a wise woman, a sailor of sometimes treacherous social seas, and a deep scholar of human life.

Now that you’re There, I wonder whether, as a Wise Woman from the skies, you might tell me where the place called “Morning” lies. Could you? Would you? It seems we have many lost souls here who are looking for that place. If not here, then where? Can you help us find it? Or at least send us a little poem about it?

Your pen pal, Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2017, reposted 18 August 2022
Photo found at collegewritingpoetry.wordpress.com

Still without a flight plan

Coming out of a fog
Finding my feet and voice yet again
Feeling my way home

These words, and the poem below capture layers of unknown realities all the way from what was supposed to be a post-Trump era, to living in an aging body still full of surprises. Here’s the poem as first published in March 2020.

Without a Flight Plan

Disoriented
Suspended in space and time
Where are we going?

Calm and mindful
In a holding pattern
Waiting to land

Circling landmarks
Every twenty-four hours
Drones in the sky

Specks of dust
In an ocean of dismay
Looking for home

© Elouise Renich Fraser, March 2020
Published in Without A Flight Plan, 2021, p. 45

I’m just back from a short morning walk. The sun is out, the heat wave has subsided for now. Summer school is over, and the school playground is blissfully quiet. I see only a handful of others out for a walk with their dogs. I’m walking with myself.

Walking or sitting, I feel the weight of what we call ‘old age.’ I now understand that being old means not having a flight plan.

I’m a diehard maker of lists/flight plans. I like checking off my lists. Lately, however, the lists have become weights. The kind I carry around from one day to the next because I didn’t do all those things, thanks to unpredictable turns of event or the weather or how well I did or did not sleep last night.

Old age is not for sissies. Do I have a plan now for each day? No, I do not, with a few exceptions:

  • I will eat
  • I will sleep as needed
  • I will fill the birdseed feeders
  • I will make sure the birdies and Smudge have fresh, clean water
  • I will love D

Period, the end.

Well, except for one more thing. Copies of Without a Flight Plan are available at Amazon.com in various countries. I am also giving them away as requested and possible. However, if poetry isn’t your thing, I will not be offended. In fact, I will thank you for reading this far! Forgive me if I wander. I understand it’s allowed at this age.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2022
Photo of snow geese near Mount Baker, Washington, USA, found at correre.org

song birds caroling

song birds caroling
sun breaking through mist-drenched air
dropping dew drumming

* * * * *

A mini rainforest

reverberating voices

shimmering light-rays and

drenched greenery

enfold me within

a universe of

hushed gladness

reorienting

my steps, my thoughts

my sense of wonder

bathing me in

peaceful anticipation

on my journey home

~~~

Another of my favorites from my first year of blogging. Visiting my early WordPress posts is stirring up old memories of people and places I’ve known or visited. The photo at the top reminds me of multiple forests I’ve hiked in with D and family members.

Thanks for stopping by! Today I’m taking it easy, resting after a fruitful shopping spree with D yesterday.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 July 2014; reposted 3 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

The Long and Short of it

A ping pong in my mind
Spins from one reality to another

Grounded
I know I’m not lost
But the feelings in my bones
And in my feet keep
Bouncing back and forth

Stricken
By the deaths of colleagues
And friends I feel lost in the
Immensity and beauty of life
Wondering how long this will last

Drunk
By the glory of nature
Around but not in me
My eyes and ears turn into gluttons
For the beauty this earth

The photo at the top was my best effort at finding a photo remotely like an old postcard I received from my seminary theology professor, Dr. Paul King Jewett. It’s dated 1 July 1977. It showed up in a drawer of personal items I’ve saved over the years.

This past week two of my seminary colleagues died: Dr. J. Deotis Roberts, and Dr. Ron Sider. In addition, one of my seminary students from the mid-1990s died. Then just yesterday, I attended (via You Tube) a memorial service for a prominent member of our church.

All of this pushes me to stay focused on the glorious and inglorious parts of my life. Especially peripheral neuropathy in my feet. I now have a spiffy cane that accompanies me on my walks around the neighborhood. I don’t always need it. Nonetheless, it gives me confidence. Especially when I walk across a field or stroll past unruly dogs!

Within the last week I’ve begun using a series of online exercises. They’re offered by an Australian physiotherapist at MoreLifeHealth.com. No drugs. Just simple, daily exercises to strengthen and relax my feet and legs. Free. He also offers help for patients with peripheral neuropathy in their hands. Here’s a link to all his videos for various health issues.

Hoping your week is both challenging and uplifting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 July 2022
Painting by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1876; Found at Wikimedia Commons

the sound of silence

cascading waves break
in calm rhythmic procession—
fiddler crabs scurry

* * * * *

I loved trips to the beach on Tybee Island
back in the 1950s when it wasn’t famous, and
sunblock and skin cancer seemingly hadn’t been discovered.

Anyone could just drive out for the day,
slather oily suntan lotion all over,
soak in the beauty and vastness of the ocean,
and ignore the gritty sand that seeped into everything.
PB and jelly sandwiches never tasted better.

Today when I visit a quiet seashore with a beach
it becomes a little homecoming:
Nurturing, reconnecting, relaxing, larger than life itself.
Not unlike everyday homecomings
that mesmerize and ground me:

the hum of summer cicadas
the sound of wind rustling through trees
a steady heartbeat
slow rhythmic breathing
sunrise transforming the morning sky
moon and stars suspended in a crystal-clear night sky
clouds of gnats swarming in the air
sweet robin-song at dusk
fireflies flickering on and off
bats dancing in the evening sky
flocks of snow geese taking elegant flight
Canadian geese traveling noisily across the autumn sky
human voices echoing faintly across the water
multicolored flowers shimmering in a distant garden
clouds drifting across an Atchison blue sky
the sound of silence

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2014
Photo found at VisitSavannah.com
~~~

Yes, I’m still here. Slowly but surely making progress on home projects I’ve put off for a while. They include a book of poetry I’ve published on WordPress. Not everything, but pieces that paint a picture of my life as I experienced it. I may not get through a review of all of them. Nonetheless, it’s worth taking time to look back and think about where I was and where I am now. The poem above is included in the collection I’m putting together.

Thank you for your presence in my life. Especially given today’s often strange, unpredictable world filled with pain, agony, and daily reports of things falling apart.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 July 2022 

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