Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Life and Death

The Sixth Recognition of the Lord | Mary Oliver

Every summer the lilies rise
and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn’t seem
festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come
into it often enough. Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
am given water. My eyes thirst and I am give
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
sings but the apparatus of singing doesn’t convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there’s hope,
in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
leafy cave, but in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 28

Dear Mary,

Your poem made me weep. I don’t know if you intended this, but your “Recognition of the Lord” is also a recognition of your “beautiful, temporary body.”

I long for a permanent body as beautiful as your water-lily world. Not the kind of beauty that gets attention, but the beauty that’s carried in our hearts and souls. No matter what’s happening to our aging bodies.

I never thought of myself as beautiful when I was growing up. Even now, the most I can usually admit is that I’m acceptable. My husband of many years has trouble convincing me that to him, I’m more than acceptable.

What challenges me when I think about the water lilies, roses, peonies, lilacs, and azaleas is that they never complain about the astonishing brevity of their beauty. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Do I want to be like they are? Sadly, no amount of makeup or other ways we try to fool nature will ever satisfy me. So this lovely Recognition of the Lord, the One who created us, is incredibly demanding. Yes, we have our time to flourish, and yes, we fade. Like flowers of the field and water lilies.

If this is meant to comfort me in my aging body, I still have work to do. Letting go isn’t my favorite pastime. Which, I’m guessing, wasn’t yours, either.

Thank you for prodding my heart and mind today, and sharing your lovely and beautiful voice with all of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 July 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, June 2019

Photo Therapy for My Heart

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I first published this on 3 February 2016, a few weeks after Mr. Trump became President. The post features several photos I find calm and reassuring no matter what’s happening around or in me. Today Mr. Biden is our President, and there is still much to lament, and not much certainty about our tomorrows. I hope you enjoy the photos and find some peace slipping into your heart.

That’s a mature Dawn Redwood at the top. We’re in Longwood Gardens in their large-tree arboretum. It’s a scorching hot day. The tree’s inviting limbs offer rest in the shade. No entrance fee. No time limit. No requirements except that I step into the shade. Into the relaxing and reassuring freedom of our Creator’s care for me, no matter my age or my health.

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Here’s a tiny flower of the field in the Longwood Meadow Garden. Fragile, delicate, one-of-a-kind, like a snowflake. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet known to God who delights in the beauty of this world. I can’t help thinking about human life, and the One who creates and fully understands our fragile mortal beauty.

As a parent has compassion for his or her children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear God.
For God knows how we were made,
and remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of God
is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear God….

Psalm 103:13-17a

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Here I’m  standing in a square pavilion that circles this magnificent eye of water. We’re in the oriental area of the Arboretum at Longwood Gardens. The sound is stunning. A steady flow of water wells up in the ‘pupil’ of the eye and gently cascades down into the pool.

The small dots around the edge are pennies–wishes tossed in by visitors. For me, this is one of the most calming sites in the gardens. Usually there aren’t many visitors here. The benches around the border invite meditation and relaxation, accompanied by the steady sound of water falling. That’s my back to the camera. I’m looking out at the stream that flows downhill from the eye of water before the water is recycled back to the top to overflow yet again.

Finally, one of my favorites. It isn’t spectacularly beautiful like many other Longwood Gardens photos. This is right next to a path, not hidden away in the woods. We’re near the meadow and the water ponds. This mama is doing what our Creator wants to do for each of us. She’s taking her chicks under wings. Keeping them safe, warm, dry and calm. Just where my heart wants to be right now!

Nesting at Longwood

Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 February 2016, lightly edited and reposted 24 July 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, Longwood Gardens

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

Masks

 

Horst Lemke sketch for Psalm 139:1-6, Die Gute Nachricht, published by Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart, 1978

Every morning, along with enjoying the birds and squirrels, I read a bit of German. It’s a way to stay in touch with a language in which I was once fluent. I begin with a Bach Chorale each day (music plus 1st stanza in German). Most of the time that’s more than enough!

However…A few days ago, right after the Bach Chorale, I picked up my copy of The Good News in German, purchased in July 1980. It fell open to the sketch above by Horst Lemke. It struck a chord in me, partly because of our current situation in the USA and elsewhere. But mainly because Psalm 139 rightly assumes each of us owns at least one mask–though we may not own or be wearing a Covid-style mask.

I teared up as I read the passage below, given our current national and international challenges and catastrophes.

Psalm 139:1-12 from the Good News Bible in English (pp. 744-45)

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say,
You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.

Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me; you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

The rest of Psalm 139 is equally beautiful and powerful. Just what I need during these days of chaos, unplanned disasters, deep divisions, and masks behind masks.

Praying you’ll find your way today, knowing that the One who created each of us hasn’t forgotten our names, our faces, or our circumstances.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 July 2021
Sketch by Horst Lemke found in Die Gute Nachricht, p. 419
©1978 Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart

Summer and what comes next

Heaviness sits on my heart
waiting for the next beat
of life that diminishes daily
without so much as a
fond farewell or kiss of peace

Outside the air blazes
with heat and the sound
of nothing in general since
the smart people left
for the beach long ago

Two small bird baths
sit ready for the steady
drop-in of customers
cleaning their whistles
and frolicking in water

A small huddle of live
sunflower plants lift
their faces upward without
a murmur or so much as
a pair of sunglasses

Ringing in my ear reminds
me of cicadas that haven’t
yet made it back to our
neighborhood though we
were expecting cacophony

What more is there to do
on a hot summer day than
take it easy and write a
poem for friends I’ve often
met right here and now

I’m keenly aware of my age these days, especially with recurring heat emergencies here in Eastern Pennsylvania. I’m also thinking about what comes next, regardless of the heat.

Right now I’m working through my office–my last bastion of files, piles, and seeming disorder that passes for good-enough order most of the time. And yes, tears are part of the deal. Happy tears, sad tears, disbelieving tears, and the teary acknowledgment of how many gifted women and men I’ve worked with and taught over the years.

Thanks for stopping by today. I pray each of us will come to know and appreciate ourselves and what we bring to this world a bit more each day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 July 2021
Photo found at pixabay.com

On My Mother’s Table | Memories

Photo taken in 1948, before Mother came down with polio in 1949
Ruth, Elouise, Dad, Mother, and Grandpa Gury

I’m reposting this in honor of my mother, Eileen Gury Renich, born 12 July 1921.
I often wonder what she would have been like without polio or the pain of her childhood.
It colored everything that happened in my life.

A graceful old table
With fold-down wings
On each side and
Beautiful scrolling
Along the edges
Sits there in the kitchen
Small and old with just enough
Room to turn around

A small pantry hides beneath
stairs to the second floor
A window looks out
Above the small porcelain sink
With ridged sideboard

A small walk-through kitchen
With four doors
Impossible to miss stands
Ready and quick to reach

There on the table they sit
In their permanent space
Neatly arranged on a medium-size
Round tray never messy always tidy
Kept just next to the short wall
Out of the way not in your face
Part of the scenery
Normal things needed daily in
My Mother’s kitchen

Salt and pepper
A sugar bowl and bottle of creamer
Instant coffee and paper napkins
Or were they paper towels
I’m not quite sure
Vitamins and minerals
Aspirin and toothpicks
Small round Rx bottles neatly arranged
At least a dozen sometimes more
Coming and going as needed
New and old as prescribed
One on top of the other
For the latest pain or muscle discomfort
Carefully labeled and marked with her name
Mother’s name only not anyone else’s
Her cafeteria of pain-killers and relaxants
Old friends from polio days plus
New friends added to her
Growing collection of pills or
Were they drugs from
Multiple doctors with multiple solutions

A potent mix of ingredients
For multiple ailments in multiple periods
Of her pain-ridden sleep-deprived life
Sit neatly on the table
Ready at a moment’s notice
Would you please bring me
My phenobarbital and a cup of coffee?
Caffeine and barby doll her friends for life
But at what cost?
Drugs free from a friend’s prescription shop
But at what cost?

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2015, edited and reposted 12 July 2021,
the anniversary of my Mother’s birth (12 July 1921 – 17 Feb. 1999)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2021
Tourist photo taken in 1948

Dear Friends,

Yesterday D sent me a link to the amazing performance above. It’s the kind of music that’s good for whatever ails you (or not). Relatively short and mesmerizing. Don’t miss it!

This morning I got up early to go to the hospital for another routine blood draw. This was a bit more difficult than usual due to all-night floodlights and a huge crew of workers, equipment trucks and drilling right in front of our house. It went on without a break through the night, and will continue indefinitely. Yes, we were notified months ago that this would happen sometime this summer. We were not, however, prepared for the all night drilling and floodlights!

So far this morning I’ve given up two vials of blood, done a big load of laundry, cooked a pot of quinoa, filled the bird feeder and changed out the bird bath water. I also read more from W.E.B. DuBois’s book, The Philadelphia Negro, and walked nearly one mile (goal: at least 2 miles).

As for yesterday’s post about fireworks, there was an attack last night at a Philly party that had drawn scores of neighbors. The owner of the small eatery had invited the neighborhood to a free meal. A way of saying thanks for their business. When the attack began, most attendees thought it was fireworks. It was not. Two are dead (including the owner of the eatery); one remains hospitalized. The police ran out of their 100 bullet hole markers.

We never know what a day will bring. Nonetheless, I pray we’ll find threads of acceptance and peace, no matter what our situations may be.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2010
Thanks to YouTube for the mesmerizing performance of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

Here we are, near the eve of July 4. Though it’s a day to be proud of our nation, so much has gone so wrong. My comments follow Maya Angelou’s poem.

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
      which lies upon our necks
      and underfoot.
We have woven
      robes of silk
      and clothed our nakedness
      with tapestry.
From crawling on this
      murky planet’s floor
      we soar beyond the
      birds and
      through the clouds
      and edge our way from hate
      and blind despair and
      bring honor
      to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
      horror that we feed
      upon our own
      tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

I’m reminded of John Stainer’s heart-rending chorus from The Crucifixion, with its invitation to pay attention to ‘the king of grief’ instead of simply passing by.

From the throne of his cross
the king of grief cries out to a world of unbelief,
‘Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?’

It’s one thing to celebrate the insight, agony and beauty of Maya Angelou’s poem. It another to understand that most white people in the USA would prefer to walk on by and try to get on with their lives.

A few weeks ago a friend from seminary days recommended a new book. It’s helping me understand our current impasse here in the USA. It’s written by Drick Boyd, and is titled Disrupting Whiteness: Talking with White People about Racism.

The main point? It’s time for white people to start talking with each other about our individual and collective racism. What are our earliest memories about racism? What forms does racism take? When did we start assuming most white people are superior beings? How do we give up what feels ‘normal’ but is not? How can we support each other for the long haul?

As James Baldwin pointed out in The Fire Next Time (pp. 21-22):

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 July 2021
Photo of Maya Angelou found at usatoday.com
Book covers found at amazon.com

This morning’s walk

Heat rises quickly
in this tinderbox of grief
a blue jay screams

green grass and tree leaves
offer distraction in vain
sorrow boils over

turning toward home
we pass the cemetery
open arms waiting

How many more unscheduled deaths will there be? How much bone-dry drought can we endure? How many unkept promises and lies are we willing to overlook?

No answers, just questions. Plus recommitment to doing what I can within my small world of family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. It isn’t about saving the world. It’s about making connections that matter. The kind that make our humanity visible in all its flaws and glory, while getting on with the work of becoming human. Together.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2021
Hot summer sun photo found at pixabay.com

Storage | Mary Oliver

What about all the stuff we collect over the years? Mary Oliver knows. My comments follow.

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.
Occasionally I went there and looked in,
but nothing happened, not a single
twinge of the heart.
As I grew older the things I cared
about grew fewer, but were more
important. So one day I undid the lock
and called the trash man. He took
everything.
I felt like the little donkey when
his burden is finally lifted. Things!
Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing—the reason they can fly.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 7)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in Felicity, 2015

I grew up in the 1940s and 50s. Back then (post-World War II) we were trained to make do with whatever was at hand. Throwing things away was not encouraged.

Almost anything could be repurposed, altered, or made to fit the need at hand. Glass bottles, aluminum tumblers that used to be filled with store-bought cottage cheese, lids for just about anything, hand-me-down clothes, kitchen utensils, and bits of old candle wax. Furthermore, if we didn’t need it, someone else probably did.

Here, however, Mary Oliver invites us to let go of stuff that takes up unnecessary space. Why? Because it makes room in our hearts for love, for the trees, and for the birds who own nothing.

Could it be that the stuff taking up space includes old attitudes and beliefs about ourselves and other human beings? These might also be lurking in boxes we’ve not examined or relinquished. Which leaves little if any room for the birds, for other human beings, or even for our own growth.

What would it take for us to soar and dance together in the sky?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 June 2021
Video of Starling Murmuration found on YouTube

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