Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Memories

What we don’t have

In the opening pages of his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, Mahmoud Darwish writes these haunting words:

What are you doing, father?

I’m searching for my heart, which fell away that night.

Do you think you’ll find it here?

Where else am I going to find it? I bend to the ground and pick it up piece by piece just as the women of the fellahin pick up olives in October, one olive at a time.

But you’re picking up pebbles!

Doing that is a good exercise for memory and perception. Who knows? Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart. And even if they’re not, I would still have gotten used to the effort of searching on my own for something that made me feel lost when it was lost. The mere act of searching is proof that I refuse to get lost in my loss. The other side of this effort is the proof that I am in fact lost as long as I have not found what I have lost.

Mahmoud Darwish, Journal of an Ordinary Grief, pp 3-4. Translated from Arabic, with a foreword by Ibrahim Muhawi. Archipelago Books, English translation published in 2010; first published in Beirut in 1973.

When I read these words I can’t help thinking about our national crisis. Not Covid-19, or even political wars waging night and day in cities and towns everywhere.

Our most pressing crisis is our identity. Who are we as a nation?

Mahmoud Darwish’s father struggles with an “ordinary grief.” Ordinary because the grief never goes away. It’s the grief of a Palestinian whose heart has been broken. The grief of an old man without a country. Grief that won’t let go of memories because they’re the last link to what once home. The place where hearts were nourished and cherished. Memories now represented by pebbles. Bits and pieces of stone standing in for what was lost.

The USA is no paradise. Those brought here or captured against their have already attested to this.

They and their descendants are still looking for something. Dare we join them in their search? Stone by stone, bullet by bullet, bone by bone. Small connections to the past, and reminders of what they and we still don’t have: liberty and justice for all.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2021
Painting of old man found at lettalkknowledge.wordpress.com

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

The Life we have is very great – revisited

Here’s a second look at Emily Dickinson’s poem about Life, Infinity, and the Human Heart. A good poem for today when we’re missing family members or friends for any reason, plus Covid-19, political standoffs, hate crimes, or the harsh reality of wildfires, avalanches and hurricanes. My lightly edited comments follow.

The Life we have is very great.
The Life that we shall see
Surpasses it, we know, because
It is Infinity.
But when all Space has been beheld
And all Dominion shown
The smallest Human Heart’s extent
Reduces it to none.

c. 1870

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

It doesn’t matter how many worlds we discover beyond this world. It doesn’t matter how far the distance is from here to there and beyond. It doesn’t even matter that the universe is still expanding.

None of this, as surpassingly great or expansive as it may be, holds a candle to the smallest of human hearts.

According to Emily, the Life we now have is ‘very great.’ The Life we’ll have beyond this Life is even greater. Yet it’s infinitesimal compared to what our hearts can see and grasp right now.

Emily describes the heart’s capacity to love Life. Especially when we can’t see those we love. She suggests that the expansiveness of one small human heart outshines infinity itself.

Yes, it’s fascinating to explore the universe, what may lie beyond it and how it’s ordered. Yet what we discover externally will never match the capacity of one small human heart to connect with another human heart.

It doesn’t matter whether that heart is what we call dead or alive, here or there, or somewhere in between. Nor do we need to understand exactly what Space encompasses, how it is governed, or where Infinity resides.

This isn’t about measuring or mapping Life beyond our present Life. Or discovering where those we love now reside.

It’s about connections. All it takes is one small human heart to leap beyond unmapped, immeasurable boundaries, expanding outward in a heartbeat to enfold the hearts of those we love. No matter where they or we may be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2017, lightly edited and reposted 10 December 2020
Image taken from Hubble Spacecraft, found at nasa.gov

What next? | Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

As some of you know, I’m a survivor of childhood PTSD. My father’s behavior toward me was the most difficult part of my growing-up years. It cost time, money and effort to become the woman I am today.

Yet I still haven’t faced what it means to be a white woman right now. Specifically, this particular white woman whose childhood set the table for racial blindness. It’s ironic. Nearly every day of my life from age 7 ½ to 14 I rode through colored town, and witnessed the realities of colored life in the Deep South.

My father’s approach to Deep South manners amounted to ‘be polite, smile a lot, and just keep going.’ Don’t ask questions, don’t debate anything, and remember you’re the eldest daughter of the white preacher who speaks from time to time at the Colored Community House.

Still, I was inquisitive. I remember asking my father more than once why things were this way. I’d lived most of my early life on the West Coast. I don’t remember seeing black people in Seattle or in Southern California.

According to my father, it all came down to the way colored people ‘like’ to live. Or what they found ‘most comfortable.’ Or how much money they made, or how they spent it. That was their choice.

Every school day during my grade school years, my father or a neighbor drove us through colored town on our way to and from school in the city. Colored town was about a quarter of a mile from our house.

Yet my father never talked with us about why colored town was there in the first place, why most of the houses needed repair, or what this meant in the larger picture of the Deep South. Perhaps he’d never looked into it.

I’ve decided I can’t avoid looking into it. Not as an academic exercise, but to face what happened before, during and after Jim Crow years, and how I’m now part of the problem.

Thanks for reading. This is a busy month for everyone, so I appreciate your visits even more than usual!

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 December 2020
Photo of segregated city bus in the 1950s found at aapf.org

Caged Bird | Maya Angelou

From the introduction: “…This poem deserves to be read slowly and carefully. In what it implies about the difference between the caged bird and a free bird, it becomes one of Angelou’s most complex and most important poems.” My comments follow.

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

© 1995 by Maya Angelou
Published by Sterling Children’s Books in 2013
Maya Angelou, Poetry for Young People, p. 34

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving, a national holiday. It encourages us to eat a lot of food, connect with our families, and think highly of our nation. This includes being grateful for the peaceful Pilgrims, the nice Indians who shared the first feast, and freedom ringing from every mountainside.

Yet what about the slave trade that began in this part of the world in the 1500s? What about seen and unseen iron bars, clipped wings and tied feet?

I’ve always felt reluctant about Thanksgiving. It comes close to my birthday. Sometimes the two got lumped together, with my birthday losing out to the Thanksgiving feast. Still, there was good food on the table, and my father’s prayers always spoke highly of our wonderful country and its many freedoms.

I love this nation. Yet I don’t know what to do with myself as an ‘uncaged bird.’

I’ve always felt socially awkward, not fully at ease in large groups or crowds. Perhaps my feelings aren’t off-tune, given our largely unknown, unowned and unexamined history. To say nothing of caged birds still singing of freedom they don’t have.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 November 2020
Image found at KLTV.com

Beginning from scratch

Beginning from scratch
A thousand times over
The pioneering woman
Keeps her head low
Her determination high
Her feelings under control

How strange they said
When they saw
And took her seriously
Or not as it pleased them
In the moment
That always belonged to them

Changes unfold so quickly
Her memory can’t keep up
With constant expectations
That she’ll have all things under control
And can start or stop on a dime
Without missing a beat

‘Our little angel’ they call her
Responsible and diligent
If a little obsessed with things
Others think inconsequential
Until they wake up one day
To truth they can’t believe

I’ve been thinking about the trajectory of my life. In particular, how difficult it was back in the 1960s and 70s to be a woman in a so-called ‘man’s world.’

It required a kind of focus I don’t remember having. Still, I see it when I read my old class notes, papers and exams from that era. It seems there wasn’t much room for being average.

Virtually every woman admitted to college, university or seminary was considered somewhat strange. Why would we do this? Why take the risk of failing, especially if we’re married?

It’s simple. Women often have more to gain than to lose, no matter how things turn out. There will always be failures and successes. However, in my lifetime there haven’t been many opportunities for women to stand up and be taken seriously in a world dominated by men.

Whether we succeed by their terms or not isn’t the question. The real question is what have we learned about ourselves and others along the way? And what will we do when, in our later years, we must begin yet again from scratch?

Hoping you’re feeling stretched and pulled toward things that matter in the long view, no matter what the short view looks like today.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 September 2020
Nora Ephron quote found at momspark.net

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

a foreign land

Display at Jim Crow Museum of Memorabilia

I’m 71/2 years old. We just moved from California to a rural neighborhood 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. It’s 1951.

Today we drove
Out of our long driveway
Into a foreign land

Don’t stare, Elouise
Those are colored people
They were born that way

Which means
Many things you can’t
Understand just yet

See their small gardens
And rows of cheery flowers
In front of their homes?

And look!
That woman just waved
At us driving by

She’s even hung out
Her handiwork
A handmade quilt

Isn’t it lovely?
I wish we had enough
Money to buy it

Adults and children smile
When we drive by
Some even wave

It’s as though they already
Knew us even though
We’ve never met

Indeed

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2020
Photo of Jim Crow Memorabilia found at ferris.edu

55th Wedding Anniversary | Scotland Photos

This Friday, September 11, D and I celebrate 55 years of marriage. Five years ago we flew to Scotland to celebrate our 50th anniversary (and visit the Fraser Castle of course). No travels this year, so I’m posting Scotland photos instead. All photos in this post were taken by D, and approved by me.

On our way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, we spent a day at the The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The top photo was taken along the way. If this is what it’s like to be put out to pasture, I’m all for it! When we got to the Park we selected one of their four hiking trails. The Lodge offered food and rest-stop facilities (not housing). Then we got going on the trail.

This lovely female Mallard was floating at the base of the trail,
surrounded by graceful greenery. Picture perfect!

We saw several wood carvings along the way, and spooky stumps.
Then there was that weirdo mirror in the forest. Aren’t we beautiful?

Here’s one of the rest stops that popped up here and there.
This one came with its own live canopy and ceiling decorations!

Beautiful vistas, the sound of running water, plus
tumbled rocks lining the creek.

More whimsy with tree stumps and trunks,
with doors and windows to die for!

Finally, several beautiful forest birds. An English Robin,
a Great Tit, and one young European Robin.

OK. So it’s only a shadow of the real thing. However, all things considered, I’d rather do this than get on a plane and go anywhere right now. Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2020
Photos taken by DAFraser, September 2015 at the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Scotland.

The Old Cairo Bazaar | Photos

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It’s January 2010, already past my bedtime. A friend is driving D and me to visit the old Cairo bazaar. Vehicles and people fill the streets and sidewalks, including families enjoying the cool night air.

Our friend knows his way around. He has nerves of steel and is quick. He doesn’t wait for safe openings in the traffic. Instead he dives right in, using the horn and brakes as often as necessary.

We arrive in the vicinity of the bazaar and begin looking for parking. There isn’t a single space in sight. Our friend turns into a maze of narrow, sometimes bumpy streets that look like alleys. Small shops line each side of the narrow street.

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Cars and trucks already crowd the tight space. Sometimes the sidewalk is a narrow edge along the street. People turn to look as we inch our way along. Every now and then our friend rolls down his window and asks for help finding a place to park. No help.

We keep inching along. At last he spots what might be a space, stops and speaks with the man who seems to be in charge of these precious few feet of space. Then he convinces other vehicles to wait or even move a bit while he jockeys his car into an impossibly small amount of space.

Bystanders offer advice and wave their hands in the air, tossing opinions and directions his way. After agreeing with the man in charge about the cost of this space, we’re on our way, following our friend to the bazaar.

In just a few minutes we’re inside an endless maze of shops. Goods are hanging from the rafters, spilling over onto the walkway. Shopkeepers vie for our attention and our money. Our friend keeps moving.

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The air is filled with voices shouting, music blaring, and pungent odors of food, spices, perfumes, bodies. Light glitters on gold, silver, brass and brilliantly dyed fabrics.

We turn corners, walk around an open courtyard and enter more passageways. It’s quieter here. I don’t have a clue where we are or how to exit this maze.

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When we arrive at our friend’s choice of shops, I’m relieved. It’s quiet; no one pushes us to buy anything. By the time we leave with our purchases, it’s nearly 11pm. We make our way back through the maze and the glitter, wasting no time along the way.

My eyes and ears are on overload; I’m overwhelmed. We turn a corner and there she is, oblivious to everything around her, doing what she needs to do. Undisturbed, calm and right at home.

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We keep going. No time to waste. We finally reach the exit to the bazaar, walk through the plaza and head back to our friend’s car. I can’t wait to put my head down and sleep.

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One year later, in January 2011, the Egyptian revolution began.

A bit of nostalgia is just what the doctor ordered for today. Thanks for coming along!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2015, reposted 29 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, January 2010, The Old Cairo Bazaar, Egypt

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