Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Memories

Looking for friends

During the last several weeks I’ve been restless and lonely. I’m sleeping better and feeling more energetic than I have in the last four years. The weather, on the other hand, has been wildly unpredictable, requiring more in-house activity than usual. Still….

Retirement is heaven on earth. Right? Wrong.

My body has changed and my age keeps creeping ever higher. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t return to academic life with its regular access to interesting students and colleagues. My retirement playground sometimes feels like punishing confinement.

As a child and teenager, I felt left out and lonely most of the time. Not invited to parties, not allowed to go to movies, and not allowed many close friends. Not that there was a long line knocking on my door.

I thought I was over those childhood feelings. Yet they came crashing in on me this past week. Triggered by more than one conversation about a wonderful dinner party or get-together I knew I couldn’t attend even if I wanted to.

The truth is, I don’t want and can’t survive a busy social life. Neither do I want to become someone’s project. I want women friends. A few interesting, trustworthy women. Not for a fabulous dinner out, a trip to the latest show, or even to reminisce about old times.

I’m past the years of being a hostess. I’m beyond cleaning up for company, or trying to transform myself into the social butterfly I’ve never been. I’m also beyond being part of a church visitation team.

This is about connecting in person over a cup of tea or glass of water, going for a walk or not. It’s about regular face to face time with women who might also feel left out, forgotten, or simply in need of female company.

And no, I don’t expect you, my readers, to solve this for me. Though perhaps some of you have felt this way from time to time?

Thanks for taking time to listen.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 March 2019
Photo found at nationalpost.com

On listening to my father

My father’s shame, like mine, went back to his childhood. He endured family hardships as one child of many. These included things like carrying lard sandwiches to school and being ashamed to let classmates see him eating them; wearing winter ‘shoes’ made from pieces of old rubber and ropes; and living in fear of being shamed and beaten by his father.

Childhood shame became envy. One opportunity after another slipped through his fingers. He was a proud man, filled with deep-seated resentments. Then there were dreams he couldn’t give up even though they weren’t going to happen. On top of this, the older I became, the more difficult it was for him to celebrate my accomplishments.

In this slightly revised poem I’m inviting him to join me. I first wrote it about a poor woman in a portrait. I recognized myself in her. I know what it’s like to live with shame that feeds envy. I can’t change what happened between my father and me; I can, however, change the way my heart sees him today. I can also listen to him now in ways he couldn’t listen to me. Perhaps I might even weep with him.

Suffering from Obsessive Envy

I know this proud man
The look in his eyes
The slightly raised brow
The unsmiling mouth.

Heavy with envy,
His eyes keep sharp watch
Marking my own good fortune
As were it his loss.

Am I not entitled?
Do I not slave harder?
How dare she be happy
At my poor expense.

Dear father, I know you.
You cower in my heart;
Your anger, your silence,
Your pride, your fierce want.

Look at me if you dare
Look me straight in the eye
Describe your resentments,
The dreams you saw die.

Weep long if you must
For the life you have led;
Sit here on this bench
Let me wipe your tears dry.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2019

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

soul-pain

Tears flow easily these days,
fed by inescapable beauty
plus the soul-pain of being
alive and open to life.

Or perhaps it’s chill winter
resurrecting shared memories,
turning spare light into a
celebration of what we
have together, parsed out in
days and nights of longing for
spring’s welcome thaw.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2019
Photo found at thefuntimesguide.com

Gifts of old age

Gifts of old age
Come slowly sifting
Decades of memories
Through a heart
Converted to truth

Soft and pliable
It weighs the years
Discarding self-contempt
For self-acceptance
And understanding
Of what and why
And wherefore these
Shadows are nothing
In the end but
The reverse side of
Life interrupted and
Redeemed at great cost

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2019
Photo found at artistsnetwork.com

color me fragile

color me fragile
transparent windows open
to waves of music
floating through winter’s cold nights
from stars and planets waiting
to welcome me home

I think often of death these days. Not as something to fear, but as a reminder that today’s music won’t wait for tomorrow. It’s here. Now. Waiting to be experienced, honored, held close. A reminder of the good that has come my way and the good people who still sing to me when I feel lonely, scared or overwhelmed. Many now wait to welcome me home.

Morose? No. It’s food for my soul. A warm fuzzy blanket to wrap around me when I begin to falter. It’s the reason I greet each day with expectancy and hope mixed with sadness. Life sometimes feels heavy to bear. Then those reminders come floating in. A gift, if not proof, that I’ve had and have a life beyond the life I see and remember.

Praying your day is filled with graceful music from unexpected sources.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 January 2019
Image found at wallpaperup.com

through fading light

She drifts through fading light
Heavy with good old days
And nights of celestial fare
When aging memories signified
Faded minds and shrinking lives
Cemented in the here and now
Reliving ghosts of yesterdays
Remnants of fruit gone sweetly sour
With age and bitter longing

Written on the airplane after reading yet again Emily Dickinson’s poem “These are the days….”

My poem is a comment on aging and the conceit of the young. I’m thinking of the way my own young eyeballs used to roll in their sockets when the “old” folks got going. Relentlessly they recalled and relived their happiest, most longed-for yesterdays. How silly! Don’t they know the past is gone? And then there are all those not-so-longed-for yesterdays.

To my mind these aging relics were out of touch. Couldn’t they see the relentless coming and going of life’s seasons? Yet even then I was already collecting and hoarding my own memories. Preparing for days when I, like all those old folks, revisit the glories and not-so-glorious memories of yesterday that hover just beyond my grasp.

We can’t relive the past, We can, however, go back the way a short Indian summer takes us back to a bit of warmth and beauty before cold winter sets in. We can take that brief, spectacular look into the rear-view mirror of our lives and connect with ourselves yet again. This time with eyes more forgiving and content than we ever dreamed possible.

This week we’re on the West Coast, visiting our daughter and her husband. Being with them reminds me again that life is short and precious. I pray for you and for all of us the courage to stop and look back from time to time.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 December 2018

A Birthday Gift to Myself

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I turned 75. No fanfare. Just a quiet day at home enjoying my retirement family: D, Smudge and Marie. Plus telephone conversations with our two children. And a walk outside with D in cold, windy weather.

At this age there aren’t many things I want for myself. Nonetheless, during a conversation with a friend earlier this week I identified something I’ve wanted all my life.

When I was 15 years old Mrs. Hanks, my piano teacher from when I was 9, asked about my plans after high school graduation.

‘I’m thinking about going to Bible college.’

‘Have you ever thought about going to a music conservatory and majoring in piano?’

Fear gripped my heart. I would love to do this! Yet I had no confidence in myself beyond what I’d already done, and no vision for what this might mean for me.

Mrs. Hanks said she had a friend teaching in the best music program in the state of Georgia. In fact, she’d already spoken with her, and this woman would be delighted to meet me and talk with me about scholarship possibilities.

When I told my parents about this, my father said he thought I would be better ready for life if I enrolled in a Bible college in South Carolina. Some of my friends had already studied there, and he was certain I would get a good education there.

I felt torn between fear and excitement about the unknown, and my desperate need not to fail. I also knew I would make it at the Bible college. So I chose the Bible college.

Many times I’ve looked back at that decision and wondered what might have been. Music has always been where my heart feels most at home.

Thankfully, beginning with the Bible college, music has always been part of my life. Sometimes for pay; sometimes as a volunteer. Even when I was a professor and dean at the seminary, music informed everything I did. It made its way into my thought processes, the way I said or wrote things, my imagination about this world, and about this huge universe presided over by the Greatest Musician of All.

Now I’m 75. My fingers and reflexes aren’t what they used to be. Even so, I long to recover some of the freedom I used to have at the keyboard.

Even more important, my mother wanted me to become a musician. Not a famous musician, but the musician she already heard in me at age 5 when she began teaching me to play the piano.

So a few days ago I contacted a musician friend and asked her to recommend a piano coach for me. Someone who can help me, at this age, to regain some of what the years have taken. My happy birthday gift to myself. And maybe for my mother.

Right now I’m a 75-year old kid who can’t wait to open a present I’ve wanted for too many years!

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 November 2018
Photo found at birthdaycakeformom.com

Shame on you – a poem and confession

Shame on you
Is not shame on me

I renounce your efforts
To fill my heart with
Your lust and shame
Bequeathed to you
By your father-preacher
When you were a sobbing
Child terrified lest you wake
Up one day in that fiery hell
You too once preached to
Children who believed the lie
That they entered this world
Sinners from the beginning
Now terrified of missing
That mercy for which you
Wept loudly and often
In the confines of your own
Terrified heart and soul

Wave your arms in the air
Send out your calls for sinners
To sob their way forward
Down the aisle filled
With shame and self-hatred
Believing a story that never
Belonged to them no matter
How many times they
Rushed down the aisle
Of your own deep shame

Somewhere along the way I lost the shame I carried from childhood. Shame that bound me as an adult, not just as a child.

Here’s how I see it now. Yes, there is right and there is wrong. No, God doesn’t create junk. Nor did God make sure I came with a bit of built-in sin for which I’m supposed to feel deep shame.

The shame came later. From others who introduced me to their shame long before I knew what was happening.

As a child, preachers and evangelists routinely reminded me that my heart was filled with sin from the day I was born. I watched other children repeatedly rushing down the aisle terrified lest they be thrown into a lake of fire when they died. I managed to raise my hand once, which felt like more than enough. After all, I got it at home, too.

At some point I had to take ownership of the woman I’d become. Still, scaring me and punishing me into repeated agonies of confession never helped me take ownership of myself. It simply kept me in a constant state of fear, shame and hyper-vigilance.

Ironically, these are the very things my Creator invites me to let go. Not because I’m a goody two-shoes, but because I’m loved just the way I am.

For that, I’m deeply grateful on this day of Sabbath rest.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 October 2018

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