Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: National History

There is a pain — so utter —

Emily Dickinson suggests there’s a pain that’s better left lying, almost forgotten. Else it would destroy the victim, one painful piece at a time. My comments follow her poem.

There is a pain – so utter –
It swallows substance up –
Then covers the Abyss with Trance –
So Memory can step
Around – across – upon it –
As one within a Swoon –
Goes safely – where an open eye –
Would drop Him – Bone by Bone.

c. 1862

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

Emily suggests that in spite of extreme pain, we get by thanks to Trance. Like a bandage, Trance covers the wound and the depth of our pain so that Memory can walk safely around or over it. Our eyes are spared the full extent of our pain.

Emily likely has her own pain in mind. In fact, this poem raises again the possibility that someone victimized her when she was a young woman. If so, perhaps her poem is one way of dealing with the horror of seeing (feeling, remembering, reliving) what happened to her. Bone by Bone. One terrifying moment after another. The slow-motion dismemberment of a human spirit, a human being.

Yet this pain is also generic. Not simply something that happened to Emily, but what happens to each of us and all of us. Individually and together. In a thousand permutations.

Perhaps we’re in a Swoon, awake just enough to navigate each day without being brought down by our pain, living in Trance mode. Semi-reality. Semi-truth. Which amounts to untruth, and thus unreality.

I think of the USA and our preference for letting pain lie deep underground while we make our way across and around it. As though it never happened or weren’t that important. Slavery has caused unrecorded, unheard pain to millions. Yet here we are in African American History Month, still unable as a nation, beginning with our leaders, to face this history face-on, with eyes wide open.

We find ways to get by without acknowledging the depth and horror of this and other examples of our national pain. Yet it’s right beneath our feet. Beneath the surface history of our current state of disunion. It seems we’re living in a national epidemic of Trance. We get  by, or so we think, without acknowledging the depth and horror of our pain.

Emily seems to have personal pain in mind. Yet personal pain feeds on and adds to our collective pain. As a nation we like to think we’ve come a long way, and are now beyond the worst. Nonetheless, I see us living the sad and sorry outcomes of unexamined pain lying just beneath the surface of Trance.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 February 2018
Image found at

Racial History and Denial

It began with conversation on a call-in National Public Radio show, “Indivisible Radio.” The topic was racism and protest. The conversation explored public protests. Why protest? Does it matter? Aren’t there so many protests now that it’s just a fad, if not a huge cacophony of meaningless sound?

One caller, a younger African American, described his personal commitment to ongoing protest. It was his way of life. His occupation. Though he didn’t give his age, he was part of the younger generation of black men whose lives are in danger every day.

The topic turned to the effectiveness of these protests. When you protest, what are you trying to accomplish? Do you think you can bring about change in the system or in the people on the other side of the protest?

He thought for a few seconds and then responded. “I don’t know if I can change them. I don’t want them to change me!”

He further explained that protest is his way of holding a moral position on behalf of change—for the longterm. If he became ‘one of them,’ they would win, and the long-term prospects for change would diminish. For the next generations, not for himself.

There’s much truth in this man’s wisdom. In my observation, most protests are attempts to change or control someone or something. Or they’re expressions of fear.

So what does this have to do with symptoms, much less racial history and denial?

Clearly, the proliferation of protest in the USA is a symptom of something. Or of many ‘somethings.’ For me, given the current state of our disunion in the USA, I believe it’s at least a symptom of denial.

We aren’t just in denial about what’s happening to our country, neighborhoods and presidency today. We’re in denial of our history as a nation.

History comes home to roost, especially when denied. Of many strands in our national history, I believe denial of our racial history is biting us, hobbling us in ways we don’t understand, putting it in our faces, doing whatever it can to get our attention. Individually and collectively.

We ignore it to our peril. This symptom isn’t going away. It cannot be dealt with quietly or in secret.

So I’ll be posting my thoughts on this from time to time, whether the WordPress Daily Prompt gives me a way in or not!

Thanks for listening and thinking about this with me. Especially if you care about our future as a nation among nations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 March 2017
Cartoon found at
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Symptom

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