Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

Mary Oliver | Three Poems for 2023

How are we doing today? Not just as individuals, but as citizens in a world screaming with pain. Mary Oliver’s three short poems below, one after another, ask us to turn our attention inward. Whether we like it or not, we’re in this together. My brief comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground, ashamed, ashamed?

~~~

The Poet Compares Human Nature
To The Ocean From Which We Came

The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth,
it can lie down like silk breathing
or toss havoc shoreward; it can give

gifts or withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth
like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can
sweet-talk entirely. As I can too,

and so, no doubt, can you, and you.

~~~

On Traveling To Beautiful Places 

Every day I’m still looking for God
and I’m still finding him everywhere,
in the dust, in the flowerbeds.
Certainly in the oceans,
in the islands that lay in the distance
continents of ice, countries of sand
each with its own set of creatures
and God, by whatever name.
How perfect to be aboard a ship with
maybe a hundred years still in my pocket.
But it’s late, for all of us,
and in truth the only ship there is
is the ship we are all on
burning the world as we go.

~~~

Published by Penguin Books in A Thousand Mornings/Mary Oliver, pp. 65-69
Copyright © 2012 by NW Orchard LL.C

I love poems about beauty and truth. I’m not sure, however, how to mix beauty and truth when we seem to be falling apart. Ignoring what can’t be ignored. Making ‘exceptions’ for those who seem to hold the most power of any kind.

Mary Oliver invites and even dares us to see the world as it is. Not the world as we wish it were, or the world we think we can ignore. She also invites us to repent. To turn around. To see and live whatever truth we can with at least one other person. One day, one problem, one fleeting moment at a time, regardless of what others may think about us.

Praying we’ll find renewed life with each other in the coming year, regardless of our country, religion, politics, gender, or age. And . . . I wish each of you a truly happy new year in which you find courage you never thought possible.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2022
Photo found at phys.org/news/2022-23

winter then and now

Looking back just 1 1/2 years ago, I never would have guessed I would be so housebound, or that this would become my new normal.

Days dwindle down quickly, especially in winter. First light turns into fading light. The list of things I can reasonably accomplish grows shorter by the day. However, the amount of time I think I need to get through each day grows larger. For example: food prep and cooking, exercises, walking, doing my laundry, and endless weeding out of papers and other items I no longer need.

Still, I’m more as ease with my aging body than I was just one month ago. Today it’s way too cold to walk with D in the afternoon. Besides, there’s no way I can keep up with him. Our attic (remember the renovations?) has been my home away from home on most days. It’s quiet, with windows at each end, and plenty of space to get moving, or go through my exercises.

I cry more than I did a year ago. I’ve always been a weeper. However, it hasn’t been easy to weep at will when I feel pain or am discouraged. Yet if I don’t, it won’t help me accept present realities. In addition, though I’m content to post only as I’m able, I’m not thrilled with the constraints I now have.

Here’s an early haiku and poem about ‘frozen grief’. It seems I’m still learning to deal with this. Not just grief from my childhood, but the grief I’ve experienced at the hands, mouths and attitudes of people who wanted to change or take advantage of me.

winter sun
6 February 2014

winter sun pierces
my paralyzed heart waking
frozen grief at will

***

Buried deep, forgotten
Denied, minimized, ignored
Silenced, unexamined

Held at bay
‘It wasn’t that bad’
‘Others had it worse’

Ashamed of my own story
Just another privileged woman
Who doesn’t get it

Afraid to shine a light
On darkness that seems
To have overpowered me

You mean you’re this old and
You still haven’t gotten over it
Beyond it, done already?

Normal
We want normal
How much longer will this take?

Winter sun does its work
In the fullness of God’s time
Not one moment sooner


Thanks for stopping by today. Or tomorrow…
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 December 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com
Attic photos taken by DFraser and me in 2018

What I’m FOR today

Here’s my short-version report about my health and wellbeing. I am alive; I am reasonably happy most days; I am unreasonably crabby at night when I can’t sleep so well; I have several unresolved health issues upon which I will not dwell at this time. I am, however, Alive! And coming up on my 79th birthday.

I first posted this piece in August 2018. Just looking at this photo, reminiscent of my childhood home in Georgia, makes me happy, though not equally happy for every day of my life. I pray this finds you reasonably at peace with yourself.

~~~

There’s so much going wrong today that I decided to make a roll call of what I’m FOR on this remarkable day. Remarkable because I lived to witness it! Including, in my past, the Vernon River, and dock-life when I was growing up. Plus at least the following other items for which I’m grateful:

  • this beautiful world in places increasingly touched by human tragedy
  • family members more distant in miles than ever, yet close to my heart
  • churches standing up to tough challenges without capitulating to visions of grandeur, glory or isolation
  • real places that offered me refuge and peace when I needed solitude and reassurance that my life matters
  • our son who lives reasonably nearby, and reminds me why I risked everything with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday
  • our daughter who lives on the other side of the USA yet is present to me in ways I was never present to my mother
  • the Carolina Wren, Chickadees and Cardinals singing and chirping, plus the small ground squirrel who sits on our back yard wall surveying his spacious kingdom
  • courageous women, men and children who speak out and work for a better world for all of us
  • my neighbors: Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Protestant, or Nothing at All who greet me, invite me into conversation, groan and smile with me, and sometimes offer me tea
  • my dear husband whom I sometimes thought might be the wrong man for me, yet has become precious beyond words
  • my local church with its challenging mix of cultures, ethnicity, political persuasions, youth and decrepitude
  • days of such unexpected delight that I don’t want them to end, yet can let go because I love my water-bed and the partner swimming in it with me
  • my body and the way it’s leading me deeper into and out of myself in these early days of autumn

And of course, I’m for you, my wonderful readers–an invisible family loosely held together somewhere out there beyond our control.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2018; lightly edited and reposted 15 November 2022
Photo found at pinterest.com

Defending My Space

For the last several weeks I’ve been dealing with more health issues, which I’ll report on later. I’ve also been re-reading my book, Confessions of a Beginning TheologianThe excerpt below gives a peek into life with my father, an ordained clergyman. It also describes my inner struggle to maintain my identity as a young white girl in a preacher’s family.

The memory may seem to be about parental authority. In reality, it’s about what it took daily for me to live (and die) due to my father’s overbearing commands, passed on to him by his rage-aholic clergy father.

We’re in a mess these days, dealing with layers of abuse, anger, and self-righteousness passed from one generation to another. Tomorrow is an official voting day. What will become of us? Do we have the courage to step up and out of order? Not just in our frightened hearts or minds, but in the way we live our adult lives regardless of the cost.

~~~

I’m about eight years old. I’m sitting at the dinner table, just around the corner from my father. The table is set, the food is spread before us, and we’re all in our seats waiting to begin. We haven’t yet asked the blessing. I’m playing with my dinner fork, just to the left of my plate. I’ve moved it a few inches away from my plate.

My father’s voice interrupts me. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it to the right, in the direction of my plate. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

I move it slightly closer. My father’s voice remains firm and controlled. “Elouise, put the fork back where it belongs.”

By now my sisters are watching to see what will become of me. My mother is silent. This has become an event. Slowly I raise my hand to my fork and move it ever so slightly closer to my plate.

My father persists. So do I. Many repetitions later he’s satisfied; the fork has been returned to its proper place.

He proceeds with the blessing. He doesn’t know what I know: the fork is ever so slightly to the left of its proper place.

My father’s mission as a parent was to train us to keep the rules. My mission as his child was to break and keep the rules simultaneously.

Back then, perseverance meant getting through another day, using whatever survival skills lay close at hand.

If my father was persistent, I would be more persistent. If outward rebellions were too costly, I would invent creatively invisible yet superbly effective inward rebellions. If I was ordered to sit down and stop talking, I could continue standing and talking on the inside for as long as it took to comfort myself.

Indeed, this was the better way. In the private spaces of my mind no one could put me down, refuse to listen to me or try to break my will. In a family system intent on turning out obedient daughters, I survived by being secretly disobedient.

This memory from the 1950s, published nearly 20 years ago, is as vivid today as it was then.

The territory I defended was interior. I applaud the little girl who figured out how to do this. Nonetheless, my efforts were costly. They required constant vigilance, no matter where I was.

Abuse of power destroys safe space. It expects and demands behaviors, words, looks on faces, subtle and open signs of unquestioning and subservient submission.

What does it take to create and maintain safe space? Not just in our marriages and families, but in neighborhoods, nations, churches and schools? And how does my personal history connect with the racial history of the USA?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 March 2017, reposted 7 November 2022
Photo of 1938 family dinner found at bbc.com
Story excerpted from my book, Confessions of a Beginning Theologian (InterVarsity Press 1998)

The Arrowhead | Mary Oliver

My home is full of relics. Bits and pieces I’ve gathered over the years. Memories, yes. But is it more? Mary Oliver invites me to think about this. My comments follow.

The Arrowhead

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you still steal,
than lie as you still lie.”

Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early, 2004, p. 185
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books, 2020

Was this a waking dream? The last four lines of the poem gave me a jolt. The unexpected jolt I always have when Mary Oliver’s lovely poetic words suddenly rip the cover from our complacency. The topic of this poem is stealing. It seems our nation might be addicted to stealing.

However, this is about more than our nation.

It’s tempting to think of Mary Oliver as a nature lover who sees beauty in everything. But truth be told, many of her lovely poems are salted with barbed wire. Her words dare us (and herself) to ignore what’s right in front of us.

These are hard times. Some might say we’re headed toward doomsday. However, this poem isn’t about doomsday. It’s about what many, if not all of us, do daily and without forethought.

Could it be that we’ve forgotten what our own special versions of stealing and lying look like? Especially when it involves highly prized possessions or status.

I recall occasions when my words or ideas were stolen and passed off as someone else’s. Of course, there were also times when my words or ideas were scoffed at. However, most painful was hearing someone else use my words or ideas and pass them off as their own inventions.

The older I get, the more I recognize my desire to ‘discover’ or pretend to own what doesn’t belong to me. Words, ideas, and even arrowheads that catch my eye.

Will we ever learn to live with integrity? As citizens, and as a nation? Or have we so muddied the waters that we don’t know where to begin telling the truth. Not just about ourselves, but about our nation.

Praying for honesty, integrity, patience, and determination to honor truth. Especially when it costs.

Thanks for stopping by today,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 September 2022
Photo found at rockseeker.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

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

We never know how high we are

Here’s a message for me. Perhaps for you, too? I never dreamed my most daunting challenges would come near the late end of my life. Thanks for stopping by today. Especially given the mess we seem to have gotten ourselves in.

~~~

Dear Emily,
I have one small suggestion to make about your poem below. Please add ‘or queen’ to your last line. Just in case that’s not possible, I’m going to do it for you every time I read it. You’ll find my comments below your lovely poem.
Respectfully,
Elouise

We never know how high we are

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king –

Poem #1176, written about 1870
Found on Poets.org

Dear Friend of this World,
I’m sending you this little poem today from Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never heard of her. I think she was a bit shy and bashful. You know, like many of us who don’t want to become a public ‘thing,’ even though we do enjoy being noticed and appreciated.

I think that deep down, Emily wanted us to know about her little poem. Or at least to notice it. So please read it over, and over again. Once is good, five times is better.

Do you know how important your words and deeds are? Perhaps you’re tempted to water them down by over-thinking. Or you get stuck in fear. Especially fear of failure, or fear of going against expectations–your own or those of others. I do.

Sometimes I wonder whether Emily understood her own queenly power.

If you have any doubt about yourself, look and listen to what you already do every day. Just getting up in the morning is a big deal. Or smiling and offering to help a friend or stranger. Or doing what you know will honor your body and spirit or someone else’s.

The way I see it, God gave us ourselves, each other, and this world with its unnumbered inhabitants as our earthly home. We’re the only caretakers God has on this earth. We’re a big deal, individually and together.

In fact, God loves nothing more than watching us step up to our full kingly and queenly stature. Especially despite our worst fears, and without expectation of payment, reward or even a ‘thank you.’ Sometimes it takes an emergency to jumpstart our royal blood. But we don’t want to wait for that, do we?

Thank you most kindly for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2017, reposted 26 August 2022
Image found at pinterest.com

The Morning Paper | Mary Oliver

Here’s another timely challenge from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver, in A Thousand Mornings, p. 63
 2012 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books

Dear Mary,
Your simple, straightforward words capture the horror and shame of life in these ‘enlightened’ times. If I could find a way of picturing this madness, I would.

But there is no picture to be had, apart from news items that focus on gasp-worthy news, too often distorted or misleading. Plus there’s the ongoing horror of death-by-murder rising. Not “over there” in some far-off country or galaxy, but right under our noses. Not just today or yesterday, but the grand total ever since we began waging war against each other and this planet we call home.

How can we live with integrity without putting our heads in the sand? Or without pretending this will all disappear, or that we will figure out how to save this planet from self-destruction. In the meantime, today’s struggles seem more than enough to keep us preoccupied with our own small worlds.

Your closing lines are a painful challenge.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Perhaps beginning at home would be a start. One person at a time. No heads in the sand, but with eyes and ears wide open, and hearts ready for changes that touch and support real life in real time.

With admiration and gratitude,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

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