Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

dawn

a mirage shimmers
beckoning from eastern skies
through misty shadows
clouds of soft fleeting colors
float on water’s silent breath

Thanks to Tarryl Gabel for this evocative painting. It captures how I’m feeling today, even though rain is pouring down outside, and wind gusts are rolling in.

I’ve been feeling disoriented for several weeks. Also relatively helpless since I got the call on Christmas day about my youngest sister’s health emergency. I’ve already written about some of my internal struggles.

Today I’m moving on–doing what I can to stay connected with my sister in healthy ways, without leaving myself behind. Especially when it comes to writing and taking care of my own daily needs.

The painting above caught my eye this morning. It’s a lovely capture on canvas of how I’m feeling right now–enticed by possibilities for my life today and in the future, whatever is left for me.

Thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 January 2020
Dawn of a New Day, by Tarryl Gabel, found at artworkarchive.com  

Habits of firstborns die hard

What is this burden
I can’t seem to lay down
Yet know I can’t carry
On these weary shoulders

Unknowns and what ifs
Flood my mind
Plus the nagging weight
Of being the eldest

A shadow cloud follows me
Day and night in one door
And out another
Searching for solace

And understanding
Not my thing you see
Especially now that
I’m older and should know

By heart how to carry
The weight of the world
Without a care or fleeting
Thought of rest or peace

Habits of firstborns die hard
Eternally peering back
Making sure we’re all here
Even when we are not

I don’t know if what I just wrote is true of all firstborns with siblings. I know it’s true of me.

I look back through old photos and see a sober, sometimes somber young woman with the face of a responsible first daughter. The lovely photo above, taken by my father in the 1950s is an exception to the rule. Nonetheless, being the responsible first daughter felt normal back then. Not quite, but almost my destiny.

My youngest sister is making slow, steady progress on her rehab issues. As for me, I’m getting plenty of practice being and feeling relatively helpless to be physically present with her. Which leaves open the possibility of learning, at this difficult time in her life, to be her creative cheerleader and long-distance friend. Right?

Thanks for your visit today, and Happy Wednesday to each of you!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2020
Photo of Sister #1 and me taken by JERenich on Easter Sunday, mid 1950s, Savannah, Georgia

What we have lost

The Big Girl in me
Got lost somewhere
Hiding in a closet
Ruminating on her
Most recently acquired
Impotence

How do we
Make our mark
On life that wants
To run ahead of us
Eager to get home and
Resume things as though
Nothing happened at all
Or if it did it wasn’t
That bad was it?

A thousand voices
Scramble my weary brain
Already cluttered with
What cannot be known while
What ifs accumulate —
Fake time and fake money
Thrown after dreams
Of what may never be

The clock moves in one direction
Steadily relentlessly counting down
To the last moment of last breath
And the sudden shock of what
We will have lost
All of us

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 January 2020
Image found at rubylane.com
Hand-painted Wood Face of 1810-20 Pennsylvania Grandfather Clock

Survivor guilt and the business at hand

Back row: Mother, Grandpa Gury (her father), Elouise, and Sister #2
Front row: Diane and Sister #4

As of today, three kinds of survivor guilt have invaded my life.

  1. The guilt of living longer than Diane, Sister #3. She died of ALS in 2006.
  2. The guilt of wishing my father had died before my mother. She died in 1999, 78 years old.
  3. The guilt of wishing my father had died instead of Sister #4’s husband. He died in 2008; my father died in 2010.

And then there are nagging realities from my past.

  1. In 1960, I got a job right out of high school. It paid more than my father was making at a weekday job. My mother told me not to talk about the size of my weekly paycheck. Then my father lost his weekday job and I felt awkward talking about what happened at work today.
  2. When I left home for college (1960, age 16), my younger sisters had to face the music at home without me. Sometimes that was for the better. But not always. They became more vulnerable to our father’s oversight and disciplinary methods. This weighed heavily on me, especially with regard to our youngest sister.
  3. My educational and workplace opportunities gave me an advantage when I was looking for a teaching position, right out of university.

I can’t change any of this. Yet each item above has surfaced more than once in light of my youngest sister’s current health crisis. It began on Christmas Eve.

So what’s going on? I know it’s important because I’ve become self-conscious about my current situation. Yes, I have health challenges. Sometimes I don’t manage them well. Still, they aren’t as difficult to navigate as challenges Diane or Sister #4 experienced.

Am I overthinking this? Part of me wants to believe I am, even though that would be nonsense.

Today I want to know how to be present and fully focused on the business on hand. Not on what might have been, or ten reasons I should have had something awful happen to me years ago. As though that might spare any of my sisters or my mother the horror of sudden interventions that leave all of us gasping for air.

Thanks again for listening. As of today, I’m happy to report that Sister #4 is in a rehab facility, beginning a long  journey.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2020
Family Photo taken by JERenich in Savannah, 1959

Still ringing in my ears

Still ringing in my ears
The sometimes happy voices
of sisters playing make-believe
Shrieking across the spacious lawn
Beside the river flowing gently
toward a big turn just ahead and
to the right around the corner

Last night I wept for the past
Having lived my life thinking
Somehow we could redeem it
Until we couldn’t not for want
Of trying but for turns in rivers
That ended just around corners
Now hidden from our eyes

The next generation is upon us
Their childhood and teenage voices
Still ringing in our ears
The happy the sad the distressed
The elated and the dreamers
Small pieces of us already interwoven
Riding the current to the next corner

I like intense. Then again, sometimes I’ve had my fill, even though I can’t stop the flowing river. The last several weeks have been intense. Right now I’m focused on taking care of my daily needs, and listening to myself early in the morning. What can I do today to stay in touch with myself and with some of my family members?

My older generation is moving on. How do I support generations coming after me? I’m not looking for great big creative things. I want to practice little things that matter. The kinds of things that helped me when I was still an introverted dreamer. On second thought, I’m still an introverted dreamer! And proud of it.

Thanks to D for this photo, taken in Summer 2010 following the memorial service for my father. This is the front yard bordering the river as it looked in 2010. My family lived here, in a rural community near Savannah, Georgia, in the 1950s.

Thanks for visiting and reading,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser, Summer 2010

What’s happening in my life

Dear Friends,

The last two weeks have been a roller-coaster ride, mostly downhill and out of control. My youngest sister has been and still is in the hospital after a Christmas Eve health emergency. Her future situation is unsettled, and her adult son is looking into multiple scenarios and choices. It all feels topsy-turvy. Like being shaken, not knowing where Sister #4 will land, or how it will change the landscape of our relationships with her.

The photo at the top shows our mother on the left, and the four of us. From left to right: Sister #2, #3 (Diane), #1 (me), and #4, now in the hospital. The photo of the four of us was taken in the late 1990s. This was Diane’s last trip to Savannah before ALS made travel like this impossible. Mom died in 1999, Diane in 2006.

I’m exceedingly grateful today for each of my sisters and for the relationships we developed with each other as adults. I grew up starving for sisterly conversation. Not because I chose starvation, but because it was the only way to survive the strictly enforced Good Girl Rules of our family.

In the midst of all this I received a congratulations message from WordPress. I passed my 6th Year anniversary! When I started out, I was terrified. What would I say and how would I say it? I still ask myself that question almost every day. Yet it doesn’t feel as terrifying as it did back then.

If anyone asked me today what I’ve learned so far as a blogger, it’s this. I’ve learned to trust myself and my readers. Putting pieces of my life out there was, and sometimes still is difficult. Yet I don’t know any other way to keep healing and finding my way from here to there, wherever these places might be.

I’m still getting back to regular posting, and some semblance of resolution about the current family emergency. Thanks for your faithful visits and prayers.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 January 2020
Photo of Sisters taken in Savannah, Georgia, in the late 1990s.

Monday morning questions

This past week I had a serendipitous moment while shopping for groceries. No kidding!

In the produce department a gentleman stopped me and asked if I was a past president of the seminary where I taught and was dean. I laughed and said no way! I’d been professor and dean, but never president. Nor did I ever aspire to that office.

He laughed with me, and said he’d heard me speak at the seminary. He even remembered what I talked about. I was astonished. He wasn’t one of our students. Today he’s a pastor in this area, and is African American.

In the early 1990s the seminary was challenged by the Rodney King event. Because I was being promoted with tenure, I’d been asked to give the opening academic year address. My title and  text were from Psalm 23, “In the Presence of My Enemies.”  What did we need to do to begin coming to terms with our overt, covert and unrecognized racism?

The bottom line was simple. According to Psalm 23, we’re invited to a table prepared by God. There’s only one hitch. This table is prepared “in the presence of my enemies.” Not God’s enemies, but mine–whether real or perceived. Furthermore, there’s no clear reason to think my real and perceived enemies aren’t included at this table.

So now that we’re sitting at this table prepared for us (the seminary), who’s going to speak first? Who’s willing to break the silence so we can begin getting to know and perhaps better understand and support each other?

This morning I’m thinking about what’s happening all over this world, especially right here in my small territory. I believe God has prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies–whether real or perceived.

So who’s willing to go first? Am I? How important is it to me? Otherwise, why am I taking up space at the table?

Events of today and last week make this a not so happy Monday. Yet the presence of our Creator in the territory means there’s more going on than meets the eye. Am I, are we, up to the challenge of daring to speak first? Not to talk about others, but to listen to each other and to ourselves. After all, it’s our Creator’s territory, not ‘mine’ or ‘yours.’

Happy Monday, despite the news and noise of the hour!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Disorder claims the winning hand

With breathless speed life takes us away
And back again to this grieving space
Where time stands still but not quite
Unfolding our own demise and deaths
One wrenching sorrow after another
Seen through the mirror of our likenesses

I thought being oldest was dangerous
When it came to death and dying
Surely I would go first followed in orderly
Succession of eldest to youngest with
Time to laugh and cry and grieve together
Built into the inevitable equation of aging

Yet disorder claims the winning hand
Changing landscapes forever through death
Or in life made more challenging through
Unforeseen clashing of genes and unexpected
Gifts of generations and the heaviness of being
Afflicted with maladies we never expected to visit

On Christmas Eve my youngest sister had a health emergency that will likely change her life, not for the better. I feel as helpless now as I did when Diane (#3) called in the late 1990s to tell us she had ALS.

As a writer, I’ve asked myself this question over and over: What is mine (and not mine) to write about?

I came up with several beginning ideas, including the theme of the poem above. That is, how strange it is to be the oldest, watching any of my younger sisters going through life-threatening health crises. In this case, Diane, who died of ALS in 2006, and now Sister #4 facing unexpected health challenges.

Thanks for visiting today. I’m slowly getting back to blogging regularly. Blessings to each of you and your families with whatever you’re facing today. Especially if it’s something about which you can do nothing but be present, supportive, and aware of what’s going on inside you.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2020
Family photo taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

The Work of Christmas | Howard Thurman

This post from 23 December 2017 has had over 1000 visits, most of them this month. It’s as true today as it was back then–perhaps even more so, given the state of our current disunion. I hope you find Howard Thurman’s poem encouraging and challenging. 

This week I received a lovely Christmas note with a poem by Howard Thurman on the front. Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981), was a key figure in the life of the USA during the 20th century. Thurman was an author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was also an early leader and mentor in the nonviolence movement that shaped and included Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is Thurman’s poem, followed by a few comments.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman, from The Mood of Christmas, p. 23
Published and copyrighted by Friends United Press, 1985

The work of Christmas isn’t about enjoying or returning gifts we received, feeling good about giving money to charities, getting on with the thankless work of putting away the decorations until next year, or writing thank you notes. In fact, it isn’t even about telling everyone the story of Christmas.

Rather, it’s about embodying it. Being and becoming the good news announced with the birth of Jesus Christ.

  • We, the lost now found, are to find other lost women, men and children. We the broken, the hungry, the prisoners, the residents of war-torn nations, the restless, the aggrieved, the disappeared—we are to pass along what we have received. A reason to hope, and a measure of peace in the midst of strife.

This isn’t about hoarding things for ourselves. It’s about making haste to share peace and hope that passes all understanding. Not with stingy hearts, but extravagantly. Making music in our hearts that spills over into our relationships and communities. Not always happy music, but music that tells the truth, especially when the truth isn’t pretty.

I’m praying I’ll find renewed peace and hope for myself, along with you, and new ways to do the work of Christmas in this coming year.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 December 2017, reposted 24 December 2019
Image found at examiner.com.au

This house of cards

Nothing
Keeps me awake
Nothing

Every cell in my body
Wants to shut down
Pull up the covers
Abdicate responsibility
For this day

Gray clouds and
Lazy drizzle
Mask consequences
Long repressed
Between layers
Of paper-thin sheets
Crammed into closets
Rotting into
Nothingness
Moldy leftovers
Of a thousand
Ill-conceived plans
Now haunting
This house
Of cards

We live in a nation besotted with lethargy. Except, perhaps, when we’re enraged or enthralled. Or speaking with people with whom we already agree. Everything else is too difficult. Too complex.

Complexity is not one of our favorite things. Becoming fully informed seems a dying art. Withholding quick agreement is cause for suspicion. We like to be liked. Now. And we love to be catered to in word, if not in deed.

When did code words or hearsay repeated over and over become tests of truth? Or shows of outrage? Or the level of venom and loathing on Twitter?

Then again, what about lethargic retreats into silence because somewhere along the way, someone convinced me that Silence is the Best (Safest) Policy? How willing am I to let go of my desire for security and survival? It seems the longer I wait, the higher the stakes become.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 December 2019
Photo found at medium.com

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