Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

My unquiet mind

Last night’s fierce rainstorm
lingers in air clothed in fluffy clouds,
bright blue skies and hungry birds

Chill air seeps through cracks
In this old house still breathing
deeply in lockdown mode

My mind flies unbidden to
a youthful storm about what
mattered yet didn’t end well

Despite the lingering chill
my skin burns with heat and
anguish about changes in plans

Tired old ganged-upon feelings
stir within my memory
before spilling over into today

Yet again my blood boils
with anger and shame
eager to take me down a notch

When I grew up, I didn’t have the option of being too angry, sad, happy, or loud. Worse, my father got to decide when I was too anything. His clear intention was to break my will and keep me in line. Not just because he was my father, but because God told him not to spare the rod.

Several days ago I posted “Farewell, Savannah.” I meant it then and still mean it today. Nonetheless, I’m challenged to let go of the worst injustices of my growing-up years. Especially during the years I lived in Savannah, prior to my marriage.

In the later 1940s and the 1950s, proactive services and opportunities for women and young girls weren’t at the top of our national agenda. Nor are they today.

I applaud President Biden’s determination to make this a top priority. Not as a symbolic act for women at the so-called top of the ladder, but for women and girls everywhere. In families, churches, schools, sports, medical offices, hospitals, workplaces, politics, the military and much more.

The shame and anger I feel isn’t only about what happened to me back then. It’s also about what’s happening right now to women and young girls in the USA. Surely we can do better than this.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 May 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

Chasing Spring at Longwood | Photos

This morning I woke up wishing I were in Longwood Gardens. So here’s a quick tour of my first visit to the Gardens nearly one year after breaking my jaw in April 2016. Our daughter and her husband were visiting from Portland, Oregon. 

Two days ago we took a chance on the weather. D and I, our daughter and her husband piled into the car and drove to Longwood Gardens. My first visit since April 2016. The forecast promised breaks of sun during the day, and temperatures above 60 degrees F. Here are choice photos from our great adventure. Enjoy!

The garrulous catbird in the top photo greeted us in the parking lot.
Never missed a beat.

Here’s a first glimpse of Spring 2017 at Longwood Gardens,
just outside the visitor’s center.

These giant copper beech are across the field,
a first gorgeous sight as we leave the visitor’s center.
Note tiny people on the left side of the tree walk.

Heading toward the flower walk, we’re walking into
the small desert garden of sun-lovers.
No trees overhead.

Turning right, we start down the ‘cool’ color end of the flower walk.
Imagine masses of flowers that look like a living
patch-work quilt that changes each season and every year.

Just to the right of the center fountain in the flower walk
is a beautiful sunken garden
with a serpent fountain overlooking a water pot.
Imagine the sound of water almost everywhere in the gardens.

Now we move into ‘warm’ colors, followed at the end
by a patch of cool green foliage and flowering whites.


Finally, gorgeous blooming wisteria in a shady space
just downhill, beside the flower walk.


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 May 2017, reposted 5 May 2021

Photo credit: DAFraser
Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, Philadelphia

Loneliness | Mary Oliver

I still tear up when I read this lovely, perceptive poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

Loneliness

I too have known loneliness.
I too have known what it is to feel
misunderstood,
rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful.
Oh, mother earth,
your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.
Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.
Oh, motions of tenderness!

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Blue Horses (2014)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 23

When we’re born we have one chance. One chance to hit the jackpot of perfect parents, perfect siblings, perfect grandparents and all the other stuff that comes with perfection.

Yes, it includes gender, color of skin, color of hair, cuteness or ugliness, fat or skinny. You name it, and someone somewhere has known loneliness over these or other unchosen marks of our supposed superiority or lack thereof.

I grew up feeling like a fat girl with three younger sisters who were invariably cuter and more exciting than I was. To be fair, the preferred family term that stuck with me wasn’t ‘fat.’ It was ‘pleasantly plump.’

Every dress my mother made for me was ‘adjusted’ to mask my pleasant plumpness. My thin, straight hair was subjected to permanents every three months, even though the perms disappeared down the bathroom sink within two or three weeks. I never seemed to smile enough, laugh enough, or have enough girlfriends or boyfriends.

Yet thanks to our living arrangements, mother earth was always right there waiting for me. Unlike my father, she never told me to suck in my stomach, stand up straight, or wipe that frown off my face. Never.

Nor did she say “I told you so” when I was one of the last girls chosen for athletic teams. She just kept showing up, giving me time and space to turn my loneliness into freedom and a life of my own.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for this heartwarming poem. I cried the first time I read it, and the second, and the third…. What a gift we have in rivers and roses. The handiwork of a Creator who understands us better than we understand ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 May 2021
Photo by Phil Banks, pixels.com

Farewell, Savannah

secrets of the Deep South
are etched in and on my body

scars and memories fester
even as they grow faint with age

what I love about Savannah
no longer makes up for what I loathe

steaming fear and flashbacks
to my growing up years sometimes boil

transporting me back to childhood trials
and the belief that I’m a misfit

not entitled to happiness or joy
or feelings of deep satisfaction

hence the necessity of these two words
I don’t want to say–

Farewell, Savannah

I’ve been pondering these two words for the past week. My youngest sister (#4) is selling the last house she and her deceased husband, and our deceased parents lived in.  It’s a small, cozy, beautiful little house. Full of memories and full of heartache.

I didn’t grow up in this house. I grew up in a large house that looked out on the Vernon River (above). I only know the house that’s now up for sale because I visited as often as possible after my parents moved in. It’s a lovely house in a small semi-rural community. A great place to visit. Neighborhood houses are built along and near marshy muddy banks and creeks near the end of the Vernon River.

It isn’t that the house holds memories (it does). It’s the reality of the Deep South and the way it both encouraged  and covered up abusive behavior in families like ours, in churches, in schools, and in work places.

Sometimes, when I’m discouraged or frightened, my mind, body and emotions revert to childhood fears and realities of my growing up years in the Deep South. Especially, but not only, my father’s treatment of me. I’m tempted to believe The Big Lie that says I’m Nobody. Or the other Big Lie that says Things Will Never Change.

It’s time to move on. Which is exactly what my youngest sister is doing. I celebrate her bravery and her sense of adventure as she moves from Savannah to be with her granddaughter and family far from the shores of the Vernon River.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2021
Photo of the Vernon River taken by DAFraser in 2010

The Gift | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem is for anyone who is, as she was then, aware of the clock ticking down. My comments follow.

The Gift

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Felicity (2015)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 14

When I read this poem, I tear up. Of all the things on my daily to-do lists, not once have I included “Love…as once you loved, deeply and without patience.”

From my perspective, slowing down means giving up some of my most loved habits and wants. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The puzzle of my life shrinks with each passing day. If I can’t do this, can I do that? If not, what other options do I have?

Mary’s poem jolts me out of resignation mode. Yes, my walk, “that was confident and quick, has become slow.” Just ask D when we go out for a walk in the neighborhood. Or observe me agonizing between doing this or that. It isn’t because I don’t want to do this or that. It’s because I still want it all (or most of it!), yet don’t have the energy I had just yesterday.

I imagine Mary looking at me and saying,

So what?! Even if you slow down, that doesn’t mean your heart’s ability to love “deeply and without patience” has slowed down. If anything, it’s stronger now than ever!

And yes, time is running out. Today, in my imagination, I’m a tiny wren. The kind that can’t stop letting everyone know what a beautiful life this is, and how grateful I am for our Creator, and for you. Especially in the midst of pandemic tragedy, uncertainty, and diminishing energy.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 April 2021
Photo of House Wren found at welcomewildlife.com

Just as I am

My unquiet mind
Spins out of control
Restless and uneasy

Unvoiced conversations
Saturate space yearning
For calm silence

When did it begin?
When will it end?

An old habit from childhood,
I explain myself to myself
As though minus these many words
I would not exist or be believed
Or convince myself or others
Of my worthiness

Like comfortable old clothes
I pull them close
Trying to assure myself
That I am worthy
Just as I am

The older I get, the more likely it is that ‘just as I am’ can’t possibly be good enough. Too much water down the river and over the dam. Too many roads not taken. Too many opportunities turned down because I was too busy, or afraid. And too many mistakes and unhappy chapters already written into my life.

I want to believe that the older I become, the less I need to prove my worth as a human being. I want to say without hesitation, “It doesn’t matter what you (or I) think about my life.”

I also want to accept the daily invitation to be who I am today in the eyes of my Creator. Not who I wish I were. And not who I might have been in the eyes of my father, my worst boss, or any other human being who has tried to make me into their image of me.

Surely the Judge of all the earth will do right. Not just by me, but by each of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 April 2021
Photo found at medium.com

For Horace O. Russell

National Bird of Jamaica – the ‘Doctor Bird’ found only in Jamaica

Grief arrived last night
on the other end of a phone call
from a dear friend

Grief not just for us and the family
but for the world our friend knew and loved
from the bottom of his generous heart

Colleague, Brother, Church Historian
Master of all things Jamaican
Wise and Eternally Optimistic

I hang up the phone
and weep for us and for this world
made better by your faithful presence

It’s impossible to capture in words the worldwide reach of our colleague’s life.

Horace O. Russell served the seminary as Dean of the Chapel, and Professor of Historical Theology. I worked with him as a teaching colleague and as an administrator. He was also the retired Senior Pastor of Saints Memorial Baptist Church in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Dr. Russell was Jamaican by birth, and world citizen by choice. He and his gifted British wife made their mark not just on the seminary, but on the church worldwide. Thankfully, his wife and another family member were with him when he left this world.

Today I’ve been thinking about Dr. Russell’s generous, optimistic support for me, and about the senior seminar we co-led more than once.

During these seminars, Dr. Russell sometimes shared case histories he’d written about his pastoral work in Jamaica. They sometimes made life in these United States seem a bit dull.

The actual outcome of each case wasn’t revealed until each student worked with it and shared what she or he would do next, and why. Never a dull moment, and always plenty of surprises at the end. His ability to enlarge our vision was one of his many gifts to the seminary.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dr. Russell carried a small camera at all times (so it seemed to me). Usually he didn’t wait for people to pose. Informal was the way to go. No matter what we looked like in the photos, he was generous with prints of these historical records. Here’s where we were on this date; this is what we were doing; and this is what we looked like.

Today I’ve been going through my collection of his photos, torn between gratitude and grief. Grateful to know his suffering has ended, and that he was not and is not now alone.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 April 2021
Photo of Jamaica’s national bird found at jamaicanconsulate.rs

What’s a senior citizen to do?

Wheels rush downhill
Splashing through
Early Spring water

My mind travels
Backward through time
Now gone forever

Last night our cat
Conquered and ate
Yet another mouse

All except his head
And tail and a few entrails
Yet to be identified

It’s downhill all the way
No chance to return
To the beginning

I thought I would fear
This end of life scenario
Hurtling toward me

And yet…

I’m caught between the joys and agonies of this life.
Right now the agonies seem to be outpacing the joys.
Even so, I want to live forever, joys and sorrows included.

So what’s a senior citizen to do?

Keep my head above water and my eyes wide open; support the next generations; and have my pen ready to capture truth in words I didn’t know were in me.

On balance, after removing D from the equation, blogging saved my life. It gave me a life I never dreamed I would have, and friends I never thought I would meet.

Thanks for stopping by. Your visits and comments give me hope for this tired old world. The same world for which Jesus of Nazareth lived and died.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 March 2021
Image found at steemit.com

The Fist | Mary Oliver

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for yet another challenging poem. I imagine you watching us, willing us to do better. My comments follow your poem.

The Fist

There are days
when the sun goes down
like a fist,
though of course

if you see anything
in the heavens
in this way
you had better get

your eyes checked
or, better still,
your diminished spirit.
The heavens

have no fist,
or wouldn’t they have been
shaking it
for a thousand years now,

and even
longer than that,
at the dull, brutish
ways of mankind—

heaven’s own
creation?
Instead: such patience!
Such willingness

to let us continue!
To hear,
little by little,
the voices—

only, so far, in
pockets of the world—
suggesting
the possibilities

of peace?
Keep looking.
Behold, how the fist opens
with invitation.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver, poem found on pp. 46-47 of Thirst,
Published by Beacon Press

Dear Mary Oliver,

I don’t know where to begin. Things are such a mess down here since you left. And still the sun goes down, often in blazes of glory that fade and then, right on time, return the next day.

Never resting, really. Just moving on to circle this war-weary earth every 24 hours so everyone knows we haven’t been left to our own devices, or shut down due to human failure.

As if it weren’t amazing enough to see the sun setting, songbirds join in the morning sunrise chorus. Especially in spring when their hormones seem to go wild with passion. Or at least the urge to procreate.

This morning I watched with disbelief as a fat red robin jumped into a pan of freezing cold water and splashed away before running off to pursue a female robin. Just two minutes later, a small gray junco did the same thing even though, as you know, they don’t procreate here in Pennsylvania. Are they crazy? Do they know something I don’t know, sitting behind my kitchen window, shivering?

There’s so much we don’t know right now. Why did this person got Covid and die while that person didn’t? Or why did my friend die who didn’t have Covid at all?

When I was growing up, they said most brutish behaviors were about lack of self-control. Today I’d say most of our crazy choices seem to be about fear. Not fear of Covid, but fear of having our “rights” taken away. I’m sorry to say we don’t seem to be softening as a nation, cleaning up our brutish ways, or finding our places in this strange world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all accept the sun’s invitation? I imagine us jumping into the cold water together to clean our tired bodies and revive our aching souls.

I hope you’re doing well today. And please, pray for us as you’re able.

Your admirer,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 March 2021
Sun setting over a city found at wallpaperaccess.com

 

 

Haunted by fear

Forcing my eyes away
From today’s headlines
I catch myself also avoiding
What’s already captured
In our history and multi-media

It begs me not to forget
And not to believe the lie
That by solving this one
Crime we will solve all
Crimes against humanity
Or prove ourselves more
Committed to human rights
Than other countries that
Never seem to get it right
In our self-righteous eyes

Daily distractions
Continue unabated
Headlines and reports
boldly steal attention
from what’s happening
in our back yards and streets
now haunted by fear
of unannounced annihilation

Is this our pro-USA reflex action kicking in? The one that doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth about our nation? Many news reports seem determined to focus on the perpetrator at the expense of victims. Especially when the so-called ‘lone’ perpetrator is a white male.

The most recent killing targeted mainly Asian women. Much news coverage went into various profiles of the perpetrator, though not the significance of his victims’ race and gender. I applaud news organizations that chose to investigate connections between our nation’s history, and our past and current treatment of Asian citizens and immigrants.

Another lone white male gunman? I don’t believe it. I see it in large part as the result of coddling white boys and men of all ages and ranks in life when they ‘misbehave.’ And then, adding insult to injury, refusing to pursue justice for their victims.

On top of that, there’s this. Many life-denying behaviors have deep roots in family histories and wartime experiences. We haven’t dealt adequately with this reality. It seems we prefer looking the other way because it’s easier than facing reality, and our own unintended collusion.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 March 2021
Photo found at democracynow.org

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