Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

Coded language

Coded language
Covers fear lurking
Within contours of life
Under scrutiny
And the ungodly weight
Of being right and
Righteously unrighteous

Does this not become us?
Or are we becoming
The deepest fears
Haunting our dreams

Look in the mirror
Listen to your precious life
It doesn’t last forever
Lay aside childhood fear
Of not fitting in

Sit down and then
Stand up and speak out
On behalf of strangers

Our lives are the test
Not our coded words
Or the colors on flags
We wear and hide behind
In a desperate bid
For approval from our
Latest false gods

I wrote this last week after a particularly unspectacular news cycle filled with rage and vendettas. It isn’t ‘their’ problem. It’s our problem, born of lack of faith and lack of courage.

I applaud public figures who stand up and speak out on behalf of all of us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could change the atmosphere of our public discourse? However, even if we end up with leaders able to do this, I’m not counting on them.

I’m counting on the little people. People like you and like me. Everyday human beings who aren’t afraid to welcome strangers into their lives. Especially ‘political’ strangers who may include former friends, or family members.

When I look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I don’t see a human being who hid behind coded words or political and religious party lines. Nor do I see someone on a great campaign to win votes. After all, in the end all that didn’t matter.

What mattered was his life of truth-telling, compassion and fierce determination to be human, pointing beyond himself to the One who matters above all others. The only One to whom he owed supreme allegiance.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 July 2019

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Still searching for myself

I’m most alive when I write –
If only for myself.
I don’t understand this deep urge
To put myself on paper,
To make visible things
I’ve held closely guarded –
As though I could keep my life
Safely contained
Within the walls of my mind
Secret, lonely, fearful.

Was or am I a big mistake
Parading as reality?
Worse yet, a fraud trying to be
What she was never meant to be?

I wonder –
Is this related to being white in the USA?
Or better – being white and female in the USA?

My mind has been on race and skin color for the last several days, triggered by one of the books I’m reading. It’s titled White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, by Dr. Carol Anderson, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. The book was published in 2016 by Bloomsbury Press.

Chapter titles:
1. Reconstructing Reconstruction
2. Derailing the Great Migration
3. Burning Brown to the Ground
4. Rolling Back Civil Rights
5. How to Unelect a Black President

I don’t understand the depth of our racial divide here in the USA, or of today’s white rage that seems to be spilling over at every turn. I do, however, understand that white rage is deeply embedded in this nation’s history. It’s part of our nation’s history from the beginning. Our old, old story. The one it seems we’d rather bury underground than face head on.

I don’t have answers, so I’m going to keep reading Dr. Carol Anderson’s well-researched, well-written book, and see what happens. Not out there, but in me.

Comments are welcome, whether you’ve read this book or not.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2019
Bookcover image found at amazon.com

On a walk-around

On a walk-around
In my lofty attic
Sunday morning silence
Permeates the air

My mind and heart
Fly home revisiting
Large and small circumstances
Of my unscripted life

Memories flood back
Unsolicited reminders
Of turning points and
Individuals

Each a small piece of
What feels strangely like
Home away from the home
Of my weathered body

Not as it might have been
But as it was and is
In real time with real people
Some of them jerks

Important pieces
Of a great puzzle that
Still shape and encourage
Me into this —

A real woman with a real
Voice and calling
A disobedient beautiful
Daughter of Eve

Unfinished and sometimes
Impatient I wait wondering
What more will happen
Along the way

This week I’m going to schedule a first meeting with my new palliative doctor. I wasn’t expecting the end of my life to take this turn. Nonetheless, I see this new possibility as a wonderful gift. And yes, it will take significant thought and work on my part. Not just on behalf of myself, but with family members and doctors.

I anticipate getting things in some semblance of order, adjusting my thinking about what lies ahead, and enjoying what I most want and love to do. Which will certainly include writing.

Happy Monday to each of you!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 July 2019
Photo of Tybee Island Beach found at visitsavannah.com

A July 4 quandry

All day I’ve been wondering how to celebrate our nation. We have a system intent, it seems, on other-destruction and self-destruction. Though it’s most visible in the breakdown of our democratic ideals, it’s also visible in the way we treat strangers coming into our country. Is this the beginning of the end? Is there reason to hope? A few comments follow my poem.

Ignorance and Fear
clothed in swaggering Pride
peer down with Contempt
born of Lonely Bitterness
intent on Self-Destruction

And yet….“Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25)

Today is our annual National Pride day—the 4th of July. A grand celebration of the nation I love yet scarcely recognize not simply today, but in the history of our occupation of this land.

It’s easy to point to the behavior of certain officials in public office. In fact, they might be at or near the top of my list. Nonetheless, their behavior amplifies and builds on behaviors and attitudes already festering in our daily lives.

From the perspective of an ant on the ground (that would be me), it seems we’re doomed to more downhill behavior from all quarters. The sky is falling, isn’t it?

Yet the verse above comforts me. Chiefly because of my own ignorance and fear clothed in swaggering pride. I no longer fear the Judge of my worst imagination. Yes, my fear was fed by faces and behaviors of persons who judged me harshly—and taught me to judge myself harshly.

However, unlike them, the Judge of all the earth sees everything about me. That includes what was and was not done to or for me, along with what I’ve done or not done, and why.

Even more amazing, this Judge of all the earth invites me to come just as I am, without fear and without excuses. Why? Because this Judge is the Only One who understands me better than anyone, including myself.

The challenge is clear. I can’t count on this for myself without counting on it for others. The Judge of all the earth will do right for each of us. Not necessarily in my lifetime or yours, but at the right time and perhaps in unexpectedly gracious ways.

Here’s to a thoughtful and happy 4th of July!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2019

The way from here

 

The way from here
Grows narrow
A finely chiseled path
From this life
To a world as unknown
As life beyond
The womb

When did birthing begin
And when will it end?

Wondering out loud
I search for midwives
To encourage me now
As in the past
How many and for how long
I cannot say
As I set out on another adventure
Another letting go
Another arrival
Somewhere
Into the waiting hands
And hearts of those
Who love me in life
And in death

How do we learn to die? How do we learn to give birth? How do we learn to say enough is enough? Or no, thank you, I’m not going to opt into our reigning medical model of trying whatever can be tried in order to live a bit longer. Comfort care is one thing; unrealistic hope for healing is something else.

My waking dream this morning led to the poem above. The dream suggested I need help, a midwife or two, to get through the last pieces of my journey on this earth. I might even need to become a midwife to myself. Not just by reading books, but by seeking out professionals to help me navigate what lies ahead.

I anticipate writing and talking about how this works out for me, and commenting on books I’ve been reading. My major guide will be a palliative care doctor I spoke with today. She won’t replace my other wonderful doctors. Instead, she’ll help me work with medical personnel, family members and others. I’m not willing to stay alive at all costs. So how will I get from here to there?

Today has been an up and down day. Lots of emotion about making the telephone call, and huge relief when the doctor said she would take me on. I know this isn’t a very popular topic. So I’m especially grateful if you’ve read to this point.

With hope, gratitude and a teeny tiny sense of adventure for what lies ahead,

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2019
Photo found at bastyr.edu

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring

Great Aunt Eva’s topaz ring
Aunt Margie’s wooden jewelry box with drawers
Mother’s dainty embroidered handkerchiefs
Faded photos from years long gone
Fragile connections to my past and present
Links to times and people I knew
Reminders that I’m not alone

And what will remain of me –
What left-behind bits and pieces carry
Hints of the woman I was and now am
Woven into lives of family, friends and strangers
Lives that touched mine giving and taking
Hints of pasts we scarcely remember
Reminders that we are not alone

With gratitude for all who have left marks on my life. Memories, greeting cards, notes, photos, comments on academic papers and blog postings, my piano teacher’s pencil notes in my piano books, a small Celtic cross from a friend when a family member died, and on and on. Each a gem and reminder that we’re not alone.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2019
Image of old Valentines found at etsy.com

The mind is the last to consent

Or, Semi-poetic thoughts about death and dying

The mind is the last to consent –
Alternative scenarios tease us
Surely this can’t be the end
Wispy threads dangle enticements
We could try this or look into that
Prayers for miracles multiply

Cheerful faces mask sad truth —
The patient is dying, yet anguish
And well-meaning hope sometimes
Impede consent to the obvious
Resulting in further digressions
That produce even more anguish

The end is upon each of us sooner
Not later, with or without goodbyes

To ‘give in’ to death may seem to be
Callous dismissal of those we love
Or loss of hope or lack of faith to
Demand of God great things with
Or without the patient’s consent

Worse, if I’m a medical person perhaps
Giving in means failure to do my job
Even though I may agree that this
Dying person is sick unto death and
We were not created to live forever
In these temporary earth-bound bodies

My hero when it comes to dying is my sister Diane. She chose to go on comfort care after living with ALS for ten years. When she learned she had ALS, she worked with trusted people to identify what she was and was not willing to endure, and where she wanted to die—at home.

Even so, in the end she had to consent to the criteria she herself had itemized. She had to communicate to her doctors and nurses, ‘Enough is enough.’ She also had to trust that those with power of attorney would honor her wishes.

So what does it mean for me to ‘prepare’ for death? At the least, it means living each day well, insofar as I’m able. Especially when it comes to self-care.

I wish that were enough. Unfortunately, given medical structures and practices here in the USA, it isn’t. If I want to avoid getting caught in an endless search for ‘health’ or extension of life, it’s up to me to take the initiative. This includes decisions, paper trails, agreements, and work with family and friends involved with my care and wellbeing.

I can’t do this alone. I’m reading books, and have family and a few friends with whom I can talk. Yet it’s up to me. Even so, there’s no guarantee my wishes and directives will be honored. We don’t always get to choose the time or manner of our deaths.

Blessings to each of you, and thanks so much for listening.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, 12 June 2019

Bittersweet

A passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems came to mind Wednesday evening as I wrote in my journal. On Tuesday we heard our two granddaughters speak to gathered friends and family for half an hour each. They talked about their lives, their dreams, and their experiences in school and on trips here and abroad. Each is sensitive, observant, articulate, and determined to follow her dreams.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal. The passage from Mary Oliver’s poem follows.

It’s all so bittersweet – watching our children and grandchildren grow up – time taken from my life as their lives expand outward – and mine exhales, drawing energy inward – already dying. Maybe becoming elderly is about becoming expendable – moving over or moving on to make room for the next generations.

Mary Oliver says it well – most of our ‘lives’ we’re not even here – the great before and the ageless after of a flash in the darkness.

Tonight I’m weary, and my heart is letting me know it’s running out of steam. Yes, it’s late in the day. It’s also late in my life. Teach me to number my days. To love life, and relinquish what I can no longer carry.

I wonder how my highly sensitive self is figuring into my health as I age? I feel more reflective, and content to do nothing in particular except feel my feelings and rest my body and mind.

It was difficult to watch one granddaughter’s highly sensitive self yesterday as she spoke. I wanted to hug her and tell her how wonderful it is to have this awkward gift.

Here are the closing stanzas from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine.” She’s urging us to pause and Look! Our time on this earth is short. Pay attention Now! to the hummingbird, the roses, the lilies floating in the black ponds….

Look! for most of the world
is waiting
or remembering—
most of the world is time

when we’re not here,
not born yet, or died—
a slow fire
under the earth with all

our dumb wild blind cousins
who also
can’t even remember anymore
their own happiness—

Look! and then we will be
like the pale cool
stones, that last almost
forever.

© Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 56-57
Published by Beacon Press (1992)

Tomorrow is commencement day. I’m getting ready by chilling out, breathing deeply, and taking in this beautiful weather before it disappears.

Happy Friday, and thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 June 2019
Photo found at georgiawildlife.com

Anguished Hope

Our granddaughters at the Tyler Arboretum, 2008

Yesterday D and I attended our twin granddaughters’ senior presentations. Half an hour each, talking about themselves and their journeys. Their self-understanding and transparency were painfully beautiful to hear. And their immediate plans for their lives offered hope that each of them would make contributions to the people of this world and to our planet. And yet….

Anguish —
An uncommonly daily experience
Giving birth to life
A thousand small losses
At a time

My feelings exactly
Sitting there in an attentive
Audience listening
For hope against
All odds —

A future for this
War-torn worn-out dis-eased
World of shrinking resources
And mounting debt
Now bankrupt

Which court
Will adjudicate the rape
Of this land and its people
Without bowing to
Human idols?

Who will believe
The verdict handed down
Without taking a moment
To make a buck or two
On lies?

Tomorrow’s
Pyramid schemes sophisticated
And irresistible stand ready
In the wings eager to swoop down
Filling their gaping craws with
Anguish

When I look at our human resources and our history over the last centuries, I despair — almost. When I see how dedicated our young graduates are to making a difference, I cringe and hope — against all odds.

The weight of past and present doesn’t offer grounds for a declaration of hope. Nor is there a strange new world waiting that meets the standards of our precarious dreams.

Yet I dream, hope and pray —

  • For each graduate’s stamina, and my commitment to being present in their lives
  • For openness to others, and other ways of living in this world
  • For faith to triumph over despair, disbelief, scorn and disappointment

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2008 at the Tyler Arboretum near Philadelphia; our granddaughters were 8 years old.

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