Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Retirement

The Gardener | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem has been getting under my skin (in a good way) for several months. This is for me, and for anyone out there addicted to being super-diligent about life. My comments follow.

The Gardener

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I
come to any conclusions?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 7
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

My mind and body are addicted to being super-reliable. Productive. Organized. Diligent. Prepared. These days, however, my body has rebelled. It loves to have its own agenda for each day. It really doesn’t matter what I think I ‘ought’ to do.

If I take Mary Oliver’s gardener (“a simple man”) seriously, I’ll tend the roses. Things like playing the piano, listening to music I love, reading what I want to read, staring out the window with no agenda except watching the birds engage in social antics and bravado around the birdfeeders. Or finding ways to be engaged without being overwhelmed.

This is NOT the way I was brought up. So now I’m learning to be my own wonderfully understanding parent, helping myself let go of things that stress body and spirit. Taking deep breaths. Listening to music from earth and heaven. Basking in the warmth of early spring. Taking on projects that bring me joy rather than trying to make things happen or go away.

A simple life? Not really, but today I can pretend. Or at least practice a bit. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get it.

Thanks for your visit!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 April 2022
Photo found at

A note to Mary Oliver

This morning
I woke with a start
Already caught up in
The impossible tug between
Daily upkeep and writing
Now in danger of starvation
Thanks to inedible pieces
Unredeemed if not forgotten
Standing at my heart’s door
Begging for a breath of air

Yes, Mary, you found a way to live with disciplined abandon. Doing what you loved most. Though it wasn’t easy, you found a way.

I want to believe there’s a way for me. Not to be you, but to be the writer I am, the woman I am, the mother, sister, and grandmother I am.

I was happy to retire from my professional life. It wasn’t all bad. I can’t imagine myself today without it. It was, however, punishingly difficult work, sometimes even outrageous.

So here I am, wondering how I might relate to you except in some far-off never never land.

It pains me to admit this: In spite of the inspiration and insights I gain from your writing, I might be happier if I’d never discovered you. Then again, this is probably the highest compliment I could give you.

I don’t hate my life, and I have no plans to give up. It’s just that every time I read Upstream, I realize how much of life I’ve missed, and how little time is left for me.


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2020
Photo found at

Spring madness?

Hope and despair
Layer themselves
Between beats of my heart

‘Retirement is like that’
I could but won’t say –
Determined to make
Peace with what is
Beyond and within
My control

If not This
Why not That?
My mind spins
Out of orbit as
Early Spring lures
Me beyond myself

Retirement was about more than leaving my job at the seminary. It was about my health and well-being. I desperately needed to make a clean break.

For several years I was fine. Not being there was more than good for me.

Now it isn’t so good. Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to relive seminary politics, long-term planning or endless reports.

Nonetheless, I sometimes yearn to ‘be there.’ From 1983 until I retired in 2011, our seminary dished up a lively, sometimes contentious community of international and national students, mixed races and classes, and mixed church communities. I owe students and colleagues a huge debt of gratitude for helping grow me up into the woman I am today.

So why this yearning now? I love the church I attend. It can’t, however, give me the kind of community I experienced at the seminary, and still need.

Here’s the deal: I want to hang out at the seminary with anyone who shows up. Why? So I can practice being a stranger and welcoming strangers or near-strangers into my life. Even for a few fleeting minutes.

Maybe it’s nothing but Spring madness. Still, I like the idea and I’m already plotting ways to try this out.

Happy Monday!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 March 2019
Early Spring Photo found at

Report from nowhere

This week I feel like an alien in my own body skin and clothes
Who is this woman? Why is she here? Do I know her anymore?
And what’s she trying to tell me? Does it even matter just now?

On top of which we have a tropical depression bearing down.
Waves of heat and humidity that don’t wave or move at all
They just sit there undulating like serpents in a pit of pain

I want to be my own free agent yet there’s always something
Something else needs attention or adjustment or acceptance
Tears well up in my eyes even when I try to smile at myself

You say all is well that ends well and yet nothing seems to end
It just spools out like pink or purple thread that won’t be contained
Knotted and tangled in a heap waiting for me to do something

Though I don’t know what it is and couldn’t care more than I do
For this body You gave me all white with blue eyes and straight
Hair that just sits there looking at me begging me to love it

This morning I wake with a dream the first I’ve had that makes
Halfway sense in this upside down world of retirement that
Feels nothing like the resurrection I need just now in my soul

In the dream a young family takes my words and music and spins
Them into beautiful visions I recognize yet don’t recognize as
Mine in the soulful music and art now accompanying our conversation

All this and more before I wake up not wanting to bid them farewell
And find myself in an airport café wondering where on earth I’m going
And why I didn’t bring any luggage and don’t want to leave just yet

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 August 2018

Why we’re here, together

What’s it all about, anyway? Is there any method to this madness?

This past Saturday I attended a gathering of people from our church, the community, the seminary where I served, and visitors from other churches and states. We celebrated the ordination of a graduate, now a faculty member at the seminary, who has served at our church since the early 1990s. She was one of my students, and later became a colleague on the faculty.

Since retiring in 2011, I haven’t returned to the seminary for social or formal occasions. What happened with the seminary since I departed hasn’t been easy. From my point of view, the less I knew, the better. It was easier to be somewhere else, and better for my health.

But now many colleagues from the seminary were coming to our church for a celebration I wasn’t about to miss.

Was I uneasy? Let’s just say I was a bit short of a basket case last week. First of all, I had to decide what to wear. My normal church clothes (blue jeans, t-shirts and jackets) wouldn’t do.

Yet what to wear was nothing compared with apprehension about seeing colleagues and students I hadn’t seen in years.

I needn’t have worried. From the moment I walked into the sanctuary and saw one of my colleagues, I felt like I’d just come home. In fact, sitting there, surrounded by several rows of ‘us’ felt a bit like going to heaven. I think. I’ve never been there, so I can’t be sure….

Among my colleagues was a woman I’d hired as our director of student formation. My mind went back to the first sermon she ever preached at the seminary. It was about when we all get to heaven.

She asked us why we were all there on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues, just across the street from the city of Philadelphia and just on the edge of the western suburbs of Philadelphia. And why were we such a diverse group?

We weren’t simply diverse as Americans, but as international students from all over the globe. All now thrown together in this little seminary on the corner of City and Lancaster Avenues. Perhaps feeling culture shock. Never quite sure what someone meant by that turn of phrase, or that look or that comment or question. Or why some people laughed now and some people laughed then. And others didn’t laugh much at all.

At the end of her sermon, she suggested we were at this specific location to  practice getting to know each other now, getting along with each other now, breaking the ice with each other now, so that when we get to heaven we won’t have culture shock when we see who else is there!

I’ll admit to a bit of creative memory here. But I know that was the point of her sermon. We closed with a rousing hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Just seeing and being with former colleagues and students made me grateful to be welcomed into a seminary alive with humanity. Imperfect, yet alive in ways I’ve rarely experienced in other institutions of so-called ‘higher’ learning.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2018

Attic Memories

The attic is bare, and our downstairs spaces are now crowded with boxed books, old photos, cards, letters and files. They’ve invaded the basement and every room below the attic. All this because it’s time to give the attic a new life. After a bit of dry wall repair, painting, carpeting, and a handrail on the attic stairs.

D began the project weeks ago, sorting things out. Keep, toss, or give away. Especially books. Academic books occupied at least 75% of the attic. In rows, like a library. His and mine going back to our college years. Scholarly, earnest, serious books we used as students, professors or administrators.

During the last two days I spent most of my time in the attic, going through my piles of accumulated evidence and memorabilia from teaching, travel and family life.

Here are things that made me teary, exhausted or both.

  • Seeing how many places D and I visited for vacations or professional trips. Takeaway: Marrying D was a great way to see and hear about the world.
  • How many postcards I’ve purchased as a way to bring some of our travels home. Though they’re small, they remind me of more than appears on the postcards. Keepers.
  • Reminders of my large extended Renich family. Sadly, I don’t anticipate more official Renich family reunions. I loved looking through old reunion photos and family newsletters. More keepers.
  • My long emails to Diane when I visited Kenya for the first time (1997). I was terrified Diane might die (of ALS) while I was gone. I also wanted to take her with me in my emails. I wanted her to see in her sharp mind’s eye exactly what I was seeing. Irreplaceable.
  • How many recorded notes I kept over the years. Formal and informal. Back then it was about having a written record of appointments, meetings, interviews and important events. I didn’t trust my memory. But I did trust my bankruptcy court note-taking skills. It also helped me keep my listening and observational skills sharp. No, I didn’t keep all the notes. And yes, it gave me little pangs when I let most of them go.
  • I was astonished (if not exhausted) at how many students touched my life. And the wild, wide diversity of countries and cultures they brought into the classroom. Not in an online setting, but in person. Many struggling with English as a second language. Many going through life crises and changes in professional status. Too many now gone from this life. And many I probably wouldn’t recognize if I saw them today.

Despite the emotional and physical exhaustion of the last few days, I’m grateful for this look back into a world I won’t experience again. Sometimes it’s difficult being on the outside. Still, I don’t want to go back. I love life as it is—even though it’s not always neat and tidy.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 March 2018
Photos taken by DAFraser

two downhill haikus


dawn sky glows blue
peach clouds drift above trees
tail-lights rush downhill


warm rain
melts icy snow —
races downhill

We’re blessed with a snow-emergency highway in front of our house. It’s a state highway, two lanes not four, with a steady downhill slant beginning just before our driveway. During the week, rush hour is well underway by 7am, with cars headed for the freeway, multiple yellow busses headed for schools, an occasional city bus, and trucks of all sizes and shapes on the way to deliver something somewhere.

The juxtaposition of a stunning dawn sky and tail-lights rushing downhill struck me as noteworthy. If no one saw the sky, it was because he or she was watching the tail-lights of the car just ahead, with one foot ready to hit the brakes as needed. As a retiree, I love taking time each morning to inspect the sky and clouds and whatever else is stirring when I get up.

Today a warm front is coming through from the south. Ironically, it’s driving temperatures up into the low 60s F. Steady rain has almost washed away the last remnants of snow and gritty ice, mixed with brine. All of it is racing downhill with cars, trucks and busses. The runoff heads straight for creeks and drains that empty into the Schuylkill, a major river running by and through Philadelphia.

So, my friends, here’s to a happy Friday, a lovely weekend, and time to watch the dawn/evening sky without needing to be anywhere or anybody at a certain time.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 January 2018
Photo taken by me with my iPad, 9 January 2018, 7:05 am EST

out of synch

Today I’m feeling out of synch. This morning I was out the door early for a haircut appointment, followed by a little grocery shopping. Then lunch at home, and now it’s almost mid-afternoon. This evening I’m planning to attend a service for my friend Margie who died last month.

Tired. That’s how I feel today. Weary. Also uncertain about how I fit into this world just now. Not simply because of recent tragedies and turns of political events, but because of something in me that hasn’t yet found a home.

Most of my life is back there somewhere. Some of it lost forever. Other parts tantalize me. I’d like to go back and reclaim some of them. Others I’m happy to leave in the dust.

A couple of nights ago I wrote these lines in my journal, addressing them to myself and our Creator:

I miss the feedback and rapport of the classroom and working on projects with colleagues. It feels as though I’m in a different universe. Cut off from people and events I used to enjoy. It’s difficult to know whether I’m on track or lost.

I want to feel and know I’m needed, that I’m more than yesterday’s action. I matter, even though I can’t show up the way I used to, or be as spontaneous about activities or plans. It seems everything I do must first be filtered through a host of limitations – a checklist of criteria that gets longer with each new twist or turn in the road.

I want to be needed, not just welcome to participate. Who or what needs me? I don’t know, beyond the obvious family and friends.

Please, help me either resolve this or live with it.

Retirement is wonderful. I love almost everything about it. Yet it has, in many ways, left me with a new kind of loneliness I hadn’t anticipated. The kind that won’t be resolved via extroverted social media platforms, fashionable outfits to enhance my good qualities, or painfully awkward attempts to be someone I am not.

The one solace I have is that loneliness is common. Especially in our over-bearing, over-achieving, over-fretting society. So, in a sense, I suppose I’m right in step when it comes to fashion.

Is loneliness the fashion and grim reality of this age? I’m not certain; yet I fear it’s the truth, from the highest levels of power to the lowest.

Thanks for reading.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2017
Photo found at
Daily Prompt: Fashionable

In a Ferment about Writing


I’ve been in a ferment since Sunday evening. The kind that begins with strange dreams I can’t remember when I wake up. They aren’t frightening or foreboding, though they’re regularly about circumstances that Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating our 50th! | Dear Readers


When we got married September 11, 1965, we weren’t thinking about what it might mean to celebrate our anniversaries early in September. Nor did we know that both of us would become graduate students and then geeky academics who have to show up for teaching and other duties during early September no matter what!

Bottom line: Yes, we celebrated over the years, but it was often low-key. You know. Dinner out, wherever and whenever we could afford it. Cards and the occasional gift that stood out from the others. Now and then we settled for a substitute day, usually on a weekend.

Then we got into academic administration. Not at the same institution, mind you! But we got into it, and that meant duties began in August. When September came around nobody was even thinking of taking a day or two off. At least we weren’t.

In 2011, I retired from my position at the seminary. D, however, decided he would like to work for an indeterminate number of years before retiring. We’re virtually the same age, so this wasn’t about age. His work involved a lot of international travel, sometimes on the date of our wedding anniversary.

As of this month, however, D has actually retired! Sort of. He’ll still do some traveling, and help with projects during the transition. But we now have no excuses about not celebrating properly, and we have missed opportunities to redeem—if that’s possible.

Since it’s our 50th, we decided to take 2-3 weeks and just do whatever we want to do. I won’t tell you what we’re going to do. So don’t ask. But I will say part of it involves day trips, restaurants, hiking, birding, museums, lazing around and whatever else strikes our fancy.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m not going to do heavy-duty posting for the next 2 to 3 weeks. That means things like my Faculty Wife series will be on hold. Hopefully I’ll have some lighter posts that you’ll enjoy. I will be checking in from time to time, so don’t stop coming by!

Thanks for your faithful reading—which doesn’t mean reading everything (unless you really want to!). It just means showing up regularly or as you’re able, to listen in and be part of the conversation.

I can’t help heaving a big sigh every time I think about it. Fifty years of living with D! Maybe I’ll have a few things to say about that in the next 2-3 weeks.

I pray God’s blessing on each of you, in whatever ways you need blessing right now.


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2015
Photo credit: DAFraser, June 2015
Children’s Garden in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

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