Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

Lost in a maze of hallways

This poem, written in August 2015, was prompted by a dream. Today it captures my sense of disorientation as a citizen of this world that seems caught in nightmares. Not just those provoked by wars or the ravages of climate change, but by such ‘normal’ events as daily deaths, daily murders, and the horrors of extended wars.

This week, the death of Queen Elizabeth raised questions about the future. It also took from the world a ruler loved by many, though parts of the British Empire would prefer to be independent.

Today, as a citizen of the USA and of this world, I’m in another maze of hallways. I’m disoriented. Wondering where the exit might be. Not just for me, but for each of us. Our nation is in turmoil. Denial won’t work. Neither will false hopes, or lies about yesterday or tomorrow.

I’m wide awake lost in a maze of hallways
filled with small shops and out-of-sight
merchandise if only I will give up my
determination to find the exit and go home.

The young man with me seems happy to
be there smiling at me while dragging
his feet and holding me back with his
nonchalant air of everything’s fine just fine.

It is not fine. I know it. I feel it. I keep
looking around searching for the way out
I know this mall. I’ve been here before.
What happened to all the old landmarks?

Doors are locked. Other doors open onto
new hallways filled with glittering shops
and female shopkeepers smiling and asking
for my attention and presence. Won’t I stay?

I seek help from a woman standing in the
doorway of a small shop. She assures me
I’m not lost and will find the exit if I keep going
Her words soothe but fail to help me.

I wake up troubled, not anxious, yet
eager to know the meaning of this
frustratingly endless dream lost
in a maze of diversions going nowhere

So what about today’s real world? Where are we headed? Or, more important, how much of this make-believe maze of diversions are we going to tolerate?

Thanks, as always, for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2015; reposted on 15 July 2020; revised and reposted on 19 September 2022
Image found at pinterest.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

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

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

Still without a flight plan

Coming out of a fog
Finding my feet and voice yet again
Feeling my way home

These words, and the poem below capture layers of unknown realities all the way from what was supposed to be a post-Trump era, to living in an aging body still full of surprises. Here’s the poem as first published in March 2020.

Without a Flight Plan

Disoriented
Suspended in space and time
Where are we going?

Calm and mindful
In a holding pattern
Waiting to land

Circling landmarks
Every twenty-four hours
Drones in the sky

Specks of dust
In an ocean of dismay
Looking for home

© Elouise Renich Fraser, March 2020
Published in Without A Flight Plan, 2021, p. 45

I’m just back from a short morning walk. The sun is out, the heat wave has subsided for now. Summer school is over, and the school playground is blissfully quiet. I see only a handful of others out for a walk with their dogs. I’m walking with myself.

Walking or sitting, I feel the weight of what we call ‘old age.’ I now understand that being old means not having a flight plan.

I’m a diehard maker of lists/flight plans. I like checking off my lists. Lately, however, the lists have become weights. The kind I carry around from one day to the next because I didn’t do all those things, thanks to unpredictable turns of event or the weather or how well I did or did not sleep last night.

Old age is not for sissies. Do I have a plan now for each day? No, I do not, with a few exceptions:

  • I will eat
  • I will sleep as needed
  • I will fill the birdseed feeders
  • I will make sure the birdies and Smudge have fresh, clean water
  • I will love D

Period, the end.

Well, except for one more thing. Copies of Without a Flight Plan are available at Amazon.com in various countries. I am also giving them away as requested and possible. However, if poetry isn’t your thing, I will not be offended. In fact, I will thank you for reading this far! Forgive me if I wander. I understand it’s allowed at this age.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2022
Photo of snow geese near Mount Baker, Washington, USA, found at correre.org

The Long and Short of it

A ping pong in my mind
Spins from one reality to another

Grounded
I know I’m not lost
But the feelings in my bones
And in my feet keep
Bouncing back and forth

Stricken
By the deaths of colleagues
And friends I feel lost in the
Immensity and beauty of life
Wondering how long this will last

Drunk
By the glory of nature
Around but not in me
My eyes and ears turn into gluttons
For the beauty this earth

The photo at the top was my best effort at finding a photo remotely like an old postcard I received from my seminary theology professor, Dr. Paul King Jewett. It’s dated 1 July 1977. It showed up in a drawer of personal items I’ve saved over the years.

This past week two of my seminary colleagues died: Dr. J. Deotis Roberts, and Dr. Ron Sider. In addition, one of my seminary students from the mid-1990s died. Then just yesterday, I attended (via You Tube) a memorial service for a prominent member of our church.

All of this pushes me to stay focused on the glorious and inglorious parts of my life. Especially peripheral neuropathy in my feet. I now have a spiffy cane that accompanies me on my walks around the neighborhood. I don’t always need it. Nonetheless, it gives me confidence. Especially when I walk across a field or stroll past unruly dogs!

Within the last week I’ve begun using a series of online exercises. They’re offered by an Australian physiotherapist at MoreLifeHealth.com. No drugs. Just simple, daily exercises to strengthen and relax my feet and legs. Free. He also offers help for patients with peripheral neuropathy in their hands. Here’s a link to all his videos for various health issues.

Hoping your week is both challenging and uplifting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 July 2022
Painting by Albert Bierstadt, circa 1876; Found at Wikimedia Commons

Vitamin D, Crows, and Daylilies

I’m feeling my way through
our neighborhood one step
at a time though a misstep
could end in heartbreak

Released from four walls
I find strange solace as
nature surrounds me with
glory and the piercing cries
of crows being chased by
tiny sparrows protecting
their nests and their young

An uninvited insect lands
on my ring finger thinking
I might have something to
offer though it’s way past
breakfast time as midday
sunshine streams down on
my naked arms depositing
bits of vitamin D as ordered
by the doctor just yesterday

I find myself at loose ends these days. Doing what I can on my lists, and leaving the rest. All too soon, however, I’m starving for whatever I’ve decided to leave undone. Such as writing poetry.

For the last few weeks I’ve been walking outside in the morning as often as the weather permits. About a week ago I got my new light-weight walking cane, which makes things easier.

Invariably, I end up feeling teary (in a happy way) when I see towering trees, hear scores of birds singing, or pass a friendly walker or two. Yesterday, I even had the opportunity to stomp out a red lantern fly! And never a day passes without daylilies breaking out all over.

Surely some of this deserves to be written down and passed along. Especially in these troubled times.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 July 2022
Photo of daylilies found at pixabay.com

Terror, Faith, 9/11/2001 and Today

It’s no accident, this constant ringing in my head each time another unplanned attack takes place on home turf.

We have a long-practiced habit here in the USA. Instead of focusing on our personal problems, we focus intently on those of others. That includes leaders and residents of the USA as well as those of other countries.

Whether we like it or not, our bluff is being called every day and night. Instead of learning to live together as human beings, we’ve majored on becoming a country divided against itself. Worse, we don’t seem ready to examine ourselves as part of the problem.

Back in 2001, I spoke at a seminary-wide gathering to consider the still-fresh bombing of the twin towers in NYC. The only thing I could do with honesty was speak about myself, acknowledging my own lack of readiness to die in an instant.

Here’s what I said then and am saying again today in light of home-grown terror that’s tearing us apart.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I am not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

These days I’m praying for small ways to make lifegiving connections with those I love and those I too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2022
News photo found at http://www.nbcnews.com

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