Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

With thanks to Emily

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Something about aging. I don’t know what it is. I only know what it feels like. A journey into mists, slow and sometimes laborious. Wondering where all that energy went. And how I ever accumulated so many bits and pieces from my past.

Today it’s about clearing the bits and pieces out. Getting to something else, beyond the false fog of my fortressed life.

For decades, I relied on bits and pieces. Every carefully sorted, filed and piled item was a bit of insurance. Proof of my value, resources to be used next term, a hedge against false charges, reminders of why I was here and what I had agreed to do. Plus gems stashed away for later perusal.

Then, in April 2016, I fell and broke my jaw. Life changed. Immediately.

Out of that anguish, I wrote a post that has become one of the top ten posts visited on this site, with 589 views as of today. It’s my commentary on Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, Faith — is the pierless bridge.

I read it several times in the last few weeks of chaos and confusion about many things.

There’s fog and then there’s smog. Fog is good. Smog is rotten–the stuff that hung in the air in the late 1940s when I lived in the Los Angeles area. I don’t mind a bit of fog, though it sometimes puts me on edge. I think of all the accumulated clutter of my life as smog. Things and attitudes about ‘things’ that throw me off balance. That keep me from living and dying to each day.

So here’s the last paragraph of my comments about Emily’s poem, reformatted a bit to catch the heart of the matter for me then, now, and tomorrow. The question is how do I get from here to there? And whose faith really matters?

Before my faith and before my birth
there was something else

The Source of my life greets me
from within the Veil
to which Faith leads

Here waits the One who birthed me
Who boldly and courageously watches for me
from the other side of my human life
spinning out a fragile steel-buttressed thread of Faith—
my Creator’s Faith in me
Faith that leads me home
just as I am and yet will be

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2019
Image found at pinterest.com

The underbelly of the Church – because it matters NOW

I’m feeling small these days. Are you? The challenge at the end of this post is meant for all of us who feel unprepared or small.

Below is a quote from Simone Weil about the social and patriotic power of the Church. Not church as we know it on Sunday mornings, but the Church as a powerful institution within a political setting.

Weil wrote during the Nazi era. Her words are troubling, given the rise of the white Evangelical church’s political influence in the USA. Sometimes on Sunday mornings, but also in public arenas where religious language virtually baptizes political figures as agents of God, up to and including Mr. Trump.

In light of the Nazi era, this turn of events is more than troubling. Many, though not all German Protestant and Catholic churches, including pastors and revered theologians, colluded in the rise of Hitler. Their open support amounted to baptizing Hitler as God’s agent sent as their Great Leader at this time. Yes, there would be some bloodshed. But in the end, life will be better for those who survive, and Germany itself will gain esteem throughout the world.

Here’s what Simone Weil had to say about herself and the Church during the Nazi era. I read this as a comment on both Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany, though she refers to the Catholic Church. Highlights are mine.

All things carefully considered, I believe they come down to this: what scares me is the Church as a social thing. Not solely because of her stains, but by the very fact that it is, among other characteristics, a social thing.

Not that I am by temperament very individualistic. I fear for the opposite reason. I have in myself a strongly gregarious spirit. I am by natural disposition extremely easily influenced in excess, and especially by collective things. I know that if in this moment I had before me twenty German youth singing Nazi songs in chorus, part of my soul would immediately become Nazi. It is a very great weakness of mine. . . .

I am afraid of the patriotism of the Church that exists in the Catholic culture. I mean ‘patriotism’ in the sense of sentiment analogous to an earthly homeland. I am afraid because I fear contracting its contagion. Not that the Church appears unworthy of inspiring such sentiment, but because I don’t want any sentiment of this kind for myself.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Published by Harper Perennial in 1950 to celebrate 100 years since Weil’s birth

I couldn’t agree more. I’m also troubled by the silence of many white Evangelical churches that (rightly) choose not to get on the Trump bandwagon. Silence often enables the abuse of power. I don’t want to catch the silence virus. Hence this post and others to remind me that I have a voice, it counts, and I must exercise it regularly.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 March 2018, reposted 26 September 2019
Image found at books.google.com

What’s the hurry?

Why the rush?
Why so many accidents?
Why the impatience
To get somewhere —
Anywhere but here

On any day of the week
Another set of lives
Is lost to this world
Thanks to our addiction
To what? Waiting until
The last minute? Rushing
To make it through
The intersection before
What?

And then there’s that
Annoyingly impatient
Horn honking from behind
As if that would force me to
Collude with the driver’s
Deep need to hurry to
What? At what cost?

I look in the mirror
And see myself
Not in the driver’s seat
But in mundane events
Of my mundane life
Racing in spirit if not
In body to the next thing
Waiting in the shadows
Of my deep need for
What?

I’m just back from a lovely walk around my neighborhood. Right now the weather is perfect for morning and afternoon walks. What more could I want?

Yet in the half hour before I left the house this morning I thought of at least three things I needed to get done right now. Even though I didn’t. Three excuses for putting the walk off until later in the day. Or tomorrow.

Thankfully, my inability to decide what to do next forced the issue. I went for a walk. It was lovely!

When I returned, D was talking with our painter about a horrible automobile accident in which several lives were lost, including one of his friends. All because of one driver who was in a hurry and couldn’t or wouldn’t slow down to stop for a red light.

I wonder what I’m avoiding when I begin honking the horn at myself. And at what cost?

Here’s to a Wednesday devoid of horn-honking. Especially at ourselves.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2019
Photo found at medium.com

Living in the purple zone

Living in the purple zone*
Unconstrained by party loyalties yet
Uneasy about befriending strangers
Or talking about tough issues –
What has happened to me?

How many times have I caved
To the lowest common denominator
Or looked the other way
Or changed the subject
To avoid tough conversations?

Why do I hear few references
To injustices of yesterday
That might help me understand
Currents and tides now miring us
In the swamp of us versus them?

Perhaps there already lurks within
A deep longing for this disquietude
To disappear into the bowels
Of our churches, cities and towns
Afraid to stir up what won’t go away

Meanwhile we mere mortals living
In the purple zone or not go about
Our daily lives minus truth or
Justice or even a quick look into
The mirror of our own demise

*The purple zone: neither red nor blue, the two major political party colors in the USA

Here’s my dilemma:

I have a handful of friends willing to talk openly about social/political realities that are in plain view every day. These realities drive our politics, social lives, economics, and increasingly our church preferences. They also impact us differently depending on things like race, gender, age, immigration status, color of skin and dialect.

These and a host of other ‘sorting out’ categories lie just beneath the surface of every social interaction and social avoidance technique.

For the most part, we here in the USA seem to have deeply ingrained avoidance habits. We like being with birds of our feather. Especially in spaces where we might have conversations that matter. Places like churches or other religious institutions, small study groups and classrooms of all kinds.

Though I’d like this to be my dilemma alone, I fear it is not. Any and all feedback will be gratefully received.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2019

One of a kind

Grounded in gratitude
and the painfilled joy
of being female

Can these things coexist
in one body?

Yes, my daughter,
though you must never forget:
Pain is a necessary thorn in
tender female flesh for reasons
not understood by mere mortals

My mind does not accept this verdict –
drowning in ignorance about me
and the course of my life on this earth

How many of us are there?
Each necessary to the great vine of life
Hanging on for dear life

I’m struck by the strange mix of gratitude and pain uncovered in me on any day of the year. It doesn’t take much. A news item, an ad, an assumption about me or all women, or the absence of everyday examples that might connect with real women and girls. Is this what it means to be human and female?

I’ve given up trying to understand the self-serving, convoluted logic I often hear about being female. Instead, I’m aiming each day for a calm mind, a relaxed body, a singing heart, and a trusting spirit. Whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 September 2019
Image of caged bird found at asfmtech.org

I Worried | Mary Oliver

Here’s a prose poem from Mary Oliver, written in her later years. My brief comments follow.

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

© 2010 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Ironically, I found this poem in the front pages of Katy Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. It seemed a strange way to begin a book that helps navigate end of life decisions. Are you tired of working on this or that document, or making choices about things that may or may not happen? Just go out into the morning, and sing whether you think you can sing or not!

Which is exactly what I’m learning to do. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Worry comes naturally, sometimes dressed up as Work I must accomplish today. Not for a paycheck, but perhaps to ensure my peace of mind?

Yet even all the completed medical and other documents duly signed and filed in their appropriate places can never ensure full peace of mind. Sometimes I need to get outside my list-driven environment, enjoy the day and sing.

A calm mind. Most appropriate in a distressed world over which we have limited control.

Happy Monday to each of you, with a prayer for those living in distress this day and night, and calm courage to reach out as we’re able.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Trying to keep up?

Worn out
From trying to keep up?
Face it
This is an addiction
As fierce
As trying to run away
From voices
Calling in the night

Fix it or get over it!
Now!

Or did you lose it
Somewhere back there
Years before you
Took that first fall
Into icy water
And never
Stopped running?

What are you, and what am I? The broken model, or the sought-after model? Does it really matter?

My mother’s plunge into icy water was polio. She was 28; I was 6. She lived most of her life believing she had to demonstrate she was ‘normal.’ Whatever that meant.

Since when did it become The Rule that we must hide our broken bits? Or at least pretend they don’t matter when they do.

I broke my jaw over three years ago. Ironically, it was a gift. A dead stop I couldn’t ignore. Forced changes rescued me from a diet and lifestyle that was undermining my heart and kidney health.

But the gift sometimes feels like poison. Not poison to my body, but to my spirit and my social life. Especially when I come up against limitations.

This morning I heard a John Rutter song on public radio — “Look to the Day.” Rutter wrote the words and music at the invitation of Cancer Research UK for their Service of Thanksgiving in Ely Cathedral, 23rd September 2007. A simple song of hope and reorientation.

Somehow it got through to me. There’s more to life than continuing with things as usual. Especially when they aren’t usual, and life is short.

I found this rendition on You Tube. It’s sung from the heart by women and men who don’t speak English as their first language. I want to learn to sing like this from my heart, especially when I find myself in new or scary territory.

Praying you have a hope-filled Sabbath rest.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 August 2019
Image found at my.vanderbilt.edu

Are we there yet?

What child doesn’t know
the longing to be done with this
Wearisome winding grind of a trip
Everyone said would be lovely
Fantastic and most of all
Life-changing

Sitting there in the back seat
I toy in my mind
with going back and starting over
Resetting expectations and
End goals and a thousand other
Minutia I never dreamed
I would negotiate without maps
or trustworthy guides

Still, there’s this nagging truth —

Even if the trip is life-changing
That’s not what I had in mind
Did you?
I just wanted to be there
Part of the scene without
Calling undue attention to myself
Or others who threatened to undo
Me if I didn’t walk the walk
And talk the walk and stumble
And fall on the walk so I would
Have a really good Once I Was Lost
And Now I Am Found story to tell
To the nations

Forgive me if I ramble
It seems that’s all that’s left —
Rambling through memories
Searching for myself
As I know myself today not
The little girl of yesterday
Who just wanted to be there
And then one day decided
She did not

Yesterday was spent in another doctor’s office with yet more homework to do. This morning D and I went out for an early walk before things get hotter than hot. The sun is relentless these days, sometimes with pop-up thunderstorms that dump buckets of water at will.

Wherever you are in your journey, I pray all is well and that you’re having a lovely if sometimes exasperating ramble.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 August 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Spring 1947, Seattle, Washington
Sister #2, Elouise, and a friend; Sister and I are wearing Easter outfits made by Mom

The Journey | Mary Oliver

Is Mary Oliver talking about herself in this poem? What do you think? My comments follow.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

© Mary Oliver, reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 114-15, Published by Beacon Press 1992

The first time I read this poem I was puzzled. Instead of writing directly about herself, Mary seems to be writing to someone else. Or to a past version of herself?

This poem was first published in 1986 in a collection called Dream Work. The current collection includes 18 poems from Dream Work. They focus on Mary Oliver’s personal life. Not a subject she’s particularly thrilled to write about. And yet….

Without her personal story, it’s possible to think Mary Oliver enjoyed a charmed life of wandering in the woods. Visiting ponds and streams. Watching foxes, fish and birds. Lying in fields of Spring flowers. Making notes in her hand-made notepads. Living a magical life in her chosen world that celebrates nature, beauty in the presence of death, and the perfectly sad and glorious ending of each season.

Wrong. Mary Oliver worked hard to ‘save’ her life. She left home. Literally. She walked away from her father’s abusive behavior, and from voices that incessantly cried out for her to mend their lives. Death followed by what? Nothing?

This poem celebrates Mary’s decision to make a clean break. It also celebrates what she found along the way. Something she didn’t even know she had: a life of her own and a voice of her own.

For that alone, I’m grateful. I’m also challenged to keep listening for my own voice in unexpected places.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2019
A Dark and Stormy Night, by Warren Criswell, found at saatchiart.com

The Watchers

Uninvited and hovering
Spirits of the living dead
Fill air space
Drowning me in female shame
For this my body

In vain I cover my face
Hide from myself
And this present moment
Made mad by
Prying eyes and ears
Of a thousand intrusions
On this my body broken –
Now gasping for air

The feeling of being watched was more than a feeling when I was growing up. It was the norm. When I married and moved with D to our first home, I didn’t have a clue how much baggage I brought to our marriage.

Some of my baggage was easily dumped. No problem! Glad to be rid of it.

And yet…other things had taken root in me. Especially those intrusive, internalized, incessant monitors making sure I didn’t do anything a Good Girl wouldn’t do. Or worse, the feeling of being watched by intruders no matter what I was doing.

I don’t know how to talk about this publicly. I do, however, know many of us struggle with internal feelings and habits we never chose to internalize. Things we thought we could leave behind when we left home.

D and I have now renovated/reclaimed five major areas in our current home. Our bedroom is next, thanks to our leaking waterbed. It’s high time. In fact, I have the great leak to thank for prompting me to rethink what’s happening with Our Bedroom. Which, just to be clear, belongs to Us, not to Them.

Happy Monday, and Happy Reclamation Projects!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2019
Found at medium.com/@emilykoziura9

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