Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Self-reflection

The Teachers | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, like the mockingbird above, wants our attention. My comments follow her poem.

The Teachers

Owl in the black morning,
mockingbird in the burning
slants of the sunny afternoon
declare so simply

to the world
everything I have tried but still
haven’t been able
to put into words,

so I do not go
far from that school
with its star-bright
or blue ceiling,

and I listen to those teachers,
and others too–
the wind in the trees
and the water waves–

for they are what lead me
from the dryness of self
where I labor
with the mind-steps of language–

lonely, as we all are
in the singular,
I listen hard
to the exuberances

of the mockingbird and the owl,
the waves and the wind.
And then, like peace after perfect speech,
such stillness.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, pp. 27-28

Yesterday I did nothing but what I felt like doing. This wasn’t about luxuriating. It was about sanity, clarity, and an airing of my restless need to DO something about everything going wrong in this world.

The list of possibilities seems endless because realities now facing us seem endless. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, every agony of the last centuries is now haunting us. Our day of reckoning? It remains to be seen how we’ll end up as a nation.

Nonetheless, I can’t afford to ignore the sight or exuberant sounds of mockingbird and owl, waves and wind, and stillness.

Listening to other people and to nature are learned skills. Mary Oliver’s poem suggests a connection, perhaps even a dance between listening to human voices and listening to nature. Not so we can defend ourselves, but so we, too, can be led

…from the dryness of self
where I labor
with the mind-steps of language–

lonely, as we all are
in the singular….

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 June 2020
Singing Mockingbird found on YouTube
Recording belongs to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

It feels so good

It shouldn’t be difficult
This discipline of
Resisting

Resist the devil
And he will flee from you

Just say No
How hard can it be?

Close your eyes or
Turn off the TV
If you don’t like
What you see and hear

Write an angry letter
And be done with it

Unconvincing words and deeds
Scream the truth
As she stumbles her way home
Once again numb and high
On the self-righteous thrill
Of having given someone
A piece of her mind
Now lost somewhere
In the universe of babble

It feels so good—enabling Mr. Trump with my anger as well as my attention. Yet it does nothing to change what is beyond my control.

Or put another way, what am I neglecting when I give away so much energy, with no positive return?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2020
Resistance art found at pinterest.com

Exercise in concentration | Dorothee Soelle

It’s relatively easy to say I’m committed to resisting Mr. Trump. This includes resisting the noise that comes from and around him.

Like many Americans, I like to think we can ‘get things done’ if only we persist, act up, sound off, form a committee, create a ministry with a mission, advertise a lot, or pound the street recruiting foot soldiers.

In some senses, we can get things done. Yet there are moments in history when we need more than committees and ministries. This isn’t about organization. It’s about the content of our character.

Dorothee Soelle understood how difficult it is to resist without it being all about me and my ideas. Her exercise in concentration offers a more difficult starting point.

Exercise in concentration

If I’m absolutely still
I can hear the surge of the sea
from my bed
but it isn’t enough to be absolutely still
I also have to draw my thoughts away from the land

It isn’t enough to draw one’s thoughts away from the land
I also have to attune my breathing to the sea
because I hear less when I breathe in

It isn’t enough to attune one’s breath to the sea
I also have to ban impatience from my hands and feet

It isn’t enough to calm hands and feet
I also have to give up images

It isn’t enough to give up images
I have to rid myself of striving

It isn’t enough to be rid of striving
if I don’t relinquish my ego

It isn’t enough to relinquish the ego
I’m learning to fall

It isn’t enough to fall
but as I fall
and drop away from myself
I no longer
seek the sea
because the sea
has come up from the coast now
has entered my room
surrounds me

If I’m absolutely still

Dorothee Soelle, in Revolutionary Patience, pp. 42-43
Third printing, May 1984
© 1969 and 1974 by Wolfgang Fietkau Verlag, Berlin
English translation © 1977 by Orbis Books

A worthy challenge. Otherwise, I’m lost in a forest of my own making.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 May 2020
Photo found at macmillandictionaryblog.com

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

Small Bodies | Mary Oliver

Here’s a small parable for today. What do you think it’s about? My comments follow.

Small Bodies

It is almost summer. In the pond
The pickerel leap,
and the delicate teal have brought forth
their many charming young,
and the turtle is ravenous.
It is hard sometimes, oh Lord,
to be faithful.
I am more boldly made
than the little ducks, paddling and laughing.
But not so bold
as the turtle
with his greasy mouth.
I know you know everything—
I rely on this.
Still, there are so many small bodies in the world,
for which I am afraid.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
From her 2008 collection, Red Bird, p. 31
Published by Beacon Press 2008

Without top-dog animal predators, the natural world would cease to function efficiently. Without judicious pruning, trees wouldn’t develop strong, healthy branches or fruit.

But what about this ravenous, bold turtle with his greasy mouth? And what small bodies does Mary have in mind? Is this only about the pickerel, young teal and little ducks?

Mary Oliver opened her heart to nature – observing, describing and pondering what it might be telling or showing her. I imagine she discerns allegories or sees mirrors of what she experiences in human nature, including herself.

Given our current situation here in the USA, Mary might make connections between our pandemic world and the pond. We, too, have ‘so many small bodies’ vulnerable to predators and greasy-mouthed turtles. So many that, like Mary, I don’t know what to do or say except this:

I know you know everything—
I rely on this.

To be small and needy today is as dangerous as being a small duck in a ravenous turtle’s pond. Predatory behavior thrives at every level of governmental, public and private life. Especially when the pond is well-stocked with small bodies unable to fend for themselves, the number of ponds is drying up, and greasy-mouthed turtles grow ever larger and more ravenous.

Mary’s poem wasn’t meant to be a sermon. Still, it asks me to consider how I’m looking out (or not) for small bodies in our USA-style shrinking pond with its ravenous turtles.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 May 2020
Photo of baby Wood Ducks found at pinterest

How are you?


Photo taken on our last visit to Longwood Gardens, October 2019

It’s been so long
Since I laid eyes on you
Or heard the sound of
Your voice or felt the warmth
Of your body unfiltered
Through electronic wavelengths
From other planets
Unreachable if not lost
In some black hole

How are you? I
Can’t help asking everyone
In particular plus anyone
Caught in webs of good
And evil intentions
Now unraveling and
Morphing into something
Worse than promises
Of our certain liberation

And how am I?
I was never one to enjoy
Unproven fictions now seeping
Through locked doors
Demanding allegiance whether
Justified or not as promising
Moments shatter into shards
Of competing universes
Threatening to undo us

Just in case: Three questions for me, should I be called to serve on a jury anytime soon:

Do I wear a facemask in public?
Yes. I value my life and yours.

Am I prepared to die?
I’d like to think I am, but I’m not sure.

Does the current situation give me hope?
No. My hope does not rest on the current situation.

Not-so-random thoughts passing through my mind these days. I pray each of you is grounded in what matters most these days. And don’t forget to enjoy nature’s bounty!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 May 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser on October 2019, Longwood Gardens

Missing in action

Searching for myself
In this other-worldly place
My mind wanders
Down one path
and up another
Without a map
Or proper clothes
For a fading woman
Whose goal is
To get through today
Intact

Yesterday’s dreams
Sleep fitfully
In another time and space
Missing in action

I haven’t posted for several days, in part because of a few nagging health issues that required attention.

The biggest hurdle, though, has been coming to terms with my present reality. First, as a senior citizen with chronic pre-existing health conditions. And second, as a citizen of the USA, with the reality of Covid-19 as presided over (or not) by Mr. Trump.

The question I asked several weeks ago still nags at me. What will I do if I develop signs of Covid-19? What do I want, and what do I not want?

Last week I looked through old photos of my life with D and our family. I thought about what I want and do not want, should I need to be quarantined. I also consulted with a trusted friend who is going through a similar discernment.

In short, what I wrote in my Living Will eight years ago isn’t going to work for Covid-19. So I’m starting over.

I’ve decided to use Five Wishes as my framework this time. In large part because they offer a framework for talking about this with family members. I don’t want to be intubated, or moved to a hospital. What would that mean? Are we up for this?

In some ways, I’d rather stay lost in my old photos. They bring me laughter and joy. They remind me that I’ve lived a life I never thought I would have, and visited or lived in places I never expected to see. I want to be anchored to that reality instead of trying to figure out how I’ll stay alive for as long as possible.

A life isn’t made up of years. It’s made up of small and large moments. A mosaic, not a graph or timeline. D took the photo above in January 1976, the year I graduated from seminary. One small piece of our mosaic.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 May 2020
Photo taken by DAFraser in southern California, January 1976
 

Much ado about nothing

Laboring to stay focused
My mind wanders up and down
Back alleys of my mind

A young deer stares at me
From a flimsy one-page shelter
Of May meadow blossoms

Outside air is chill and damp
With the barometer falling
From a sky of prescient clouds

I feel the beat of my heart
And the urgency of getting
Something done today

Just beside my computer
A bright light stares my way
Flooding me with happy beams

My eyes wander back
To the deer who has yet
To blink an eye or make a move

Outside the earth rejoices
At the gift of clean and quiet air
Not what we expected

I grew up believing I was born to make a difference (for good, of course). Which, in my world, meant I was not born to sit around doing nothing. Especially when the world seemed to be falling apart.

Nonetheless, right now I’m practicing the option of doing nothing. Or at least ‘almost nothing.’

Hoping you enjoy a nice chunk of quiet downtime today or tomorrow. Nonstop pandemic distractions aren’t necessarily good for our health.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 May 2020
Photo found at rewildingeurope.com

Love Sorrow | Mary Oliver

This poem from Mary Oliver struck a chord in me. Partly due to the current pandemic, with its waves of sorrow. But also because of my personal history. My comments follow.

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.

© 2008 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Red Bird, a collection of poems
“Love Sorrow” is on p. 64

Dear Mary,

Your poem about loving sorrow brought back memories of my childhood and adult life. Especially things taken or withheld from me before I understood they were mine. Plus bits and pieces I lost or gave away throughout my life.

Sorrow, especially if it showed, was an indulgence I needed to give up. Or get over. What’s done is done. It won’t do to make my friends uneasy, or get into trouble with adults who wanted me to be someone else. I learned early to swallow or deny sorrow. Especially in public.

I think you would be horrified though not surprised at the world as it is today. We’re drowning in sorrow and anger, trying to figure out how this tsunami pandemic caught us so unprepared for death and dying, as well as living mindfully.

I don’t want to drown. I want to live and grow, especially now as time is running out.

Thank you for showing me how to befriend my sorrow. How to welcome her into my life, and learn to live with her as the child she is. And how to watch her begin to relax and grow into a strangely wonderful companion.

With gratitude and admiration,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 May 2020
Image found at 123rf.com

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