Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the human condition

The Sixth Recognition of the Lord | Mary Oliver

Every summer the lilies rise
and open their white hands until they almost
cover the black waters of the pond. And I give
thanks but it does not seem like adequate thanks,
it doesn’t seem
festive enough or constant enough, nor does the
name of the Lord or the words of thanksgiving come
into it often enough. Everywhere I go I am
treated like royalty, which I am not. I thirst and
am given water. My eyes thirst and I am give
the white lilies on the black water. My heart
sings but the apparatus of singing doesn’t convey
half what it feels and means. In spring there’s hope,
in fall the exquisite, necessary diminishing, in
winter I am as sleepy as any beast in its
leafy cave, but in summer there is
everywhere the luminous sprawl of gifts,
the hospitality of the Lord and my
inadequate answers as I row my beautiful, temporary body
through this water-lily world.

© 2006 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 28

Dear Mary,

Your poem made me weep. I don’t know if you intended this, but your “Recognition of the Lord” is also a recognition of your “beautiful, temporary body.”

I long for a permanent body as beautiful as your water-lily world. Not the kind of beauty that gets attention, but the beauty that’s carried in our hearts and souls. No matter what’s happening to our aging bodies.

I never thought of myself as beautiful when I was growing up. Even now, the most I can usually admit is that I’m acceptable. My husband of many years has trouble convincing me that to him, I’m more than acceptable.

What challenges me when I think about the water lilies, roses, peonies, lilacs, and azaleas is that they never complain about the astonishing brevity of their beauty. Here today and gone tomorrow.

Do I want to be like they are? Sadly, no amount of makeup or other ways we try to fool nature will ever satisfy me. So this lovely Recognition of the Lord, the One who created us, is incredibly demanding. Yes, we have our time to flourish, and yes, we fade. Like flowers of the field and water lilies.

If this is meant to comfort me in my aging body, I still have work to do. Letting go isn’t my favorite pastime. Which, I’m guessing, wasn’t yours, either.

Thank you for prodding my heart and mind today, and sharing your lovely and beautiful voice with all of us.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 July 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, June 2019

Sunflowers and Cicadas

Lost in a crowd
Wondering who I am
today and what will
become of us

A sunflower dropped
into the earth by
accident or design
pays no attention

Cicadas raise their
shrill chorus and fall
back into waves of
welcome silence

Hot sunrays pierce
the haze of dawn
with a vigor I cannot
mimic or resurrect

Climbing a small hill
and moving from shade
to shade I wake up
to this burning day

What is progress? I hope I’m making some today. A recent appointment with my integrative doctor produced more follow-up than I like. It feels like being in half-here mode. Living between what I’ve been and whatever comes next. It’s pushing me back to hard questions about what I will and will not agree to at this time of my life. And, more important, what I want to do with my time right now.

In the meantime, I’m mesmerized by our impromptu sunflower family springing from the earth beneath last winter’s large bird feeder. You’d think I’d never seen a sunflower. Nevertheless, it’s magical to find unplanned beauty right in our back yard.

Hoping you’ll find beauty in small things today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2021
Backyard photo taken by DAFraser, 25 July 2021

Photo Therapy for My Heart

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I first published this on 3 February 2016, a few weeks after Mr. Trump became President. The post features several photos I find calm and reassuring no matter what’s happening around or in me. Today Mr. Biden is our President, and there is still much to lament, and not much certainty about our tomorrows. I hope you enjoy the photos and find some peace slipping into your heart.

That’s a mature Dawn Redwood at the top. We’re in Longwood Gardens in their large-tree arboretum. It’s a scorching hot day. The tree’s inviting limbs offer rest in the shade. No entrance fee. No time limit. No requirements except that I step into the shade. Into the relaxing and reassuring freedom of our Creator’s care for me, no matter my age or my health.

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Here’s a tiny flower of the field in the Longwood Meadow Garden. Fragile, delicate, one-of-a-kind, like a snowflake. Here today, gone tomorrow. Yet known to God who delights in the beauty of this world. I can’t help thinking about human life, and the One who creates and fully understands our fragile mortal beauty.

As a parent has compassion for his or her children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear God.
For God knows how we were made,
and remembers that we are dust.
As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of God
is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear God….

Psalm 103:13-17a

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Here I’m  standing in a square pavilion that circles this magnificent eye of water. We’re in the oriental area of the Arboretum at Longwood Gardens. The sound is stunning. A steady flow of water wells up in the ‘pupil’ of the eye and gently cascades down into the pool.

The small dots around the edge are pennies–wishes tossed in by visitors. For me, this is one of the most calming sites in the gardens. Usually there aren’t many visitors here. The benches around the border invite meditation and relaxation, accompanied by the steady sound of water falling. That’s my back to the camera. I’m looking out at the stream that flows downhill from the eye of water before the water is recycled back to the top to overflow yet again.

Finally, one of my favorites. It isn’t spectacularly beautiful like many other Longwood Gardens photos. This is right next to a path, not hidden away in the woods. We’re near the meadow and the water ponds. This mama is doing what our Creator wants to do for each of us. She’s taking her chicks under wings. Keeping them safe, warm, dry and calm. Just where my heart wants to be right now!

Nesting at Longwood

Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 February 2016, lightly edited and reposted 24 July 2021
Photo credit: DAFraser, Longwood Gardens

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

Our current bankruptcy

When all is not said or done
for want of Wisdom,
What more is there
to do but close my eyes
and sleep the sleep
of wearied souls

I used to think old age
would bring increased
Wisdom if not Wealth
And yet I observe how
much more rewarding
it is to stockpile Wealth

and send Wisdom packing
to the dogs as they say
when dismissing what
seems not worth saving
much less passing along
to the next generation

Then again we never were
a nation of invaders
schooled in the art of
Wisdom as Wealth
How else to explain our
Growing bankruptcy?

Watching news outlets is sometimes like playing Which side are you on? Or Gasp-Worthy News. Or now we’ll interview past holders of political office to see what they think about today’s gasp-worthy news though sadly, they no longer have power to change our growing polarizations.

Is this what we want to leave to our children and their children? Of course not. And yet…..

What’s a citizen to do? The most difficult challenge I face daily isn’t the news, but how I interact with friends and strangers. What would it be like to suspend all news, and actually get to know more neighbors and neighborly strangers?

Time? Yes. Also effort, patience and persistence. And, above all, an open heart ready for Wisdom to grow a tiny bit stronger than it was yesterday.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 July 2021
Image found at snopes.com

Masks

 

Horst Lemke sketch for Psalm 139:1-6, Die Gute Nachricht, published by Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart, 1978

Every morning, along with enjoying the birds and squirrels, I read a bit of German. It’s a way to stay in touch with a language in which I was once fluent. I begin with a Bach Chorale each day (music plus 1st stanza in German). Most of the time that’s more than enough!

However…A few days ago, right after the Bach Chorale, I picked up my copy of The Good News in German, purchased in July 1980. It fell open to the sketch above by Horst Lemke. It struck a chord in me, partly because of our current situation in the USA and elsewhere. But mainly because Psalm 139 rightly assumes each of us owns at least one mask–though we may not own or be wearing a Covid-style mask.

I teared up as I read the passage below, given our current national and international challenges and catastrophes.

Psalm 139:1-12 from the Good News Bible in English (pp. 744-45)

Lord, you have examined me and you know me.
You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.
You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.
Even before I speak, you already know what I will say,
You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.
Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.

Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
you would be there to lead me; you would be there to help me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night,
but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

The rest of Psalm 139 is equally beautiful and powerful. Just what I need during these days of chaos, unplanned disasters, deep divisions, and masks behind masks.

Praying you’ll find your way today, knowing that the One who created each of us hasn’t forgotten our names, our faces, or our circumstances.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 July 2021
Sketch by Horst Lemke found in Die Gute Nachricht, p. 419
©1978 Deutsche Bibelstiftung Stuttgart

Summer and what comes next

Heaviness sits on my heart
waiting for the next beat
of life that diminishes daily
without so much as a
fond farewell or kiss of peace

Outside the air blazes
with heat and the sound
of nothing in general since
the smart people left
for the beach long ago

Two small bird baths
sit ready for the steady
drop-in of customers
cleaning their whistles
and frolicking in water

A small huddle of live
sunflower plants lift
their faces upward without
a murmur or so much as
a pair of sunglasses

Ringing in my ear reminds
me of cicadas that haven’t
yet made it back to our
neighborhood though we
were expecting cacophony

What more is there to do
on a hot summer day than
take it easy and write a
poem for friends I’ve often
met right here and now

I’m keenly aware of my age these days, especially with recurring heat emergencies here in Eastern Pennsylvania. I’m also thinking about what comes next, regardless of the heat.

Right now I’m working through my office–my last bastion of files, piles, and seeming disorder that passes for good-enough order most of the time. And yes, tears are part of the deal. Happy tears, sad tears, disbelieving tears, and the teary acknowledgment of how many gifted women and men I’ve worked with and taught over the years.

Thanks for stopping by today. I pray each of us will come to know and appreciate ourselves and what we bring to this world a bit more each day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 July 2021
Photo found at pixabay.com

A Lament and a Catbird

Whatever falls from
My tongue daily betrays
My sad acknowledgement
Of growing limitations
And disinterest in
Keeping up with the latest
So-called improvements
Intended to make writing
A joy a bliss or even an ecstasy
Beyond knowing or understanding

Which would be my current
Problem precisely to a T –
Not knowing and not understanding
And beyond that not interested
in finding out how to navigate
the avalanche of ever so
unhelpful changes now multiplying
like lantern-flies or cicadas or
voracious ants or even Smudge’s
daily attempts to cool his body
via white-fur dumps everywhere

No, I’m not going crazy. I’m fed up with the pace of changes. Yes, I have a live-in expert who remembers everything. His on-line name is D. However, he is not paid nearly enough to save me from my own ineptitude.

Here’s reality in a nutshell: I am a writer. I love being a writer. Nothing makes me happier these days than letting what’s inside make its way onto the page and then sharing it with you.

My favorite thing yesterday was watching our back-yard catbird ecstatically splashing in the birdbath, throwing water up into the air with his wings, and catching the drops as they fell on his hot little body. I witnessed three such episodes. I also got a dose of his scolding call when I was cleaning and refilling his lovely little bathtub!

Praying today brings joy in the midst of everyday frustrations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2021
Photo of catbird bathing found at thebackyardnaturalist.com

On My Mother’s Table | Memories

Photo taken in 1948, before Mother came down with polio in 1949
Ruth, Elouise, Dad, Mother, and Grandpa Gury

I’m reposting this in honor of my mother, Eileen Gury Renich, born 12 July 1921.
I often wonder what she would have been like without polio or the pain of her childhood.
It colored everything that happened in my life.

A graceful old table
With fold-down wings
On each side and
Beautiful scrolling
Along the edges
Sits there in the kitchen
Small and old with just enough
Room to turn around

A small pantry hides beneath
stairs to the second floor
A window looks out
Above the small porcelain sink
With ridged sideboard

A small walk-through kitchen
With four doors
Impossible to miss stands
Ready and quick to reach

There on the table they sit
In their permanent space
Neatly arranged on a medium-size
Round tray never messy always tidy
Kept just next to the short wall
Out of the way not in your face
Part of the scenery
Normal things needed daily in
My Mother’s kitchen

Salt and pepper
A sugar bowl and bottle of creamer
Instant coffee and paper napkins
Or were they paper towels
I’m not quite sure
Vitamins and minerals
Aspirin and toothpicks
Small round Rx bottles neatly arranged
At least a dozen sometimes more
Coming and going as needed
New and old as prescribed
One on top of the other
For the latest pain or muscle discomfort
Carefully labeled and marked with her name
Mother’s name only not anyone else’s
Her cafeteria of pain-killers and relaxants
Old friends from polio days plus
New friends added to her
Growing collection of pills or
Were they drugs from
Multiple doctors with multiple solutions

A potent mix of ingredients
For multiple ailments in multiple periods
Of her pain-ridden sleep-deprived life
Sit neatly on the table
Ready at a moment’s notice
Would you please bring me
My phenobarbital and a cup of coffee?
Caffeine and barby doll her friends for life
But at what cost?
Drugs free from a friend’s prescription shop
But at what cost?

* * *

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2015, edited and reposted 12 July 2021,
the anniversary of my Mother’s birth (12 July 1921 – 17 Feb. 1999)

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2021
Tourist photo taken in 1948

Slogging

Heavy air
Crushes lungs
Dragging
My body
Up the hill
In hot
Humid air

No elation
Just the
Steady beat
Of aching feet
Meeting hot
Pavement
Despite
Beauty all
Around
Begging
For attention

This morning’s humid air was heavier than I am, bearing down relentlessly despite my determination to finish walking through the neighborhood.

I do not consider the above to be one of my better poems. Which is just as well, given the circumstances. Nonetheless, it is the full truth about this morning’s usually cheery walk filled with happy bird-song.

Slogging. My word for the day. According to Merriam Webster it means “To plod (one’s way) perseveringly especially against difficulty.”

So here’s the irony of aging, which I put in the ‘difficulty’ box:  The smarter we get, the slower we go.

That’s it in a nutshell. The great conundrum of senior wisdom based on experience, now trapped in aging bodies. Which, when I’m honest, can also be encouraging. Not the slow part, but the smarter part.

In other words, I like to believe my life experience (good, bad, ugly, disgusting, heavenly) has taught me more than I ever learned in school, at home, or even in the church. This is true whether I’m able to remember and articulate it, or not.

For now, I’m sticking close to home which has its own slogging work to do!

Here’s hoping you’re still in one piece and thriving at the end of this week.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2021
Photo found at mentalfloss.com

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