Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the human condition

Egrets | Mary Oliver

I wonder what Mary Oliver would say about us today. Especially about the last year and the coming four years. We can’t know, given her death on 17 January 2019. Still, there’s a message for us in this poem. I need it. Do you? My comments follow.

Egrets

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
the mosquitoes
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.

And that’s how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
wrinkled suddenly
into three egrets –
a shower
of white fire!

Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them –
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.

Poem by Mary Oliver.

Do you hear it in the poem? Mary keeps going, and the egrets keep going.

Mary is determined to find the pond, no matter how obliterated the path has become, how many thorns tear into her arms, or how many mosquitos dive-bomb her for a bite or two.

Finally, Mary comes to the pond and sees three beautiful egrets! They aren’t sweaty or frustrated. They’re not batting away the mosquitoes. Instead, not by logic but by faith, they “opened their wings softly and stepped over every dark thing.” All this despite hot, humid, mosquito-infested air, and rot lying beneath the surface of the pond.

Am I prepared to keep going as Mary did?

I’m grateful and relieved to have President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the helm. Still, we already know at least some of what they know: We’ve inherited a nation filled with untended paths, thorns, pesky mosquitoes, and a swamp full of rotting hulks and hidden traps lying just beneath the surface.

Slogging and soaring. It seems both are necessary. Though slogging, on its own, isn’t enough.

We need to soar. Not by flying away from the swamp, but by banking on faith, not simply logic. The egrets show Mary and us the way. They use their wings not to leave the swamp, but to step quietly and without fanfare over “every dark thing.”

Praying we’ll find our way, plus unexpected beauty from time to time.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2021
Photo found at pixels.com

Photographer: TF Baccari

A bit of bravado

The space between
My father’s voice and
The voices of those
In authority over me
Is very small indeed

With one quick stroke of
A heartbeat my confidence
Drains away like blood
Refusing to flow through
My body red and strong

I spoke my naked mind
To my father hoping to
Reclaim a voice lost
Somewhere in the now
Distant past of childhood

Today I must speak my mind
To systems that like my father
Believe they have the answers
Without any desire to listen
To real people with real lives.

I don’t have visible power or
The glory of being in charge
Or standing without guilt before
God and country or even the
Church I still love despite it all

Thoughts and feelings like these resurfaced in the last several days. It began with the attack on the Capitol building, followed by the feeling of being invaded in my own home. Which led to wondering whether I should smooth out some of my yet to be written blog entries.

I’m grateful I’ve moved beyond that for now. Still, I’m no less aware that we here in the USA are in a situation for which there is no map.

My mother wasn’t allowed to speak her truth. Neither was I or my three younger sisters. Instead, we often ended up vying for Daddy’s favor. My main objective was to get through the next bad scene without another beating. It took bravado, though I often got into trouble anyway. Still, I scraped together enough bravado to maintain my sense of self, desecrated as it was.

For this coming year I’m counting on truth, and hoping for a bit of bravado! My blog is still about telling the truth. Now notched up a bit, given the woman I am today, the situation in which we find ourselves, and the reality of my impending death. Time is running out.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 Jan 2021
Photo of Bravado Echinacea (coneflower family) found at garden.org

Made in the USA

Wouldn’t it be grand
To write Trump’s presidency off
And say Done!
As he walks into the setting sun

Yet even as we sleep
A trillion seeds
Sow discord and
Disdain from sea
To shining sea
From the mountains
To the prairies

This isn’t the Trump Brand
It’s the USA Brand
“Made in the USA”
Our perpetual motion display
Of disdain for neighbors
And for strangers within
Our gates looking for
Nothing more than
A life on this earth
Free of the relentless
Task of living in two or more
Worlds at the same time

Black lives
Shades of Brown lives
And don’t forget the women and children
And men of any color at all
Struggling to make ends meet
In every state of our disunion

The Not Welcome Sign
Now rusty and ugly
Hangs in the breeze
Mourning and begging
To be taken down

Are we too late?
Worse yet, have we begun
Another endless chapter
In Our Great Myth of the USA?

As long as our Creator gives me breath, I’m committed to telling the truth.

Sometimes I’m tempted to hold back. Guard my flanks. Lower the flag of protest or truth just a bit. Yet I didn’t begin this blog in order to tell the truth about what’s sweet and nice.

When I posted yesterday’s poem, I felt a bit edgy. Not because of what I said, but because I said it at all. Silence might seem safer and easier. From my childhood, however, I know that’s a lie.

Whether written, lived or spoken, it doesn’t matter. Truth is the only way we’ll find ourselves and make our way together, whether we like the truth or not. Otherwise, we’re running around or hunkering down in our small worlds, or we’re trying (like Trump) to make huge splashes that might feel good, yet do nothing to promote our common welfare.

Thanks again for visiting and reading,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 January 2021
Image found at forbes.com

Alas, Mr. Trump

Alas, Mr. Trump
You are Not the Only Problem
I know you won’t like it
But it’s the naked truth

They smiled and cheered
And raised their weapons
Of warfare screaming
Bravo as you preened

Forgive me for being
So blunt or don’t forgive me
Because it really doesn’t matter
You are Not the Only Problem

In the chaos of last week’s attack on Congress, it was crystal clear. Several weaponed-up angry white men shouted, ‘This isn’t Trump’s war. It’s ours!’ They’d moved way beyond Trump who, it seems, was the high-ranking inciter and/or supporter of violence they’d dreamed of for years. A cover and a disposable figure. An excuse for mayhem and murder.

Before and after becoming POTUS, Mr. Trump was and still is an inciter of white, mostly male pride, privilege, and crude violence unleashed, unafraid, and unrepentant. Is impeachment enough to satisfy the last four years of incitement to violence and disdain?

I don’t have answers. Nor will we find answers until we white citizens take seriously the history of the USA. For decades we’ve endured or ignored regular disruptions of mostly white “I’ll do it my way” men and women. Including standoffs by white men armed with rifles in this ‘land of the free and home of the brave.’

For the most part, they got away with it then and they get away with it now. Yes, a token number of people are being arrested for last week’s attack on Congress. Still, many have disappeared into the woodwork. There’s no way this attack would have happened if the perpetrators had been black.

Here’s now W. E. B. Du Bois puts it in his early 1900’s essay, “The Souls of White Folk” (emphasis mine).

Murder may swagger, theft may rule and prostitution may flourish and the nation gives but spasmodic, intermittent and lukewarm attention. But let the murderer be black or the thief be brown or the violator of womanhood have a drop of Negro blood, and the righteousness of the indignation sweeps the world. Nor would this fact make the indignation less justifiable did not we all know that it was blackness that was condemned and not crime.

Do we have the guts to condemn white crime? And to hold white Mr. Trump accountable for collusion, if not incitement?

Praying for courage to change the things we can,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 January 2021
Image found at nytimes.com

The nature of our souls

Slow motion rollout
of a white horror show

Surreal white choices
(one would be too many)
to humor or ignore POTUS

A white-washed sense
of entitlement plus

White-washed decisions
to treat white-washed intruders
with white-kid gloves

Meanwhile, white POTUS cowers in the White House

Congressional Building guards caught
off-guard without a plan of attack
to restrain white-washed white folk

no game plan
no war-like riot gear
no immediate shooting
from the hip

just bald-faced white anger
sending a white message to
the world from white intruders
and white ‘defenders’ alike

Beyond this patch-up of verses, I don’t have a quick solution to our deadly, death-dealing disease that keeps strangers at a distance.

The challenge to President-Elect Joe Biden and to us as a nation is clear. It isn’t how did this happen, as though a better plan would have held back this surge. It’s about why this happened, and what we can learn from our own responses to it.

Yes, Mr. Trump incited this riot. On the other hand, it couldn’t have happened  without the collusion of white America.

Distancing ourselves from our own national mess, ignoring it, or gasping in horror and then looking the other way isn’t an option. Especially for those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the nature of our souls, measured by our willingness to begin at the very beginning. As strangers in need of each other.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 January 2021
Image found at patheos.com

Yesterday’s sorrows

A chain of prayer
Rises in midnight hours
As restless sleepers
Wake to the sound
Of yesterday’s sorrows
Rising to the surface

Perhaps one’s own trials
Or a loved one’s emergency
Or dense silence inviting
A song or a prayer to
Fill the empty void of night
Broken only by the wind

Since the beginning of Covid-19 social distancing, I sometimes find night silence distressing.

It happened again last night. Not just because of what’s going on out there, but also what’s rising to the surface in me. Sadness, sorrow, and trepidation. Names of family members who tested positive for Covid-19, now in quarantine because of contact with someone else. An urgent request for prayer from a former colleague. Or even a welcome email from a former student now living in another country, without many options.

One of the gifts of this painfully long social distancing has been a measure of quiet in the house. At night, however, silence weighs heavily when I want to get back to sleep. Hopefully unheard by D, I sometimes begin singing (very softly) favorite hymns as they pop into my mind. Not just one verse, but as many as I can recall. Think of an extended lullaby.

Other times I go down my mental list of friends and family members having more challenges than usual just now. Then I whisper (often with tears) my gratitude for D, for Smudge, for our neighbors, and for opportunities to support local and worldwide relief efforts.

Somewhere in the middle of all that it usually happens. I drift off to sleep. If I don’t, I go to my office, close the door, open my journal, and write my heart out. Thankfully, this last resort is rare. Still, it works like a charm. The tears flow freely, and then I’m back to bed and sleep.

I pray each of you finds ways to sleep well, and exercise your faith and gratitude during these strange months of Covid-19 et al, already extending into another year. Happy Wednesday!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 January 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

What we’ve lost

The urge to write is upon me
Though ‘about what’ escapes me
Not because nothing is happening
But because my world is shrinking

Behind me an organ plays and
A choir sings about what we’ve lost
A kind of dirge marching slowly
Across pages of my weary mind

Yesterday I gave up trying to figure
It all out as though truth were a
Puzzle to solve for fun and recreation
Before blowing it to smithereens

Is this the beginning of the end?
For what am I willing to live or die?
And why am I here in the first place?
Does anyone out there know or care?

The heaviness of our post-election massacre of truth isn’t a good sign. I keep reminding myself that ‘they’ and ‘we’ are not in control. Though what we do matters, what happens next matters even more, regardless of the outcome of this political tantrum about the 2020 Election. Following the wrong leader can be deadly.

In addition, finding our way home is more difficult and not nearly as much fun as getting lost. Do we have enough shared good will or desire to find our way home, together? Perhaps we’re too busy scoring points, or too certain this attempt to keep Trump in office will fail. Maybe we’re unwilling to see what we’re doing to each other, no matter the outcome.

And here’s another reality: Disenfranchising certain voters has been happening for decades, though it’s never happened to me. Perhaps the silver lining in this cloud is that some of us will finally get it. That is, how it feels and what it means to be deemed nobody.

Happy New Year to each of you, and thank you for visiting.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2021
Image found at mynorthwest.com

Life and Death | New Year’s Eve 2020

Words flow like honey
Filled with sharp barbs
Invisible and relentless

Each birth
Each birthday
Each anniversary
Each retirement whether
Planned or not
Each debilitating accident
Each political chess game
You didn’t see coming
Plus Colvid-19 and who’s
Who in the Electoral College Zoo

Grace and glory mixed with
Wormwood and gall
Invite us into the reality of death
Not once in this precarious life
But over and over one day
Following another like a bad
Or good dream depending on
How the ball bounces or
Where it lands on the roulette wheel
Or where we place our trust
As the end precedes the beginning
One day at a time inviting our
Attention not to things that
Dissipate inevitable sorrow
But to sweet gifts of life
Small and almost invisible
Accompanying us into
Each new day and
This new year

Most of my life I’ve assumed New Year Day was the beginning of another great adventure. This year I’m taking it as an invitation not to ignore my coming death. Not because I’m “old” but because I’ve never known when my last breath would leave my body.

Add to that the shape of things today. Not just Covid-19, but streaming refugees, loss of trust between the USA and former allies, the nightmare-like nature of post-Election 2020 claims, grossly inadequate attention to issues related to race, ethnicity, local economies, and growing wealth among those who need it least.

What does this mean? I’ve lived most of my adult life by daily lists. To-do lists. The kind that invite a feeling of despair because they’re never finished. Never.

During the last few weeks I’ve focused on four things that bring me joy: blogging, music, writing poetry, and walking with D. I can’t attend to all of them every day. Still, any one of them is, for me, a way of acknowledging life is short. I don’t have time to waste by avoiding them. Besides, avoiding what I most love won’t bring me joy I could be having right now.

Praying you’ll find your way into joy and alert peace this coming year. This life isn’t over until it’s over.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 December 2020
Image found at travelmanitoba.com

No Room at the Inn | Thomas Merton

I know. Christmas is “over.” Isn’t it?

Yesterday evening I received an email from a friend of many years. Among other things, he passed along the ‘poem’ below, even though it wasn’t written as a poem. 

The excerpt (below) is from an essay, No Room at the Inn, by Thomas Merton. The essay is included in Raids on the Unspeakable, a selection of essays Merton wrote from 1960 to 1966, during the Viet Nam War. The small collection is published in Canada by Penguin Books Canada, and in New York by New Directions Publishing Corp.

Here’s the excerpt, in poetic form.  

No Room at the Inn

Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.

But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power, because
they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied status of persons,
who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.

With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.

Here’s the rub. I say I’m following Jesus. Am I ready for this? Do I really want to be known as ‘one of them’? 

Praying we’ll find strength and grace in the coming year to join those shut out from the inns of this world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 December 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

Christmas Eve 2020

Torn between competing worlds
I can’t remember when life felt
this precarious on the eve
of Your birthday celebration

Would You understand
if I told You I don’t feel like
celebrating this year?

Instead I want to be in that
stable with Mary and Joseph
Not just because it’s wonderful
But because it’s dangerous

No, I’m not looking for trouble. I’m wondering what it takes to put myself out there at this age. Can I hope for anything but being treated like a little old lady?

Not that I mind being a little old lady. In fact, WordPress makes it as easy as possible for me to speak my mind freely. So do my followers and visitors.

Nonetheless, I wonder what would happen if I said in my large family circle or in my church, straight-out, what I often say here when I’m blogging. I don’t know the answer, though I expect some might be distressed, or try to fix me. Others might pray for me, which is never a bad idea.

I’m no revolutionary. Still, sometimes the effort of putting out just one post lets me know I’ve had a relatively easy life. In addition, I wasn’t given the gift of confidence in my own voice when I was growing up.

Today the stakes are painfully high. We’re caught here together on this planet. It’s Christmas Eve, and too many of our political, social and religious leaders already know the script. The one called “How to Pretend I’m God and You’re Nobody.”

I don’t mean to sound cynical. Instead, it strikes me as miraculous that Jesus of Nazareth was born as a Nobody. The kind who kept getting in the way, until what amounted to a lynch mob tried to take him down. Yes, he died, and yes, the dance goes on.

Praying you have a thoughtful, encouraging Christmas Eve and Day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 December 2020
Night sky image found at astronomytrek.com

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