Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the human condition

Without a script

Appalled
My eyes retrace the
Tortuous path from
There to here

No magic formula
No prewritten script
No sense of how this
Will play out

With every page
My eyes tear up
Full of anguish
And the pain of
Reality writ large

Planning notes plus
Letters of disbelief
And anger magnify
the stakes on all sides

Win-win is not guaranteed
In this upside-down world
In which eldest daughter
Persists to the bitter end
Not for money or a break-through
But for her own sanity
And adult identity

During the last several days I reviewed my 1993 planning file for a  once in a lifetime meeting with my parents. I chose the eve of my 50th birthday. At the time, I was a professor at the seminary, depressed, and unable to relate as an adult to my parents. My father was a pastor, my mother was a church musician, and we four daughters were the preachers’ kids. A high stakes family.

My depression had become unmanageable. I needed professional help. One of my pastors, a woman, recommended several psychotherapists. I was terrified when I made my first enquiry. In my family, we never sought out “worldly” help for anything that smelled like psychology. Church and the Bible were all we needed.

Still, I took deep breaths, made my first phone call, and began seeing a psychotherapist twice a week. At my intake interview I never mentioned my difficult relationship with my father. Nonetheless, the woman interviewing me suggested I consider a meeting with my father. I was horrified.

Working with my therapist, I began from scratch. Not immediately, but after my first few years of therapy. This would be my meeting, structured and led by me. It wasn’t about ensuring a successful end or pleasing my parents. I lived in Pennsylvania; my parents lived in Georgia. My job was to initiate, plan, and produce an agenda for a meeting in Georgia. No dress rehearsal or second chance.

But first I had to clarify my boundaries. This changed everything, even before I began working on a meeting in Georgia. More about boundaries in a later post.

Thanks for stopping by. Praying for clarity, wisdom and courage in these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2021
Photo found at unsplash.com

What females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

Dancing with Reality

Taking stock from
The moment I put feet
On the ground
I wonder what this
Day will bring though
I already know the
News won’t be
What I expected

I always thought
A life of healthy choices
Would save me from
The ignominy of so-called
Failure or decrepitude
Despite external indicators
And internal mysteries
To the contrary

This morning I looked into
The mirror of today
Wondering how and
Where and when and why
Things fell out for me
In places I never dreamed
Of meeting on a cold or
Hot day in this short journey

Sinking into a chair I heave
Sighs of relief knowing that
Whatever the next checkup
Brings it won’t destroy
What already wants to
Dance without missing a beat
Or falling to the floor
In sheer exhaustion

I’m still learning what it means to live with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs. Each day offers multiple challenges. Which orthopedic shoes will I wear today? What can I do to keep the pain down? (Would you believe walk more?!) In three weeks I’ll have tests to determine how much damage has already been done.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for informative internet sites that aren’t trying to sell a product, a service, or a magic wand solution to a complex health issue. Here’s a reliable link to the National Institute of Health: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.

Thanks for stopping by, and a belated happy Fall (here in the USA), or Spring (in Australia, for example). In case you’re wondering, the photo at the top is there because I like it. A bit of fall foliage at Longwood Gardens in October 2019.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, October 2019

Our perpetual disunion

It’s early morning
Mother’s soft blue poncho
Falls gently across chilled shoulders
And down my back
Warming my trembling limbs

A poignant reminder
Of chronic pain she bore
In her polio-haunted body
Relieved only by force of will

Plus pills from the pharmacy
And sheer determination
To show up for her four daughters
Caught with her in a web of
Perpetual male dominance
And punishment exercised religiously

Without recourse to angels or
Courts of justice in any state
Of our perpetual disunion

How long will it take for this nation to experience liberty and justice for all? The proud words of our Constitution hide a plethora of Unspoken Rules that Will Not Be Broken. Not now. Not ever. Not even if it means the world is dying.

I didn’t see it back then. I was young, naïve, and optimistic. There have always been women and men of good will. Yet we continually capitulate to the shenanigans and outright lawlessness of those with the greatest wealth plus the best connections to people in high places.

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, our little family was a microcosm of what was already going on. I applaud the younger generation’s determination to fight for something better. Sadly, the cards are still stacked against a just, life-sustaining future for all human beings and this planet we call home.

I’m grateful I’ve lived long enough to understand many family dynamics of my childhood and youth. I wish I could say the same about the dynamics of our nation. I pray we won’t stop showing up for each other, despite the agony and unpredictability of life today.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2021
Photo of my family taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

Life disrupted

Taken the day before our 56th wedding anniversary in
the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Life’s disruptions don’t
Knock politely at the door
No matter the time of day
Or night

How quickly
Things change or
So it seems
Though looking back
The signs were screaming
At me in early warnings
Burning through thick
Clouds of denial
And my belief that this
Couldn’t be happening
To me

I know what it is. I won’t know for over a month the extent of damage already done to my feet and legs. My kind, knowledgeable physician’s assistant will need to poke my feet and legs with needles, among other things. That happens in late October.

Still, I know what this intruder is. It’s already reshaping my life, though I’m not ‘officially’ a candidate for this plague. Peripheral Neuropathy. Fancy words for burning feet and all that goes with it.

Most difficult right now is learning (by hit and miss) how much I can walk or stand on my feet before they scream for mercy. I’m grateful for orthopedic sandals that help ease the pain, though even they can’t make the pain go away. I’m learning the hard way to sit as often as needed, and walk as often as feasible.

This morning I returned to an old discipline that helps me stay centered when things are tough: three pages of nonstop writing. Whatever pops into my mind, no matter what kind of language it requires! I highly recommend it.

Thanks for stopping by, and for being part of my life. The photo at the top is to let you know I haven’t forgotten the promised Longwood Gardens post!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory, 10 September 2021

I Happened To Be Standing | Mary Oliver

I haven’t been able to get Mary Oliver’s poem about prayer out of my mind. My comments follow.

I Happened To Be Standing

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver, pp 3-4
First published in the USA by Penguin Press, 2012
© 2012 by NW Orchard LLC

Dear Mary,

I happened to be sitting yesterday in the small waiting room of a physician’s office I didn’t want to visit. Well…I didn’t have an appointment with the doctor himself, but with one of his very talented assistants, both women of course. But see, I’m already off track.

While I sat for what turned into a longer than expected wait, I pulled out your small and wonderful book of poems, A Thousand Mornings.

I had at least a thousand prayers in me as I waited. Most were in the petition mode, given the nature of this first visit to a specialist I never thought I would meet. Now look at that…I’m off track yet again.

I didn’t read your poem once. I read it many times. It exposed my angst, fear, and resistance in that moment to turning my attention outward and upward, with or without a song.

It  was good I had to wait longer than I liked. I needed every second to find my way back to that small wren singing its little heart out—by way of your beautiful poem.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2021
Photo of Carolina Wren found at unsplash.com

Food from above

My eyes land on mama squirrel
Alone on our stone wall
Now transformed into a low table
Of aging sunflower platters
Bursting with food from above —
A banquet waiting for guests

One by one she tackles
Her task with a vengeance
No pausing to enjoy the morning
Sunshine or the gorgeous
Blue sky above, she focuses
Intently on food for her babies

Only one small break for a
Quick drink from the bird bath
And she’s back at it ferociously
Determined to carry home
More than enough for the
Next generation’s deep hunger

No, she wasn’t particularly beautiful. Her body hair bore marks of nest stress, and she was clearly in a hurry to collect as much food as possible for her little ones.

For at least five minutes I watched through my binoculars before she took off. Then I teared up thinking about how much our Creator cares for me and for you.

No, we won’t necessarily find food lying around waiting for us to take it home for ourselves or our families. On the other hand, sometimes the food we need is at hand, if only we have eyes to see or hear, and courage to accept what is right in front of us. In plain view, if not always beautiful.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 September 2021
photo found at projectnoah.org

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

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’m 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….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

Our 9/11/1965 Wedding Anniversary

Saturday, 9/11/2021, is our 56th wedding anniversary. Tomorrow we’re taking off for Longwood Gardens to celebrate. Most of the news will be focused on what happened 20 years ago, and the way our nation has changed since then.

So what about 56 years of marriage? When D and I married in 1965, we inherited challenges we didn’t see coming. For my part, I thought all my problems, if I had any, would magically fade away. Instead, it took years to recognize how handicapped I was on our wedding day. Here’s a look at some of what it took for me to address habits and assumptions I brought into our marriage.

  • Admitting I needed help with depression, and connecting with trustworthy people such as Al-Anon friends and my psychotherapist, beginning in my mid to late 40s
  • Telling D things I didn’t want to talk about because I felt embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Listening to D without jumping in to have my say before he finishes what he has to say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Talking about painful mistakes and starting over with small steps, one at a time
  • Learning to accept and live with health issues I didn’t see coming
  • Letting D sometimes do things I’ve usually done for myself, but don’t now have energy to accomplish
  • Accepting less than perfection in housecleaning and keeping to a schedule
  • Taking time to get away from our house via walks in the neighborhood, visits to Longwood Gardens, church as we’re able, and back yard conversations with neighbors
  • Spending time together each evening with Smudge snoozing on our laps

Today my bottom line is still the same as ever: Marriage takes hard work and willingness to die. Not physical death, but dying to my dreams for us, my way of seeing D’s world, my brilliant ideas….and finding there’s hope in creatively rethinking together our daily or long-term challenges. Especially now, 20 years after the 9/11 attack, and just 2 years into Covid nightmares, weather-related upheavals, and a breakdown of goodwill.

Thanks for your visit today! Each moment of today is a precious opportunity to reach out to those we love.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2021
Photo of two lovely couples taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony in Savannah, Georgia. Sister #2 is on the left with her husband (now deceased).

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