Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: the human condition

Transformation

Shepherds and sheep
Transformed at the sight
Of one small baby in a
Rude bed – the table set
Unexpectedly for all who
Dare follow this child into
Our upside-down world of
Rags to riches-and-glory–Now made small and lost
In an upside-down kingdom
Of lowly shepherds and dumb
Sheep besotted at the sight
Of a tiny homeless babe
Birthed in a stable beneath
Stars in the night sky

I know. It isn’t Christmas. Nonetheless, during the past week I enjoyed revisiting Dinah Roe Kendall’s collection of her paintings, Allegories of Heaven. In it she explores the “Greatest Story Ever Told.” The collection includes Kendall’s brief comments about her paintings, and short excerpts from Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message.

These days I’m learning to spend half an hour each day with myself. Not with a list of things to do, but with something I love or with nothing at all except the view from my attic windows. Which is why I began looking at this collection — a Christmas gift I received years ago.

The simplicity and awe of both shepherds and sheep grabbed my attention and prompted my thoughts in the poem. It’s never too early or late to consider this invitation to join the upside-down kingdom and become part of the revolution.

How to do this at my age? I’m not sure, but I know it will put me in good company no matter where it’s found.

Looking forward to a new week!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 June 2019
Artwork by Dinah Roe Kendall found at art.com

The ‘one day’ plan

Rain comes and goes
Cold seeps into pores
Weariness descends in clouds
Of gray humid air

I wait for sunrays
To emerge even briefly
through tiny windows of escape
Reminders that beauty
Lives and loves life
Fiercely if not forever

The poem reflects what I saw from my kitchen window this morning. Rain followed by teases of sun. Back and forth through the entire morning.

The weather reminds me of my life right now. Dreary one moment, brilliant the next! Sometimes changing without rhyme or reason. Always happy to see the sun come out.

D’s photo at the top caught clouds dissipating into wispy, beautiful formations. Almost like giant feathers in the sky, blown along by a breezes high in the atmosphere. Slowly I’m learning to relax into not knowing how each day will unfold, and into letting go of half the stuff I think I can do in any given day.

Last week I met an intriguing young man in the Longwood Conservatory. Joe was sitting beside me, in a wheelchair. He told me he’s on the ‘one day’ plan due to a genetic disorder that isn’t going away. We talked awhile before his friends took him to see more beautiful plants and flowers.

Joe was one of those sunrays that managed to emerge through the clouds, intent on loving beauty and life fiercely. One day at a time.

Happy Friday to each of you!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens Meadow, 12 June 2019

Aging Beauty

gnarled, scarred and off-center
rising awkwardly toward heaven
sinking into earth’s riches
the aging wisteria trunk twists and turns

youthful offspring
dance in early spring
carefree and dependent


©Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser, 12 June and 6 May 2019
Longwood Gardens

The mind is the last to consent

Or, Semi-poetic thoughts about death and dying

The mind is the last to consent –
Alternative scenarios tease us
Surely this can’t be the end
Wispy threads dangle enticements
We could try this or look into that
Prayers for miracles multiply

Cheerful faces mask sad truth —
The patient is dying, yet anguish
And well-meaning hope sometimes
Impede consent to the obvious
Resulting in further digressions
That produce even more anguish

The end is upon each of us sooner
Not later, with or without goodbyes

To ‘give in’ to death may seem to be
Callous dismissal of those we love
Or loss of hope or lack of faith to
Demand of God great things with
Or without the patient’s consent

Worse, if I’m a medical person perhaps
Giving in means failure to do my job
Even though I may agree that this
Dying person is sick unto death and
We were not created to live forever
In these temporary earth-bound bodies

My hero when it comes to dying is my sister Diane. She chose to go on comfort care after living with ALS for ten years. When she learned she had ALS, she worked with trusted people to identify what she was and was not willing to endure, and where she wanted to die—at home.

Even so, in the end she had to consent to the criteria she herself had itemized. She had to communicate to her doctors and nurses, ‘Enough is enough.’ She also had to trust that those with power of attorney would honor her wishes.

So what does it mean for me to ‘prepare’ for death? At the least, it means living each day well, insofar as I’m able. Especially when it comes to self-care.

I wish that were enough. Unfortunately, given medical structures and practices here in the USA, it isn’t. If I want to avoid getting caught in an endless search for ‘health’ or extension of life, it’s up to me to take the initiative. This includes decisions, paper trails, agreements, and work with family and friends involved with my care and wellbeing.

I can’t do this alone. I’m reading books, and have family and a few friends with whom I can talk. Yet it’s up to me. Even so, there’s no guarantee my wishes and directives will be honored. We don’t always get to choose the time or manner of our deaths.

Blessings to each of you, and thanks so much for listening.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, Longwood Gardens, 12 June 2019

Have we lost our way?

From the corner of my eye
They sailed by just outside
My kitchen window
Brilliant gold bodies rising
And dipping together
Through damp morning air
And today’s rain shower

Yesterday’s sunshine
Brilliant with gold petals
And fine feathers hovered
Gracefully in warm spring air
Drinking in the wonder
Of juicy insects and
The good earth’s bounty

Outside my window I hear
The soft chirp of birds
In earnest conversation
About nothing and everything
In general that birds love
To talk about behind our
Backs and without our consent

Is there salvation in nature?
Are we the only wise ones
Left on the face of the planet?
Or, heaven forbid, have we
Lost our way home to the
Meadows and ponds and
Buzzing of bees and insects?

Yesterday we took advantage of warm sunshine and breezes, and visited Longwood Gardens. This time we focused our energy on the Meadow, walking almost the complete perimeter. D took tons of photos, and I’ll have a photo post later.

In the meantime, I’m pondering how to take more dirt walks, as recommended by John Muir!

Happy Thursday! I’m glad to be back at it. Our granddaughters’ commencement and other wonderful activities here at home have just about sated me for social life. I miss regular writing and posting…..

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 June 2019
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens Meadow, 12 June 2019

 

Bittersweet

A passage from one of Mary Oliver’s poems came to mind Wednesday evening as I wrote in my journal. On Tuesday we heard our two granddaughters speak to gathered friends and family for half an hour each. They talked about their lives, their dreams, and their experiences in school and on trips here and abroad. Each is sensitive, observant, articulate, and determined to follow her dreams.

Here’s what I wrote in my journal. The passage from Mary Oliver’s poem follows.

It’s all so bittersweet – watching our children and grandchildren grow up – time taken from my life as their lives expand outward – and mine exhales, drawing energy inward – already dying. Maybe becoming elderly is about becoming expendable – moving over or moving on to make room for the next generations.

Mary Oliver says it well – most of our ‘lives’ we’re not even here – the great before and the ageless after of a flash in the darkness.

Tonight I’m weary, and my heart is letting me know it’s running out of steam. Yes, it’s late in the day. It’s also late in my life. Teach me to number my days. To love life, and relinquish what I can no longer carry.

I wonder how my highly sensitive self is figuring into my health as I age? I feel more reflective, and content to do nothing in particular except feel my feelings and rest my body and mind.

It was difficult to watch one granddaughter’s highly sensitive self yesterday as she spoke. I wanted to hug her and tell her how wonderful it is to have this awkward gift.

Here are the closing stanzas from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Hummingbird Pauses at the Trumpet Vine.” She’s urging us to pause and Look! Our time on this earth is short. Pay attention Now! to the hummingbird, the roses, the lilies floating in the black ponds….

Look! for most of the world
is waiting
or remembering—
most of the world is time

when we’re not here,
not born yet, or died—
a slow fire
under the earth with all

our dumb wild blind cousins
who also
can’t even remember anymore
their own happiness—

Look! and then we will be
like the pale cool
stones, that last almost
forever.

© Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. One, pp 56-57
Published by Beacon Press (1992)

Tomorrow is commencement day. I’m getting ready by chilling out, breathing deeply, and taking in this beautiful weather before it disappears.

Happy Friday, and thanks for visiting!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 June 2019
Photo found at georgiawildlife.com

Fear has no wings – For our granddaughters 2019

I wrote this over two years ago., and am posting it again for our two beautiful granddaughters.

I was born into a Christian sub-culture driven by fear. Fear of the world, and fear of God whose all-seeing eye follows us day and night.

This was both comforting and terrifying. The world ‘out there’ was harsh and unforgiving. A dangerous place for little girls and big girls. I needed a Guardian.

Yet God’s all-seeing eye was taking notes. Was I being naughty or nice? Was I pleasing God or making God sad, angry or disgusted?

It was super-important to be productive as well as untouched and untainted by ‘the world.’ Evil lurked around every corner. Fear was the best preventive medicine I could take.

Fear helped me keep rules. Fear helped me develop keen eyes for what would please people in authority over me. Fear surreptitiously kept my hand to the grindstone. I wanted to be ready for the day when God would judge me for what I had done and not done.

I grew up without wings. Instead, I developed a remarkable talent for trying harder and jumping higher. Failure or even the whiff of failure was devastating.

Now, many failures later, I’ve begun developing tiny wings. Baby wings. The kind I trimmed back most of my life, trying to stay in the nest and out of trouble.

Being born plopped me into an aching world fraught with pain and anguish, troubles upon troubles. It’s impossible to stay out of trouble if I’m alive and breathing. Whether it’s my fault or not isn’t the issue.

Today I accept trouble in my life. Not because it’s good, but because it helps me develop baby wings. It helps me look up and around, gaining a glimpse of where I might fly next. I don’t want to waste more time trying to jump higher.

Here’s a favorite quote from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God. The highlighting is mine.

There are those people who try to elevate their souls
like someone who continually jumps from a standing position
in the hope that forcing oneself to jump all day—and higher every day—
they would no longer fall back down, but rise to heaven.
Thus occupied, they no longer look to heaven.

We cannot even take one step toward heaven.
The vertical direction is forbidden to us.
But if we look to heaven long-term,
God descends and lifts us up.
God lifts us up easily.

As Aeschylus says,
‘That which is divine is without effort.’
There is an ease in salvation more difficult for us than all efforts.

In one of Grimm’s accounts, there is a competition of strength
between a giant and a little tailor.
The giant throws a stone so high that it takes a very long time
before falling back down.
The little tailor throws a bird that never comes back down.
That which does not have wings always comes back down in the end.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 April 2017, reposted 6 June 2019
Photo of baby golden-eye ducks found at urbanpeek.com

Anguished Hope

Our granddaughters at the Tyler Arboretum, 2008

Yesterday D and I attended our twin granddaughters’ senior presentations. Half an hour each, talking about themselves and their journeys. Their self-understanding and transparency were painfully beautiful to hear. And their immediate plans for their lives offered hope that each of them would make contributions to the people of this world and to our planet. And yet….

Anguish —
An uncommonly daily experience
Giving birth to life
A thousand small losses
At a time

My feelings exactly
Sitting there in an attentive
Audience listening
For hope against
All odds —

A future for this
War-torn worn-out dis-eased
World of shrinking resources
And mounting debt
Now bankrupt

Which court
Will adjudicate the rape
Of this land and its people
Without bowing to
Human idols?

Who will believe
The verdict handed down
Without taking a moment
To make a buck or two
On lies?

Tomorrow’s
Pyramid schemes sophisticated
And irresistible stand ready
In the wings eager to swoop down
Filling their gaping craws with
Anguish

When I look at our human resources and our history over the last centuries, I despair — almost. When I see how dedicated our young graduates are to making a difference, I cringe and hope — against all odds.

The weight of past and present doesn’t offer grounds for a declaration of hope. Nor is there a strange new world waiting that meets the standards of our precarious dreams.

Yet I dream, hope and pray —

  • For each graduate’s stamina, and my commitment to being present in their lives
  • For openness to others, and other ways of living in this world
  • For faith to triumph over despair, disbelief, scorn and disappointment

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 2008 at the Tyler Arboretum near Philadelphia; our granddaughters were 8 years old.

To the Gardener after reading Psalm 1

Your words, so beautiful to read,
Crush me beneath the weight of
Life already lived – a great muddle
Of garden-rich vegetables plus toxic
Stew of tongue and cheek hurled
My way, often from my own mouth.

At this age I’ve little left but memories,
Plus ever-present directives from
Well-meaning people and ill intentions
From the other kind. To say nothing of
My own sometimes distressed mind
And body seeking solace and reassurance
That I matter to somebody if not
To myself.

Here, then, is my request:
I long to start over as a small tree
Planted by rivers of clear, pure water,
Guarded and pruned by Your hands
Alone. If this is not possible, I would
Also settle for a long and lovely
Winter’s nap.

From one of Your elderly fans,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2019
Image found at JackMaxwellArt.com

Swimming together upriver

Swimming together
Upriver
Against tide and time
Searching for clues
Who am I?
Who are you?

Life dives deep
Takes us to depths
Unanticipated
Time runs short
Patience grows weary

A wise woman once told me
The best pearls
Are discovered
At the bottom
Of the river
Hidden and waiting
Eager to be found
Small gems worthy
Of a lifetime of
Living and dying

Reading and thinking about death has made me acutely aware that each day matters. Not that each day didn’t already matter. Still, I’m now more focused on each day than on each week, month or year. Especially when it comes to life with D. And, indirectly, with our children and their families.

When I look around at friends and family members, I see how many have lost spouses to death. We have time some of them didn’t have. So for right now, life is fiercely about the two of us. It isn’t about what might happen at the end, or how long we might have before death. Instead, it’s about the difference it makes today in our relationship when we read and talk together about death.

I grew up in a family that didn’t talk easily about death. The focus was always on the here and now–especially how to be a good girl and make the family proud. It was also usually about ‘them.’ That would be whoever just died, what she or he died of, how shocked or not shocked we are about this, and when the funeral will be held.

Of course these and other things are important. Yet I’m finding this discipline of reading and talking about death more encouraging than I expected. It isn’t always easy. Still, it’s a relief and an unexpected adventure.

So far we’ve barely scratched the surface. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to find a friend or family member and give it a try.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 June 2019
Double exposure taken accidentally the day we became engaged; Tybee Island Beach, Savannah, Georgia

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