Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Trauma

In Pobiddy, Georgia | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s poem describes an encounter she and her friend have with three women in a churchyard. It’s thought-provoking and challenging. Especially for Labor Day. Please note that I hear this poem as a comment on black lives and deaths, though Mary never identifies this as a black cemetery. My comments follow.

In Pobiddy, Georgia

Three women
climb from the car
in which they have driven slowly
into the churchyard.
They come toward us, to see
what we are doing.
What we are doing
is reading the strange,
wonderful names
of the dead.
One of the women
speaks to us—
after we speak to her.
She walks with us and shows us,
with a downward-thrust finger,
which of the dead
were her people.
She tells us
about two brothers, and an argument,
and a gun—she points
to one of the slabs
on which there is a name,
some scripture, a handful of red
plastic flowers. We ask her
about the other brother.
“Chain gang,” she says,
as you or I might say
“Des Moines,” or “New Haven.” And then,
“Look around all you want.”
The younger woman stands back, in the stiff weeds,
like a banked fire.
The third one—
the oldest human being we have ever seen in our lives—
suddenly drops to the dirt
and begins to cry. Clearly
she is blind, and clearly
she can’t rise, but they lift her, like a child,
and lead her away, across the graves, as though,
as old as anything could ever be, she was, finally,
perfectly finished, perfectly heartbroken, perfectly wild.

Published in 2017 by Penguin Books as Devotions, The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (pp., 265-66)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Poem selected from White Pine (published 1994)

Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, despite harsh realities of forced servitude in what we so proudly call the “United” States of America.

How much sorrow is hidden, planted, and left to die beneath the ground? And what catches our attention when we walk through a churchyard, reading “the strange, wonderful names of the dead?”

The last scene in this short story tells more truth than I’ve found in books written for white consumption. At the same time, I’m caught by the way Mary Oliver never dresses any of this up in fancy clothes. Especially at the end.

In the 1950s, when I was growing up in the Deep South, I passed many small graveyards populated with old, tired, sometimes broken-down grave markers and weeds. I can’t remember any of my school lessons describing or investigating the horrible reality of slavery in the USA. Yet it was in plain sight every day.

So here we are today, still at war with the fruit of our racist history, still struggling to own fully the sad reality that this still shapes each of us regardless of our color or history.

Thanks for your visit. I pray we’ll one day wake up to the often sad, human truth about our country.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2022
Photo found at http://www.newyorker.com

The Morning Paper | Mary Oliver

Here’s another timely challenge from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

The Morning Paper

Read one newspaper daily (the morning edition
is the best
for by evening you know that you at least
have lived through another day)
and let the disasters, the unbelievable
yet approved decisions,
soak in.

I don’t need to name the countries,
ours among them.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Mary Oliver, in A Thousand Mornings, p. 63
 2012 by NW Orchard LLC
Published by Penguin Books

Dear Mary,
Your simple, straightforward words capture the horror and shame of life in these ‘enlightened’ times. If I could find a way of picturing this madness, I would.

But there is no picture to be had, apart from news items that focus on gasp-worthy news, too often distorted or misleading. Plus there’s the ongoing horror of death-by-murder rising. Not “over there” in some far-off country or galaxy, but right under our noses. Not just today or yesterday, but the grand total ever since we began waging war against each other and this planet we call home.

How can we live with integrity without putting our heads in the sand? Or without pretending this will all disappear, or that we will figure out how to save this planet from self-destruction. In the meantime, today’s struggles seem more than enough to keep us preoccupied with our own small worlds.

Your closing lines are a painful challenge.

What keeps us from falling down, our faces
to the ground; ashamed, ashamed?

Perhaps beginning at home would be a start. One person at a time. No heads in the sand, but with eyes and ears wide open, and hearts ready for changes that touch and support real life in real time.

With admiration and gratitude,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2022
Photo found at pixabay.com

Terror, Faith, 9/11/2001 and Today

It’s no accident, this constant ringing in my head each time another unplanned attack takes place on home turf.

We have a long-practiced habit here in the USA. Instead of focusing on our personal problems, we focus intently on those of others. That includes leaders and residents of the USA as well as those of other countries.

Whether we like it or not, our bluff is being called every day and night. Instead of learning to live together as human beings, we’ve majored on becoming a country divided against itself. Worse, we don’t seem ready to examine ourselves as part of the problem.

Back in 2001, I spoke at a seminary-wide gathering to consider the still-fresh bombing of the twin towers in NYC. The only thing I could do with honesty was speak about myself, acknowledging my own lack of readiness to die in an instant.

Here’s what I said then and am saying again today in light of home-grown terror that’s tearing us apart.

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 am 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….”

These days I’m praying for small ways to make lifegiving connections with those I love and those I too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2022
News photo found at http://www.nbcnews.com

Tell me if you can, if you dare–

I wrote the poem below early in my blogging days. Back in the 1940s and 50s, I was the oldest of four daughters. My father was an ordained clergyman, loved by many, feared by me. It seems life in these “United States” is becoming more and more like my childhood. Especially, but not only, for women of any age. 

I’m grateful for women and men who helped me become the human I am today. Today I don’t bear a grudge against my father. I do, however, see my experience as a window into unnumbered worlds of madness for too many women, children, teenagers, and men. The calling of politicians, church leaders, or pimps is NOT to force us into the mold of their making. 

When did it all begin?
When did I enter your supply chain?
When did I become a commodity, a disposable object
not for sale but for use on demand,
with or without pay?

When did I become your toy
to imagine as prey,
to stalk, hunt down,
toss around and torment
with or without warning?

When did I become candy for your eyes,
your imagination,
the desires of your heart?

When did it all begin?
Was it the moment I was born?
The moment you laid your eyes on me?
Then your rules, your hands, your cane,
your ruler, and wooden spoon paddle?

When did paddling become beating?
As though you could whip me into shape.

What did you see in me?
A human being created in God’s image?
Or just another rebellious, angry, willful little girl—
A challenge to your male authority.
A game, an object to be studied, touched, scolded,
played with, experimented with,
held close/held at bay, shamed, humiliated,
denied voice, dignity, will and privacy.

What were you thinking?

When did I become a projection of your stern will
and your lonely, terrified heart?
Not even a ghost of myself
No matter what I wore or didn’t wear
What I said or didn’t say
How I said it or didn’t say it
What I did or didn’t do

When did I become your enemy to be hunted down and subdued,
locked in the bar-less cage of your aching, demanding,
never-satisfied self?

Tell me if you can, if you dare—
When did it all begin?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2014, reposted 5 July 2022
Image found at thewei.com

The Ring of Truth

What is truth? The USA is lost in a post-truth society filled with anger, despair, and failure to thrive. Today it’s about the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion. Who knows what might be next? Sadly, many of us haven’t even begun to tell our truths. Not just to ourselves, but to safe women and men willing to support us. Here’s what I posted nearly 4 years ago, lightly edited.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice. For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about–sexual abuse and harassment by men of power.

Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s more than enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018, lightly edited and reposted on 27 June 2022 following The Supreme Court’s ruling about abortion rights for women.
Image found at India.com

man walking my way

I first posted this haiku and commentary on 13 December 2013. I wish I could say women feel more secure today than we did in 2013. Sadly, the main point of this haiku was to bring my inner fears to light. I can still feel my heart pounding. It isn’t about the man. It’s about the way I was brought up female, and the mess in which we find ourselves today.

man walking my way
across deserted playground
trees inhale . . . . . . . . hold breath

Is he safe?  It’s 6:30am.  What’s he doing here at this time of day?  Looks like he’s been sleeping in the park. Rumpled work clothes—not very clean or stylish. He’s watching me. Thank goodness I’m wearing sunglasses.

I glance around, trying to seem nonchalant. No one else is in sight. He doesn’t look friendly or unfriendly. His face doesn’t register any emotion I recognize.  I’ve never seen him before.

I have my cell phone; it’s turned on. What should I do? Yes, I’m out in the open in a public space. But it’s deadly silent and I’m alone. My anxiety spikes. I know he sees me.

The distance between us is closing. If I keep walking my normal route, I’ll pass him before we pass each other.  Then I won’t see him at all–where he is or what he’s doing.

Why is he here?  Why isn’t anyone else out for an early morning walk?  The leaves on the trees are silent.  I’m holding my breath; my heart is pounding.

I walk on. Now he’s behind me.  When I turn around to walk home I see him walking out of the park.  When I get home I write the haiku above.

Even after decades of personal work I feel undone.

Is it right to call 911 when the emergency is internal, not clearly external?  How do I justify calling 911 or raising a ruckus? Is it enough that I don’t feel safe?

Moments like this remind me of the shopkeeper and other unwelcome experiences.  Some men pushed the envelope verbally or bodily, putting me on edge and on guard. Others went over the line.  Even then I didn’t raise a ruckus.

Do I really know how to take care of myself?

Is this inner turmoil common to being female?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 Dec 2013, reposted 3 June 2022
Photo found at foursquare.com

Thou answerest the lamb | George MacDonald

Most mornings I read one of George MacDonald’s sonnets while I’m eating breakfast. I’ve read through them more than once in the last three decades.

However, life has changed since then. I’m approaching death (as I always have but didn’t feel so keenly). In addition, churches and religious leaders, state and national leaders, and educational institutions (to name a few) are often addicted to choosing politically ‘correct’ sides. It’s costly to acknowledge our failures and blindness in order to listen to the least protected and vulnerable among us, and act accordingly.

Violence and tragedies are in the news these days. My first response is often outrage. This sonnet strikes a chord in me. It helps me get focused yet again on who and what I am and am not.

My prayers, my God, flow from what I am not;
I think thy answers make me what I am.
Like weary waves thought follows upon thought,
But the still depth beneath is all thine own,
And there thou mov’st in paths to us unknown.
Out of strange strife thy peace is strangely wrought;
If the lion in us pray–thou answerest the lamb.

From George MacDonald’s The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, 1880
Sonnet for May 26
The text is in the Public Domain.

I’m not suggesting all I have to do is remember I’m a lamb. Instead, though I’m not a lion, prayers that flow from my distress and anger won’t be discarded. Instead, answer to our prayers will come from One who understands today’s “strange strife” better than we understand any of it.

This sonnet isn’t about being disciplined by our Creator. It’s an invitation to be a lamb, letting my prayers be what they are and knowing our Creator works behind the scenes, moving “in paths to us unknown.” It isn’t magic; it’s a partnership.

Thanks for stopping by, especially today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 May 2022
Photo found at edgarsmission.org

remember then thy fear | George MacDonald

The sonnet below blows me away. Not because it’s beautiful, but because it’s timely, true, and thought-provoking. Especially now, when we’re surrounded on all sides by friends and strangers haunted by dismay and death. The possibilities are endless: suicide, warfare of all kinds, bombing, Covid, lynching old style or new style, aging….

George MacDonald (1824-1905) dealt with his own incurable tuberculosis, witnessed the early death of six of his children, and was not well received by many church leaders. He also wrote amazing novels such as Lilith, and books for children such as At the Back of the North Wind. Dismay and death were regular visitors in his life.

Here’s MacDonald’s March 24 sonnet from The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul, also known as The Diary of an Old Soul.

O Christ, have pity on all folk when they come
Unto the border haunted of dismay;
When that they know not draweth very near–
The other thing, the opposite of day.
Formless and ghastly, sick, and gaping-dumb,
Before which even love doth lose its cheer;
O radiant Christ, remember then thy fear.

George MacDonald (1824-1905), author
First published in The Book of Strife in the Form of the Diary of an Old Soul
© 1994 Augsburg Press, Diary of an Old Soul
Sonnet for March 24 found on p. 36

The last line of the sonnet says it all. MacDonald is praying on behalf of human beings “haunted of dismay.” They know death has moved too close for comfort. Too close for cheer.

This is what moves me. Instead of asking the “radiant Christ” to restore their cheer, he asks Christ to “remember then thy fear.” In other words, he’s asking Christ to accept and thus honor their fear, anguish, and anger. Including, I would add, MacDonald’s and that of our friends and family, plus our own.

Thanks for visiting, and for remembering friends and neighbors dealing with their own deaths.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 March 2022
Photo found at amazon.com, Kindle

Life gone missing

1963 Aug Elouise Double Exposure flipped

Disoriented
and out of touch
the old woman
blinks hard peering
at old photos
in scrapbooks–
traces of life
now gone missing

Is that building
still standing and
did the hurricane
demolish the
lovely roller rink
firmly rooted in
yesterday’s pristine
sand washed clean
with every tide?

Questions.
Nothing more
rises to the surface
of my weary mind trying
to visualize the way
back home

Yes, this could be about getting old. It’s also about how quickly we, as a conglomeration of nations, seem to be sinking into quicksand. Are we ready for this? How are we to live in the face of death and destruction at every turn?

Though victory has sometimes been snatched from certain defeat, I’m not convinced that will happen anytime soon.

Which brings me to the big question: Am I ready to die?

This is about more than being spiritually ready to die. It’s about not knowing what will happen next, no matter how carefully I may have planned for today or tomorrow. It’s about being bold in the way I live each day, knowing it could end at any moment. Not just from health issues, but from worldwide chaos, festering anger, lust for power, or attempts to wipe out people based on gender, color, religion, or whatever those in power love to hate.

One more question: What does it mean to make chaos my home? In the poem I end up trying to remember the way back home. Perhaps the poem is challenging me to find my way home. Not to what’s old or familiar back there, but to what’s real and certain right now, 21st-century style.

Am I ready for this? If so, how does that mean for the way I live today?
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2022
Double exposure taken (by accident) by DAFraser and a friend, August 1963 at Tybee Island Beach

Sometimes…I cannot pray | George MacDonald

The news from Ukraine and neighboring countries is more than grim. No matter who ‘wins’ this obscene standoff, too many have already lost. How, then, am I to pray?

Today I read this sonnet from George MacDonald. His life was full of unwanted tragedy, death, pain, and strife.

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.

From George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul, p. 13
© Augsburg Publishing House (1975) and Augsburg Fortress (1994)

It seems not knowing how to pray isn’t the end of the world. Perhaps it means we’re in touch with reality. And what then?

I hear George MacDonald, whose life was filled with strife, pain, anger and doubt, suggesting it’s OK. I don’t have to know what to say. In fact, not knowing what to say might be the most honest way to approach strife such as he endured, and many are enduring right now in Ukraine and beyond.

In the middle of seeming chaos, do I have the courage of the half-fledged prayer-bird to “sit through the burning day”? Waiting, watching, staying close to the “large, nation-healing tree of life” until this little bird brings a “fresh leaf” to cool my troubled heart?

May our Creator have mercy on us all.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2022
Photo of young fledgling found at birdguides.com

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