Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Trauma

What we need to hear

Maybe I’m the only one. The only white PTSD survivor who didn’t get it. Do I feel humiliated by this? No. Chagrined? Yes. Yet above all, I’m challenged to find out more.

Here’s what I didn’t and still don’t get.

I know this is hard for many enlightened and well-meaning Christians to hear, but here’s the truth: If you are white, you have no clue as to the PTSD-like realities black people in this country face every single day. —James Ellis III

It’s one thing to accept this as information. On the other hand, are we willing to let this sink into our understanding of the way things play out here in the USA? Not just in public places, but in white (often lightly colored) churches?

The quote above challenges me to learn more about “PTSD-like realities” black people face daily here in the USA. The easiest connection (for me) is to think about post-Viet Nam War veterans with PTSD who showed up in my theology classes in the 1980s. Yet even that isn’t the same as what’s happening today on our streets. Neither is my own history with childhood PTSD.

One quote doesn’t explain everything. But that isn’t James Ellis III’s point. His point is that we white, so-called “enlightened and well-meaning Christians” have a hard time hearing and accepting truth about Black Lives.

How tragic if we fail. Not because we didn’t try, but because we don’t like hearing bad or disturbing news about ourselves. It’s easier to push it off on the government, or ‘those white people’ over there, or even on Black citizens themselves.

James Ellis III’s article, from which the quote above comes, was first published in May 2020. Read it here, if you dare. It’s titled “A Lowdown, Dirty Shame: Ahmaud Arbrey’s Murder and the Unrenounced Racism of White Christians.”

Praying we’ll find our way out of this mess. Not the mess created by our government, but the mess we’ve created for ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 July 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

James Baldwin on Race Relations

It’s 1943, one of the years Harlem race riots break out. It’s also the day James Baldwin’s father was laid to rest.

In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father. The chapter ends with his account of what sparked the 1943 Harlem riots, the nature of the rioting (only in the ghetto, chiefly against white businesses, not white people), and the nature of Black America’s long relationship with White America.

His account of this relationship is telling. Here’s how he describes “the Negro’s real relation to the white American.”

This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene….The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison. And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist.

In some  ways, this is discouraging. As a white woman, it suggests I’m in bondage to a perpetual dilemma. Even more distressing is the possibility that this was brought on by my need to forget, not see, disremember, dress up in different clothes, and ultimately, dismiss as someone else’s battle or disease to fight.

Nonetheless, I find James Baldwin’s description of the relationship between Black and White Americans/America compelling. I’ve often heard Black women and men say they know us (White people) better than we know ourselves. I believe them, though they may not know me personally.

Put another way, I can’t count on being White-but-not-really due to my years of serving at a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational seminary. Instead, I can only be the White woman I am, a beginner every day of my life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2020
Moon Over Harlem painting by
William Henry Johnson found at americanart.si.edu

Just for today

Finally
After months of fighting
acceptance

Comes knowledge
That this is the way things are
and didn’t have to be

Plus willingness
to accept limitations
and whatever today offers

Ready
To give and receive small gifts
No matter the outcome

Refusing
To look the other way
While lifting my voice in prayer

Content
With what I can do this day
Unlike any other

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve heard friends and strangers talking about prayer. In particular, how we pray right now, given the current situation in the White House, in governing and non-governing bodies, and in our neighborhoods.

It’s time for lament. The kind that looks into the reality around us without trying to go back to the way things were. Lament that acknowledges our personal grief, anger, rage, and our betrayal by POTUS and others more concerned with glory than with grace. Lament that implores our Creator to have mercy on us, no matter the cost.

I’m in lament mode. I’m also beginning to understand how to get up in the morning and let the day be what it is. An opportunity to be invested in something larger than myself, without getting sidetracked by the mucky morass that wants to capture and kill my energy.

Praying you’re finding your way in this day unlike any other.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 June 2020
Photo found at m.economictimes.com

Alternative tv | Dorothee Soelle

Four miners in mine shaft wearing hard hats and headlamps

Dorothee Soelle wrote this poem in the 1970s, an era roiled by the Vietnamese War. I was in my 30s. How old were you? My comments follow.

Alternative tv

The old man on the screen sang
in a loud and shaky voice
and had probably never been very clean
in addition he had hardly any teeth left
a miner with black lung
of course he spoke dialect and his grammar was bad
why after all should he
show his best side to the camera

When god turns on his tv
he sees old people like that
they sing
in a loud and shaky voice
and the camera of the holy spirit
shows the dignity of these people
and makes god say
that is very beautiful

Later
when we have abolished tv as it exists
and are allowed to look at the skin of aging women
and are unafraid of eyes
that have lost their lashes in weeping
when we respect work
and the workers have become visible
and sing
in a loud and shaky voice

Then we shall see
real people
and be happy about it
like god

Dorothee Soelle, Of War and Love, p. 171
English translation of selected pieces from the German text © 1983 Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY 10545
First published as Im Hause des Menshenfressers, © 1981 by Rowohlt Tashenbuch Verlag in Hamburg, West Germany

Now that I’m in my mid to late 70s, I find this poem more truthful than ever. I don’t often see aging women or men on TV, just as they are. Maybe in a news piece or documentary. But rarely, if ever, in flashy shows or advertisements. They’re busy reflecting our captivity to spending money on ourselves, our houses, our lawns, our cars, eating out and eating in, or getting ‘fixed’ so our embarrassing flaws don’t show.

As Dorothee Soelle points out, our Creator is watching Alternative tv. The kind that accepts us just as we are when we’re willing to show up just as we are. Happy to be in the presence of one who understands and loves us in all our real flesh.

As always, thank for visiting and reading. These are hard times for all of us. I pray we’ll find ways to help bring about hope, peace, and reconciliation, and courage to show up for our Creator and each other, just as we are.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 June 2020
Photo of miners found at WestVirginiaInjuryLawyers.wordpress.com

Lest we forget | Wilmington, NC, 1898

I first put these pieces together in February of this year. Why? Because I’m convinced most of us haven’t adequately studied the history of racism in the United States. Outstanding books are available for those with time and opportunity to read them.

Nonetheless, I found these news clips riveting, tragic, and sadly, an echo (in different language) of our current situation. These aren’t editorials about what happened years ago. They’re evidence documenting this tragedy as it unfolded.

If you’re not able to read books about the history of racism in this country, read these old documents and study the photo at the bottom. To learn more about the photo, check out this article about the Wilmington (North Carolina) insurrection and massacre of 1898.

 


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 June 2020
Photo and records found at Wickipedia.com

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

What’s going on? | Update and freebies

Onlookers raise their fists following a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Floyd, an African-American man, died in Minneapolis police custody. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

Unless we face reality as a nation, and maintain momentum, we’re in trouble. No matter who the next President is.

Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color, the sad and sorry outcome of our history with Black Americans. Despite this, Mr. Trump and some of his followers seem content with the way things are. He has politicized the killing of George Floyd by, for example, invoking different standards for his militaristic ‘peace-keepers,’ and those seeking change for all of us.

Change won’t be easy. Yet it could be productive if we face reality and maintain momentum. I’m heartened by news reports about state officials outlawing tactics used by officers and others to subdue (kill) Black men and women.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of all this, our electricity went off. D and I were watching a riveting documentary called “I Am Not Your Negro.” It’s about James Baldwin. We finished it today, after the electricity came on. It’s powerful, brutually honest, and puts the burden of proof on us as citizens. Especially on white people like me.

Today I found a site that offers a number of documentaries and movies FREE for this month. They’re about the way we’ve treated Black Americans in this country. “I Am Not Your Negro” is offered to a selected number of cities. However, “Just Mercy” is available for anyone, along with “Selma.” Click here to find out more.

Finally, last Wednesday afternoon, the tri-state area experienced sudden, intense downdrafts and storms that ripped through cities and communities. Our county was hard hit, with huge trees blown over, power lines down, and a number of deaths.

No electricity, no internet access, no telephone, no TV. It’s good to be back!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 June 2020
Photo found at chicagotribune.com

Acid | Mary Oliver

When I first read this poem, I shuddered. I didn’t like it. Then I discovered “Of the Empire,” which seems cut from similar cloth. My comments follow.

Acid

In Jakarta,
among the venders
of flowers and soft drinks,
I saw a child
with a hideous mouth,
begging,
and I knew the wound was made
for a way to stay alive.
What I gave him
wouldn’t keep a dog alive.
What he gave me
from the brown coin
of his sweating face
was a look of cunning.
I carry it
like a bead of acid
to remember how,
once in a while,
you can creep out of your own life
and become someone else—
an explosion
in that nest of wires
we call the imagination.
I will never see him
again, I suppose.
But what of this rag,
this shadow
flung like a boy’s body
into the walls
of my mind, bleeding
their sour taste—
insult and anger,
the great movers?

© 1992 by Mary Oliver
Found in New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 130-131
Published by Beacon Press

I don’t think Mary’s intent was for us to like this poem. Instead, she describes an incident in Jakarta, and what happened to and within her. It’s so disturbing that she can’t forget it. As she puts it, she carries this image “like a bead of acid” so real that for a moment she’s able to become this child.

Mary puts her own experience in Jakarta out there like a mirror, and invites us to ponder her closing question. What am I going to do with this “shadow” flung into the walls of my mind? This image that bleeds  a “sour taste—insult and anger, the great movers.”

It doesn’t matter how I feel about the person in front of me. What matters is the blatantly visible truth, and how I choose to respond to it.

None of us can change the world single-handedly. Perhaps we could begin by noticing encounters that distress us, and go from there.

We don’t have to go abroad to understand this poem. It’s alive and well right now. The perfect storm is upon us here in the USA. Covid-19 plus yet another brutal murder of a black man.

Am I prepared to take this storm seriously? Or am I going to keep trying to get back to business as usual, distract myself to death, or worse–give up all hope of something better?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2020
Flower Market in Jakarta found at TripAdvisor.com

outside my window

outside my window
a song sparrow feasts on buds
dodging lazy rain

this morning he sings
during the dawn song hour
or is it a half

cracking closed eyelids
I calm my breath and feign sleep
during his encore

Yesterday was a full stop. Time out to see what doing “nothing in particular” felt like. This included not listening to news during the day.

Overall, it was wonderful. Especially our longer than usual late afternoon walk in damp, cloudy, beautiful spring weather. The birds were out in droves, singing and calling out their territorial warnings. Near the end, a red-tail hawk flew by, cruising through tree-tops.

When we got back from our walk, the little song sparrow was feasting on tiny flower buds just outside my office window. He and his mate have a nest in a large shrub beside our house. Hearing them sing, and listening to the little ones learning to sing is a gift.

As we left for our walk, our neighbor and one of his young children were out for a walk around the yard. His wife is a medical doctor, on the faculty of one of Philadelphia’s teaching hospitals. She’s been on Covid-19 duty for weeks. I wish for her and her family a day to walk through the neighborhood, doing nothing. And a morning to lie in bed listening to the birds.

The stark contrasts between what we’re all experiencing during this pandemic are troubling. We aren’t in a rosy situation. We’re at the edge of a precipice, wondering who or what will be there when we fall. Will anyone care enough to pick us up? And will there be any birds or music to comfort us?

Which pandemic are you experiencing?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 April 2020
Photo of Song Sparrow taken by Dan Miller, found at pixels.com

We don’t marry disaster | Happy Monday!

I wrote this poem in September 2017, nearly one year after our 2016 Presidential Election. The situation today is no better than it was then. Even so, there’s reason to hope on this Monday Morning, March 2020.

We don’t marry disaster
It marries us
Unrelenting drought
Genocidal ethnic cleansing
Polio and opioid epidemics
Avalanches of pain and anguish
Wild fires breathing fury
Hurricanes and floods of destruction
Nature’s fury turned inward
Human fury turned outward
Multiplied exponentially

See the pictures in my scrapbook?
Like pages of a newspaper
Good news one day
Disaster the next
See that man who’s smiling?
That beautiful woman over there?
Those precious children looking your way?
The young people who think no one is looking?
There they were just yesterday
And now…..

What’s to become of us?
The ‘us’ that doesn’t exist anymore
Families torn apart
Friends for life now foes forever
Enemies within and without
In whom do we trust?
In whom do we place our hope?
False saviors arise from glowing ashes
Snake oil dealers hawk their sleazy wares

I get up in the morning
And look outside, up toward the heavens
Where the bright face of a newly waning moon
Reflects the light of a new day just dawning.
Two birds swoop silently together into an oak tree
High overhead a silver airplane leaves a misty trail
Fluffy clouds drift beneath a deep blue sky
Signs of hope and reason enough to get up
And live yet another day in my small corner
Of this world filled with small people,
Large hearts and infectious smiles.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 September 2017, reposted 23 September, 2020
Waning Moon image found at moodymoons.com

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