Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Trauma

What Boundaries?

Fake power exercises ruthless control
In vain attempts to nurture sisterly virtues

Bible-grounded communication floods my ears
With thou shalt and thou shalt not

Beleaguered sisters throw group loyalty to the winds
In favor of loyalty to one’s fragile female self

Being docile sometimes becomes a stand-in for
Being truthful or angry or distressed

Like cookies born of one cookie cutter
We stare at our unknown selves in consternation

Who we are together remains a mystery
As we strain to survive apart from each other

I’m aware of being watched by Daddy night and day
Without so much as a polite knock at the door

Driven to precarious survival techniques
My heart and stomach drown beneath anxious fear

During the past week I reviewed dated notes I kept when I began working with a psychotherapist in the early 1990s. I was in my late 40s, drowning in depression. One of my first tasks was to connect with my three younger sisters.

By then we were scattered over the USA and beyond. What we knew about each other personally was fragmented at best. We were aware of the large outlines of our adult lives. However, we didn’t have an informal network for safe, sisterly communication.

I never talked with any of my sisters about the rules in our family, or our father’s corporal punishment doled out regularly to enforce the rules. Nor had we talked together about who our father favored, or why.

Sometimes life felt like a war between sisters. I could deduce which sister was the favorite of the day. I also knew I was a favorite target for ‘Let’s get Elouise in trouble.’ No sibling likes to have the oldest sister designated as the parental stand-in.

As you might guess, we weren’t there to console or encourage each other. We were focused on staying out of trouble or deflecting attention to another sister’s behavior.

I began my adult work on boundaries with telephone calls to each of my three sisters. Would you be willing to talk with me privately (no reports back to Mom or Dad) about our experiences living at home? I was starving for sisterly conversations. Each of my sisters, in her way, helped me come out of my lonely closet of indirect communication, depression, and denial.

My next hurdle wasn’t nearly so easy. How would I name and maintain adult boundaries with my parents? Stay tuned!

Thanks for your visits and encouragement. Tomorrow I have tests to determine how much damage peripheral neuropathy has done to my feet and legs.

Praying for calm in these troubled days, here and abroad.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2021
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday, 1953

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

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

I’ve told you so much already, revisited

This post from December 2017 popped up yesterday. It’s as true today as it was back then. Not just about me, but about citizens, immigrants and strangers of all ages who know what it’s like to be on the other end of abusive sexual behavior.

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough
To assuage the pain
Or grieve the sister and brother-losses
Of this cruel world

When did it begin and where
Will it end?

We haven’t even begun
You and I
To face the depths and height and reach
Of just one sorrow multiplied
Into a thousand permutations
Now dismissed as though
None of it meant a thing

I don’t have to dig up
The bones
Or display the misshapen ligaments
Of my body-soul
They’re on display daily
Don’t you see them?

Or are you lost
In your denial-desire for just
One more touch
One more self-righteous smirk
One more body-soul
To humiliate and throw
On the trash heap
Of been there done that

I don’t even know where
To begin
Or where this will end
It doesn’t feel safe
Or bode well
Given the contours
Of confessional history
That by sleight of hand
Turn the aggrieved
Into the aggressor
Dangerous and deceptive
Not to be believed
Just in it for publicity
Or attention or some other
Self-serving dream

We know not what we do
Was never so true
As it is today and tomorrow

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough…..

My dear Friends,
This is where I’ve been in the last weeks and months. Fiercely angry about the cost being exacted from victims of sexual violence. Especially those who dare name it and describe it as experienced by them, and as it has played out for them over the years.

We must invite–not simply ‘allow’–victims’ personal and collective grief, shame, horror and anger to be heard. And felt. As often as necessary, before it’s too late. Our personal and collective humanity is at stake.

As for me, it’s time to step up and speak out yet again. This time not on my behalf, but standing with sisters and brothers I don’t know, may never meet, may not like personally, but identify with to such a degree that remaining silent or ‘moving on’ is not an option.

What does this look like for my blogging? The poem above is one example, though I know I can’t survive living in this hellish place every day. So I’m thinking about the coming year, and how I might begin taking apart pieces I can manage. From time to time. Nothing scholarly or scientific. Just the ravings of an articulate, educated woman fed up with the self-serving nonsense spewed out by those who want this to go away so we can get back to business as usual.

Thank you for visiting, reading, and listening with all your heart.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 December 2017, reposted 3 August 2021
Image found at stock.adobe.com

Dear Friends,

Yesterday D sent me a link to the amazing performance above. It’s the kind of music that’s good for whatever ails you (or not). Relatively short and mesmerizing. Don’t miss it!

This morning I got up early to go to the hospital for another routine blood draw. This was a bit more difficult than usual due to all-night floodlights and a huge crew of workers, equipment trucks and drilling right in front of our house. It went on without a break through the night, and will continue indefinitely. Yes, we were notified months ago that this would happen sometime this summer. We were not, however, prepared for the all night drilling and floodlights!

So far this morning I’ve given up two vials of blood, done a big load of laundry, cooked a pot of quinoa, filled the bird feeder and changed out the bird bath water. I also read more from W.E.B. DuBois’s book, The Philadelphia Negro, and walked nearly one mile (goal: at least 2 miles).

As for yesterday’s post about fireworks, there was an attack last night at a Philly party that had drawn scores of neighbors. The owner of the small eatery had invited the neighborhood to a free meal. A way of saying thanks for their business. When the attack began, most attendees thought it was fireworks. It was not. Two are dead (including the owner of the eatery); one remains hospitalized. The police ran out of their 100 bullet hole markers.

We never know what a day will bring. Nonetheless, I pray we’ll find threads of acceptance and peace, no matter what our situations may be.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 July 2010
Thanks to YouTube for the mesmerizing performance of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.

Something about fireworks

Coming up for air
My eardrums breathe
A sigh of relief

Something about fireworks
Doesn’t sit well with
my wondering soul

Why this grand
Display of pseudo-bombs
Bursting in air?

Sound-echoes of death
To enemies and the weak
Linger in putrid air

Turning the corner
I make my way home
In deepening shadows

It was fun when I was a child in the 1940s and 50s. Nothing more dangerous than fire crackers and sparklers. Usually purchased from a temporary ‘store’ on the side of the road, and enjoyed in our back yard.

I also remember growing anxiety about safety, and the fight within each state over whether to allow unlicensed firework stands to set up temporary operations. Usually this happened around New Year’s Eve, and July 4. If you couldn’t purchase fireworks legally, you could cross over into the next friendly state and find more than enough to go around.

Only when D and I moved to Pasadena, California in the early 1970s did we see a proper July 4 fireworks display. It was in the Rose Bowl. The best seat in the house wasn’t in the stands. It was up high on a ridge overlooking the Bowl. More than enough to awe any child or adult.

Given the current state of our disunion, however, I find the sound of huge fireworks displays disturbing. I can’t help thinking about guns fired too frequently every night of the year, and the trauma this creates.

I also can’t help noticing the bravado that sometimes emerges from adults and young people when engaged in these activities. Is this entertainment, or a way of signifying who we think we are or should become?

I don’t lose sleep about this. Nonetheless, I wonder about the impact and imprint of what feels more and more like a troubling display of misplaced or misdirected patriotism.

Praying your week brings joy and opportunities to connect with family and neighbors.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 July 2021
1940s and 50s Fireworks Stand photo found at pinterest.com

On being Black in America | Frederick Joseph

Late last week a friend sent me the quote below from Frederick Joseph. She found it at Blavity, which she describes as “an excellent source to learn what is newsworthy to the black community.”

Here’s what Frederick Joseph had to say:

As a Black person in America, I’m tired.
Tired of waking up and not knowing
what new trauma will seep into my bones.
What new video of injustice will be etched into my memory.
What new name will become a hashtag.
Whether I will become a hashtag.

~~~

I don’t know what it’s like to live in black or brown skin. Nonetheless, here’s a first attempt to imagine how it might feel if the new “black or brown” were now “white.”

Feeling my White way along
this unfamiliar path I stop
to consider what it would
take to live for just one day
and one long night in the skin
of a Black person in the USA

Trapped with nowhere else to go
I’m caught in the glare of unsought
publicity turning uglier while the
latest news bulletin breeds fear
in the hearts of women and men
caught on camera in White skins

Newsy chats with experts and officials
don’t calm my racing heart already
sinking beneath words doled out about
future solutions while I want only
the honor of being recognized
today as the Full Citizen I already am

As a white citizen, I know the tug of wanting to keep going based on myths, hopes, dreams and a heavy dose of addiction to sham. We would rather live on tomorrow’s promises that yesterday and today’s reality. So where do we go from here?

I don’t know. However, I’m going to start checking out Blavity. Otherwise, I might miss what’s most important to the very citizens whose lives are routinely in jeopardy.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 June 2021
Photo found at alphanewsmn.com

White Debt in the USA

Walking a tightrope
I ponder yet again
which post to release
into this world of growing
antagonism and planned
chaos dripping silently
into veins as we sleep
our days away thinking
we whites are alive because
we’re awake and breathing

Who are we in this pandemic
of more than Covid-19?

How might we join the struggle
that needs more than any
one person can give or endure?

How can we maintain sanity
while acknowledging our
current insane addiction
to anything that will bring
relief if only for a heartbeat?

Last night I watched Judy Woodruff’s NPR News interview with Professor William Darity, Professor of Economics and African American Studies at Duke University. I highly recommend it.

Near the end of the interview, Professor Darity favors the appointment of a Presidential Commission (rather than a Congressional committee) to study our overall history and current situation. The goal: recommendations that address the enormity of our white debt to citizens of color.

Will we ever be able to make reparations? Not just for Tulsa, but for all the other riots, lynchings, redlining, gerrymandering, gentrifying, food deserts, highway construction through neighborhoods and much much more. That’s still to be determined. On the other hand, we white people might begin by divesting ourselves of habits that ensure our survival. Not just our survival at the cost of other people, but at the cost of our well-oiled niceness and ignorance.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 June 2021
Photo found at pinterest.com

A prayer for our nation | Zephania Kameeta

Dear Friends,

Today is Memorial Day. A day to honor those who served or lost their lives in various wars. I love our country, and I honor those who served with honor.

Sadly, many of us have denied, forgotten or minimized how little our country does for living veterans. Their bodies and spirits fight daily against disabilities and diseases directly related to their military service. I reject the argument I heard again just this week: These disabilities and diseases are part of what they signed up for.

It is not an exaggeration to say our military personnel of color have suffered the most neglect. Not just in terms of health, but in terms of post-war benefits. Our country applauded them while they were serving in active duty. Yet adequate funds for housing, education, health and other benefits have been withheld from most of them for decades.

I remember how distressed our black ex-military seminarians were when their academic support from the USA was diminished far below that being received by our white ex-military students. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to black ex-military personnel.

This is a problem for the USA government. However, it’s also a problem for all of us in the USA. We’ve lost our way with ex-military personnel (and their families), women military personnel, and everyday citizens of all colors. They are entitled to their just rights and honor.

I love this country. I also love Reverend Zephania Kameeta’s rendition of Psalm 114 for today’s world. An honored and honorable church leader in Namibia, he offers a timely challenge for all of us.

Psalm 114

When the oppressed people left the house of colour worshippers,
when the despised left the state of slavery and racism,
they became the Lord’s holy people,
the oppressed became his own possession.

The oppressors looked and ran away;
the worshippers of race and colour were paralyzed.

The mountains skipped like goats with joy;
and the hills jumped about like lambs in happiness.

Tremble, earth, at the coming of our Liberator,
at the presence of our God,
who hears the prayers of the poor,
who changes despair into hope and sorrow into joy!

A prayer from Why O Lord? Psalms and sermons from Namibia, by Zephania Kameeta, p. 41
© 1986 World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Thanks for stopping by this Memorial Day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2021
Photo found at parkhillsrca.org

Farewell, Savannah

secrets of the Deep South
are etched in and on my body

scars and memories fester
even as they grow faint with age

what I love about Savannah
no longer makes up for what I loathe

steaming fear and flashbacks
to my growing up years sometimes boil

transporting me back to childhood trials
and the belief that I’m a misfit

not entitled to happiness or joy
or feelings of deep satisfaction

hence the necessity of these two words
I don’t want to say–

Farewell, Savannah

I’ve been pondering these two words for the past week. My youngest sister (#4) is selling the last house she and her deceased husband, and our deceased parents lived in.  It’s a small, cozy, beautiful little house. Full of memories and full of heartache.

I didn’t grow up in this house. I grew up in a large house that looked out on the Vernon River (above). I only know the house that’s now up for sale because I visited as often as possible after my parents moved in. It’s a lovely house in a small semi-rural community. A great place to visit. Neighborhood houses are built along and near marshy muddy banks and creeks near the end of the Vernon River.

It isn’t that the house holds memories (it does). It’s the reality of the Deep South and the way it both encouraged  and covered up abusive behavior in families like ours, in churches, in schools, and in work places.

Sometimes, when I’m discouraged or frightened, my mind, body and emotions revert to childhood fears and realities of my growing up years in the Deep South. Especially, but not only, my father’s treatment of me. I’m tempted to believe The Big Lie that says I’m Nobody. Or the other Big Lie that says Things Will Never Change.

It’s time to move on. Which is exactly what my youngest sister is doing. I celebrate her bravery and her sense of adventure as she moves from Savannah to be with her granddaughter and family far from the shores of the Vernon River.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2021
Photo of the Vernon River taken by DAFraser in 2010

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