Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Vulnerability

Smudge’s Health

How quickly life’s pages turn
Without an option to return
To yesterday’s life now fading

Everything changed in the time it took
To close and later open the front door
To unexpected pain and agony

Looking into our cat’s eyes I see
He already knows something is amiss
As he hobbles up to greet me

Smudge isn’t well. All day yesterday I thought about how hard it was to let our first two cats go. The first was 2 years old. The second was an overripe 19 years. Both were euthanized due to health issues. Now it seems Smudge’s days are fewer than we thought they would be. He’s about 7 years old.

The vet says he has a small heart murmur. It wasn’t there last year. He also thinks Smudge may be suffering from a small blood clot that lodged in his right back foot. He’s now on a very small baby aspirin dose every other day. If his foot pads are warm, that’s a good sign. Today they’re warm. Still, the likelihood that he’ll return to ‘normal’ isn’t high.

We tried to contact several cat cardiologists yesterday (referrals from our vet). To no avail. Maybe today? Covid-19 has made everything more difficult, including getting an appointment with a cat cardiologist. Sadly, I haven’t found one article that sounded upbeat about this particular health issue in cats. How long might Smudge beat the odds?

The last few days felt like a very sad dream. Today I’m being extra kind to Prince Oliver Smudge the Second. He still makes me laugh, and tugs at my heart. What’s a cat-lover to do?

Thanks for listening and empathizing.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2020
Photo taken above our kitchen sink by ERFraser, July 2014

the long walk home, 3 years later

I first posted this in August 2017. Mr. Trump had been in office for less than a year. Now he’s up for re-election, and today’s world is far removed from anything that feels like home. Are we going to make it from here to there? And what will happen to us along the way?

*****

I wonder—
Do breathless trees
dusky skies
and lengthening shadows
remember what they see
beneath fading twilight
swathed in heavy garments
unsure of her destination

Is this a woman? I think so. She seems to be taking the long walk home. Which may or may not be that dark cottage hovering in the background, watching as she makes her way.

Is she alone? I think not. The trees, skies and passing shadows reveal more than what’s happening on the ground or in the background. If this world is God’s poem (thank you, Mary Oliver), we have reason to hope. Not because of the play of light in the trees, on the ground or in the background, but because of the Light that shines even in our darkest hours.

Sometimes, perhaps always, we must leave home to find our true home. Or better, to be found by God’s everyday angels in this world that belongs not to us, but to God.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 November 2017, reposted 30 September 2020
Autumn Landscape at Dusk, 1885, by Vincent van Gogh found at Wikiart.com

This uncivil war

Up and down
All over the map
Ecstatic one moment
Discouraged the next
Willing myself
To get up in the morning
And begin yet again

So many opportunities
So little time
So little access
To things I think I need

How will it all turn out?
Does it really matter?
Is my small loaf without fish
Enough for today?

A million questions
Race through my mind
As life falls apart
And trash piles up
Just outside my
Window on the world

Deep inside I know
Only a brutal housecleaning
Will tame this deadly nightmare
Of consequences we now
Live to regret
One day at a time

Is the American Dream dead? Can we survive this uncivil war? Actually, we’ve been fighting it from the beginning. Today we can watch the latest episodes unfold right before our eyes, thanks to ever-present news media, and unnumbered sources of information and dis-information.

If you’ve visited my blog during the last several years, you know I’m not a fan of Mr. Trump. Tragically, what we see today is in keeping with everything we already knew about him.

Yet in the middle of it all, there are opportunities for people of good will to work together on issues that have scarred our hearts and souls from the beginning. The evidence is clear. White citizens like you and like me disenfranchised and brutally murdered American Indians, exploited and terrorized slaves night and day, and serially mistreated every ethnic minority that has set foot in this country willingly or unwillingly.

Surely we can come up with another way of going at this. One day at a time. One risk at a time. Pondering our next moves. Not alone, but with others hungry for change. Giving up something of value in order to receive something much better.

After all, white people and their black and brown neighbors also have a history of resisting evil. Even in the most tragic circumstances. What might we learn from and with each other?

Praying for courage to change the things I can. No more and no less.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 September 2020
Azar Nafisi quote found at http://www.idlehearts.com

A Prayer of Lament | Pastor Leah Wenger

Reverend Leah Wenger has served for nine years as Pastor at The Vineyard Church of Central Illinois. Her prayer of lament (below) can be found with others on the Mennonite Church USA website. Each lament responds to the violence of racism in the USA.

Most churches aren’t accustomed to prayers of lament. A Psalter I own has changed many Psalms of lament into something else. Is that because we don’t like negativity?

Here is Rev. Leah Wenger’s prayer of lament, followed by a few comments.

Battered, Broken, Betrayed.
I stand Before you
Between the lines
Breathe on me Breath of God

Because I have Betrayed
My Brother and sister
By my silence
Breathe on me Breath of God

But what is Breath
when it is stolen
Humanity Beyond recognition
Buried in Blood

Bring us transformation
Beauty for Brokenness
Expose me for my blindness
Breathe on me the breath to see

Be Brave and Bold
Beyond what others can see
So when I can’t Breathe
God Breathe on me

When I cannot see my Betrayal
Bring me to the light
I Beg for the wisdom to Be Better
Bless me with the strength
to never stop Becoming

Beyond the patience to listen
Bring me into action
I can’t Breathe
So God, Breathe through me

Prayer from Pastor Leah Wenger,
Urbana Executive Pastor of the Vineyard Church of Central Illinois
Prayer found at the Mennonite Church USA website

Can an entire nation lament the ongoing violence of racism in the USA? Perhaps not.

Nonetheless, it would be most appropriate for white churches in the USA (and their members) to lament. Not for a day or an hour, but for a lifetime of being major players in this sick drama. Sometimes we’ve joined the enemy outright. Other times we’ve looked the other way, or called what we see anything but ‘racist.’

We’re at a crossroad. We are not, however, out of options. Pastor Leah’s prayer is good place to start. It breathes life. The life of our Creator who understands and knows us inside out. Today is a good time to stop, lament, look around, and get moving in a different direction.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2020
Image found at mem.intervarsity.com

This season of lament

I’m frozen
Cut off from reality
Not sure where I am
Or where I’m going
Deep sadness wells up
Ancient dikes breach
Cracks in dishonest walls
That tried to contain a world
Held together by lies and
Decay deliberate and brutal
Now breaking through
Elephant-size breaches
Lying before me in shambles
Buried by an unrelenting
Avalanche of disinformation
Grinding us down to
Our lowest common
Denominator

The odds aren’t on our side. Especially if we rely on our limited understanding. Which is all we have on any day of the week.

There is no Top Genius of this world. No Strong Man or Strong Woman of this world who knows or understands the past, present and future with utmost clarity. All we have is what’s left of what we received the moment we were born, and what we’ve been given or taken. For good and for ill.

So here I am with you, in a season of Lament. Without a clue whether we’ll be spared the consequences of actions never taken, taken too quickly, or taken in spite.

Am I without hope? Not unless I try to carry on with life or business as usual. So yes, I’m muddling through with everyone else. Praying, and watching for moments of grace and unexpected connections. Small signs that our Creator is still at work.

Praying your day contains some of those small signs.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 September 2020
Image found at pinterest.com

a foreign land

Display at Jim Crow Museum of Memorabilia

I’m 71/2 years old. We just moved from California to a rural neighborhood 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. It’s 1951.

Today we drove
Out of our long driveway
Into a foreign land

Don’t stare, Elouise
Those are colored people
They were born that way

Which means
Many things you can’t
Understand just yet

See their small gardens
And rows of cheery flowers
In front of their homes?

And look!
That woman just waved
At us driving by

She’s even hung out
Her handiwork
A handmade quilt

Isn’t it lovely?
I wish we had enough
Money to buy it

Adults and children smile
When we drive by
Some even wave

It’s as though they already
Knew us even though
We’ve never met

Indeed

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2020
Photo of Jim Crow Memorabilia found at ferris.edu

Considering Loss on the Eve of Our Wedding Anniversary 2020

Wedding Day, 11 September 1965
11 September 1965

Fear of loneliness
Drifts in and out unbidden

Heavy eyelids droop
Head hangs low over keyboard

Tangled thoughts intrude
Try to distract me as though
I were the intruder

I am not.

Pulling myself together
I rouse myself to the occasion
Reaching for stars and light
I do not own.

What if he dies first?
What if I die first?

I don’t know.

So what do I know?
Only this –
That if he dies first, I will grieve.

And what will be the shape of that grief?
A hole that stretches from here to eternity
An unreachable planet long ago and faraway
A place I can no longer visit
An ocean of heaving sobs
Seaweeds of bitter regret and sweet longing
Washing up on the shore of each long day and night

Tomorrow David and I will celebrate our 52nd (now 55th) wedding anniversary. I thought I knew a thing or two about love the day we married. I did not. Nor will I know all about love the day one of us dies.

The older I get, the more precious each day becomes. I remember dreading retirement. Not simply because I would miss my colleagues and students, but because I would be spending much more time with D. More than I’d spent with him most of our married life.

Could we live with each other in the same house, including the same kitchen, every day? Would we get bored out of our gourds without deadlines and meetings and endless reports? Would one of us decide to find a part-time job just to get away from it all?

Happily, we’ve survived so far, including Kitchen Wars. But that would be another story.

I’ve had death on my mind in the last weeks, given events here and around the world. Death is about more than statistics, more than a moving memorial service, more than a huge display of candles and flowers. More than a gut-wrenching news story of the moment.

Somewhere, each moment of every day, someone is grieving. I want to honor the value of just one person’s life and the value of grief. The kind that can soften us, making us more human than we were before.

It looks like Monday, our anniversary day, will be a beautiful Longwood Garden day. Maybe another walk in the Meadow? We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2017, reposted for our 55th Anniversary, 11 September 2020
Photo taken at our wedding reception, 11 September 1965

How to outlaw teaching slaves to read or write

Below is one example. Other states had similar methods. Sadly, this is only part of the unasked-for baggage our educational systems struggle with today.

A Bill to Prevent All Persons from Teaching Slaves to Read or Write,
the Use of Figures Excepted (1830)

The North Carolina General Assembly first prohibited anyone from teaching slaves to read or write in 1818, then strengthened the law in 1830 (in the bill reprinted here). The following year, another bill made it illegal for not only slaves but free people of color “to preach or exhort in public, or in any manner to officiate as a preacher or teacher in any prayer meeting or other association for worship where slaves of different families are collected together.”
__________________
Whereas the teaching of slaves to read and write has a tendency to excite dissatisfaction in their minds and to produce insurrection and rebellion to the manifest injury of the citizens of this state: Therefore

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, that any free person who shall hereafter teach or attempt to teach any slave within this State to read or write, the use of figures excepted, Shall be liable to indictment in any court of record in the State having jurisdiction thereof, and upon conviction shall at the discretion of the court if a white man or woman be fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two hundred dollars or imprisoned and if a free person of colour shall be whipped at the discretion of the court not exceeding thirty nine lashes nor less than twenty lashes.

Be it further enacted that if any slave shall hereafter teach or attempt to teach any other slave to read or write the use of figures excepted, he or she may be carried before any justice of the peace and on conviction thereof shall be sentenced to receive thirty nine lashes on his or her bare back.

Credit text: Legislative Papers, 1830–31 Session of the General Assembly.

For nearly three decades I taught and worked with seminarians in a multiracial, multinational community. Most students were able to thrive. Still, there were some I couldn’t reach. Today I wonder how this legacy of punishing black and brown students and their teachers is being passed on.

These are heavy days and heavy nights. Reaping the Whirlwind comes to mind yet again. Not because of what’s happening now, but because of what was set in motion centuries ago. I pray each of us will become part of a solution.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September 2020
Image of NC Freedman’s School (1860s) found at ncpedia.org

By hook or by crook

No river runs through it
No sounds of mercy or grace
Pierce neglect and screaming injustice
Writ deep and wide through the heart
Of God bless America

Look the other way my children
Fence it in and hold your tongues
There is no sweet by and by
When the clock strikes twelve
And one more soul is taken

Now open your textbooks and read
With me the unbeatable story of
America’s Great Success
Betrayal heaped on betrayal
By hook or by crook

No, I haven’t given up hope. However, unless I examine the sad and sorry facts of our history with slavery, so-called post-slavery, lynching, and mass incarceration, I won’t get it. Ever.

Even though I’d rather live in my supposedly safe small world, I can’t. It doesn’t help when I avoid hard data. Especially the kind that shows the systemic costs of our nation’s failed approach to slavery and its perpetually reinvented substitutes.

We NEVER got rid of slavery. We just changed the way we thought about it–especially the costs of being black or brown in the USA. Worse, if we have white skin we might even get away with not thinking about it at all. Not my problem?

For the last two weeks I’ve been working in An American Lament about Slavery and so-called ‘Post-Slavery’ in the USA. Not fun. Depressing sometimes. Even tempting me to despair. But facts are facts, especially when they’re in my face.

Check out the 2010 graph at the top. Right now we’re in the midst of a ten-year census count. I wonder how the 2010 chart at the top will change?

Praying for courage to do what I’m able to do, one day at a time. Especially when it comes to changing my well-worn ways of coping in a nation built on too many lies.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 August 2022
Graphic image found at prisonpolicy.org

Mom and Auntie T | 1950s

Mom with first three daughters; dresses and hair by Mom, 1950s 

It’s 1951. Our ‘new’ house on the Vernon River feels like a fairy tale. Fireplaces on both floors, huge pieces of heavy dark furniture, woven cane mats covering dark wooden floors—often with rugs on top of the mats.

Both floors facing the river had screened-in porches, with rocking chairs on the first floor porch. They also had tall French windows that opened onto the porches facing the Vernon River.

The old frame house stood on stilts so water didn’t leak into the first floor. Almost every room in the house had an old steam radiator plus a fireplace.

I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Even better, this was now (sort of) ‘our’ house. Including the dark brown oiled pine slats covering the living room and dining room walls. Heaven for sure.

Until it wasn’t.

Looking back, I can’t imagine what Mom went through. The house didn’t come with a house-cleaner. Mom could do it all, with her three daughters (soon to be four). Surely that would do for servant-power. With Mom in charge of course.

Except she wasn’t.

Auntie T and her husband Dr. T lived in the old slave quarters just behind the big house. Too small for Auntie T’s fancy furniture. So there most of it sat for us to use—and keep clean. Not according to Mom’s already high standards, but according to Auntie T’s higher standards. The kind that got reviewed every time Auntie T dropped by to see how things were going.

Mold grew on the lovely dark pine walls, on books and on dark wood furniture. Dust and pollen accumulated on the porch, and on the linoleum covered grand hallway from the back to the front of the house. Auntie T’s clean white handkerchief found every speck! No matter what Mom did, there was always something she needed to do better.

I think Auntie T was trying to turn Mom into a respectable White Southern Lady. I didn’t often hear Mom complaining. She knew who buttered her bread. Still, in my eyes Mom was the most efficient, organized person in the world.

Looking back, I’m chagrined. We moved to Georgia because Mom was recovering from a serious case of polio. Our California mission house (with 4 to 5 families, and constant guests from abroad) was like a circus. Mom needed to rest and recuperate.

In Savannah, she frequently rested in the middle of the day, sometimes crying softly to herself. Maybe the money was running out, or there wasn’t enough food for supper, or Dad still wanted a son. Or maybe she felt trapped by Auntie T’s expectations and intrusiveness.

Bottom line: Mom didn’t know how to tell us why we weren’t to play with our new black friend. I’m guessing Auntie T’s helper didn’t hesitate to report this to her eldest daughter. Even so, I can’t prove it.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich at Montgomery house, near Savannah, Georgia, 1950s.

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