Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Vulnerability

Getting on with life

Though I haven’t fallen down the stairs, or tripped on my own feet, I haven’t figured out how to get up again and proceed with life.

Mary Oliver has a short poem in A Thousand Mornings (2012, p. 9) that says it all.

After I Fall Down the Stairs
At the Golden Temple

For a while I could not remember some word
I was in need of,
and I was bereaved and said: where are you,
beloved friend?

My biggest fear right now is that I’ll fall down: Where are you, beloved feet?

It’s official: I have peripheral neuropathy. It’s in early stages, though given the fire and pain in my feet and legs, you could fool me. My doctor has ordered an MRI scan. I’ve never had one. I don’t want one now. And yes, I’ll have it.

Last Friday I had two diagnostic tests in the office. Together, they took about an hour. The first (scroll down in this link) (NCS) was supposed to be the easiest. Electrodes on my feet and legs were prompted to shock me. Sometimes my responses were minimal—or even nothing at all. However, most of the time (a good thing) the shocks were just that. Horrific. I thought they would never end.

So…moving on to the second test (EMG). It was supposed to be the most difficult. The doctor inserted thin needles into my legs and feet, prompting me to use or flex various muscles while he listened for noise. Then he did one more poke in my lower spine. The needle pokes weren’t fun, but they were nothing compared to the shock tests. In the end these results were also mixed. Another sign that this disease is in early stages.

I was surprised that my problem most likely began in my lower spine, not in my feet or legs. The MRI will help clarify what’s going on.

In the meantime, my feet are a mixed blessing. I’m grateful to be sleeping well most of the time. The best exercise these days is a walk outside with D or riding my indoor bike. My feet smile and even tear up a bit when I’m playing the piano or working at my computer. Yet when I’m working in the kitchen or around the house, they scream at me for mercy. Especially in the afternoon and evening.

If you’re interested in knowing more about this disease that shows up in various forms, I’ve found these two books helpful:

Thank you for your prayers and good wishes! The photo at the top is one of my Longwood Garden favorites–posted today just because.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 Oct 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in October 2019 at Longwood Gardens

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

What females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

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

Dancing with Reality

Taking stock from
The moment I put feet
On the ground
I wonder what this
Day will bring though
I already know the
News won’t be
What I expected

I always thought
A life of healthy choices
Would save me from
The ignominy of so-called
Failure or decrepitude
Despite external indicators
And internal mysteries
To the contrary

This morning I looked into
The mirror of today
Wondering how and
Where and when and why
Things fell out for me
In places I never dreamed
Of meeting on a cold or
Hot day in this short journey

Sinking into a chair I heave
Sighs of relief knowing that
Whatever the next checkup
Brings it won’t destroy
What already wants to
Dance without missing a beat
Or falling to the floor
In sheer exhaustion

I’m still learning what it means to live with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs. Each day offers multiple challenges. Which orthopedic shoes will I wear today? What can I do to keep the pain down? (Would you believe walk more?!) In three weeks I’ll have tests to determine how much damage has already been done.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for informative internet sites that aren’t trying to sell a product, a service, or a magic wand solution to a complex health issue. Here’s a reliable link to the National Institute of Health: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.

Thanks for stopping by, and a belated happy Fall (here in the USA), or Spring (in Australia, for example). In case you’re wondering, the photo at the top is there because I like it. A bit of fall foliage at Longwood Gardens in October 2019.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, October 2019

Our perpetual disunion

It’s early morning
Mother’s soft blue poncho
Falls gently across chilled shoulders
And down my back
Warming my trembling limbs

A poignant reminder
Of chronic pain she bore
In her polio-haunted body
Relieved only by force of will

Plus pills from the pharmacy
And sheer determination
To show up for her four daughters
Caught with her in a web of
Perpetual male dominance
And punishment exercised religiously

Without recourse to angels or
Courts of justice in any state
Of our perpetual disunion

How long will it take for this nation to experience liberty and justice for all? The proud words of our Constitution hide a plethora of Unspoken Rules that Will Not Be Broken. Not now. Not ever. Not even if it means the world is dying.

I didn’t see it back then. I was young, naïve, and optimistic. There have always been women and men of good will. Yet we continually capitulate to the shenanigans and outright lawlessness of those with the greatest wealth plus the best connections to people in high places.

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, our little family was a microcosm of what was already going on. I applaud the younger generation’s determination to fight for something better. Sadly, the cards are still stacked against a just, life-sustaining future for all human beings and this planet we call home.

I’m grateful I’ve lived long enough to understand many family dynamics of my childhood and youth. I wish I could say the same about the dynamics of our nation. I pray we won’t stop showing up for each other, despite the agony and unpredictability of life today.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2021
Photo of my family taken in 1961, Savannah, Georgia

Life disrupted

Taken the day before our 56th wedding anniversary in
the Longwood Gardens Conservatory

Life’s disruptions don’t
Knock politely at the door
No matter the time of day
Or night

How quickly
Things change or
So it seems
Though looking back
The signs were screaming
At me in early warnings
Burning through thick
Clouds of denial
And my belief that this
Couldn’t be happening
To me

I know what it is. I won’t know for over a month the extent of damage already done to my feet and legs. My kind, knowledgeable physician’s assistant will need to poke my feet and legs with needles, among other things. That happens in late October.

Still, I know what this intruder is. It’s already reshaping my life, though I’m not ‘officially’ a candidate for this plague. Peripheral Neuropathy. Fancy words for burning feet and all that goes with it.

Most difficult right now is learning (by hit and miss) how much I can walk or stand on my feet before they scream for mercy. I’m grateful for orthopedic sandals that help ease the pain, though even they can’t make the pain go away. I’m learning the hard way to sit as often as needed, and walk as often as feasible.

This morning I returned to an old discipline that helps me stay centered when things are tough: three pages of nonstop writing. Whatever pops into my mind, no matter what kind of language it requires! I highly recommend it.

Thanks for stopping by, and for being part of my life. The photo at the top is to let you know I haven’t forgotten the promised Longwood Gardens post!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory, 10 September 2021

Food from above

My eyes land on mama squirrel
Alone on our stone wall
Now transformed into a low table
Of aging sunflower platters
Bursting with food from above —
A banquet waiting for guests

One by one she tackles
Her task with a vengeance
No pausing to enjoy the morning
Sunshine or the gorgeous
Blue sky above, she focuses
Intently on food for her babies

Only one small break for a
Quick drink from the bird bath
And she’s back at it ferociously
Determined to carry home
More than enough for the
Next generation’s deep hunger

No, she wasn’t particularly beautiful. Her body hair bore marks of nest stress, and she was clearly in a hurry to collect as much food as possible for her little ones.

For at least five minutes I watched through my binoculars before she took off. Then I teared up thinking about how much our Creator cares for me and for you.

No, we won’t necessarily find food lying around waiting for us to take it home for ourselves or our families. On the other hand, sometimes the food we need is at hand, if only we have eyes to see or hear, and courage to accept what is right in front of us. In plain view, if not always beautiful.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 September 2021
photo found at projectnoah.org

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

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born on 10 September 1935 and died on 17 January 2019. Though today’s world isn’t the world she knew, I hear this poem speaking truth about today’s realities. My comments follow.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 49)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in A Thousand Mornings, 2012

I can’t read this poem without thinking about today’s world. We aren’t simply on the cusp of late fall and winter weather. We’re witnessing with our eyes and hearts the end of an era. The title of the poem is heavy with innuendo.

Mary looks at the changing of seasons and points to the goodness of what doesn’t always seem good enough or lovable enough. Who loves to see flowers wilting, or dry old leaves falling to the ground? Or the warm light of day giving way to the icy darkness of each night?

Instead of mourning the passing of warm weather and beautiful fall days, Mary points to what it means to love this world. All of it. No matter what we think about changing seasons, or about the lovability of family, friends, strangers, or even ourselves.

What’s true of nature reminds me of human relationships. Like flower petals falling to the ground, we, too, move from one season, to the next. No one said this would be easy. Nor do we have any idea what beautiful surprises may be waiting just around the corner. Especially in the midst of unfathomable loss and anguish.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2021
Photo by Sven Brogren found at fineartamerica.com

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