On this day, thirteen days ago – just five days after 9/11 – my beloved Grandmother Julie left the Earth. Her passing was the first significant loss I had experienced, and it changed me – forever. It changed what I thought I knew about death and dying. I have come to see now that her passing was yet another invaluable gift she bestowed upon me. I am forever grateful.
Mummie Julie, as we her grandchildren lovingly referred to her, was always gifting me. Whenever I saw her, she would sneak me a twenty dollar bill or more. “Do not tell your mother,” she whispered with a mischievous glint in her eye. “This is between you and me.” If it wasn’t money, it would be her glorious food (how I miss her cooking) served abundantly and with much love.
A few days before she was to be rushed to a hospital emergency room, at a birthday party she hosted for the latest addition to the family – her great-grandson, she gave me a most unusual gift. It was a large laminated picture of me taken at my college graduation. In it, I am chubby checked and smiling. As I looked at the picture, I recalled the deep pain and darkness that lurked underneath that smile. Sensing my heavy heart, my grandmother had me turn the picture over. The first words I read, written in delicate cursive:
“A smile never makes an enemy, but often wins a friend.”
I chuckled. My grandmother was not one for a lot of words. Still, she knew her granddaughter very well. I was always smiling no matter what was happening inside of me. She wanted me to keep smiling, to see it as a gift rather than a weakness and a burden, and to then use this gift for good.
Just to make certain that I received this message (again, this grandmother knew her granddaughter’s stubborn heart – I could not hide from her), there was a poem written clearly in print. The poem, You Tell On Yourself resonated deeply in that moment and continues to every time I read it to this day – thirteen years later.
LOL! Grandma was prescient – no wonder she laminated her last gift to me. If she had not, it would have been worn down by now! I read that poem, savoring every beautiful word every year at least three times a year – sometimes more. I cling to it whenever I forget or dislike who I am. It has saved me from delving into The Abyss almost as many times as has chocolate!
Truly I tell you, this poem has become my guiding light – it reminds me to foster integrity, it reminds me that we are indeed each other’s keeper, that we are connected, that we influence each other and that we, indeed, are always telling on ourselves – there’s really no hiding who we really are no matter how heavy and elaborate that mask we so carefully craft. The poem also reminds me to pay close attention.
I still do not know who authored You Tell On Yourself . I send countless thanks to that creative Soul!
Until today, I have never shared this story of my grandmother’s last gifts to me – the picture, the saying, and the poem. They were mine – between my grandmother and me, our last little secret. It just dawned on me that grandma did not ask me to keep this gift between the two of us. I think this was deliberate. Again, this grandmother knew her granddaughter’s heart. She knew I would share her last words – her precious lessons to me – when I was ready.
And so I share:
You Tell On Yourself
You tell on yourself
By the words you speak, by the friends you seek,
By the way you employ your leisure time,
By the use you make of your dollar and dime.
You tell what you are by the things you wear,
By the spirit you, your burdens you bear,
By the kinds of things at which you laugh,
By songs you sing, just a paragraph.
You tell what you are by the way you walk,
By the things of which you delight to talk,
By the manner in which you bear defeat,
By so simple a thing as how you eat.
By the books you choose from a well-filled shelf–
In these things and more – you tell on yourself.