September was a weird month for stuff. (Stuff in regards to all the things I have, buy, "need right now"...the excess.)
This past month was my brother in-law's wedding, which means lots of time with lots of my husband's family. I'll admit that I get in-law noise. I think the desire to put your best self forward to a group of people who mean a lot to the person who means the world to you is natural. I think my nervousness gets heightened by the fact that none of my in-laws are in Dallas and part of our daily lives, and many of them live out of the country. When we see them every few years that's how we're remembered until the next time we're all together - bad weeks and bad hair days be damned. Seeing them for the first time in a while plus them seeing our house for the first time resulted in many a trip to Target to buy a completely unnecessary item that was completely important in that moment.I felt guilty making my almost daily stops to chase the red bullseye, but the feeling of excitement and life perfection was louder than the self wonderment of what void I was trying to fill through my shiny new purchase.
In another bizarre turn of events re: stuff, two people that I used to have strong relationships with that I do not really know now, randomly sent gifts to my house for me this month. Kind of expensive ones. I know what you're thinking, "But Lilly, isn't arriving home to fan mail and lavish packages from your many fans just part of life as the editor of Pancakes and Beet Juice?" Well, surprisingly enough to both of us, this is not the case. With both of these people I had a very trusting relationship with them and sometimes those just don't work out - a person changes or isn't who you thought they were and it's more positive for both people to have space than continue to pretend to have something symbiotic when it's really bringing one or both people down. Relationships can be seasonal, with breaks and re-connections, but is a gift sent in the mail (with no note) the way that door opens these days? I guess I always thought it'd be a call, a letter or a gesture that did not include a big bow or Apple product. I felt icky but I also felt guilty again. These people wanted to reach out to me and did so in the way that they thought would be appropriate and effective - were the gifts a sign of their character or mine? Is this the vibe I'm giving off as the best way to get in touch with me? Are these people trying their best and I should try to be open to their communication? More noise.
All of this leads up to the very last day of the month, as Markus and I drove from Texas to Florida, stopping in New Orleans. One of the most influential and special people in my life, the Jesuit priest and chaplain at my high school, was buried on the way to New Orleans. He left a mark on me - he taught me about how much a joke or a song can bring light to someone. When he met and loved Markus before we were married, I felt like I had my late grandfather's approval through him. He also spoke to Markus about being baptized, something Markus did last Easter. I thought I was done learning from him but wanted to visit and thank him for all of the lessons he had given me while he was alive.
The cemeteries in Louisiana, especially the ones I had seen in New Orleans, are decorated and gorgeous. When I pictured the grave in my mind it was a special and unique as he was to all of the girls he served at our school - something elegant and ivy wrapped perhaps. When we made the exit and got to the Jesuit college and small Sacred Heart school where the plot was marked, there was a small cemetery, completely simple and serene.
When I saw some of the markers that looked more recent, my heart picked up a little. I found my buddy and burst into tears. I had come here to thank him for the lessons he taught me before he died, but I felt my heart open to another big one from him and his message came pouring over me.
Father had always been a man above stuff. (Hello, vows of poverty come to mind.) When I visited him at the assisted living center where he spent his last years, his small room had a twin bed and one tiny television. He decorated his wall with a rosary tacked by the lamp on his nightstand and one framed print of the Sacred Heart on cardstock by the door. One time I fixed one of my larger TVs from college and tried to bring it to him, but he politely refused, saying that it could be distracting. All of these memories came to me as I looked at his perfect forever place on Earth - a small marker and a spot amongst the men that inspired him to give up his life in service.
People spend time before they die trying to find a place and way to be buried that will give people an idea of what their life was like here. You could never visually represent what this man gave to the world in a monument. Is there a spot on a person's tombstone to say how he walked into an all girls high school for years and made sure that no matter what was going on in our lives outside of his classroom - family problems, breakups, prom - he made sure we got the Borden milk jingle sang to us that day? The stuff that matters about a person's life is what fills you up when you think of them. The actions, not the stuff they left behind or the thing that marks where their body rests now.
All the in-law noise, stuff noise, gift noise just washed off of me. For a few, clear moments I was completely in touch with the fact that it's not about what you have or the things people give you. I need to lead with what I'm doing for people to make them feel special, not with what I have that makes me appear special.
I appreciate people reaching out to me, but my guilt over what they spent on a gift for me can't lead a healthy relationship. The only things that makes a healthy relationship are two people, fully invested in talking about the real deal stuff, not glossy presents and pushing feelings or lingering hurt to the side.
I am blessed to have people here that get that, people that I can share my thoughts with and can keep me accountable. I am beyond grateful to have shared years here with a man who cared so much about the development of young women that he is still going out of his way to teach me new things when I get off my little Type-A hamster wheel and make myself available.
I think if I can keep myself in line I have a real shot at making a few people as happy as this lovely person made thousands of young women during his time as our teacher. I think I'm going to give it a shot. I hope it involves a lot of singing.