Good Gravy

In the All Saints Episcopal parish cemetery on Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Dorothy M Elerbe is immortalized with the words: “She made good gravy.”

I’ve heard some pretty boneheaded things when someone dies. My “favorite” top two are: “God needed another voice in his choir” (barf!) and “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad/cry” (liar, liar pants on fire!). Name ONE person on this planet who honestly doesn’t want to be mourned when they die? To know that there will be at least some small demonstrative expression of grief from those who care about them most?

I do! I want tears! Lots and lots of tears. I want Kleenex stock to go up slightly when I pass.

However, I know that to be worthy of another’s tears, I need to have made good gravy while I was alive.

Like many of us, I often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about or acting upon things that don’t really mean a lot in the grand scheme. Given this truth, my tombstone would look something like this:

“She lost a lot of weight…a lot of times.”
“She intended to write a really good book.”
“She thought about volunteering.”
“She hated winter.”
“She rarely left the house without makeup on.”

Not exactly the kind of stuff that brings tears to people’s eyes.

As anyone who practices mindfulness or meditates or prayers for insight knows, “practice” comes with a price. An often sticky, uncomfortable price. It was recently – through being present with someone I love very much and listening to his words without thinking of my response as he was talking – that I became aware that I’ve been keeping spontaneous joy and love locked up tighter than gold at Fort Knox. Whether it’s been for the sake of pride or out of fear of vulnerability, I’ve become less trusting of my feelings and more influenced by chronic pain and what others think of me. I love those who are easy to love and don’t engage the tender parts of those who are difficult or those who could hurt me.

How simple it is to pick up and snuggle 18-month-old Audrey when she runs to me, or read to 3-year-old Mae while she sits on my lap. That stranger in line at the grocery store who is struggling to use her debit card? No love for you! Those far-away loved ones whose opinions or actions differ from mine? No compassion for you!

This isn’t to say I spend every day judging or waving my cane at the neighbor kids: “Get off my lawn, you little bastards!” But I could certainly use Dorothy M Elerbe’s gravy recipe to help me open up and love a little more than weight, makeup, intentions, or even “Downton Abbey.”

There’s a dry board on my refrigerator on which my niece used to write uplifting phrases. Before she moved back to Minnesota, she wrote: “Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about.” I will to keep that there because it reminds me to stick with my novel. But above it, I am going to write, “She made good gravy.”

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7 thoughts on “Good Gravy

  1. This is great! As an amateur genealogist and therefore a cemetery explorer, I have also seen a bit of tombstone wit and wisdom. One that I love is “I told you I was sick!” And by the way, everything you wrote about possibilities for your own tombstone could be on mine. Yes, I admit to it, accepting who I am.. I am writing a book too, and I'm getting close to being finished, but it has taken me years because I always find something else to distract me. I guess I could add this: “she is a little bit lazy sometimes.”

    Working on compassion for others is a worthwhile endeavor, but I have always thought you had plenty of it–compassion that is. I think sometimes we're hard on ourselves, and it is at those times that we become a bit more hard on others. My grandmother always used to say, “find the good in others and yourself, and the bad will disappear.” I have to remember that more often. Thanks for this thought provoking post.

  2. Back in the day when skill with Liquid Paper was essential in my job as a secretary, I always thought these words would be on my tombstone: “She was good with White Out.” I'm still working on my gravy skills. I'll never make as good a gravy as my Mom did.

  3. Thanks for your vote of compassionate confidence, E. Jane 🙂 You're right, we are always harder on ourselves than others, but then, I'm pretty hard on others sometimes, too. Your grandmother is a wise woman.

  4. I think there's a lot in your post and right now I'm feeling too lazy to re-read it. I'll reserve that for another time.

    I have known for many years that this will be on my tombstone: “She sought the perfect purse.” Or maybe not. I don't think a Jewish cemetery would allow that! 😉

  5. So this post totally resonated with me. I'm exploring the whole mindfulness thing, and feeling like I'm reacing a fork in the road between striving for Ego & Self & the material stuff vs seeking oneness and compassion and being more generous and connected. And while intellectually the choice seems clear, in real life… not so much! I want my suprficial goodies! —Crabby McSlacker (logged in wrong account!)

  6. Well, unless you're not being genuine on your blog (and I doubt that you could even try to be disingenuous), I think your battle is an honorable one and you (your oneness, compassion, generosity and connectedness) are winning 🙂 I love my superficial goodies, too! I think about them all the time when I'm supposed to be concentrating on my breath! LOL Glad this spoke to you, though. Be well.

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