I. Love. You.

April 22, 2020

While I’ve often said that I was raised in the Philadelphia movements to end AIDS and prisons, I was politicized around my Grammy’s kitchen table. She didn’t use words like “harm reduction,” “mutual aid,” or “transformative justice,” but she instilled each of these principles in me and taught me how to practice them in all that they demand of us and all that they make possible.

Today makes three months since my Grammy joined the ancestors. I have returned many days in the depths of my grief to the Eulogy/Call to Action that I gave at her funeral. Today, I want offer it to each of you, that you might know a small bit of my Grammy’s love and also how to love like her.

Rest In Power, my sweet Grammy. Betty Brown, presente!


Mary Elizabeth Brown
(May 15, 1923 – January 22, 2020)

“I. Love. You.”

These were the last words that Grammy spoke to me.

It was last Thursday evening. I’d flown in from Florida to sit with her and be part of the team supporting her body in releasing her spirit. Her breathing was labored, the only sounds she had made for hours were winces in pain. And then:

“I. Love. You.”

These words were not just for me.
These words were for all of us.

When Grammy had nothing left in her, when she was so ready to be reunited with PopPop and all of her ancestors, she still—and always—wanted us to know that she loved us. That she loves us. 

Grammy was love. 
And with her we knew love
[That is written all over each of our faces right now.]

We knew love in her sweet hugs. 

WE KNEW LOVE in the stories she held and the ways that she stitched each one of us into her 96-year-old family quilt. 

WE KNEW LOVE even when “it is what it is.” 

WE KNEW LOVE in the magic she could make from bread, cheese, and mustard—and the vigilance with which she kept all of our orders in her head. 

WE KNEW LOVE in what she created when she brought two things together to make something entirely new: like half tea, and half lemonade; or half red finger jello, half green finger jello. 

WE KNEW LOVE in the ways that she stretched whatever she had so everyone got a part: how she could feed a family of ten off a pound of ground beef; how she always told us that she loved every single one of us (blood and chosen) equally—and meant it.

WE KNEW LOVE when she’d pick up on the shift in our step, or the way that we carried our shoulders, or the quiver in our voice. 

WE KNEW LOVE when she’d ask us if something was wrong, and she’d pull yet again from the seemingly endless capacity inside of herself to offer her shoulder to cry on.

WE KNEW LOVE when it felt like like you and her were the only two people in the whole world. Grammy had the ability to make time stop like that. 

Her love was her gift to each of us. 
Over and over and over again.

We each individually knew love through her.

And it would be easy, in grief, for our memories of her to stay there. 
… to stay with our individual hugs, 
… to stay with our individual stories, 
… to stay with our individual preferences for grilled cheese, 
… to stay with our individual struggles.

But I want to ask us to push deeper: to believe that we are strong enough together to move through our grief. I want to ask us to really reckon with the magnitude of love that we bore witness to––that we are experiencing right now in this church. 

I want to ask that we not just love Grammy, but that we love like Grammy.

Because we also knew love even when Grammy did not agree with us
… and still somehow she knew how to make space for that

WE ALSO KNEW LOVE when we could feel that our world was (and is) on fire
and still somehow she knew how to make space for that.

We ALSO knew love when the fault lines in our world ran (and run) through our family
… and still somehow she knew how to make space for that

WE ALSO KNEW LOVE when we released our need to know how it would work out
and then we entered that space she made with her.

And there, we could believe, even if just for a moment, that something new could come from these seemingly unresolvable parts
… just like half tea and half lemonade always make lemon tea;
… just like half red jello and half green jello always make Christmas jiggler squares.

“You‘re doing the best that you can.”
… You can hear her saying it, right? …
“You‘re doing the best that you can.”

These were Grammy’s watchwords.
That’s how she made space. 

“You‘re doing.
The best.
That you can.”

And I want to pause and think with you about what it means to practice these words: to not just love Grammy, but to love like Grammy.

“You‘re doing the best that you can.”

These words make space, but that space is not about distance.

They are not words of “you do your thing over there, and I’ll do mine over here.” They are not words you say when you’re looking down on someone, like, “mmmhmmm…” with all the hard eye rolls and all the sarcasm.

“You‘re doing the best that you can.”

These are words of radical honesty, of radical sight. They are words of [like my friend John Bell used to say] “don’t judge, get closer.”

YOU [a person I love]
[Right here in this moment]
You’re doing the [very very] best that you can
[the best that you are able to do right now]

For Grammy to see that, she had to look each of us squarely in our hearts.
She had to see our best. 
She also had to see where we were struggling. 
And by doing that, she could both lift us up and give us a salve for what ailed us. 

She could—by loving us real, real close [AND having the patience of a saint]—help us to grow in ways neither she nor we could’ve ever imagined.
…to grow in ways that always brought us closer to one another and to realizing the Kingdom of God here on earth. 

To love like Grammy, we have to learn how to hold difference. And to not just give different people and different worldviews some space over there, but to actually make space.
… to hold difference, in our hands and in our hearts.
… and to do that without trying to force anything to bend to our will….
… to actually be with difference.
… to hold the pieces that don’t fit
… to stretch ourselves across the greatest fault lines of our world to do it

And then [and this is the key] to be patient enough to stay there long enough so something alive can take shape. 
[to stay there long enough so something alive can take shape.]
[to stay there long enough so something alive can take shape.]

I. Love. You.
I see you.
“You‘re doing the BEST that you can.”
[and also] “You‘re doing the best that YOU can.

We are strong enough to not just love Grammy, but to also love like Grammy.
We can be vulnerable enough. 
We can become expansive enough. 
[to do so] We must be truthful enough. 
[and] We have to stay soft enough. 
[most of all] We must get close enough. 

All of that means that we must also say to ourselves, “I‘m doing the best that I can.” 

Grammy put those words in my ear when I was getting ready to fly back here for her funeral. She asked me to give myself the same kindness I wanted to give to all of you. And in that moment, I understood in a much deeper way what it really takes to love like Grammy.

To love us, Grammy had to honor the very best in herself;
she also be real honest about her own limitations.
And she had to do both in a way that pushed her
[with every new child and grandchild and great-grandchild]
to consistently become better and better still. 

So, like her, I need to honor the very best in myself. We all do. 
We also need to name the places where we struggle
[AND where we still have work to do…] 
We need to pour love into our own wounds
[and ask Blessed Mother to do so, too]. 
We need to believe in our spirits “I can do way more.” Grammy sure did
And then we need to challenge ourselves to do it. AND DO IT.

Only then can I — can you, can we — hold the same space for each other gathered here today in Grammy’s memory as she held for all of us. 

Only then can we hold the same space in our lives and work as she held in hers. 

Only then can we hold the same space she did
 … when we are really and truly triggered by something [and you know we will be]
 … when being triggered brings up in me [and in you] a whole range of judgements and bad feelings
 … when our reaction is to do anything other than to affirm the humanity and that of God in someone different from ourselves
 … when we are [whether we can see it or not] reacting that way out of our own hurt and pain and struggles
 … when we know we have in that moment the power to do real harm…

In those moments, let us pause and say:

You‘re doing the best that you can.”  
I’m doing the best that I can.”
We‘re doing the best that we can.”

Stay there. Hold that space.
Hold it. and Hold it some more. 
See it. See it honestly. See it softly. 
And still… stay there. 

Have the patience to stay there long enough so something alive can take shape.

That is how we love like Grammy.

Together, we can make her wildest dreams come true. We are already her vision and her hope for this world. 

May Grammy rest in power as she travels to heaven to join PopPop and her ancestors. And may she remain alive in the ways that we push ourselves to love like she loved.

Her love was her gift to each of us. 

Let her love bring us all the healing that we most need. 

And let the way that she loved us teach us how to heal
… each other,
… our communities,
… and our world. 

To close, I would like to practice this love with you right now.

I ask you to repeat and do with me…

First: To hear Grammy’s voice in your ear and say these words to yourself: “I. Love. You.”

Second: To feel Grammy’s spirit between you and the loved ones around you and embrace each of them while saying these words: “I. Love. YOU.”

Third: To take her spirit and push it all the way up to the heavens with PopPop and all of our ancestors … to tell our Grammy in no uncertain terms that we right here down on earth, we got this and we got her: “I. Love. You.”

In Grammy’s name,
with Grammy’s love,

Amen.

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