The pews seemed like they stretched on forever. I was a little five, precocious but shy. Most times my lips were zipped shut but when I was asked to speak I usually said something that made the adults high up throw their laughter up into the air.

Standing with one foot out the door and one in the territory of our church’s head usher, I tried my best to scan all the rows for the back of my father’s head or the neon teal collar of my mother’s choir robe. Back row, middle section, organ side- nothing. I bounced back down off my toes and gave my heels some rest before trying to mount up again.

Maybe she got impatient with me holding open the sanctuary doors, but at that moment, I felt a slight nudge from Ms. Usher on Duty. Thinking back, had she done it to me now, I probably would have classified it as a push, shove even. But nudge or shove, I was now four pews further up and the object of the back section glare that threatened, “Get to your seat Little Pitterson or I’ll find your mother before your tippy toe scan can.”

Then I saw it. Not my father’s olive suit, not my mother’s swinging robe- it was the fuchsia hat. While she wasn’t family, Sis. Powells’ broad brimmed church hat was like seeing a lighthouse in the middle of the storm. Besides rocking brights from the 80s until the trend came back around, she was one of my family’s closest friends. She had baby sat my father when he was a child and now that he had brought his own into the world, she had made it her duty to take care of me as well.

When she passed away two years ago, I didn’t know how to react. She was the one person I had always identified as the calm in the midst of all of my family’s crazy. Now that she was gone, I wasn’t sure who my outside refuge would be.

Laying on the couch in her home in Florida a few hours before her funeral, I remember thinking, “This could be the last time I’m here.” Getting up, I pulled up my sweats and curler filled hair and started poking around.

Her husband, had been sorting through her things at the dining table in boxes and boxes of thoughts. Sitting down next to him, I said nothing just began sorting through as well. There were old pamphlets from her singing tour at the end of World War II, letters from patients she had taken care of over the years and then a whole lot of things that meant nothing to me, but made me think for the first time of all the other interests she had besides her love for her work, for music, for her husband and for the people she cared for.

Sorting through the dining table full of thoughts, I realized how much of her life she had managed to share and more incredibly how much she had managed to keep. Overwhelmed by it all, I saw how connected those two were, how without giving you couldn’t truly be full.

As I balance through growing into a woman without Sis. Powell’s watchful eye, I remain influenced by the things she had seen as beautiful and held close as just her own. It makes me understand that to be able to fully give to the world, you must have a space inside for loves that are just your own.

Today, choose to keep a little piece of beauty to yourself.  Understand you cannot give on an empty tank and allow yourself to be truly full.


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