A lily, like Lilly

Many years ago, a little girl sat with her parents, her grandmother, and her baby brother in the front pew of a church on Easter Sunday. Too young to understand the profound significance of the day or the importance of the readings, she focused on the flowers adorning the altar. “Aren’t they pretty?” her mother whispered. “Those are tulips, and that’s an Easter lily, and there’s a—”

“A lily?” the little girl interrupted, a bit too loudly. “Like Lilly?” As the story goes, she turned toward her grandmother, whose name was Lillian, and gave her a quick hug. From that day forward, the little girl’s grandmother was never known as “Grandma” or “Nana” to her grandchildren, but simply “Lilly,” in honor of the beautiful Easter flower.

As that little girl, I have no memory of this morning or the realization I made during Mass, though my mother’s frequent retelling of the story has embedded the images and the dialogue in my mind. I adored my grandmother, as any little girl would, and always connected her with Easter, from that morning when I was only two, until the day she died—frail and delicate like the flower itself. Even today, decades later, when I see the lilies appearing at the florist before Easter and take in their sweet scent, I am reminded of Lilly and the story that is as familiar to me as the flowers themselves.

In addition to the beauty of Easter and the glory of the celebration, it is also the beauty of consistency that I love about this day—the unchanging Gospel readings of Jesus’ resurrection, the traditional music prompting us to “rejoice and be glad,” and yes, the flowers, with those large, trumpet-shaped lilies in the center of every display. In a season when we focus on what is new in a religious, secular, and natural sense, sometimes we are drawn to what we know best.

Last week, following Easter Sunday, with spring break upon us and the world suddenly radiant in every shade of green, we drove down to Maryland for a few days to visit old friends. After walking through bustling Baltimore, we came upon a small church with its doors slightly ajar, beckoning us in. Though miles from home, in a city and a state that I did not know well, I was nevertheless surrounded by the familiar as we quietly entered. The brilliant stained glass, the 14 Stations, and the large wooden crucifix greeted us. And, being the Wednesday after Easter, the display of lilies still adorned the altar.

Like that child of yesteryear, I am drawn to “consider the lilies of the field, how they grow” as Scripture advises us, drawn to both the powerful association with Easter and the loving association with my grandmother, which to me were always intertwined. As we sat for a few moments of silence in the front pew of that little chapel, the story of a little girl and her grandmother came alive for me once again.