“I Could Tell You About Phyllis Tickle…But I Won’t.”

Sep 28, 2015

Phyllis Tickle–author, religionist, scholar, Christian, mother, wife, and friend– died on Tuesday, September 22. As one of Phyllis Tickle’s 1500 (or maybe even 15,000) best friends I have unique experiences and stories to share–as do all of her other 14,999 close friends. She loved both lavishly and deeply and personally. So here are a few teasers from my treasure chest of Phyllis stories. The format I’ll use is:
“I could tell you about ______________, but I won’t.” *

  • I could tell you about emailing Phyllis to tell her about our potential move to Memphis in 2004 and her generous three-page response with the history of the city… but I won’t.
  • I could tell you about how I showed my notebook of doodled prayers to Phyllis at our first lunch together in Memphis and she said, “You’re going to write a book.”
  • I could tell you about not having had a mentor at age 15 or 25 or 35…or until 55 when Phyllis became one for me.
  • I could tell you about how Phyllis mothered me through the process of writing Praying in Color.
  • I could tell you about the instructions she gave me to get rid of the Imposter Syndrome when I felt like a loser and thought I had no business writing a book.
  • I could tell you about my husband Andy and me going to the Farm at Lucy (her home) for 4:30pm dinners so she could be in bed by 7pm.
  • I could tell you about how her husband Sam kicked her out of the kitchen when he retired saying, “I never liked your cooking anyway,” and cooked the meals from then on.
  • I could tell you about eating Sam’s weird concoctions of squash and tomatoes and okra from their garden on the Farm.
  • I could tell you about the hundreds of books on the shelves in Lucy that have dedications and acknowledgments to Phyllis Tickle written in them.
  • I could tell you about how every time I look at my dining room table I picture Phyllis and Sam seated there for a dozen Christmas, Easter, and Birthday dinners.
  • I could tell you about substituting portobello mushrooms for ground lamb in a classic moussaka recipe so vegetarian Phyllis could eat it.
  • I could tell you about how she would read any manuscript sent to her and respond to every email and text.
  • I could tell you about our visit with Phyllis in late April at the Farm and the strawberries, glasses of sparkling water and wine, and goodbye kisses that (unknown to us at the time) would be our last ones with her.Phyllis Last Visit Collage Resized
  • I could tell you about how she emailed Andy and me the following day to say she hadn’t wanted to ruin our visit with the news that she had only four months to live.
  • I could tell you about our shock at the news because she looked so vital and radiant when we saw her.
  • I could tell you about a woman who was unafraid to die because she had done that in her 20’s and had seen the Light.
  • I could tell you about the first ever unanswered text and prayer I sent to Phyllis on September 19.
  • I could tell you about how infinitely grateful I am that she shared herself and her wisdom with so many of us in her four-score and one years.
  • I could tell you about how different my life would be without Phyllis Tickle in it.
  • I could tell you about how I am less afraid to die knowing that Sam and Phyllis have preceded me into the Kingdom of Heaven… but I won’t.


* For about 15 years I have been an InterPlayer. InterPlay, founded by Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter, is a set of playful practices and structures/forms that build community and reunite us with the wisdom of our bodies and our stories. One of those forms is called “I could tell you about…but I won’t.” It’s a great way to tell a story or relay information and not bore the listener with too many details.


  1. Oh Sybil- what a beautifully written personal testimony of friendship and love….. a gift to all of us with your insights… and grace to you at this time

  2. Sybil,
    I only met Phyllis a couple of times, but reading this tribute to her made my heart leap with sadness, if that makes any sense. Hearing about her generous spirit gives me the sense that I too can be a better more loving and responsive person. I am so grateful for you and for the influence Phyllis Tickle had on your life. I am better because of it.
    Love and prayers,

  3. Thank you for a beautiful tribute.

  4. When I heard the news of her illness I began to collect thoughts, a couple of Upper Room writings my wife,Jessie, and I had written. I think one or two cartons I do for The Best Times ….just a modest collection of things. …can’t remember all. Hopefully to bring her cheer. You know she likes to laugh really loud. Well, right away, she answered. …and guess who was cheered. I was cheered through my tears. Then I thought of trying to write her back …I did, rather feebly, but she had left on a new adventure. Now my most fervent prayer is to get that letter to her in person because I know where she is. Get a heavenly hug.

    • Thanks for this reply, Dolph. I can hear Phyllis laugh and see her respond immediately to your email. She was one remarkable woman! I will miss her terribly.


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