Thursday, October 28, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love

You are going to laugh at this (or, if you aren't, you should) but Jane and I had "crashed" a funeral just a couple of months before Jane's unexpected death. My reasoning went something like this: Mormon churches, like churches of many other faiths, are basically open to the general public, for whatever functions may be held there. (This would be "church" as in where we meet to worship on the Sabbath, as distinct from "the temple," which is not even open on the Sabbath.) And I was going anyway-- I knew the husband of the woman who had died well enough to feel like I ought to attend the funeral no matter what, so this was really just a matter of whether or not to bring Jane with. And I knew that a good Mormon funeral is actually a great way to get a feel for the best bits of Mormon family life, and I wanted very much for Jane to get that feel-- I felt like she would learn things from attending that funeral that she wouldn't be able to get in any other way.

It turned out that I was right. The funeral WAS wonderful-- I nearly blogged about it as "the best funeral I have ever attended," but I wanted to respect the privacy of the family, and decided against it. I will say this much: it was the funeral of a woman who had lived approximately twenty years beyond expectation: she had been diagnosed with a disease, shortly after the birth of her first (and, as it happened, only) child, and she had been told that the disease could take her life within that year. But it did not. Though she was not able to have more children, and from that time forward lived in nearly constant, severe pain, she was able to live long enough to raise her son, see him graduate from high school, and send him on a mission. He was not at the funeral-- he was in his assigned field of labor-- but as it happened, the assigned field of labor was very close to his mother's ancestral home (where she was buried), and he received special permission to go to her grave site and be the one to dedicate the grave.

And the words spoken at her funeral! Her mother spoke-- she spoke too long, and had to be asked to sit down, but it turned out OK. Her sister spoke, describing a sister-mother who had sacrificed much for her. Her husband spoke, and this was one of the most moving talks I have ever been witness to. He quoted poetry, first in German and then in English, and he wept as he described how their "dream deferred" of having a large family had caused a sadness between them-- but how in the end they decided (somehow-- I'm describing this badly) to let the sadness go, and let hope flare up again.

The funeral went a little long, and as I drove her home, Jane was on the phone with a friend of hers whose daughter was having difficulty, and whom Jane was trying to help out. She was still on the phone as she was getting out of the car. I asked: how was it? She told her friend on the phone to wait a minute as she talked to me. "I want a man who loves me like that," she said. I agreed, and agree.

There is a part of me that wants to shout: But what happened? The man who killed you-- why did you let him back into your house, into your life? Why didn't you tell me you had a restraining order against him, way back last spring when you first mentioned him to me? Was it too embarrassing? Was I-- was my manner such that you just couldn't, that I was judgmental, that I'm just not a person who can handle that information? Dear God, O God, how I wish I could turn back time and look into your eyes again and say one more time: you are worth being treated well. You are worthy of love, even unemployed, even dark-black as you sometimes thought so poorly of yourself for being, even with imperfect children and an imperfect church attendance record and with so many people surrounding you who questioned your every decision.

Oh, how I miss you. I have been buoyed up by the love of God in a remarkable way which is far above and beyond anything I have ever experienced in my life before, and I know that it has been in direct response to my need for comfort over your death-- but, beloved sister, I wish every day, EVERY DAY, that you were not dead. I miss you terribly. The girls miss you terribly. Your baby-- I pray for all of your family, but I pray especially for him. No seven-year-old should have to bear the burdens he is compelled to bear. And when I keep thinking in a loop about how I wish I could do over-- wish I could persuade more persuasively, ask peskier questions, something-- the one thing I never regret is listening to every inclination to be friends with you. What a comfort you were to me, what a true friend.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Setting for the Eulogy, Part the First

Miss Ruby said it best, and she said something like this: "I don't want to be racist or anything, but I'm going to say it how it was. All of us-- all of Jane's friends and family who were at the funeral-- we're black. And it's at this white [as in the race of the majority of the congregation is white] church, and we're thinking: can they deliver like we're used to being delivered to [in, say, a Black church]?"

I felt that. I was aware that the congregation was going to be mostly black, and I think that I was a little less shocked than, say, Bishop Smith, at how large that congregation was; I had been a regular visitor at Jane's house and had seen first hand how many people besides me loved to be near her. The ward had run off 150 programs on the nice, colored paper; then, when they saw so many people there, 75 more on the black-and-white copier available at the church. By the bishop's estimation, there were about three hundred people in attendance. The members of the ward who came sat mostly in the seats in the back section of the chapel; the front of the chapel was full of black, black, wherever the eye turned, and-- as Miss Ruby so candidly put it-- they were wondering (as was I, quite frankly) if the funeral speakers could "deliver".

There were a few things on my side. First and foremost is my love for Jane, my feeling I've had since I first began visiting her that she is truly my sister, that it is a privilege to have known her. Also, there is the fact that absolutely everyone in that congregation was praying for me, as were more people than I've ever been aware of before, in other locations. It didn't hurt at all that, for me, black people I don't know are much safer, emotionally, than white people I don't know; this is residual from my having attended Jr. High in Alabama, where the black kids were just much, much kinder to me than were the white kids, on average. Then there is the fact that somehow, the way I get nervous when I'm speaking sometimes comes across as being confident and collected to the people I am addressing, whether that is at an oral linguistics final or giving a talk at a Black Mormon Funeral.

Most of all, it is my opinion that it was simply the will of God for it to go well. When Miss Ruby started out by saying that they weren't sure if we could deliver, I said, "I was worried..." and she interrupted: "But you showed us you didn't have to deliver how we are used to. You captured her essence-- it was just so beautiful."

"Well, I prayed," I said, "and I think that God helped me."

"God was with you."

Which was a beautiful compliment, and symbolic of how I've taken all of the compliments (of which there have been many) so far: they are a validation, not that I of myself did such a great job, but that I was able to follow the Holy Ghost and do what was expected of me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Papa is now contributing photos to the blog, thus:

In the spring, Papa tried to run the squirrels off from eating the birdseed which he puts out on the balcony for-- er-- the birds-- but once he realized that he could get good shots of the squirrels from the other side of the patio-door (which looks on to the balcony) he forgave them and let them eat in peace.

I wondered, at first, why the squirrel-on-the-seat picture came first, but then I realized that this is a very ground-centric view; of course the squirrel landed on the seat before it landed on anything else.

This is the same bike which has been on the balcony since last winter.

I wasn't going to include this one, but Mom liked it so much that I decided to post it anyway.

The plant which our visitor is exploring in this photo is my lovely basil which Papa rooted from some we got last winter.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

In which Cornelia slowly begins to live again

I have chosen a pseudonym for my friend who just died: she shall be called Jane. After, in part, Jane Manning James, but also because it rhymes with the name she had chosen for herself to be called, since she disliked the very old-fashioned one her mother had chosen for her.

It occurs to me that I've set a precedent before now of calling the dead by their own real names, under the theory that really nothing worse can happen to them at this point; but, a) my brain still can't quite process the fact that she's dead; and, b) there has been enough internet-searchable local news coverage of her death that it would definitely break any sort of anonymity I have remaining on this blog to not give her a pseudonym.

This is what I need to tell you: there had been a part of my soul which had slowly been dying of bitterness. It felt like I had been to so many funerals, and I was tired of it, and tired of being poor and having nothing even remotely resembling a decent career and not having a husband and blah blah blah. But: my soul is reviving again, and this fact is directly related to Jane's death.

I will try to explain.

It is true that my day-to-day emotional resilience is at low ebb; that, on a regular basis, I find myself crying for no particularly good reason, and that my back (which is highly responsive to my emotional state) isn't doing as well as it sometimes has.  But it is also true that somehow this death, which is taking up elephant-sized space in my emotional living room, has at least temporarily sloshed out any capacity I used to have for grudge-holding or bitterness or resentment. I cry because my feelings are hurt on the kind of regular basis I haven't experienced since I was a teenager (or younger?), but when I am done crying, I have no energy left to dislike the hurter.

Is it bad for good to come of evil? But I think it cannot be. I do not plan, would never plan-- or, in other words, wish for-- evil as dark and loathsome as this. And I say most emphatically that God does not, could not do such a thing either. But I am sure as the day is long that God has planned for evil, for this particular evil especially, and I am everlastingly grateful to Him for that. Strange? To me strange. But still true.

I will try to write up the eulogy I gave, very soon.

Could I audit?

Some situations are on the more extreme end of unlikely to occur in my life. Such as my becoming a first lady of an African country (or even  becoming a chief-of-staff for one). But wouldn't it be cool to sit in on a class being run for them?

First ladies of Africa take page out of US book