On Dying in the South

I sat on a pew. The room was quiet and solemn and smelled like a box of stale potpourri. I remembered sitting there before. Not on that specific row, or even in that specific room, but I’d been there before. You were beside me, doodling crosses into grids and connecting each grid line with meticulous care to another cross on the page. At the end of a two-hour Sunday service, you’d have a whole maze of crosses connected.

Today you were front and center. You asked for no flowers, but we put them anyway. You didn’t want a fuss of speeches, but we did them anyway. You didn’t want anyone in heels or suits, but we wore them anyway. I imagine you would have liked your hair done differently, and I think you’d prefer our hearts were alert to the gospel and our eyes were open to change.

On the pew, the fears you carried about your legacy – addiction, poverty, success – all found their way into the chaos of my mind. In a second that felt like a lifetime,  I understood the language of parental love and how it often translated into criticism through my ears. I wanted to rewrite my childhood and rebuild my memories with the new understanding of love and fear you carried with you everyday. Your words would sound so differently to me now.

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Art by Pat Perry (@heypatyeah)

I didn’t want kids until that day on the pew. I imagine it sounds weird to say your death inspired life, but it did. You taught me the impact of generational growth, the honor in legacy, the love that stings and shapes change. At your service we talked about the time you worked all day logging woods for a few nickels, the day you walked into a tent revival in 1972, the summer you met Corrine in that diner in San Fransisco, and even the day you beat someone up for not paying for a job well done. Isn’t it funny how a life gets remembered? I wonder what you’d like us to say in our stories about you.

I think you’d like to know you are loved, respected, and missed. And you are –

Loved, respected and missed.

 

signiture

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