The Valley of the Shadow

I attended a funeral today. I attended a funeral today in a church full of ghosts and old memories. I attended a funeral today for a man who died suddenly and swiftly, leaving behind a grieving family still in shock.

It was a perfect scenario for a screen play. In this old and fractured church, I stood with this couple as they married, more than 26 years ago. I wore a dark mauve dress and the preacher was nervous and dropped the ring.

Today I sat alone in the short wooden pew and remembered when the choir loft didn’t hold a blue drum kit but an actual choir that contained my grandmother. I glanced back to the balcony where I recalled a particular wild Palm Sunday. I was singing in the junior choir and we were to enter with the Hosannahs, waving long palm fronds. We had been wrangled up into the balcony, out of the way. But we started fencing with the palms, jabbing and jousting, silent miscreants bent on putting out an eye.

The family, led by my old school chum, sat in the front right rows. My grandfather I sat in the second row of that section, beside former Asheville mayor Ottis Green, who was missing some head pieces, due to cancer, I suppose. I went to church with my grandparents when I visited them on the weekends and was always given a shiny coin for the inevitable moment when the plate was passed.
I even walked past the Sunday school classroom where I had been chided and removed for dressing as a “Gypsy fortune teller” on the Sunday before Hallowe’en.

I haven’t been to a Methodist funeral in many years and I found it dear and sad and terribly right. Many of the funerals I attend are led by people who never met the deceased and they often turn into weird, proselytizing altar-calls. This was a roomful of people who were grieving and the pastor—he was grieving, too. It was a shocked community and he and his associate were gentle. The texts were gentle, too. And we got to sing hymns together.

It was a day too full of memory and loss and the invisible folk that always walk with us as we move through the world. They were in the aisles and downstairs in the wrecked hallway to the kitchen. They peeked from the corners of the Sunday school wing, and watched us through the glass-brick wall that used to be a doorway that opened onto the painting of Jesus knocking at the door.
It is the Sunday before Lughnasadh and it is Samhain in the deep places of my soul.

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