Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Last Rites

Having grown up in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, I have attended funeral services that are spirited, to say the least, and most often animated. Although there is a start time, the end time is often unpredictable and sometimes determined by how many people pass out from having the Holy Ghost descend upon them. A soloist wails a gutsy, bluesy rendition of “Precious Lord”, and the choir rock and sway to a thunderous bass line whose vibrations jolt the most solemn of mourners. So watching more reserved tributes to the deceased, such as that of a president, seem a little surreal in its execution.

Nevertheless, I am always taken aback by the formality of white Americans and Europeans, whether it is the funeral services of former presidents, popes or even the marriage of Prince Charles and Diana. No matter what we think of these individuals living or not, the grandeur of these ceremonies is arresting, and commands the awe and attention of the world (and, they cost a lot more than passing the collection plate will ever pay for when the deceased couldn’t afford insurance). There is always a prevailing sense of being in the midst of something historical and memorable. The pomp and circumstance regarded in these universal customs of death and marriage, (although Europeans seem to evoke a little more pomp that Americans), takes on a remote, timeless and enduring quality. In short, white people sure can put on a show. And, whether the program is done in a day, or whether it plays out over the course of a week, I find myself glued to the television and internet until it is over.

The funeral rites of the Pope, with its Sistine Chapel backdrop, the coordinated flow of red Cardinal robes, and the colorful regalia of the Swiss Guards revealed the splendor and mysteries of hundreds of years. A ceremony that, until the death of Pope John Paul II, had only been witnessed by a small fraction of the worlds’ population. And, while the tribute to Gerald Ford was not as over-the-top as Ronald Reagan, it still was a performance for American record books. No matter how scruffy and disheveled American soldiers look in the field, when they put on those dress blues, marching with deadly precision, making a coffin appear to float on air, they bring a degree of dignity to any program, regardless of what people may think of the dead person.

Still there is something more satisfying in watching a sad, New Orleans dirge break into an upbeat, jazzy “O When The Saints, Go Marching In”; people dancing in the street with their ushering uniforms/Mardi Gras costumes on. You haven’t had a good send off unless Sister Jackson does her infamous hoochie, coochie shout down the isle, or the preacher, with his adenoidal lament, attest to your faithfulness in tithing. The image of M.C. Hammer wiggling and gliding on the stage at James Brown’s funeral service in Augusta, Georgia, although unnerving, somehow just feels right. And, as usual, the funerals of others always propels me to think of how I myself would liked to be eulogized, and how I’d like my life to be celebrated when I leave this earth. For starters, I know I want a lot of good music; I’d like some African drumming and dancing, and that New Orleans vibe sounds good. There’s got to be a lot of good food and fellowshipping. And, I want to be remembered for my persistence, my never-give-upness, and maybe my mouth watering Curried, Vegetarian Fish and rice, my words and…

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At 8:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

guuurl, you a hot mess. i laughed my butt off at this entry.

At 6:44 AM , Blogger steadfastandpurposed said...

Amen, sister, amen.

Myself, I want my alma mater's marching band, The Blue & Gold Marching Machine of North Carolina A & T State University, to play "99 And A Half (Won't Do)," while doing the Electric Slide and carrying my remains out of the church.


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