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I still remember the massive bells tolling from the towers of the St. Louis Cathedral as the remains of my paternal grandparents were rolled through massive doors into the sanctuary for the Requiem Mass. Oatmeal skies, hundreds of mourners in black, long lines of police escort, soggy handkerchiefs—incised their dread upon my psyche. It was my first funeral.

Yesterday’s wake at Donnelly’s was another first, with Mother at my side commenting in hushed tones. It was 1947. It felt more like a cocktail party, similar to ones hosted by our parents in the living room.

Over the years, the culture of death and burial seeped into my experience: family, extended family members, friends, teachers, classmates, co-workers, my former husband, my AA buddies, neighbors, other dignitaries. I learned both Gregorian chant and English for the liturgies and appropriate behavior around the grieving.

 But these “time-outs” from the ordinary were for others. Never, until now, did I consider my mortality—always imagined my transition would be quick like several members of our family. This is not the case.

With my denial decomposing like a minstrel’s tasseled-red jacket in an abandoned wardrobe, I’m slowly learning to befriend the death of my body; only then will it bring surcease to the pesky symptoms hampering my breathing and wasting my body.

I had believed that completing my final arrangements and studying the theology, psychology, and physiology of dying and death would give me a leg up when my time came around, but this is not the case. Expert materials abound on these subjects, but none describe the experience of death itself.

So, prayer for deeper surrender to Creator God twits the terror from death’s edges. This is working out … and the St. Louis Cathedral still stands, though now a Basilica.

“Would you look at that! There’s another one! Looks scruffier than last year’s. This so-called messiah! Come to preach and free us from the Romans! Rubbish!” said the farmer, his bald-head snapping from side to side, his sandaled foot stomping the dusty road on the way toward Jerusalem.

In moments, his scorn fire-stormed other weary pilgrims who hurled more abuse upon a simple procession: A strong peasant astride the colt of an ass, his followers cheering and waving branches, hard to come by in this climate.

As the procession passed, strains of Psalm 118 sweetened the air: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!”—It’s first-century Palestine, bristling with intrigue.

Yes, we’re talking about Jesus of Nazareth, a critical story portrayed in the four Gospels, with slight differences, understandably, because of the differing times and places in which they were written and the differing audiences toward whom the story of Jesus was aimed.

That toot-toot parade, that hot morning, also placed Jesus in a favorable light, in the center of Judaism, and cleaned up his miserable messiah experience—he, too, was crucified. This Jesus of Nazareth was more than another would-be messiah. His mission was unique.

Yet, many still ignore Jesus, scoff at his teachings. Only the humble of heart get it.

“I sat in Dr. Cone’s classroom at Union—that’s where I did my theology—back in the late ‘80s,” said Eunice, her soft eyes alight behind rimless glasses. “Yes, he was a master teacher, mild-mannered despite the hard truth of his people he espoused in his lectures and books,” she added resting her hand upon the dining room table, its vase of tulips beginning to fade. “But I’ve been away from all that for sometime—I didn’t know of this book.”

Her response to my blog on Dr. Cone’s The Cross and the Lynching Tree left me breathless, but not from lung issues. Additional reflection upon his identifying the Crucified with Black victims of lynching flared my psychic pain: Both experienced mob rule, torture, jeering, and slow agonizing deaths, alluded to in the first blog, but now felt. Rather than follow the chaplain—patient dialogue of previous visits, our conversation took off in a different direction: its synchronicity demanded it.

Yet, it did not come off as I had hoped, due to my dearth of words; they only came later. At best, I skirted around the glaring issue stinging my innards, and some preliminaries did surface: Eunice’s South Carolinian origins; growing up in York County, site of numerous cotton and rice plantations worked by slaves; her physician father’s segregated waiting room; planning a picnic for the townspeople on the grounds of Davidson College, her college, that up-ended a KKK rally planned for Main Street; attending Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan, known for its liberal bent; and her continued studies in spirituality that enhance her role as chaplain.

I listened, deeply, asked questions, and later researched South Carolina’s practice of slavery through the lens of the Crucified: it blistered my soul wound still more, scraped my entitlement, and woke me to what’s coming.

Our chaplain—patient dialogue will continue.



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