healing

It’s been nearly three months since I posted. That’s primarily because I’m exhausted and maybe slightly lazy and would rather melt into the couch and watch endless episodes of Nurse Jackie than pull out my computer at 9 o’clock at night. Also, somewhere between 10 p.m. on Nov. 8 when I crawled into bed feeling the weight of impending doom and 6 a.m. on Nov. 9, I lost my muse.

I’ve been pinballing among feelings of anger, terror, helplessness, resignation, deep sadness and–every once in a while, although admittedly much less often–empowerment. But I haven’t really had the energy or wherewithal to put it all into words. I still don’t. I may never. And that’s OK.

What’s not OK is the underlying emotional upheaval in my life. It seeps into corners where it doesn’t belong, like the ones where I’m spending time with you, focusing on you, being happy with and for you. And the reason that I’m writing this now, today, is that I went to a funeral. I know that seems counterintuitive, but I believe this funeral for someone I didn’t know has helped me, finally, begin to heal.

When I got to the block in deep East Baltimore where the church was supposed to be, I was convinced I’d gotten the directions wrong. It was just rowhomes, many boarded up, a very run-of-the-mill Baltimore neighborhood in the areas that flank downtown. I was looking for a steeple, maybe some stained glass, a giant cross. Instead, as I nearly drove right past it, I saw the name of this particular Baptist church in fading paint on the facade of a building that blended right in.

When I walked in, I asked if I was in the right spot, and I was assured I was. I sat in the back of the sanctuary, not wanting to disturb anyone, but there were plenty of people all around me. And what I noted immediately, of course, is that I could count the number of white people there on one hand, which is not at all unusual for that area of Baltimore. But I spent some time feeling a bit awkward and out of place and like I was somehow intruding.

There was music–loud, upbeat, happy music, and not from a choir or an organ, but from a full-on band with drums and cymbals and an electric keyboard. This was not like any funeral I’d ever been to, although admittedly (and fortunately) my experience with funerals is rather limited. A pastor (or perhaps a deacon–not my area of expertise) began the service by asking everyone to give their neighbor a hug, and I kind of froze because I wasn’t sure if that was directed at me, not being a member of the congregation. But a woman across the aisle from me stood up, walked very purposefully over to me, and enveloped me in a hug of the kind that I usually reserve for people I’ve known my entire life. Then I got another one of those hugs. And another. And another. And people were saying “It’s so good to be alive” and “God bless you.”

And then the pastor/deacon asked everyone to hold hands, and there they were, grabbing my hands and squeezing them as part of a hand-holding chain that stretched clear across the sanctuary. They had no idea who I was, the little Jewish white girl in the back, but it didn’t matter. I was there, and they were holding my hands.

And then they started singing and dancing in the aisles–these people who had just lost a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a community leader–and their passion and love reverberated off of the plaster walls of the church. It was not the kind of buttoned-up, staid, weepy service I associate with funerals; it was a celebration of someone’s life and of their love for Jesus. And they shared that love with me.

And all of a sudden, I feel like I can write again. I’m energized by the love and joy exhibited by people who most certainly face more challenges than I do; by their absolute lack of hesitation in embracing and including me, despite how different I look; by their unabashed fervor in celebrating what I am so quick to mourn: “It’s so good to be alive.”

I’ll try to remind you of that as frequently as I can.

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