Where Is Thy Sting?


It can not possibly be called a lawn. The bit of acreage that surrounds Sandhill barely qualifies as a yard. In its previous incarnation it was a peanut field and, before that, a pasture. The grass – if you can call it grass – that grows there now is sparse streaks of bahia held together by henbit and dandelion. Yesterday, unwilling to part with something that I might need someday, I was taking an empty cardboard box out to the shed when I noticed the return of the henbit. It tickled my ankles as I reached carefully for each of the 27 cement squares that form the path to the shed. I looked down to see the tiny, purple, tongue-like flowers sprouted in thick clusters, their dark green leaves ridged like curly ribbon. Walking out to the road this morning to bring in the trash can, the green behemoth that, regardless of whether it is empty or full, jerks and bounces like the bull I saw at a rodeo once, I noticed that dozens of bright yellow dandelion faces had pushed themselves up into the sunlight. I couldn’t help smiling. I lost my smile, though, when I remembered. I’d made the chore of bringing in the trash can even more difficult than usual by doing it while wearing high heels and, as they sunk into the ground, I was reminded of why I was wearing them, why I was wearing dress clothes, why I had put on makeup on an ordinary Tuesday. Because it was not an ordinary Tuesday. I have for years boasted that I have 41 first cousins. Over the past six months or so we have, in the parlance of the country, buried three, plus two spouses. On this not-ordinary Tuesday, we would bury another. To be honest, I am tired of funerals – tired of hearing about them, tired of attending them, tired of writing about them. It would feel indulgent if I didn’t know that I am not alone in my weariness. We drove down back roads, past the State Prison and fields readied for planting and a surprising number of solar panels, to the house where Denise and Terry reared their three children, where their three grandchildren are evidenced by a trampoline and a PlaySkool slide proudly planted in the front yard, where my dear cousin’s prowess with a camera is on display in every room. I hugged people I’d not seen in decades and those I’d seen a month ago at the last funeral and I never sat down because I couldn’t bear to get comfortable. When I couldn’t say, “I’m so sorry,” to another soul I went outside to walk around the yard, Denise’s yard, overflowing with exuberant azaleas – hot pink and blush pink and the color they call flame. Regal white irises fluttered in the breeze and deep pink camellias, just beginning to brown at the edges, drooped languidly amid the deep green foliage. Nary a dandelion, nary a hill of henbit. I remembered standing at the altar less than a week ago, staring into the eyes of my minister, feeling his ash-laden finger move over my forehead in the sign of the cross. “It is from ashes that you have come,” he whispered, “and it is to ashes that you will return.” Yes, yes. I know. Naked we came into the world and naked we shall return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You can’t take it with you. Yes, yes, I know. But standing in the shade of these tall pine trees and weary with the fatigue of repeated grief, I wanted to yell back, loud and long. I wanted to challenge reality. I wanted to argue, like the lawyer I was for so long, the case for repealing death. Suddenly, like my pastor’s tender finger had become a flattened palm, like I’d been slapped hard and my cheek left stinging, I was reminded that if spring means anything, if the Lenten walk toward Easter is worth observing, the case has already been pled and the verdict already rendered. I know that, too, but the value of my faith is that I can walk in orthodoxy and still have questions. I can place my hope in a contradiction and still search for reason. I can live in peace and never stop yelling. And you can know this, Denise: I will never stop yelling.


Copyright 2022

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