“The Lord is my shepherd,” he’s saying, slowly. And it takes him a good three syllables just to say the word, “Lord.”
He stands beside the casket, sweating through his suit. His white hair looks nearly perfect.
This is Brewton, Alabama. The family of the deceased sits motionless with swollen faces, dabbing their eyes. He’s old, he talks with a drawl that won’t quit. He has the Bible open, but it’s only for show. He could recite this passage from memory.
For the life of me, I don’t know why anyone—myself included—bothers to pick up a pen and write anything. Everything you’d ever need to know; he’s saying it.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…”
The sound of a bird chirping competes with the preacher’s voice. Someone ought to shoot that bird.
“He restoreth my soul…”
I once knew a girl whose husband died when his tractor rolled over. At the funeral, she sat beneath the big tent, stone-faced while the preacher spoke. Her two children beside her.
That morning, she told me, “I’m too stunned to cry. I keep expecting it to hit, but every time I try to cry, nothing comes.”
That day, she didn’t move a muscle during the sermon. When her cousin sang, “Amazing Grace,” a hundred people bawled—she didn’t even blink. Graveside: the preacher recited the 23rd Psalm.
Her face busted wide open.
“Yea though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…”
You might think this is just another Bible verse. It’s not. It’s the poetry of my people. And it predates the days my ancestors ate giant lizards. I can see at least two folks in the crowd mouthing along with the verse. Three, if you count me.
The preacher finishes the scripture recitation, then he nods at the grieving family and hugs one woman.
And, this is it.
This is a real funeral. Your loved ones aren’t coming back, you’re all alone. You’ll forget to eat. You’ll sleep for thirty-six hours on end. Welcome to the worst day of your life. You’ll grieve until you’re eighty-two.
But right now, before all that happens, you have two choices:
You can get angry and dog cuss God—lots of people do. Or, you can believe something big. That surely, hopefully, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your cotton-picking life.
And you should know: none of us believe it because some preacher claims it’s Gospel. We believe it because we want to.
And, I can’t speak for anyone else.
But I’m going to believe it until they lay me in that casket.