Passed In Love

on September 18, 2010 in Passed In Love

“Hurry up Diane or we’ll be late,” Mama said quietly as she pinned her black net hat.

“Do I have to go?”

“Yes, you mean a lot to Karen’s mother – ya’ll being about the same age and all. We’re going as a family.”

I knew the answer to that question before I asked. My family and I were going to church today. It was not a regular Sunday church service, nor an August revival, nor an all day singing, nor a dinner on the ground meeting – but a funeral, a funeral for a little girl, my friend Karen.

The friend I walked with down the church aisle each April. We put our money into a small white plastic church, birthday money collected to go to the Baptist Children’s Home. I was eight and I dropped eight coins – one at a time – into the church so that the congregation could count how old I was. Karen dropped seven coins into the church. She would never drop eight.

“Diane, get dressed.”

Preacher Cecil Johnson

Preacher Cecil Johnson

I ignored my mother as I reached for my bible. I opened it to the marked page, marked by a blue crocheted cross, a cross handmade for me by Karen’s mother. I remember the night she gave it to me. Mrs. Wiley squatted down low at the church steps and looked into my face and handed me the blue cross.

“I made it for you. It’s blue, the same color as your eyes. Let’s put it in your bible.” She opened my bible and placed it on the Twenty-Third Psalm. “There, that’s a good place for it. I hope you like it.” She smiled at me and then for some reason began to cry. She hugged me hard and suddenly walked away.

Karen and I both suffered heart disease. After medication and several periods of strict bed-rest, I was allowed up and about. Karen was not. I survived. Karen did not.

And now, this morning, I understood why Karen’s mother cried that night on the church steps. I did not want to see Mrs. Wiley today. I did not want to hear Preacher Johnson loudest voice tell us of the sins of pride, nor see his face turn redder than his hair. I could not bear the thoughts of a sermon today nor to see my friend lifeless. I hated this day.

“Diane, are you ready?” Mama called out.

“Yes ma’am, almost.” I hurried my dress over my head and brushed my hair.

It was a quiet ride to Pleasant Hill, and though it was not a regular go-to-meeting day, the parking lot was crowded, yet mysteriously quiet. The church was filled with flowers. There in the center of the alter area was a small coffin. We sat down and did not speak to anyone. The men who usually sit in the amen corner, sat with their families. A lady stood to sing a song. We listened. When the congregation was asked to sing, it was strangely strained. No one wanted to sing today.

Preacher Johnson stood, but did not greet us as usual. He seemed different today, as though someone had knocked the wind out of him. From time to time, he struggled to find words, but find them he did. He read from the Scriptures, emphasizing one verse – God is Love, so therefore, Love is God. Mama cried while Daddy held firm and gave his Baptist nod of agreement.

As Preacher Johnson spoke, I felt he spoke directly to me, just as Karen’s mother had when she gave me the blue cross. I opened my bible at the Twenty-Third Psalm and ran my fingers over the cross and thought about that night as I heard Preacher Johnson say:

“If you have your bibles with you and want to read along, please turn with me to the Twenty-Third Psalm,” Preacher Johnson blew his nose and pressed on with a quivering voice. “The Lord is my Shepherd – now think about that for a moment. If God is Love then it would be correct to say – Love is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Love makes me to lie down in green pastures. Love leads me beside the still waters. Love restores my soul. Love leads me in the path of righteousness for Love’s name sake. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Love is with me. Love’s rod and Love’s staff – they comfort me. Love prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Love anoints my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of Love forever.”

Preacher Johnson paused for a moment and said, “I see your faces. And, I know your hearts. You may wonder – just who is God to allow a child to fall? That’s why I’m here today – to tell you who God is. So, I’ll tell you again, God is Love and Love is God. If you feel love in your heart for this child, you feel God.” He wiped his eyes and said it again, “Love is God – that is Love with a capital L.”

Preacher Cecil Johnson opened his heart that day. A man prayed and then several men rolled the small coffin down the aisle toward the double front doors. I sat on the inside aisle and though I looked down at the floor when they approached, I saw the wheels pass by. I saw her mother and father’s feet pass slowly after the wheels. I saw her sister and two brothers – pass by. I heard the double doors open. The cold winter air broke my stare at the floor and I looked up, but could not move until I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder.

I glanced about the sanctuary and saw all the people. The families stayed bunched up together. It reminded me of the stories my PaPa Story told about the days of old when families of Scotland gathered together in Clans – separate – yet together. And though we were all sad, it gave me a sense of unity and security. All was quiet except for an occasional cough. Every face was tear stained and every heart was broken. They all fell in line and passed by me as they left the church.

And finally, Daddy gave me the nudge and I knew it was time for the Story family to follow. As I walked through the big opening of the doorway onto the porch on that bitter cold January day in nineteen-fifty-eight, I looked to the left. My gaze fell on “our” old gnarly tree. It was a giant tree which stood firmly planted between the church and the cemetery, a boundary between life and death. Today, the old tree stood strong, yet defenseless as her limbs were stripped bare of any signs of life.

That tree had been an old friend, a welcoming sight before and after church, a place to play tag with my sisters, cousins and friends. Her overgrown roots refused to stay buried. We children tried to run around the tree on her surfaced roots. Whoever touched the ground was out.

Karen was a tiny child with long thick curly dark hair. She wore round glasses – the lens no bigger than two quarters. While playing the game, she had to hug the tree to get around it without touching the ground, and hold her head back away from the tree to avoid scratching her glasses. Karen loved to play that game. She was very good at it.

I passed by “our” tree and found myself standing at a newly dug grave. I could no longer bear to look. I closed my eyes tight and thought about those fun days when she went round and round that tree. I could hear her laugh. I could hear her mother call out, ‘Karen! Don’t scratch your glasses!’ I relived the day she got her long hair hung up in the bark and could go no further. We all jumped down, forfeiting our win to untangle her hair. She squealed with delight and kept going. Karen was a winner. And I know in my heart of hearts, she is a winner still today – for she passed in Love – that is Love with a capital L.

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