Saturday, July 30, 2011

OMG life. (Or, the post in which Julia decides she wants a black Baptist funeral.)


There's a whole lotta life going on right now, friends, and I'm doing my best to testify.

Last Monday, my coworker Charisse passed away unexpectedly. She was only 32. I got the call from my colleague Priya as I was checking out of a hotel in Buffalo, NY. I spent the next 8 hours in the car sniffling, cursing, and contemplating my own mortality.

I can't claim a long and deep friendship with Charisse. We became friendlier over the last year through our shared love of faith and writing. Charisse was a modern patron of the arts, and she practiced it daily. She was a particular champion of my blog, for which I'll always be grateful, and she connected me with other writers both within and outside our organization.

This connection, as small as it seems compared to her other relationships, brings this post from a different place in my heart. Her untimely death strikes a spiritual chord for me that other recent passings have not. It makes me think about what defines a life well-lived, what 'leaving a legacy' really means, and what we are meant to accomplish on earth.

This morning I and about 8 bajillion other people gathered to celebrate Charisse's life. And because hers was a black Baptist congregation, it really WAS a celebration, not a euphemistic whitewashing of a Very Sad Event. Singing, dancing, praising, shouting, fans, hats -- the service had it all. Even the name spoke hope: this was not a funeral, but a homegoing.

The testimonials from her friends and family confirmed what I'd suspected all week: that Charisse may have died prematurely, but she had lived at the height of her powers. She lived with knowledge of purpose. She lived at the ready.

"Be persistent in pursuing your miracle," Rev. Velvet Abram said from the pulpit today. Well, Charisse was. So when her moment came, she accomplished something most people only dream of: she left behind little to remedy and little to regret. That is a remarkable achievement at any age, and pretty damn close to a miracle.

I'm not ashamed to admit I burned through an entire pack of Kleenex during the two-hour service. I'm also not ashamed to admit that I am very, very white and was clapping on the wrong beat to half the songs.

I am a little ashamed to admit, however, that my mourning is ultimately selfish. I mourn for what another 40, 50, 60 years of life for Charisse would have given the rest of us -- more conversations, more paintings, more poetry, more love.

But I'm not mourning Charisse as she was. For she was what God is always asking us to be -- her full, authentic, and irrepressible self.

That's how to live a life, friends.

[Want to learn more about Charisse? Read these stellar reflections from her fellow writers and friends: Amy Moffitt's "Goodbye, beautiful girl" and Priya Chhaya's "My Heart is Aching."]

Prayer #173: Speak Life

Speak life.

You can sing it or shout it or whisper it -- whatever your chords are built for.

But speak it nonetheless. Give it full voice. Such is your duty, your mandate, and your privilege.

For to remain silent is to disappear, trace no mark, leave no ripple.

But to speak ...

Well, that is to write your name in the stars.

Amen.

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