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A Southern Melancholy

The back of our new house faces west. Which means in the evenings I can go sit on the deck and watch the sunset. Our backyard neighbor is usually outside, too, sitting on her back porch and listening to the radio. Tonight some fireflies flitted around the corner of the yard. The last fireflies of summer, I thought. The days will still be warm for a while, but the evenings are cooling down, and soon the fireflies will disappear.

My husband’s grandfather died last week. It was a good Southern funeral. People of all ages poured into the funeral home to pay respects to a well-known man in the community. After filtering through the line of family members, people gathered in groups of three or four in the foyer and talked. A Southern funeral is a social event. A time to come together. I didn’t know most of the people there so I just sat in a wingback chair and watched, fascinated. A part of me wished I knew what it’s like to live your whole life in a small town. I’ve always been a city girl.

After the funeral the family gathered in the heat at the cemetery and said goodbye to Papa in his pine coffin. He was a man of the woods, a man of the earth. A pine coffin was perfect for him, and it was beautiful, and he looked peaceful.

Later the family gathered in the fellowship hall of a church and ate fried chicken and homemade potato casserole and salty green beans. The church ladies filled our glasses with sweet tea and brought us chocolate cake. The cousins chased each other around the room, their squeals making me smile.

It seems like there’s been a lot of bad news lately. A coworker’s son died. A family member has lymphoma. Millions of refugees in the Middle East and Europe have nowhere to go. There is too much sadness everywhere. Jesus said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” but it’s hard to find comfort when the body of a three year old boy washes up on shore.

What can a commonplace lady in Tennessee do about all of it? It seems like all I can do is mourn with them. But those church ladies may have a thing or two to teach me. Maybe cooking a casserole is a form a prayer. Maybe just showing up to a funeral home and hanging out for a while is an act of comfort.

Maybe best cure for end-of-summer Southern melancholy is Southern hospitality. A plate of hot food. A welcoming hug. A church fellowship hall. A prayer for peace at dusk. An hour on the porch, staring out into the world and remembering to be thankful. One of these days, I’m going to walk across the yards and take some cookies to my new neighbor. It will be one small act against the harshness of the world, against the melancholy that threatens us. It will be one tiny comfort in a world that mourns sometimes.

One comment

  1. Dan McDonald says:

    I am historically minded and on a rare occasion like to walk through a cemetery. I suspect now the next time I pass through a cemetery and see dates on headstones and try to imagine how they lived and what they wore and did, I will add to that imagining how people gathered to celebrate the person’s birth as well as to grieve together his passing. We need a reminder of how important to life these sorrow filled gatherings are. Thank you so much.

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