David”s memorial service was yesterday. It was in the running for the Most Horrifying Experience Of My Life.
He died two weeks ago today, at home, with hospice people coming in to help and, I gather, people from his church coming in to pray with him, because David was always all about tracts and Trusting In The Lord and saying God Bless when he signed off on the phone. I don’t know why he never tried witnessing at me, other than to include with every year’s Christmas card one of those grisly Chick tracts with bad comic-book art of sinners writhing in the Lake Of Fire. I may have an invisible neon sign over my head that says Don’t Tell Me About Your Relationship With Jesus. Or Krishna, Zoroaster or Sun Myung Moon, come to that.
If so, it wasn’t working yesterday, Everything started off innocuously enough; we got there late in the reception hour, which was in the distinctive key of Babtist church basements everywhere: linoleum, bulletin boards with construction-paper art and cheesy posters of that Lake Of Fire (again), a “dead spread” of prefabbed deli sandwiches and canned soda set out on one of the refectory tables. I only ever knew David’s wife Liliana and his brother Donnie, who is looking pretty rough by now and missing most of his teeth. Liliana’s short a few herself, I noticed. These are people who’ve never had much money, and I refuse to judge either David or Donnie for the years they spent soused and unemployable, a family habit I gather. In the richest country in the world basic dentistry is still a luxury, I guess.
Everyone was very nice and friendly. They didn’t look like people who spent a lot of time thinking about Lakes Of Fire.
The order of service was pretty unsurprising. Four hymns scattered through its length, a scripture reading, two people giving reminiscences of David that made it clear they barely knew the man. They should have asked me. I could have told them about the patiently sifted earth in the spring, the pride in his daughter who got the education he never completed and became a teacher, the lovingly painted iron railings on my back porch (I would have of course left out the time he hammered all the flagstones loose on the one in front). The time that I saw him pick up Torvald, who was then a guest in the yard and not yet my cat, and kiss his head.
Nope, all anyone wanted to say about David was how he had accepted Jesus and wanted to bring the Good News to everybody. I thought my eyes were glazing over at the third reference to this. And then the preacher geared up.
I could be forgiven for thinking this was supposed to be about David. Fuck me. Apparently it was the springboard for a half-hour long infomercial about how Mr. Preacher would never say he was sure someone had gone to Heaven unless he really was sure, but about David he was sure, and David was now touching the Hand of God and breathing celestial air and living in Heaven which is a real place with the following engineering specifications. I kid you not, architectural details and square footage were provided. Because David had accepted Jeebus as his Lord and Savior, and brought his daughter to do the same, and he was now freed of pain (that much, I’m happy to say, was true, and I gather there was a lot of it). And we all had that same choice and everyone needed to make it or else end up in a place full of fire and darkness separated from God forever, because no matter what else you did or how nice you were, accepting Jeebus was your only hope, and now turn to the passage in Revelations (the most drugged-out document ever preserved, I think) for more details on the great gates of the Heavenly City, each carved from a single pearl. It was unclear what people with perfect divine bodies would do all day in the City since supposedly after death we are freed from all fleshly appetites; personally if I were going to order up Heaven it would be someplace where the whisky was incredible and there was no male refractory period.
He kept referring to David as Dave. In twenty-two years I never heard him identify himself as Dave. No one called him that.
Finally, after insisting he wasn’t going to call anyone out or embarrass them, Mister Preacher enjoined all present to close their eyes so that anyone who wanted to receive Jeebus into their hearts right there in front of his very eyes could raise their hands without being put on the spot in front of the other congregants, and receive the benefit of a pastoral prayer for God’s blessing on them. At this point I was becoming slightly crazed and almost ready to fling myself into the aisle, black-church-style, and speak in tongues if it would just make this oily, poreless-complexioned, fairy-tale-spouting mountebank SHUT UP. I think only my fondness for Liliana stopped me.
We finished with another hymn. The people who write these fucking hymnals always insist on a high E that I don’t have if I haven’t been practicing. At least I’m still the dead accurate sight singer I always was. Let them wonder how the infidel could belt out all David’s faves.
fled left the church — which had a multicolored LED marquee in front — Mister Preacher slunk silently out of the basement (I don’t know how he got down there from the pulpit so fast) and mooched up beside us with palm extended. I shook his hand and thanked him; I have plenty of soap at home.
“Funny,” remarked the Engineer over dinner, “I’m pretty sure that in Revelations, it says the gates of the city are always open so that anyone can come in. He must have missed that part.”
I am all but morally certain that David’s daughter told him she had accepted Jesus because he was fucking dying in horrible pain and afraid he wouldn’t see her in heaven otherwise. I can see myself doing something like that. But I assume at least some of the people in that congregation believe all this shit, and these are people who have licenses to drive and the right to vote. It scares me.