October 23, 2009

At the Graveside: Norma Lumley-Manderson (1931-2009)

To be graveside at a Jamaican funeral in America is to enter a parallel world where the only constant between here and then is the break in the circle around a gaping hole soon be filled with a rain of petals falling in a constant downpour like the evening thunderstorms that bind South Florida and the archipelago to the south.

The refrain of familiar hymns, “When The Roll is Called up Yonder” and “Face to Face,” tumble across the lawns puckered with headstones. And under the trees that are always green, the beautiful altos of my nieces (we are a family of singers) are balanced by the baritones of my cousins and a surprising tenor from a nephew I haven’t seen in over twenty years.

The lyrics of “In a Little While” pass over our lips, the bread that crumbles in our hands, too weak to hold anything but the blessings of a life that we have been privileged to know--for her laughter was sunlight. Her faith as sure as the promise which the earth has already made.

And then the terrible moment—the acknowledgment that we will never hold, laugh, cry or quarrel with her again. That even the most bitter fights were filled with the awareness of our communion--a presence that will be remembered in the marrow, the soft cartilage of our throats--in our singing, cursing, praising: the breath that passed between us.

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