Sunday, May 2, 2010

The View From Upstairs

Rows of support beams join at the ends to make the shape of a triangle; white holiday lights drop and hang from them like frills in midair. On the wall, there is a glitzy banner that reads King of Kings. The air is thickest on the balcony, where it smells something like lotion and sweat, and the mourners sit shoulder-to-shoulder, fanning themselves and rocking as the singer sings. There is a widescreen view of the casket from that height and the wreaths propped up like individual portraits around it. A mother’s life has ended; mother and senior member of the church; mother and former resident of one of the public housing towers that surround the place of worship. Mother’s children flank the front row, holding on to one another. Her mostly teenage grandchildren are squeezed between other relatives in the pews. They seem displaced and slightly perplexed. The singer steps forward and vibrates the room with her contralto. There are voices of accord calling out from every corner. One of the surviving daughters jumps to her feet and lifts her hands upward. It is an act of supplication. She surrenders sorrow with a deep groan and her arms give way, pulling her body forward. A family member joins her to support her weight. On the left, her brother’s shoulders quake under his wife’s consoling arm. Further left, her sister slumps, weeping and speaking to the departed with her head sagging over the back of the bench. Mature women ushers that have been on post at nearby tables, rush the entire line with fans and water and boxes of tissue. The leading member of the Women’s League climbs the stage. She is a contemporary of the deceased and presses on her cane with effort. She reaches frail fingers to the microphone and nods to the string of reverends that are presiding like a panel of judges with pocketbooks at their feet. She acknowledges the pastor with a lowered chin and then faces the congregation with a scroll in hand. She draws a deep breath and unfolds The Resolution of the Dead. The parishioners rise.