So my grandfather died this week. I don’t mean to be insensitive, but...well, no biggie. I didn’t know him, and he caused a lot of grief for the whole family that way too twisted to get into here. This post isn’t about him…although if we want to get super Freudian it probably is. Just being real with you.
My mom asked if I wanted to read at the funeral, and my knee-jerk reaction was to say no. My relationship with the Catholic Church is really only surpassed in fucked-uped-ness by my late grandfather’s relationship with his kids. I didn’t really want to get up in a Church that doesn’t want me, and give a reading at the funeral of a man who didn’t want to know me.
I went through all eight years of CCD and two years of Confirmation classes. I got baptized, first communioned, and confirmed. I know the prayers and the songs and the order of the Mass. But then I see the pope on TV pope-ing around Africa telling people that they’re sinners if they use condoms to, you know, prevent AIDS and I have to pause. Some radical pro-lifer blows up a Planned Parenthood clinic and kills two nurses, and I have to pause. I read the stories of women who truly feel called to the priesthood and are basically told that having ovaries makes you unfit to preach the word of God---and I have to pause again.
Now, some of you—who are obviously not veterans of the CCD program of St. Mark’s Parish—may be reading this and thinking, hey, screw it. Go find another church, or skip it altogether. Go join an ashram if that floats your boat. To which I say: it’s not that simple. They get you early—I mean, seriously, I gave these nutjobs my youth. The Catholic tradition is ingrained on me as deeply as looking both ways before you cross the street. I feel conflicted as hell about it, sure, but just try to keep me away from a Catholic church on Ash Wednesday. Can’t be done.
So I’m still figuring that one out. But if you’re not still figuring questions like that out, you’re either dead or I don’t want to know you. For now, the best sort of philosophy I can think of doesn’t come from Jesus or Buddha or Confucius, but from Kurt Vonnegut:
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
I thought about my mom’s request all day. Driving home from work, I decided I was going to do it after all. I don’t want to make it out as though the heavens opened up and I had some epiphany while the Hallelujah chorus swelled through the shitty speakers of my Subaru—but I did have a sort of moment of clarity. It was far, far more important to put aside all the hurt and mixed feelings I have towards the Church and my grandfather and just stand up there and read the passage from St. Paul than it was to hang onto all that shit.
So I did it--got up there in my funeral duds and blew that second letter to the Corinthians out of the water--and I think in doing it I let go of how angry I felt at my grandfather for making everyone so sad for so many years. It clogs you up, hanging on to all that pain--and I was hanging onto it, hard. He didn't hurt me, but he hurt a lot of people I love, and for that I was angry. But I'm making up my mind to let it go.
Because God damn it, babies, you've got to be kind.