Thursday, August 23, 2012

Depth at a Funeral

I usually do not seek a round of opinions about attending a wake, as I did for that of Alex Poliakoff, a photographer and much-loved fixture in DC's cajun/zydeco dance community, who recently succumbed to cancer. But for once I made an exception. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, and so I availed myself of Facebook, and posed the following:

Recently, a man who was well-known and very much loved in the cajun-zydeco dance community in DC passed away, after a long bout with cancer. Unfortunately, he never liked me all that much, and I never knew the reason. As far as I know, I never did anything to him, nor said anything against him.

Exit question: The viewing is on Wednesday night, and I was thinking of going.


The discourse that followed included two priests (one Catholic, one Orthodox), two laywomen (one of them a hermitess), and four laymen. The sentiment was unanimous, but the responses themselves managed to run the gamut.

ER: Go, it is a spiritual work of mercy. All else is irrelevant.

SS: Nobody likes you all that much, David. If you let that stop you, where would you be now? ;)

TP: If it's an open viewing, take a Sharpie with you and write something special on his forehead when no one is looking.

Paul Alexander during his zydeco phase, March 2003, Catonsville, Maryland. Photo by Alex Poliakoff. Used without permission or shame.

So what the hell, I went. I walked into the room, and before saying much of anything to anybody, I walked across the room to the closed casket, and standing to one side, began to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, attempting neither to put on a show, nor hide what I was doing, nor rush through the process. I imagined Our Lord's suffering, as I saw it in the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ. Despair came to visit him in the Garden of Olives, in the form of a malevolent spirit. He warned the three disciples to “stay awake and keep watch, that Thou wouldst not be put to the test.” He knew what was coming, which is more than I can say for me.

After I was finished, an elderly woman came up to me, a veteran of the folk dance scene for many years, and embraced me. She recalled as a young girl seeing the adults gather around the deceased and praying the rosary. She was tempted to join me herself. Others came up to greet me as well. Most of those who came were women, probably because Alex preferred dancing with them as opposed to men (and I can't say I blame him). It may also be because some of the men in the dance community might not own a tie, which is not hard to imagine judging from how they dress at the dances. Most important, the real jerks didn't show up at all.

Several of those who did asked me why I didn't come around anymore, why last Saturday night was the first time they had seen me and Sal in a long time. What could I tell them? “You guys stopped inviting me to your little soirĂ©es eight years ago, and I can take a hint.” No, I wasn't going to do that. It was probably just as well, because four of them were kind enough to invite me to dinner. I obliged them, and stayed long enough for drinks. I still have a day job after all.

Any responses to this would invariably include something about forgiveness. The late Dr Scott Peck once wrote that “there can be no pardon without a trial.” In other words, cheap forgiveness is just that. Christ taught us to love our enemies, but throughout the Scriptures there is an underlying message, to be wary of the malfeasance of certain of our neighbors, lest they bring us to ruin. Eight years ago, a small cohort of individuals decided I couldn't sit at the cool kids table anymore. Some of those who were in their number (but who likely had little to do with regulating the "A" list) reminisced that evening, about the heyday of cajun and zydeco dancing in DC in the early- and mid-1990s, when there really was a place known as the Twist and Shout. It still goes on in some places, but with less of a crowd, and what crowd is left is not getting any younger.

There is another message there, don't you think?

Or don't you?

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