God don’t make mistakes

Ipomoea batatas, Convolvulaceae, Sweet Potato,...

The imperfect sweet potato (Image via Wikipedia)

Yesterday I went to the funeral of a man that few people I know had any respect for. He had been  mean when he was drinking, and the habit stuck with him after he quit. His wife complained about him for many of their 51 years together, but she never left.

Jesse’s was my first Baptist funeral. I expected the singing. The “Amens” that freely peppered sentences. (“Brother Jesse (amen) was a good man (amen). And we’re here to honor him (amen).”)

I didn’t expect to like Jesse again.

People freely cried, women and men alike. I wondered whether it was for the loss of Jesse, or about loss in general.

One woman stood up and recalled that her father and Jesse had both been in a hospital at the same time. Jesse had always called her father “Sweet Potato.” “If someone can tell me why, I’d appreciate it!” the woman said. Jesse had been on the way down the hall to visit with Sweet Potato at the very moment this woman was coming to collect her father’s things so many years ago. Jesse had had no idea his friend Sweet Potato had gone to his Maker. He was distraught.

An elderly man rose to say that Jesse had called him “Stick,” I think because he was a thorn in Jesse’s side. He and Jesse, he said, had had different ways of doing things. He had lived near Jesse these past 17 years, and I suspect that over time the two men grew on each other. He told a story about how his furnace had kicked one morning, and that Jesse had been there at 6 am to help. The man sang Jesse a song.

The preacher himself said that everyone who had ever been in Jesse’s home knew that Jesse’s “spot” was by the (wood) stove, and that any changes to temperature “had to go through Jesse.”

Everyone had laughed, fond of Jesse’s peculiarities. Jesse didn’t even like church. He’d rarely been to the Zion Baptist Church, the church that was burying him. He told everyone that he carried God “in his heart.” One of the preachers, and there were three, said that we needed more people like Jesse to come into the church and influence the “fakers” who attended but didn’t themselves Believe. “Amen,” everyone said.

Now, an Episcopalian service would mention all of the GOOD things about a person, and usually not bring up a thing that wasn’t romanticized or skewed to make the person seem honorable or, well, perfect.

Baptists appear to be different.

God made us all imperfect, said one of the preachers.

With each of the dozen people who rose to offer testimony to Jesse, I felt softer about this man. Whether his community loved him or was giving a proper send-off (which is called a “goinghome”) to honor his wife Rosa (who did attend church frequently), I can’t say. Maybe both.

Maybe it was in fact my own hardness that was dissolving. The hard line I had drawn around Jesse. The black and white line. As if I had really known something about Jesse’s life, or Rosa’s for that matter.

Finally, a member of the choir stood up, I think reluctantly. He couldn’t make it easily out of the choir seating to the microphone, so he spoke as loudly as he could. Jesse had had a fondness for sweet potato pie, he said. Jesse talked about sweet potato pie, he said, and Jesse sought it out whenever possible. Surely that was why he called his friend “Sweet Potato.” He must’ve been a really special friend.

This service helped me understand strong community. Someone will be there for Rosa in a way I can’t. Many someones will help keep Jesse’s memory alive for her.

The fact was, it was Jesse’s time, and we all had to let him go.

“People talk about how it wasn’t his time, or she went too young. You got to know — God don’t make mistakes,” said the preacher.

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