Two Funerals

Returning from a hiatus always fills me with a kind of anxious obsessiveness in writing this blog post, as if I could possibly catch up with everything missed in the interim, as if I needed to bleed words.

But catching up is impossible, especially about a summer so dense with news. So I’m reconciled that in this post I’ll never get to the now 416 children still separated from their mothers, who merely wanted asylum in a safe place and got swallowed up at the border. Or get to delve into the climate-change-provoked West Coast wildfires and East Coast hurricanes, or North Korea, or Venezuela. No space to touch on the Kavanaugh hearings or the Woodward book or the anonymous op-ed letter from a self-proclaimed Resistance member inside the White House.

But also not enough room to list all the myriad summer-long Resistance acts outside the White House—a Resistance led by women and girls. People registering voters, canvassing, volunteering for candidates, first-timers running for office themselves. People like Julia Fahl, 28, who won a primary over an opponent who had been mayor of their town since Julia was born. The town is Lambertville, New Jersey, and Julia and her spouse (and campaign manager), Kari Osmond, 31, have a welcome mat at their front door that reads THE PATRIARCHY; you have to step on it, says Julia, before you enter their home. Since Lambertville is a heavily Democratic town, this young woman is very likely to be it’s next mayor.

I won’t have space to name all the women who bring their children to demonstrations outside ICE offices and schedule playdate picket lines, or the pop-up protests that have become a global phenomenon in the Trump era. Or individuals like Rebecca Bell Wilson, 43, mother of three kids and a management consultant in Dallas, who started a Go Fund Me campaign that raised $5,000 in a few days to help people at the border. She and two other Dallas mothers then drove nine hours to McAllen to help families just released from detention centers, so they could shower, eat, and rest, before being bussed elsewhere. Wilson plans to return every few weeks.

Good people. So-called ordinary people. Americans who understand that they are also citizens of the world.

So instead, I’ll have to settle for summing up August with a few words about two funerals. The whole country watched at least some, if not all, of both.

You couldn’t miss John McCain’s: it went on for days—his final third finger in the air to Trump. Personally, I was never that impressed by McCain’s being a “maverick,” since he refused to take any critical stand about Confederacy statuary, ran as anti-choice, and opportunistically offered us Sarah Palin, who would have been one heartbeat away from the presidency, and who paved the way for Trumpism. I don’t ask for perfection in my politicians (or in anyone), but McCain was not only a staunch conservative, he was repeatedly willing to sacrifice principal for ambition. What did make him different from most politicians was his willingness afterward to admit when he had been wrong and confess regret about his acts—but then he would make the same kind of mistake again.

Still, I was fascinated by the message in the planned spectacle of his passing on. Everywhere military pallbearers and guards at attention—mostly male and white but with a few tokens. Flags at half staff (despite Trump), the flyover formation with a single plane peeling off, the marching, presenting arms, salutes, cannons firing, taps, and finally burial at the Naval Academy. McCain had lain in state at the Senate and been lauded by two presidents at the National Cathedral, which was packed with DC political heavies, most of whom detested him and loathed each other, all hypocritically acting collegial, feigning loss, and calling for a unity they themselves would abandon the instant they rose from their pews. McCain’s genuinely pained family somehow got through it all. There were even some moving moments, made more so by Trump’s vulgar presence having been banned. This send off was exactly what John McCain planned it to be: a celebration of male-defined “Honor.” Heroism. Brothers in arms. Patriarchal Manhood.

Then there was The Natural Woman. Aretha Franklin’s body lay not in state but on display for days, too. It was an open casket so that fans of her musical greatness could stand in line for hours, not to be seen but to see and thank her. There was no hypocrisy in that line; every person genuinely wanted to be there. Skillful diva to the end, she had left specific instructions, too, so that she could deliver a last, unforgettable performance. The undertaker was kept busy changing Aretha’s clothes four times during the viewing. She was arrayed in bright red to honor African American sorority sisters on the day they paid homage, then was dressed in ethereal blue, then silver white, and finally, in head-to-foot glittering gold. Designer clothes and designer stiletto heels to match—including red-soled Christian Louboutins. The cortège was pink Cadillacs. And the music! The music at her funeral was performed by a roster of amazing singers: oh my god what a concert! Bill Clinton spoke with the shy adoration of a schoolboy, and Hillary, bless her, did that white-woman-sway-to-the-music thing, managing, like most other white people present, to be off-beat no matter how cheerfully she tried.

This was an event alive with—in all meanings of the word—Color. And this was a Woman-Centered event. People spoke about love, and tenderness, about art and justice. They truly mourned their loss, openly weeping. But they also stood at their seats and in the aisles of the church singing, testifying, shouting, dancing. The service went on for over eight hours. There was spontaneity, history, artistry, grief, laughter, celebration.

The coincidental timing of the two funerals made for one of the most dramatic contrasts I’ve ever seen between patriarchy and what we’re striving toward. Not matriarchy (although Franklin was proudly a matriarch) but equality. Not power over, but power to.

And, for this artist who had come so far from the pregnant 12-year-old little girl she had once been, amazing grace. But most of all, R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Thank you, Aretha.