The podium was wrapped in green.
It just did not seem right to speak of such a life behind a labeled stand. It was purposefully wrapped so as not to detract one eye away from the beauty gracing the walls.
The room filled quickly, people gently hugging and talking soflty as they sought out seats with those they already knew. Those familiar seats disappeared like a vapor with the number of people who loved her. In fact every seat filled up until those who had come late or dawdled too long at the cookie table were left standing in the back.
No one seemed to mind.
I sat in the front row, next to Tim and an empty chair, waiting for the clock to strike two. It did, and I set my mind to begin the ceremonial process of saying goodbye to one of the most amazing and profound women I have ever known.
I stood up before all those people. I introduced the Community Choir and my dear sister in service, Pastor Alison Macki, who serves her Methodist church in much the same way I serve my Presbyterian. We love people. That’s what pastors do. We both shepherded our dear Melanie. Sometimes, though, when Mel would quip a truth to cut through the difficult moment or bring humor in the midst of misery, I knew that Melanie was really shepherding us.
When the singing was over, Pastor Alison introduced me. I stood and walked to that green laden box with a microphone neatly secured to one side. I opened my little black book containing all my well-ordered information and I looked up. Before me I saw a sea of faces betraying emotions that matched the ones tearing at my chest, and I took a deep breath to steady my heart and my voice. There would be time for tears later.
Pastors, you see, sometimes have to meet the need before we feel the pain.
I started, and I stopped. The mic was too low. My ever-attentive husband quickly resolved the problem and with a signature Melanie joke I quipped, “No one has ever told me to be louder!” Everyone chuckled, and I began to share the life history of the woman who devastatingly, overwhelmingly, fearlessly, unreservedly and humorously; yet completely; changed my life.
I thought I would make it all the way through the hardest speaking I have ever done. But then I came to one line and its utter, raw truth accosted me so deeply that my chest tightened, and my lungs refused to send necessary air to my voice box. Instead, my heart sent tears to my eyes. I stood there unable to speak beyond its unarguable truth.
Melanie Kerns loved everyone.
It’s a simple truth. Or is it? Mel managed to genuinely care for every human being who had the pleasure of meeting and knowing her. She had no standards of acceptance. Race, sex, economic status, sexual orientation, age, nor education were nothing to her. She always saw before her a precious soul in need of a hearty laugh, a bit of food, a safe place to talk, an answer to a dilemma, or maybe a good cup of coffee. It didn’t matter. Truly it didn’t. If you knew Melanie, you knew she loved you.
Lest you doubt me, let me assure you that I am no stranger to Melanie’s genuine care. She had a way of believing in me when I was not sure I believed in myself. It was amazing to me when I told her my pitfalls. She heard them, took note and then told me they were not deep and profound enough to keep me from what she knew God had called me to do. She was like a Pitbull with that kind of thing. Once she believed in your ability, she would tenaciously bite down on it and refuse to let it go. She knew I could do what I am doing. She refused to back off my calling even when my whole life fell apart. She called it a bit of a setback, but told me setbacks are overcomable.
She was right. Melanie was right pretty much all the time.
My voice eventually came back. I moved on with her life history and then moved out of the way, so Alison could address the grieving with her incredibly articulate, accurate and well-spoken homily. I sat there, lump in my throat as she talked about Mel and her quilts. They hung all around us, displaying hours upon hours of tedious commitment to the finished product. She treated her quilting like she treated people. Commitment to the finished product.
We finished the service and gathered up our things. Droves of people held us up with much loved hugs and the kind of words people say when the very good die. I said some things too, and though we were exhausted, I found myself around the cookie table eating a dangerous amount of sugar as people shared their hearts with one another and with me.
When the numbers finally died down and we found our way to the door, Tim, in his typical wisdom, noted that there were people in that room had been at odds but had come together; there were people in that room who had connected that would not have had reason to connect otherwise. I agreed for I too I saw people in that room lay down differences and care for one another.
We agreed that Melanie would have been thrilled to see it.
I don’t know how I will do what I do without my Melanie. I long sometimes, to hear her simply call me her ‘sweet girl’ and tell me we have what it takes to get this church to doing what we both know God wants it to do. What I do know is that she can still see me, up there in that great cloud of witnesses, and that she still cheers us on, knowing that yes, we do indeed have what it takes to do what we have been called to do.
One day, like Melanie, I will die.
I hope the same sentence completely accosts my historian.