Services for brother James were held today in a tiny storefront church in a strip mall next to Tractor Supply Co. It was the very antithesis of your baroquely decorated big-city cathedral, and yes, I figured, this was the sort of place he’d attend services: no budget to spend on distractions, maybe four actual pews, connected and disconnected chairs, even a sofa or two. And yes, this was his church home; the pastor knew him well. Turnout was satisfyingly high; it helped that he was back home among friends. Several stood up and passed along stories about him, boy and man, bad times and good. I chimed in with a few possibly unnoticed biographical details — if James was a II, as he was, well, who was “I”?
I might have predicted two of the three songs he selected for the service: Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” an old favorite, and Sinatra’s “My Way,” a declaration of independence. I would not, however, have guessed the one played in between: Johnny Cash’s reimaging of Trent Reznor’s “Hurt.” The pastor himself professed to be baffled by the choice, but offered his own explanation: on the off-chance that there had been a fence left unmended, this was James’ way of expressing regret, with the hope that he’d been forgiven. The pastor wasn’t looking at me when he said that, but he could have been.
All in all, it was a surprisingly satisfying service, an hour and a half of remembrance with the absolute minimum of remonstrance. This was no time to lecture. And I found it gratifying to see how many of his old friends, some going back as far as grade school, would come out to this unassuming little burg to say goodbye. I should be so lucky.