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Remember me

Last week, my partner and I walked across the moonlit Appalachian fields by our house to deliver a sweet potato pie to our friend Olivia. She is a vivacious, lively, opinionated young farmer, and this evening was her birthday. Her and her partner, Rocky recently moved next door to Camp Celo to tend the camp’s crops. We knock on the weathered camp house door, noticing the carved wooden handle and latch, and then we step back. Because of quarantine, Olivia couldn’t throw a proper party, and when we arrived, we sat on the far side of the table from them, on their porch. It’s so hard to not feel emotional distance when practicing physical distance. Nonetheless we laugh, connect, commiserate, and after not too long Olivia rises to have a Zoom visit with her parents. We linger a moment with Rocky, remembering that this week he lost his Grandfather to CoVid. What made it worse is that the Camp’s stringent quarantine requirements wouldn’t allow him to attend the funeral in Atlanta unless he found another residence off-campus to spend two weeks in afterward. He was on his way to Atlanta when he got the news, and turned around. He seemed to be taking it better than many of his friends, especially Olivia. Rocky is a quiet, reserved, and open-hearted farmer with a twinkle in his eye. When we brought up his loss, there was a tenderness with which he came alive into his breath and affect. He calmly reflected on what his Grandfather was like a little, and mentioned that the obituary had been posted that day. He asked if we wanted to hear it, and we listened, in the cool April evening breeze, to the tale of an old church-going man who loved singing in his choir, fishing, shooting guns, and spending time with his grandchildren.

It felt so important to take the space to remember him. And it would have been so easy for us not to have given it the time. Our world keeps churning, and sometimes I wish it would just stop for a moment so that we can honor our losses, and grieve. This is the role of wakes, funerals, and memorials worldwide, and in this moment when many of us lose loved ones and cannot properly grieve together, it’s so much more important to let the world stop. To ask the scary questions, to ask about death, and spend some time with it. The last couple days, the song Remember Me has been bouncing around in my head and heart, endlessly. It’s an old African American Spiritual. I remember hearing it among Alan Lomax’s recording in the South East in the mid 20th century. It came alive for me especially deeply while listening to Suzie Ro Prater sing her late father's slow, layered, choral rendition. So here I offer it as a heart-opening tool for deepening into grief, for imagining our own deaths, and for hearing the message from those who need to be remembered.

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