the disconnect.

i really don’t want to sound old.

i hate the thought of getting old.

one of my wishes, if granted 3, would be to be for immortality. i would want to live forever. now i’d have some conditions…when i’m 900 years old, i don’t want to have the body and mind of a 900 year old man…just sort of freeze my age where it is now and let it rip. a lot more people than i would have ever expected would NOT choose immortality if given an option, for various reasons. one of my main reasons for wanting to hang around for the rest of time is that i want to see the world change…see PEOPLE change…i want to know how it all works out. i want to see if we finally get our act together or if we just mess it all up.

thing is, if i just take a look at how things have changed just during my lifetime, the thoughts of seeing a FOREVER of change seems a little depressing.

so, at the risk of sounding old, i just have to say that it makes me sad to see how much things have changed over the years and to realize how much more they are going to change. change can be good. just ask anyone around here who has made the switch from a dial-up connection to DSL about the change…take a peek at the Discovery Channel in High Definition…eat a piece of slightly undercooked pork without worrying about getting a hookworm…change, in many cases, is definitely good.

living where we do here in eastern kentucky, we have a lot of traditions and values that maybe folks other places in the country don’t share, or maybe even KNOW about. a lot of folks around my age and older have experienced things that kids in this region who are say 20 and under may never get the chance to experience…or maybe they won’t even recognize the significance of it when they DO experience it.

the reason this has all come up in the first place is that i’ve experienced one of those things just today (and more times over the past year or so than i care to have)…a funeral. a true, heartfelt, country funeral. for those of you who have experienced it, you know exactly what i’m talking about. for those of you who have not, my words will never do it justice.

the gentleman who passed away did so this past friday, march 16, 2007. his name was Mr. Sparks. he was a country preacher. he owned a sawmill. he had a wife that he loved more than anything in this world, and she, he. he had children. he had grandchildren, and he had great grandchildren, and no shortage of either. i didn’t know this man, but over the past few days, i feel as though i do. on sunday evening, at the funeral home, they had a visitation for the family and church members. we arrived late, but even then, there was a steady stream of people who spoke in front of the gathered group about the wonderful things this man had accomplished in his life on this earth. i saw men, young and old, with tear-filled eyes. i saw close friends struggle to overcome their grief long enough to speak about him, and i heard beautiful songs sung in his honor.

throughout the evening, i wondered if the younger kids who were there understood just how rare this type of even is these days. people pass away every day…visitations are held…funerals are given. but it is uncommon any more to see what i witnessed these past 3 days, and i only pray that those who were there realized the moment as they were in it.

today at the funeral, this man’s friends stood in front of a packed funeral home and sang gospel songs…guitars, mandolins, banjos…their voices choking back tears to sing. and as their songs carried through the air and into the hearts of those who were there, you could hear an “amen!” rise from the group once in a while. as the preacher stepped to the podium to speak, his eyes were filled with tears and his voice shook. but he found his voice, and he preached a beautiful funeral for this man, and voices called out “amen!”, and you could not help but be moved by all of it.

a man behind me asked if he could stand and say a few words, and the preacher said of course, brother. he rose and spoke about an event where he and Mr. Spraks had traveled to lexington to visit someone in the hospital, and prayed over them. in the waiting room, Mr. Sparks said that everyone that had gathered there was seeking peace and comfort and he asked if he could preach to them, and fell so silent that you could have heard a pin drop. the man said that was just the way Mr. Sparks was. thing is, this gentleman had only gotten out of the hospital TODAY, and traveled to the funeral home to honor his friend.

at the conclusion of the funeral, there was hardly a dry eye to be seen. it did not matter if it was a woman or a man, a child or someone getting along in their years, or someone in between.

my fiance told me that it made her very sad because Mr. Sparks was a true character…someone you meet who is larger than life, and to lose someone like that was just a tremendous loss. i completely agree. folks like that are few and far between, and as things keep on changing, i think the odds of any new ones coming along get pretty long.

so too do the odds of seeing what i’ve seen over the past few days very often. this was a true honoring of someone’s spirit, and it was hard to not be moved by it.

it just makes me wonder, as we continue to disconnect from our roots and our heritage…even here in eastern kentucky where we cling to those same roots and that same heritage far longer than most places….i just have to wonder who will sing gospel songs at OUR funerals? who will preach over us and who will shout “amen!” from the crowd? who will collect the pictures and stories of our lives and put them on display for all of those who love us to share?

last year when my mamaw was on her death bed in her home, some folks from the church my uncle attended came by. they brought food for the family. they cooked, they cleaned, and they stood at the foot of her bed and sang to her. i thought to myself at that time how beautiful of a thing that was right there…how i was witnessing something that not everyone will get to see in their lifetime, and that moment just felt so huge and so powerful to me all of a sudden.

i only hope that these and so many other traditions do not get lost in our rush to make life better…but i fear they are slowly passing away as we get more and more disconnected from the stories, struggles, and characters that make this life so beautiful and unique.