Gone Up Yonder
I was about to blog about another great lady who has "gone up yonder" when I found these comments I had written about Aretha's funeral. I got busy and obviously forgot about finishing the post. Here it is close to a year later, but I think we are all still saddened that the Queen is no longer here. So many times during these past months, I've listened to her songs, or heard someone personally lament her passing, or even read great articles and stories, and a great poem by my workshop buddy Nordette. I think it's true that once you have them in your heart, they never leave. So please allow me to share thoughts that were not posted:
I am not one to rank funerals, especially since I've been to so many over the recent years, but I have to say, Aretha's funeral today was, like her life, something you didn't want to miss - it was certainly fit for the Queen. I had actually planned to get some business taken care of and perhaps be out all day running errands. But there I sat watching Aretha's homegoing, hour after hour, until finally, I was as spent as I am sure the funeralgoers were. But let's be clear, my emotions came from the overwhelming truth that Aretha was, indeed, gone forever. Anyone complaining about the length of the funeral is truly not a fan of greatness, nor do they understand what the rest of us real fans do: after all that Aretha has given us over the years, a few hours spent focusing, intently, on her life, was the very least we could do. The funeral was by all accounts the greatest funeral I've ever witnessed: it had a sentimental type of power that kept us glued to the TV. Aretha's funeral actually made me think of my mother's - the sheer unadulterated celebrating, in song, in memories, in message, in an obvious and thorough love for the departed. I guess what I mean is that Aretha's funeral also felt quite personal.
There was so much to make note of, but of course the singers made it clear that they were there to hail in song, in Aretha's language. Over and over they came, one pulling at our hearts mercilessly, then another. Long before Jennifer Holliday literally sang Aretha out the door of the temple, into the hearse, and on to her resting place, Chaka Khan did so breathlessly tell us that the queen was "Going Up Yonder." And being the true diva that she is, she came back for an encore and closed the song down with that impressive choir. By the way, this was apparently a choir put together specifically for Aretha's funeral. Of course it was. We all understand/understood that there were no boundaries here - whatever was asked by the family, it was delivered, answered, given readily. The funeral itself demanded our allegiance, paid for by the love and devotion we felt/feel for Aretha. The temple was simply full to bubbling over with singers and actors and other entertainers, all waiting to sing Aretha's praises. My mother always said, "People will lie on you when you're living, and they will lie for you when you're dead." Well, we got the distinct impression that there needn't be lies told today - that whatever one had to say about Aretha and her amazing life and talent, it came easily because it was all true.
I guess that's why I believed Clive Davis when he talked about Aretha in a tutu, dancing around. He portrayed Aretha as a renaissance woman - a lover of art, fashion, and food. "She loved life," he said. There were so many stories about Aretha giving of her time and her money. Rev. Jessie Jackson reminded us that Aretha "came out of the bowels of our struggles" during the Civil Rights Movement. She became an obvious star shining so brightly because of the darkness of that age. Dr. William Barber II said Aretha was a fighter for justice, against racism - her singing just "made you want to hang on little while longer." He said that in Aretha, the "sacred and the secular came together," and we understood him, clearly. Mildred Gaddis reminded us that Aretha "remained relevant." The great Cicely Tyson brought Aretha alive in a scene that reminded us, haven't we always wanted to be Cicely when we grow up? She's 91 years old, but who would know it. And that hat. All hat-wearing peoples all over the world were envious.
But perhaps most accurately, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson stood up and made us listen. He said Aretha has now gone from "the Queen of Soul to the Queen of Souls." He also said there was a "theological prescience" in Aretha's voice. By the time he sat down, we all understood the profound quality of Aretha's life and her effect on ours. We are not to be the same people; after all, Aretha "shifted the universe," as Isaiah Thomas said. For some reason, that's when the tears came. It could be that I understood Isaiah's lowly beginnings - feeling shy and understanding very little about getting along in the whole wide world. I got it. I knew how grateful he must have been to Aretha and her family, and all the love they showed him. I remembered going out into the world at 17, depending on God's grace. I think Rev. Jackson made it clear: "The ground is no place for a champion." All the people who spoke of Aretha talked about how much she had helped them soar. She picked a lot of people up from those lower positions in life. I was happy to hear it all, see it all, and to fill in some of the holes.
I know Aretha's music - could talk about it all day - but, like most of the icons, the people who we place on the pedestals in our lives, I knew little about the great lady herself. I imagined that she was as great as her music. I often tell my students that if they want to be great writers, they should also be great people; everything comes through in the writing. Likewise, Aretha's great spirit came through in her music. So, yes, it was a lengthy funeral, but I enjoyed every minute. I wanted Ms. Holliday to keep singing - and didn't it seem as though she could just keep going and going and we would have kept watching and listening, not wanting it to end, not wanting to ever say goodbye to the Queen of Soul. I agree Isaiah, she shifted my life immeasurably.