The Sheridans had all come, save Bo, who was still in the hospital. Nellie came in with Joe and sat with him toward the front. Sadie came towards Dixie with a hug and tears. Angela and her mother had come. Doris, from Fannie’s Café, and her husband were there, as well as her boss, Glenda. Even Jacob Wainwright from the UpTempo Music store was there. Dixie had never seen him in her church and didn’t think he had a church affiliation at all. “I heard about what happened to your friend, Dixie, I’m terribly sorry. I wanted to come and show you my support. I think you are a brave and kind young woman,” he said, and shook her hand with enthusiasm.
Even Sheriff Pete Walters was there with the fireman who had stayed with Dixie through the ordeal. Dixie went and greeted the two. “Thank you for coming,” she said, offering her hand to the fireman. “I’m Dixie Lee, I’m afraid I didn’t get your name the other night, but I did want to thank you for your kindness.”
“Jesse, Jesse Buchanan. It was my pleasure, Miss Dixie. I’m just sorry about the young man.”
Robbie approached Dixie and she turned her attention to the burly young man. He was already crying. She reached out to hug him. “I can’t believe he’s gone.” His voice betrayed his shocked disbelief.
“I know,” said Dixie, pulling back to look in his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Robbie. I know you cared about him.”
“I wish I’d let him stay at my house. My parents feel terrible.” Not terrible enough to be here, thought Dixie. “Maybe if he’d stayed with me this wouldn’t have happened.”
“We can’t know that, Robbie. You did your best for him. His dad could have come to your house and killed him just as easily.”
There was very little comfort to be had in what ifs. Dixie knew it personally. Robbie seemed to appreciate the reminder.
Next, Gabriel’s family came in and took him to sit toward the front of the church, on the left hand side. Sharon joined her daughter and they made their way to their usual place in the second row, left side. A handful of people Dixie hadn’t met came in. A high school teacher and a few acquaintances. Barely thirty people there to mark the end of a young man’s life. Still, she was pleased. Some of those people’s hearts had had to change to get them there.
Mr. Jenkins led them in an opening song, ’Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus. After Richard read Kenny’s obituary he read a passage from Ecclesiastes 3:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”
“I missed the time for loving, Kenny. Truly loving him. I was afraid of what my deacons would think, what the town would think. Joe McAllister, and my daughter didn’t, but I did. But I will not miss the opportunity to grieve. Kenny labored under a heavy burden, as we all do. This life is hard. While it’s filled with embracing, dancing, mending, and love, it’s also filled with hate, war, killing, and weeping. We all struggle. Which is all the more reason to be happy, and do good.” Richard gripped the sides of the pulpit. “I don’t intend to miss the opportunity to love another person. And I challenge you not to as well. It doesn’t matter if you agree with that person, if you are like them, or if they make you uncomfortable, love them. Embrace them. Laugh with them. Mend with them. Make peace with them.” He leaned forward and looked at the congregation. “This is a gift God has given to us, the work he has for us to do. Through the powerful sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf we can be reborn, we can love with his power.”
Dixie’s eyes swam. A renewed heart of love and openness in her family had come at a dear cost, but she was thankful it had come. After her dad spoke Dixie made her way to the front to sing a dear favorite, Abide With Me:
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
The service was closed with prayer by Joe McAllister, who was helped to the front by Nellie Parker. “Father in heaven, we all need your mercy. Thank you for your mercy to our friend, Kenny. We thank you that all who call on your name by faith have forgiveness of their sins and can live with you in heaven. Give us, we pray, hearts of mercy like yours. Amen.”
Around the graveside the group huddled together against the chill breeze. The rain had stopped, but the clouds still hung low. Sadie and Angela huddled beside Dixie, their arms around her waist. Bare dogwoods bordered the yard, their branches shimmering from the recent shower. Gray headstones, some of them covered with lichen, bore names of families who had been a part of the community and congregation, some of them, for generations. A dim fog of sorrow had wrapped itself around Dixie’s mind and heart. She hardly heard what her dad was saying, and was glad when they could go back inside to the warmth.
At the back of the church Dixie hugged various people goodbye and thanked them for coming. She felt old.
Linda Sheridan stopped with her brood in tow. “Dixie, I’m so sorry. I agree with your Daddy. I missed the opportunity to love Kenny, or even know him. But I am so grateful for the gift he gave to us. It may sound selfish to say so, but I am grateful.” Her hand cupped Dixie’s cheek. “And I’m thankful for you. You may yet have backlash from your friendship with Kenny. But I’m proud of you. You’ve taught us all an important lesson in grace.” There wasn’t much Dixie could say around the emotion in her chest. The two hugged and she promised to come see Bo soon.
Angela was next. She wrapped her slender arms around her friend’s neck. “Dixie. I’m so sorry, honey. It turned out to be a bigger risk to care about him than either of us thought, didn’t it? But I’m proud of you friend. Let’s get together soon. Text me and we’ll have lunch.”
“Thank you, Ange, I will.” She hugged her friend tight. What would she have done without her support?
The sanctuary had mostly emptied of people. A few lingered in the foyer talking to her mom and dad. She grabbed her bag and moved to the foyer to join them. As she came through the door leading from the sanctuary to the foyer she heard a woman’s voice raised. It was Barbara McDonald, her mother’s long time friend and one of the church deaconesses.
“Do you mean to tell me you have buried that queer boy in our cemetery?” Her voice was raised and shook slightly as she said the word “our.”
“Yes, I took responsibility for his funeral and burial. He has no family. It seemed logical to bury him here in the church’s cemetery.” Her father emphasized the word church. The McDonalds had been buried in the church yard for at least four generations. Dixie doubted his tactic would work.
“It’s outrageous!” She was fuming. “Have you no decency? Why would you lay that homeless, gay young man beside upstanding members of our congregation?” The Sheridans, Doris and her husband, and Pete Walters were watching the commotion.
“Barbara, I’m convinced Christians have gotten too comfortable building walls. We should build bridges. Big ones, lavish ones, costly ones. After all, our Savior himself is the ultimate bridge. No more walls! It’s time to build bridges. And the cemetery’s as good a place as any to start.”
“Richard Lee, I’m going to take this straight to the board. You just wait until they hear about this outrage.” Turning to Sharon she addressed her friend. “Sharon, why don’t you speak some sense into your husband!”
Sharon blanched visibly, but stood her ground. “Barbara, what would you have him do? Dig him up again? Don’t be so hard hearted. Your salvation isn’t threatened by Kenny being nearby. But maybe you should worry about it being threatened by your coldheartedness.”
Barbara huffed, turned on her heel, and slammed the door behind her. Sharon shook her head. “Oh goodness, to think I’ve been like that myself all this time. How miserable.”
Dixie and Richard wrapped their arms around her and laughed. Free, lighthearted peels of laughter. Amazingly she joined them!