Monday, October 22, 2018

October features eulogies...

Taking the long way home.

My speech classes have moved on to Storytelling 101, my personal favorite. They are ready, prepared, and having a great time. I love watching them on the stage emerge as lovely butterflies from the chrysalis on the first day with total stage fright. Now they calmly take the stage, look the audience over and begin. In just a few weeks, they will be ready to take on the world, or at least give elegant speeches in their other classes!

The students wind their way through this course slowly, cautiously with one speech at a time. The value of rhetoric, persuasion, and good old-fashioned power point conclusive speeches are also on the perimeter.

A week ago, we finished acceptance speeches and eulogies. One is easy. One is hard. “You will give eulogies one day,” I say to them. My Arabic students are baffled by this concept, as they do not give these types of talks. “But,” I say, “you tell stories of your loved ones after they die, don’t you?” They nod in the affirmative. 

I let them be clever, should they choose, on their eulogies. Some take me up on it by eulogizing their alarm clocks or their first-purchased fair goldfish. One student, a few years ago, gave my eulogy. When he started out, I began to think to myself, “Well, I would like to know her.” And then, in another moment I knew who she was. It was alarming and lovely all at the same time. Eulogies never point out the faults of the deceased, as you well know. They always accentuate the positive!
When giving these eulogies, I keep a box of Kleenexes next to my chair. We have used them often. Once a student gave a eulogy for his newly deceased father…not a dry eye in the house. Sometimes we are stunned and just sit and let it sink in before we move on. Sometimes everyone gets up to hug the student. I guess I could sum this all up in one word, compassion. A eulogy for a lost childhood once sent me over the edge. 

Many tell stories of their grandparents. I love those the most probably because that is who I am. Their memories are strong and clear depicting the senses in strong ways for me…baking cookies, raking leaves, celebrating birthdays, sitting in church. My own imagination quickly goes back to my grandmother Luella. She left us many years ago, but I think of her daily. I write about her often, as you well know, using her red plates, sleeping under her hand-stitched quilts, listening to her daily Bible readings. She was the best blue-ribboned  cook, too!

 I want these children of mine to remember me in that way also. I want them to remember the early morning poetry reads, and the nights we watched the moon slide across the sky.

I want my eulogy to say she was a mother, a grandmother, a neighbor, a friend, a community member, a teacher, a writer, a storyteller, a thinker and she was funny. I also want it to say she was concerned about the world, and she loved deeply.  The poet, Mary Oliver, once wrote, “I don't want to end up having simply visited this world.” No, let’s not just visit.

This week I, along with hundreds of others, sat through an hour of eulogies for our colleague. It was elegant. We wept. We laughed. We hugged each other. We remembered. We loved her.

For a month, I have been watching “Charlotte” out my kitchen window. She really was the biggest spider that has ever took up residence on my windowpane. Day after day, she worked although I am not exactly sure of her occupation. I truthfully do not know what she did every day, but she was there to greet me in the morning and wish me happiness. Then one day she disappeared, and when I went to look for her, I found her egg sack attached to my windowsill waiting for spring. She left us her own legacy. I actually cried watching out my kitchen window.

My students learned about themselves more than they realized in giving eulogies last week. Now they have moved on to stories. Do they also realize how stories shape and teach us? They tell Poe and the Grimm brothers, and scary stories for the campfire. One young student said, “This is how my grandma told the story to me.”

And that, my friends, is all there is to that.

This column was first published in KPC Publishing Company.

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