“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth,
And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth;
Walk in the ways of your heart,
And in the sight of your eyes;
Never miss a local story.
But know that for all these
God will bring you into judgment.
Therefore remove sorrow from your heart,
And put away evil from your flesh,
For childhood and youth are vanity.
It has taken me almost 66 years to begin to understand what Solomon was talking about in Ecclesiastes — and it took another funeral to enlighten me. I’m still not quite there yet.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals of late, not at the pace of 2016, but still quite a few and at every one of them I learn something new about the person — I thought I knew — being eulogized.
I didn’t know Robert Lee Hammond well (everybody knew as “Bobby”), I admit that. He was my wife’s, uncle, her mother’s oldest brother (now she’s the oldest). He died July 20 after turning 87 nine days earlier. But here’s what I did know about him. He loved his niece.
One of my first remembrances of him was at her other uncle’s church in Washington, D.C, (they call him “Bufie” but his real name is Buford). The two brothers pulled me aside after service to make sure my intentions toward their niece were honorable. They started by commenting that they had seen me too many times for me to be playing around.
Both brothers have smiles that can light up auditoriums, so when they asked the question — already knowing the answer — like any good litigator should — I, of course, played along, knowing that while they were wearing smiles now — they were serious as the 14th century’s Black Death. I assured them I was more committed to Pamela than a pig to ham and eggs. That was more than 22 years ago.
At some point, long before the wedding in 1995, they became Uncle Bufie and Uncle Bobby and were tremendous sources of strength for a number of reasons. Uncle Bobby and his wife Janet, hosted our rehearsal dinner, and did they ever lay out a spread. Have you ever been to someone’s home and felt instantly, “at home”? That was Janet and Uncle Bobby.
What did I learn that I didn’t know at Uncle Bobby’s funeral? Plenty. At Ebenezer AME Church, he was called everything from “Uncle Bobby” to “Father Bobby.” The pastor, Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., said Uncle Bobby carried God’s anointing in everything he did. The evidence was everywhere.
Twice during the service, Uncle Bobby’s and Janet’s adopted children were asked to stand. People all over the church stood up. The couple took people in. Some were at their lowest point and they made them whole again — why? Because it was their anointing. They raised other people’s children as their own.
Don’t get me wrong, from what I could tell, many parents of the children were still fully involved in their lives, but Uncle Bobby and Janet were the village — the loving, caring village, that helped make it all work.
So what did I learn from this homegoing that I had not learned from other funerals? Education is a very fickle concept. Solomon for all his wisdom finally understood and wrote it down to share with us — and I still have extreme difficulty comprehending what he was trying to tell us.
Because I still think I’m immortal, I’ve always thought the rules of life and death don’t apply to me. So what if my doctor says my back has a problem? So what if I can’t see or hear as well as I used to? So what that my life, like all others, no matter what I do; no matter what I accomplish, is, as Solomon explained, just folly? So what?
Funerals answer all those questions. Uncle Bobby is in good hands. He lived a God-filled life. I’m the one I have to worry about.