If being a sinner means to be estranged from God, then Jim was not a sinner. I have known Jim since first grade, over forty years, and I don’t think once in all those years did he emotionally separate from or turn his back on God. However, there were a few times when he did question the judgment of certain world circumstances and the lack of an apparent response from God. I personally think Jim is a valid candidate for sainthood; he was without doubt venerable and heroic in his virtues. Jim had ample faith in his ability to get any man he wanted into his bed and he never lost hope in this quest, even to the point of offering charity sex now and then. The AIDS scare forced Jim into the practice of prudence and temperance, though as it ultimately turned out, the actions he took were too late for him. Jim always believed in justice and the conformity of moral rightness in his actions. Just ask any of the anti-gay demonstrators who roamed the streets on Mardi Gras day damning all to hell if they did not repent. Jim thought it was his moral duty to oppose their single-minded hate. If the demonstrator was a hunk, especially good looking, Jim would practice temperance in his moral righteousness. As for fortitude, the boy could go on for hours, an energizer bunny, not just in sex but in his indignation of those who would find his life sinful. Yes, I would say Jim had prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. I wasn’t asked to be the promoter of Jim’s cause, but by my recollection, he is definitely venerable, possessing all the qualities necessary for becoming a saint.
Jim thanked God every day for the life he had been given and in his time on earth did his best to give praise every day. This praise was especially notable when Jim had sex. He called out to God in thanks for the blessings of this life. Jim could be heard shouting vociferously, “Oh God, oh God ….oh God!” Jim’s sister, Mary, a devout Catholic, would take the position as the Devil’s advocate. Because of his expressed desires for the affections of other men, regardless of any of his other traits, Mary feels Jim lived in sin his whole life. His homosexuality alone makes him a sinner in her eyes.
In his death, Jim has already produced one miracle. He got me to a funeral again. I had sworn off funerals since losing too many friends to the big A, AIDS. Because of this miracle, Jim must be enjoying the Beatific Vision, which is seeing God without someone or something censoring. Exactly the way Jim always wanted to know God. According to Catholic doctrine all we need is one more miracle, and we can present Jim as a saint. However, there is already a Saint James. Maybe if I pray hard enough Mary’s opinion of Jim’s fate could be changed and there would be the second miracle, which is the only reason I am going to Jim’s wake and if not successful there, maybe his funeral.
I didn’t stop going to funerals just because I have lost so many friends, but because I dislike funeral homes. I’m offended by their pretense insolently sailing under false colors. The employees talk in hushed whispers as if a normal conversational voice would disturb the dead and the last thing I need is the dead telling me to shut up. I have enough people who are still living telling me to keep my mouth shut. Today, Bob, the funeral director, is guarding the parlor door like Cerberus guarding Hades. He performs the duties with the grace of a ballet dancer who’s choreographed his movement along with a bevy of stable boys in the wings ready to dance at the slightest sound of a need from a mourner. One of the boys takes my coat, does a pirouette and meticulously hangs it up. Trained to miss no detail, the boy, John, could be removing Queen Elizabeth’s robes and jewels. With a precise half turn, he points to the parlor and says, “This way please.”
Bob is not as graceful in his greeting of the mourners, he has a forced sincerity perfected over his many years of experience, “Harry, I haven’t seen you since your mother’s funeral. It’s such a shame we can only meet old friends at times like this.” The words are empty and flat, like an actor in a long running play who’s become indifferent to the role.
“Yes, Bob, isn’t it.” We were casual friends in High School, but I gladly lost contact long ago and the only time I see him is at family funerals. His greeting never changes, and we never meet outside the funeral home.
“I think you will be happy with how Jim looks. He seems at rest now, in a peaceful sleep, no more suffering.” Then Bob added, “Let me know what you think of the lighting. Our new soft blue lights help improve skin tone softening the features of the deceased.”
I thought to myself, isn’t that nice. Thank God it was not necessary to come up with a witty reply. Someone else demanded Bob’s attention as he was ushered away by one of the boys. I was probably a need to console another bereaved family. My comments would not have been kind. However good the body looks, to me they still look dead.
Jim’s coffin now captures my attention, not because it looks expensive, tastelessly showy with brass angels for handles, but because it’s there at all. Jim wanted to be cremated, his ashes spread to the whim of the winds carried off to an exotic land. Actually Jim did not care where his ashes ended up as long as it wasn’t in his hometown. He spent too much energy trying to escape its grasp to be brought back there in death. With any money he had left, Jim prearranged a wild party at John’s home. He said we could celebrate his rise to sainthood for the miracle that God had let him die before he could lead anyone else in the ways of sin. Jim indeed led a large number of men to the sins of the flesh, and some would agree it is indeed a miracle he was allowed to die and not left to suffer with his illness any longer. If they were God they would decree he should suffer not die. Having already stated my position on this matter, I will only say I still think he met the qualities of a venerable human being, not a sinner. However, the bum did take some of my prized catches that got loose from my hook. Chalk it up to his fortitude and faith in getting the men he wanted.
I notice there’s a man at the kneeler praying. Damn it, I wanted to get here early so I could sign the guest book, and escape. I have no desire to talk to anyone except Mary, and I do not intend to view Jim’s body despite the effect of Bob’s new lighting. I can pretend to be reading the names on the floral bouquets until he leaves. My deception is interrupted when Jim’s sister, Mary, taps me on the shoulder. Turning to hug her, I notice tears have streaked the makeup Mary is famous for.
“I’m so glad you’re here, I know funerals are not your thing.” Mary could barely talk through her sobs.“Especially ones with open coffins, didn’t Jim want to be cremated?” I asked trying to be polite without prodding too much.
Mary responded, “He did, but I just couldn’t do it.” She stopped crying, and her mood became authoritarian, resembling our high school principle after catching us in the bushes smoking.