By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2012
In “As Befits a Man,” Langston Hughes wrote: “I don’t mind dying—But I’d hate to die all alone!”
The pew sitters were shoulder to shoulder Saturday. Ushers brought out extra chairs, and still people filled the back of the church, two and three people deep.
Certainly, Yolanda Colin didn’t die alone.
I was honored to be a pallbearer at her Aug. 25 funeral. I like being a pallbearer. It is the last time I can help a friend. It is one small way I can help deliver them to their final place of rest.
Part of my responsibilities with others was to prepare her casket for the airplane that would fly her remains to her native New Orleans. We tightened the straps around the cardboard box surrounding her ornate casket before the hearse pulled away to the airport.
I met Yolanda in 2006. I was a newcomer to St. Anthony of Padua Church, Atlanta. It was the annual Men’s Day Celebration. At the conclusion of Mass, the priest called all the men up to the foot of the altar for a blessing.
At that point, I developed a profound fascination with the floor. Hand to God, I never stared so intently at my shoes and the floor than in those moments. I had just moved from New Hampshire, and I can tell you how many times men at my former parishes had been called to the front of the faith community for a blessing. Zero.
And at this point I should say, I am white. Most folks in the parish are not. St. Anthony is home to a vibrant black Catholic community.
So, to review: Altar calls were not something I did. Ever. I was new. I was conscious that I would be the only white person among the two-dozen men.
Somehow Yolanda caught my eye as we shared a pew. With her were her two young boys, who are now teenagers. She nodded that I should go up. I politely tried to brush her off. Thanks, but I’m studying very intently whether I need a new pair of shoes, I hoped my actions showed.
She persisted. Certainly, she must have me mistaken for someone else, I thought.
But gently, with a whisper to go and a small wave with her hand, she got me out of my pew. I joined the group.
St. Anthony since that fall day has been my home.
I treasure that memory of how this woman kindly reached out and made me take a step I never would have taken on my own.
We visited last on Sunday, Aug. 19, as she rested in hospice. I thanked her. We smiled over the memory. I showed her pictures of my newborn. She told me to plant a kiss on the youngster’s big toe. So said, so done.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, of El Salvador, is said to have paraphrased St. John of the Cross, in his words: “In the evening of life you will be judged on love.”
I hope that as Yolanda moved from this life that her kindness to me was written in big bold letters in the book of life.