May 4, 2019
We said farewell to an old friend this morning. Chris King was many things in the twenty years I knew him - devoted partner of his beloved Dene, past President of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Loudoun (UUCL), actor and arts supporter, WAGE radio host and programmer for many years, and much more. He and I worked together for several years presenting the Shenandoah Coffeehouse Series concerts at the historic church that he helped UUCL purchase.
While it was a beautiful service, there was simply no way to convey more than a glimmer of the multi-dimensional measure of such a man in a couple hours time. A deep and thoughtful guy, sometimes gruff around the edges, I took great joy in occasionally making him laugh hard. When I did a songwriting project with some local 3rd graders in 2006, Chris invited me to bring them and their recording on the air at WAGE. He was always like that, looking for ways to bring more art to more people.
As I thought about what to say in tribute before heading to the service, I realized that through inviting me to play at the dedication of our amazing little country chapel (built in 1890 as an AME Church by formerly enslaved families), Chris introduced me to Unitarian Universalism, as well as later helping us bring so much great music to our community in concerts in our sacred space. I can't imagine the course of my life in the absence of those things.
He gave a sermon once on the blues, tying of course to the joys and sufferings of the congregation that built our church. For nearly a century, their families and descendants gathered on Sundays during segregation, lynchings and Jim Crow. In his way, Chris was part of our congregation's storykeepers, helping us to appreciate, honor and remember their heritage, even as we slowly soaked our own sounds and stories into those old wooden walls.
Chris knew the blues, intimately. Both the music and its history, and the struggles and the suffering in his own way. At Dene's memorial six years ago, I could tell by the look in his eyes that a big part of him went with her and was never coming back. These last six years were simply what must be endured to be with her again. Although he was in hospice clearly nearing the end, our friend Les visited him the night before he died. They talked for well over an hour, and Les was astonished to learn that he had passed by the next morning. Somehow Chris found a way to "pull the rip cord". I'd like to think now that maybe Dene opened a door for him, and he didn't waste the chance.
This song came quickly this morning, raw and unpolished from its birth around 9 am to its delivery from the altar around noon. It seemed fitting to send him off with a blues - not a lamentation, but a celebration. I scratched out the "final" draft on this index card, and after the service I gave it to his sister Laura.
I am grateful for the end to his suffering - most of all, the suffering of separation from his true love. I no longer need to think of him on his own, but as Dene and Chris would both choose to be remembered, as lifelong partners in all things. The picture below is them at our Christmas party in 2008, holding our baby Madeleine. To their family, I am humbled and honored to be with you today to share in these hard moments for a little while.
On that 2000 morning when the UUs re-dedicated the building, I distinctly remember the gloominess of the day, and how the sun exploded through the window of the chapel during the service. This morning as we sang him farewell with one of his favorite songs, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken", he and Dene sent the sunburst through the window for us once again.
It was not lost on me that the baby they once held for us chose to join us up front and sing a verse in their honor and memory. The circle remains, steadfast and unbreakable. We step on the stage, we play our parts with all we've got, and we hand it down as best we know how. All is well, and whole again. #WhenMyTimeComes #finalfarewell #WilltheCircleBeUnbroken
One of a great many remarkable musical performances in the historic UUCL chapel, featuring Michael DeLalla and I last summer. The building itself seems to be part of the music!
Cheat notes to help remember the words to a simple brand new bluesy song of farewell and celebration.