When a baby does not get born right, everybody goes to church – only it's not Sunday School or worship or dinner-on-the-ground or choir practice, and nobody passes the plate. This is a funeral, and for a funeral, you must wear your blackest, plainest, ugliest dress. No one appreciates a fashion statement at a funeral; that would be like spitting in God's eye and everybody knows only the Devil would do such a thing and look where it landed him.
When you come into the church-house you must sit quiet and still as death with your eyes downcast – like the deacons do when the sermon is on womanizing or adultery – and then there will be some singing of sad songs. "Amazing Grace" is a favorite song for funerals, especially if the organist can get the "bagpipes" key on the organ unstuck. "In The Sweet Bye-and-Bye" is another popular funeral song, one that talks about heaven as a sweet bye-and-bye, not the sour kind of bye-and-bye like when my grandmother used the word to talk about the woman in her housing project who is "loose," as in, "Bye and bye, that red-headed hussy is gonna get her just desserts."
Anyway, at a funeral, there is some singing and some weeping and then everyone lines up, single-file, to walk past the little wooden box where the baby is laid out in a starchy white bonnet and gown. The ladies sniffle and daub at their eyes with their hankies and the men all stand nearby in a clump, scratching under their stiff collars, eyeing the ladies in case the vapors should come over them and someone should swoon into a black heap on the floor. Mostly the women don't – swoon, I mean – but men are generally nervous about what a woman might do in a group, especially when there's a baby involved.
After everyone is done looking at the baby, the men stand out in the churchyard and shake the daddy's hand real hard and say, "Sorry for your troubles, John."
The women gather around the grief-struck mother under the shade trees and they take her hands in theirs, one after another, and pat it and say things like, "Don't blame yourself, honey; these things happen." Or they say churching things like, "God's ways are mysterious" or "You'll see that blessed little baby again in heaven" or "He's happy in God's hands now, sister."
In case none of this seems to comfort her much, if she tells them all that none of that matters and all she wants is her baby back again, the ladies go on to the inevitable: "It's God's will."
That usually works.
It works, I think, because it baffles her. Like God's will baffles me. Preacher says it's God's Will for every one of us to turn our back on the Devil and sin and to be saved and live with him forever in glory. Preacher says whenever a child of God is saved, all the angels in heaven rejoice and Gabriel blows a tune on his horn. There is shouting in the church then and rejoicing and clapping of hands and hallelujahs all around. This is called a jubilation. Jubilation is allowed in church, but only if you keep your feet still on the floorboards. If you move your feet, then it is called dancing and dancing is NOT allowed in church. NO DANCING. Dancing is too close to fornication and we all know where that will get you.
So when you're saved, there's a party in heaven. But on earth what you get is a good dunking in cold water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. But no party. This is because, if God gets you, you get no credit for it because it was God's Will anyway. But if the Devil gets you, that's nobody's fault but your own and there'll be hell to pay for it.
But I guess God's Will, today, is the baby in the wooden box and his mother who is cross now at God and how all of us are going to have to stand a while in the heat out back of the church-house, after the funeral, and watch as two colored men plant the baby beside other babies in a long row, babies who are all in God's hands now, though their boxes are lying under little white staves with their names painted on them, just like the little staves we push into our garden furrows each spring so we won't forget what we planted and where.