For my Freshman Seminar course this semester, I chose to focus on how Xavier's mission to promote a more just and humane society relates to death and burials in New Orleans. I'm interested in how the dead can speak to us, and I frame the discussion around Ezekiel 37, where the dry bones come back to life to symbolize hope for Judah. Later in the semester we'll be working with Save Our Cemeteries to map/record graves at St. Louis Cemetery # 2.
For the first blog entry, I asked students to write about memorable funerals they've attended. Reading these posts reinforced to me that many of my students come from worlds that are very foreign to me.
The students I have from New Orleans all seemed to have had classmates die in Junior High and High School from gun violence. They all had funeral shirts in their closets, many of which depict the slain teenager as a soldier holding a gun. My students talked about how people put guns and other weapons into the coffins for burial, and then the people at the funeral talk about how all this violence needs to stop.
One funeral in particular amazed me. It was for the New Orleans rapper Soulja Slim. He was shot to death the day before Thanksgiving in 2003. They said that at the funeral his family dressed his corpse in camouflage and large bling jewelry and then put the body behind the wheel of his Escalade like he was driving in style. Then people at the funeral would have their pictures taken while sitting next to his corpse. My student said you could hear his bones cracking and in the words of my student: "it was not too good of a smell to me." It is clear that I will never have any idea what it is like to grow up with so much violence and senseless death.
While Soulja Slim's funeral sort of freaks me out, something probably more unusual strikes me as normal for New Orleans. One of the most famous interred individuals at St. Louis Cemetery #2 is Ernie K-Doe, and his widow has a waxed replica of the man that she drives around town in a hearse and gives him baths in flowers. That all seems pretty natural for this unconventional city. But then again, Soulja Slim's funeral celebrated his life more than mourned his death. That's what we do here, we celebrate.