There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it ill behooves any of us to find fault with the rest of us.
— James Truslow Adams
My mother attended a funeral recently for a long-standing member of the church in which I grew up. I remember the person fondly. He was a faithful deacon — the first to arrive to open the church and the last to close it. He always sat in the back pews ever-ready to help the audio-visual team and the church service run smoothly. He was just always ready to help. We loved him. He was a quiet man, and he and I exchanged few words, but in the rare cases we did, it was a mouthful: “Sister Samuels, I don’t sin,” he told me categorically one evening after a service. I remember staring at him silently in bewilderment. All have sinned and fallen short according to the Bible, so there’s that. But at the moment I really didn’t have much to counteract his declaration. I still don’t.
If it was your expectation that I would, at this point, reveal some kind of a earth-shattering bombshell (tales of sex and deceit, theft and salaciousness), I’m sorry to disappoint you. I will say though that something his daughter (I never even knew he had children) supposedly said during the eulogy at his funeral struck me: “My father wasn’t really involved in my life. Hearing you all talk about how faithful he was to the church… it’s almost like we’re talking about two different people.”
The conversations that have ensued after Kobe Bryant’s untimely death also sound like we’re talking about two different people.
I’m not actually into basketball (I’m an unabashed “Toronto-Raptors-win” bandwagonist), so while I had a vague notion of who “Kobe Bryant” was (Ugh. It’s so weird to write about him the past tense), the first thing I did was Google him to see if to see if he was the same guy who allegedly raped a women and bought his wife a big-ole ring afterwards to smooth things over.
While I wasn’t able to click on the Wikipedia article (its details probably being updated in real time), I realized my memory did not fail me. Yup. Same person. Kobe Bryant.
Many have been adamant to not let this part of the story get lost in the widespread eulogy of him. In Jill Substack’s well-written piece, she said that the alleged sexual assault “[…] is all key to Kobe’s story. And also, it is not the whole story. Out of some mislaid definition of “respect,” we are so excellent at sidelining the inconvenient parts, at least when the inconvenient parts are women we’ve made invisible and the one inconvenienced is a man we would prefer to keep admiring, without complication… What we admire is so overwhelmingly male, so much of the time. And as a result, what we are willing to set aside, what we deem inconvenient, the worse-makers of more important male matters, is overwhelmingly female. If we want our heroes to be better men, and if we want more of our heroes to be women, and if perhaps we want a world in which our stories are more honest than the framework of heroes and villains allows, well — we have to start by telling the whole truth.”
I agree, but I want to take the idea even further. Like Substack, I believe in the importance of the whole story, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. While I completely understand that the etymology of the word “eulogy” tells us to speak well of those who have gone before us, I’ve always felt that we should be honest about the life they leave behind.
I’ve always felt it disingenuous to wax poetic with effusive praise about a less than blemish-free life — especially if it’s a public one. To those detractors who dutifully remind us all that we ought not speak ill of the dead, I believe that it’s not so much about speaking ill of the dead but rather speaking truthfully of the dead, and speaking truthfully in a way in which we too would like to be spoken. Because while we may not sexually assault people in our life times, if we live long enough, we too will forge complicated legacies. Live a life or do anything of significance in your time here on earth and you too will leave a complicated legacy.
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