As we approached a church on Washington Avenue, we noticed that people seemed to have come outside to watch us pass. The band in front broke into a slow version of “Just A Closer Walk”, I thought at first as a respectful gesture to the congregation that was clearly still meeting. However, I soon realized that it was because of the cemetery in the next block, an ancient one with the above-ground tombs that remind New Orleanians that those who have passed are still among them, and so the song was in honor of the dead. Not just the dead of the cemetery, I imagined, but probably the deceased members of Young Men Olympian, the deceased band members, those who lost their lives in Katrina, those who were cut down all too young through neighborhood violence. African-Americans in New Orleans often say “God bless the dead” after mentioning a deceased person, and the city is no stranger to death. But the city is also an affirmation of life, and the band soon followed the dirge with “I’ll Fly Away”, the mirror image, which reminds us that what is grief for loved ones is bliss for the departed. Past the cemetery, the party atmosphere returned, but it is appropriate that New Orleanians will pause the party long enough to honor the dead. 

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