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Keys to life: WD-40, duct tape, pimento cheese

Guests get a kick out of Susan Sparks' keynote address. Guests get a kick out of Susan Sparks' keynote address.

FLAT ROCK — You never know when you might go.

"Think of the women on the Titanic that night who said no to dessert," said the Rev. Susan Sparks, Brevard native, lawyer, stand-up comic and ordained Baptist minister at historic church in Manhattan, quoting Erma Bombeck.
IMG 0022Susan Sparks entertains at the Women Helping Women lunch.Sparks was the keynote speaker for the Pardee Hospital Foundation's annual Women Helping Women fundraiser that this year celebrated "The Healing Power of Humor and the Men Who Help Women Heal."
This year's event raised more than $134,000, exceeding its goal, Pardee officials announced.
People regard New York as a great place to live, Sparks said, with shows, nightlife and exotic flavor. Not so, she said.
"I could not find one place that sold pimento cheese," she said. "Who wants to live in a town that doesn't sell pimento cheese?"
WD-40 and duct tape, she said, will fix every problem because every problem comes down to two things.
"Either it doesn't move and it should, or it moves and it shouldn't, which is true of doors, relationships, everything," she said.
She hasn't gotten used to the abrupt and short greetings of New Yorkers.
In the South a greeting is an elaborate five-step drama. "You've got this tiny word and you make it a great big word ... Heyyyaayy" followed by a series of meaningless sounds followed by a comment about how good you look followed by a compliment about an article of clothing followed by an inquiry about a family member: "Heyyyaayy, you look great, those are cute shoes, how's your mama?"
A lawyer for 10 years, first in Atlanta and then New York City, Sparks had gone into standup comedy when she got the call to go into the ministry, "either that or indigestion." She thought the call might be wrong number, given that "I grew up in a denomination that didn't ordain women and I was in a church that didn't laugh a lot."
She threw everything she owned into storage, moved out and traveled to India where she worked in an orphanage with Mother Teresa.
Back in the U.S., still trying to find answers, she drove across country in her Jeep Wrangler, ended up in Texas and after pulling off an interstate highway in a storm sought refuge in a cowboy boot store. She blubbered her heart out to the clerk, telling about her call to the clergy and the mixed signals she received back because no one wanted a lawyer or a standup comic to be a minister.
"And rather than call 911, which I would have done, she said I know what you need and she went in the back and came out with the most beautiful pair of cowboy boots and she said, 'Honey, you need a pair of preachin' boots.'" Sparks was wearing the preachin' boots on the stage Friday.
It pays to be like Ruth Graham, who, riding with her husband Billy, observed a highway sign and said "I want that on my tombstone." And so it came to pass. On her headstone are these words: "Construction finished. Thank you for your patience."
It doesn't matter how many riches you have, she said, because "the size of our funeral is always going to depend on the weather."
"People don't seem to get the connection between humor and spirituality," she told the audience. "If you don't take anything else from this luncheon today, this is why I do what I do in a nutshell. If you can laugh at yourself, if you can find the courage, the strength to laugh at yourself then you can forgive yourself, and if you can forgive yourself, then you can forgive others, and there it is. Grace is about empathy and forgiveness."
At a workshop for ministers, Sparks took a clown class taught by a hospice clown named Shooby Dooby. Shooby Dooby had ministered to a young girl named Beth who was dying of cancer. Beth asked where she would go when she died. Why heaven, of course, Shooby said. "Where will you go? Beth asked. "To clown heaven," Shooby said.

"Where's that?" Beth asked.
"That's where the balloons go when you let them go and they float up into the sky."
"I want to go there," Beth said. "How can I go there?"
Shooby had a spare clown nose in her bag. She put one on Beth. "All you have to do is go out with your nose on." A few days later, when Beth died, she went out with her nose on.
Sparks urged the large congregation of women to live life with grace and dignity and humor.
"We have to go out with our nose on," she said.