Friday, March 11, 2011

The Funeral

It was not my funeral, by which I mean both that I was not up front, in the box and that I had no right to be there. I had crashed the funeral of a stranger, and I admit that that fact caused me a little trouble.

Yet somehow I had managed my discomfort, since there I was.

It was a lovely ceremony, overall. The eulogies were appropriately touching and tearful, and everyone had glowing things to say about the deceased, a peaceful-looking white man who looked to be in his mid-sixties from the view I got on my way in. I’d never met him, as I’d said, but I was never called upon to speak, so my lack of specific knowledge didn’t hinder my experience much.

Afterward there was coffee and commiseration. Vague pleasantries were exchanged, we recited the standard platitudes reserved for situations like this, said how sorry we were for one another’s losses, and how badly he’d be missed. We commented on how lively he was in life and how we still couldn’t quite believe he was gone. We talked about how much he’d affected our lives.

I was lying, of course. He hadn’t affected my life in any way, the stranger they’d put into a box and then into the ground. He couldn’t. I’d never even heard of him until that day, I’d chosen the funeral at random and was attending on a whim. And I couldn’t help wondering, as I moved among the bereaved, how many of the people gathered were lying too.

Because nobody had anything negative to say about this man, no unkind word was once spoken, and a human life can not be lived that way. If you’ve touched enough people to populate a funeral, you’re bound to have pissed a few of them off. That’s simply the way of things, it can‘t be avoided.

But, whatever sins this man had committed in life, whatever flaws and shortcomings the people who cared about him had suffered through, the act of death had washed away and, baptised in entropy, he had emerged pure, flawless. Beautiful.

Loved unconditionally by all.

And, moreover, the people gathered at his funeral had, for one day, put aside their petty grievances and gripes against one another in the spirit of the event. They clung to one another with an unexpressed desperation, aware that anyone can be lost forever in the blink of an eye, and that every moment in this life is precious. They loved each other there, over coffee and finger food, truly and deeply, and they knew that life was short, sometimes tragically short. A body in a box at the front of the room focuses the mind on such things. It brings remarkable clarity. Reminds you of what’s important.

And on my way home, I was overcome with grief that I had never known this no doubt flawed, troubled man who nonetheless brought out so much affection in so many people. I had only heard the best that people had to say about him, true, but that best was very good. He seemed the sort of man I’d like to know, and the knowledge that I’d never get that opportunity caused my faux outpouring of grief to become strangely genuine. In life, this stranger had touched the lives of a roomful of people, had changed them each in turn in some fundamental way. And in death, he had similarly touched me.

This was not my funeral, no. And no, I did not deserve to be there. But there I was, and it was beautiful.

And I will one day have a funeral.

And I can only hope my passing will have a similar impact.

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