Several years ago, at the end of a very long day, I wrote a few lines and filed them away in my “Articles to be Written” folder.
This evening, at the end of a very long and stressful week, I paused for a few minutes of reflection. As I often do, at times such as this, I sat in my comfy chair and scrolled through my files. That’s when I found a document written several years ago in my “Articles to be Written” folder. At the end of a long and stressful day I wrote the following lines, intending to come back and finish them some day. I share them with you now as I found them a few minutes ago.
I attended a funeral today.
The deceased was not a close friend. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, I never met him. He was a relative of members of my church family. I attended the funeral in support of them.
The viewing preceded the memorial service. When I entered the funeral home, I was surprised to see a group of young people—perhaps a few teens, most appeared to be in their early twenties—huddled in front of a television set in the lobby. They were sobbing as they watched a quickly-thrown-together-but-nicely-done video. There were numerous still shots of a handsome young man with his friends, his family members, and an abundance of images of the deceased with his girlfriend, whom he was planning ask to marry him on the day in which he died. His girlfriend’s older brother stood slightly outside the group, quietly dobbing the steady stream of tears which flowed from his eyes.
After watching the video, I stepped inside the sanctuary. It was steadily beginning to reach capacity as mourners passed by the open casket to pay their respects and then take their seats on the pews. The memorial service was to begin any moment. Because seating was limited, I decided to stand at the back of the room.
While I was standing there I heard a raspy-voiced man say to the woman sitting next to him, “How do you show sympathy for someone who wasn’t supposed to die?”
His words seemed to capture the thoughts behind the many bewildered expressions on the faces of people in the room. The deceased was young. He was healthy. He had already survived a two-year tour of military duty in Iraq. He was a hard worker. He was planning on getting engaged. His whole life was ahead of him. And, then he was dead.
Evidently, he fell asleep while driving home after working the third shift at a steel mill. It was just after eight o’clock in the morning on a beautiful Sunday morning when his life all-too-suddenly ended in a single-car accident on the interstate state highway passing through our city.
As I stood leaning against the back wall awaiting the start of the funeral, several thoughts came to mind. Please believe me when I say that I didn’t go there looking for something to write. But, something found me when I attended a funeral today. I observed:
1. Funerals are “Humanizers,” aren’t they? We spend so much time around other people without ever getting to know them. Our neighborhoods sometimes feel like extended stay motels. We pass by people without giving them the time of day. Sometimes, we pay about as much attention to people as we do the potted plants in the foyers of the buildings we enter. But that all changes at funerals. We notice people. We often see them in a different light. We see their agony. We feel their love. Even if we don’t have time, we make time to listen, to sympathize. We care.
2. It has been said so many times in so many different ways, but it was so evident today. It seems to me that funerals are effective “Equalizers,” as well.
3. Funeral are “Harmonizers.” They bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise be together. I knew very few people in that sanctuary. But, I wasn’t just there with them. I was was there, with them. The poignancy of the moment, the promise of hope beyond this life, and the power of so many loving embraces, created a harmonious ambiance that was permeated the place.
4. Funerals are also “Prioritizers.” They have a way of gently nudging us to examine our own lives. We can become so caught up in the hustle, hurry and worry of every day living that our lives take on a mechanical feel. Up in the morning and off to work. Work hard all day and go home exhausted. Shower. Eat. Do what you’ve gotta’ get done before you go to bed. Fall into bed too late. Get too little. Wake too early and head off to work. Funerals have a way of causing us to ask whether or not we are truly following our passions. Are we living into the purpose for which we were put here?
That’s where it ended. I don’t recall whether I had a number five in mind and got interrupted, or if I just thought there should be another observation. What I do know is this: Having experienced the deaths of several family members in recent years, I’m glad I wrote this back then, because reading these lines has helped me process things that have been weighing on my heart lately. I won’t list them here. If you have read this far, you know what they are. And, if you have read this far, I hope these reflections will help you process a few burdens as well.
Blessings to all who pass this way.
© Bill Williams, a fellow sojourner