“I’m a go with the flow kind of guy, at least I try to be, I like a well run liturgy, acolytes who know what they are doing, you know, what we all want.” When my collared friend, not of this parish, said this to me I thought “Yeah, sure. That makes sense.” But upon reflection, and in light of the past couple of weeks here at St. Alban’s, my friend’s words don’t ring as true to me. Perhaps, I really am far more at home in the mess.
I often joke that when God was making us he looked around at the bits that were left here and there on the floor and said, “I can get one more outta this.” I don’t mean that in some cutsey self-mocking way. I have never felt cohesive, or of one thing. I have always felt a bit of a dog’s breakfast, but in a good way. A way that the odd parts turned out to be of some use. Like all the weird twists and turns in life; if you’re paying attention, they can help you out later.
When I was little, and in a Roman Catholic Grammar school, the sisters decided that each class would send one boy and one girl (properly behaved) to any and all funerals that were said in the parish. I, and my one true love, Billy Barrett, were chosen to represent the first grade. For reasons still not entirely clear to me, the sisters had the pairs of children (eight pairs in all) follow the casket down the nave, through the doors, and line the pavement next to the hearse. We were to stand there while the casket was loaded into the back of the hearse. I’m standing there, pious as all get out, when Billy decides to pinch my arm: hard. My eyes well up with tears, he might be my one true love, but I am so gonna sock him behind the grotto. Before we are dismissed, one of the mourners comes up to me and presses a silver half-dollar in my white gloved palm.
“Thank you,” he says.
Now, I’d love to tell you that at that moment a light went on and I realized a capacity within me for empathy. No, I was a dopey five-year-old, I had visions of Tootsie Rolls swimming in my head. But, in one of those weird twists and turns, the lesson did come out in the end. Our joys are light, we can hold them aloft with a single hand. But our pain and our burdens are heavy and we need help to carry them. Sometimes we have to let strangers help because there is no other way.
So for all the beautiful music and liturgy, the symbolism and the art, the true beauty of a funeral, to me, is that we allow others to help us bury our dead.