Up until the time I was a freshman in school our family had been extremely lucky at the death game. My grandfather's brother had died but other than that we did not have to deal with death much. I was a pall bearer at Uncle Art's funeral but I didn't have to do much of anything. I had one of my strong uncles in front of me and another behind me as we carried the casket to the waiting hearse. I don't remember much about that funeral except it was a Catholic funeral and it was the first time I witnessed how much excersize the Catholics did during the course of a service. Standing kneeling and standing and kneeling again it seemed like a lot of work compared to my Baptist upbringing. We just had to stand when we sang a hymn and even then it wasn't a rule as sometimes we sat while singing hymns.
My freshman year I had become infatuated with a young lady named Patty. In my eyes Patty was beautiful. I think she was beautiful in a lot of peoples eyes. She had a dark complexion with cat like eyes. Her hair was long and straight and looked soft. I spent all year trying to work up the courage to ask her out on a date. Asking girls out on a date before you are sixteen can be a very uncomfortable position. Both you and the girl know that your parents will be driving you on the date and picking you up from the date. It is not something that exactly encourages romance during those few hours.
Finally one day the school announced that there would be a dance in a few weeks. It would be an after school dance so I would not have to depend on my parents to drive us there but rather just to pick us up after the dance was over. I saw Patty that day in my English class and I knew I wanted to ask her out. After about three days I worked up the courage and with sweaty palms and a cracking voice asked her if she would go to the dance with me. When she said yes I felt like I wasn't in reality at all but dreaming. Had she really said yes to my invitation? Yes she had. I began looking forward to the dance intensely. I started taking time to talk to Patty between classes to try to get to know her before the big day. We had several classes together so I was able to walk her to class. She seemed to be enjoying my presence and I slowly began to think that perhaps she was looking forward to the dance as much as I was.
Two days before the dance we received terrible news. Death had touched our family again. My great grandmother had died. It wasn't really unexpected as she was very old and had been having problems for a while. The timing was awful though. I was told that I would be going to the funeral and that I would just have to cancel the date with Patty. The next day I went to school and told her. To my surprise she didn't seem that upset. This bothered me even more. I had worked so hard to get up the nerve to ask her and then when I cancel she responds with a simple "okay". Crushed I resolved myself to go to the funeral.
I don't remember much of the funeral to be honest. I had loved my great grandmother a great deal. She had taught me things about the Bible and had always been a great cook. She had a tough life and I suppose it was fair to give her back after being blessed with her all those years. I remember sitting with her one time when I was little and she was writing out bills. As she was signing one of the checks she stopped and looked at me. She pointed to the "D" that was her middle initial and told me she never mentioned what her middle name was. Her middle name was the same name as the wickedest woman in the Bible and she was ashamed of having it tied to her like a ball and chain for life. I later learned the name she hated so was that of Delilah of Sampson and Delilah fame. Looking back this still gives me a chuckle.
The procession from the church at which her funeral was held and the cemetery where she would be laid to rest next to husband was a long drive between two towns in south Missouri. It was during this ride that I noticed how people are fascinated with the dead and the rituals we go through at the time of death.
I sat in the back seat of my dad's car staring out the window. Cars passing us had several different reactions. Some cars I noticed would slow down or even stop. Others you could see them staring at us and they looked almost as sad as our family was during the drive. One car full of kids drove by honking their horn and waving. Some men would remove their hats as the funeral procession passed.
This fascinated me. Why would people who we didn't know or had ever seen have on sad faces as we passed? Why would men show the ultimate sign of respect by removing their hats in honor of the person who was to be buried that day? I didn't understand it then and I am not sure I understand it now.
Even though I don't understand it I still show respect to the family and to the one lost in death as they pass me. Respect is one of the things that ties us all together as a community whether it be a small community of people in a small town or the community of the world. Respect should be in attendance and in its appropriate place. Having survived life on this earth for any amount of time can be considered respect worthy. Life on this planet isn't easy and anyone who dares to live on this planet deserves the respect due them when they leave this earth. I firmly believe that.
A funeral procession represents a life and everyone in that funeral procession represents all the lives that the deceased person touch during their life time. A procession is not a parade to be honked at and waved to. A funeral procession is the last ride a body will take until it is laid to rest forever and a day. I know this because I took my wife to see my great grandmothers resting place. Next to her was my great grandfathers grave, a man I had never known. I respect him though. I respect him from the stories I have heard about him. I still respect my great grandmother because of the woman I knew who lies there now.
I learned a valuable lesson the day of that funeral and it is a lesson I carry the results of with me when I see a funeral procession My hope in writing this is that at least one person will be moved to think about the life that is represented the next time he comes across a funeral procession. Death always leaves a hole in others lives somewhere. The cycle will continue until the world comes to an end. Death takes no holidays and there is not a family on this earth that is immune from death. Show respect to those who leave this world before you and you will be shown respect at the time you leave this world.
The dance with Patty and missing that dance seemed to be a rather small occurrence in the whole scheme of things.