Story by Kloipy (Seth Dombach)
He stood shoulder to shoulder with the other mourners. They formed a black mass, slowly swaying from side to side in rhythmic time together. Huddled together under the tent from the rain, it felt almost to him that they were in their own little world, a piece that had been lost from the rest of society. A tiny square filled with grief and tears. He looked around at the group of people, some he knew, others he didn’t. Some faces wore sadness as a foundation which was slowly crumbling down their cheeks. Some seemed to stare off into nothing, glassy eyes searching for an unoccupied spot to not be noticed in. A balding man snuck a look down to his watch. Are you wondering what time the game is on? He thought to himself. He watched out of the corner of his eye as two young children, no more than eight, batted at each other until their mother put a stop to it with a sharp glare. Oh to be that young and with that ignorance of death. At that age, even a funeral is just another place to play.
It was mid October, and the winds had brought a chill along with them. It didn?t bother him at all, his mind too wrapped up to feel its whisper on his face. A few of the women had started to cry but no one was in hysterics. Here in the face of mortality, one has to show humility. To weep openly in these times is only disingenuous when we all know the certainty of life. His gaze fell upon the bouquets of flowers lining the coffin. These brightly colored creatures in the height of their bloom. Faces open to catch the falling rain staring to the heavens with awe. But for the first time he found it peculiar.
These flowers are already dead, taken at their most beautiful, but dead none the less. They look up, but in a day their heads will bow and their color will fall. How odd that they die when picked from the soil but we only go there to die. Then do we not feed the soil in which they are given life again? Do we become those flowers that grow from our flesh, and are we recycled over and over again, feeding the dead, harvesting the living? Perhaps there are fields of us, bending and reaching for each other in the breeze.
The ground was becoming soft and yielding from the rain. Preparing to open for its new companion like a lover awaiting an embrace. Someone coughed as people often do in crowds, as if just to break the silence. A man with determined eyes and a somber face made his way up to the front of the group. He held his Bible to his chest like a mother with her child to her breast, except he was fed by the child. The mass seemed to raise its head in unison as if this was a routine, unwritten rules of how to handle these situations followed by all. He didn’t recognize the preacher, perhaps the family decided. Looking to a stranger to tell those closest who we were. Maybe silence would be better. Or at least speak as much truth. He thought.
“Friends, we are here today, under the loving eyes of God, not to mourn, but to celebrate the life of Paul Richards. This is not a day for tears of sadness, but for tears of joy, for he has gone home! As this life ends, the next one begins; such is this journey of ours. Paul never had any children, but he treated all he knew like family. He always made time for those he loved, and now let us give our time back to him. To remember the life that was and to be thankful for the time we have with each other. I would like to read Paul’s favorite passage from Psalms. Let’s bow our heads and focus on the meaning of the words, what they mean to us, and what they meant for Paul. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” the pastor continued the Psalm with an intention of reaching out to touch the hearts of the people. His voice was strong and he punctuated the key words in his speech to make sure he was truly heard.
But the man knew different. While the others bowed their heads in reverence he could only wonder how many times this speech has been given, just with different names. He knew Paul didn’t have a favorite passage, because Paul didn’t believe in God. And if God was looking down on Paul with loving eyes, the joke would be on the both of them.
“Amen. And with that, friends, let us go out into the world and honor man’s life by finding appreciation in ours. We walk into the day with a hope that touches our hearts and our spirit. A hope that teaches us to grasp our time here and take advantage of the gifts that are all around us. May God bless you all.” With that note the preacher shut his Bible to finalize the ceremony.
One by one the cell started to divide. Tears were wiped from faces. Some embraced. Some shook hands and said goodbye. Umbrellas opened. Polished shoes splashed with mud that would dry and harden on the front step. People made their way to the cars parked in neat orderly fashion. Sounds of engines starting filled in between the rain, radios resuming in the middle of songs about love, with the windshield wipers providing the beat. Some people going to get on with their days, some to meet for food and to fill the quiet spots with laughter. The preacher gathering his things and running out into the rain. And soon they were all gone except for the man.
He stood on the green rug covering the ground, standing in for the grass. An earring was lost on the ground. An empty audience for a cancelled play. A graveyard filled with mute spectators, watching forever. Witness to people at their most vulnerable. We pay so much for the best spot, the nicest coffin, the most elegant tombstone; as if money can buy preservation. Pharaohs would mummify themselves to gracefully enter the next life. Don’t we continue that tradition? Although it means nothing we place ourselves in comfort. Bury ourselves in suits. Being dapper and dead. They sew our eyes shut to keep us in quiet repose, eternal rest. But we wander blindly through life, so I guess that’s good enough for death as we. He thought
He closed his eyes and listened to the rain fall. It felt as if he could hear each drop, crashing to the ground to give up its existence. He pictured the earth sighing as it took in the drink, lips eager for each sip. He thought back to the flowers. They are always the same flower, but we only appreciate them when they bloom. When it’s already too late. We always wish they would hold out for just one more day so that beauty doesn’t leave us so soon. But they can’t and we wish we would have noticed long before when we had the chance.
When he opened his eyes again, an old man was standing beside him, just looking forward. They stood together, the tent now gone, only the rain splashing their faces.
“It never seems long enough does it?” the old man said
“No, I guess it doesn’t.”
“It’s just a blink to the universe, but time seems to stand still in these moments.”
They stood together for a moment, reading the silence until the old man spoke again
“How old was this young man?”
“He was only 34. Must make you feel pretty good to have lived as long as you did” he said without sarcasm
“Ha! It’s funny because all young people think the same thing. They think ‘If only I could live this long or that long, things would be great’ but that’s a lie. With age comes nothing but pain. Sure you see many things, some of them beautiful, but you also live through the hurt of losing everyone you love. I’ve loved so many people and I’ve had to watch them all die and it’s never any easier. Do you understand?”
He nodded. They stood in silence again. Side by side like old friends. Looking off into the distance seemed to calm the man. It just seemed to go on forever, no stopping point here, no horizon. If he looked behind him he knew he wouldn?t see a beginning and that made him feel even better. A place where time is irrelevant, just a being moving forward eternally. The ground was now covered deep in snow. Icicles hung off the marble angels like frozen tears. Naked trees swung their arms back and forth. Finally the old man turned and kissed him on the forehead.
“The joke is always there Paul. It’s just never as funny the second time around. Are you ready?”
Paul looked over at himself for the last time.
“Yes, guess I always have been.”
And with that they were gone.