I was walking down the road the other day and I had my iPod so my music was in my ears, and I was walking along in time to the music, and singing (in my head, I'm not yet that disinhibited) and it was sunny, and I was having a Good Day, and I think I was even smiling.
I was thinking how life is good, and this song makes me happy, and full of the joy of living and being in your family.
Then I came to our church, and just at the kerb were a series of funeral cars, and the hearse was there with the pallbearers lifting a coffin onto their shoulders. The vicar was there in his robes leading the mourners up the path into church and people were crying and leaning into each other. Everyone was in black. Couples were holding hands, clutching tissues and grief was visible on their faces.
I stopped abruptly about fifty yards away. I needed to walk past, but weaving through the throng wasn't on. I glanced across the road as it crossed my mind to walk on the other pavement for a way but the road was busy and people had stopped on the opposite side out of respect as well. I yanked out my earphones and turned off the music and stood still and watched. It only took a couple of minutes for the crowd to move off into church.
The coffin top was full of flowers; pink and purple and white and lime green foliage. Gerberas and lilies and carnations and roses. Someone had chosen them with care. They were lovely. I don't suppose the beauty of the flowers made anyone feel any better. I don't suppose it mattered to anyone in their party that it was a bright sunny day and spring seemed to be prematurely in the air. It was very sad.
I carried on where I was going but I didn't put the music back on. The moment had gone.
Life and death, hey.
Funeral processions always remind me that someone is always having a worse day than I'm having.
I'm so used to having that thought about funerals that I had it as I watched the cars pull up in front of our house on the day of my Dad's funeral. 'Someone's having a worse day than me.' Hot on the heels of that thought was another which said, 'Not today they're not.' I guess that somewhere in the world someone was indeed having a worse day, being tortured or burying their child instead of their Daddy, but you couldn't have said that to me on that day. It wouldn't have been a good idea to suggest it.
And there were those people, so sad because they were saying goodbye to someone they loved. I felt tears behind my eyes just standing a distance away and witnessing it.
I don't know what I'm trying to say, here, Lord. In the midst of life, we are in death, is that it? All I know is that I was thrown into confusion in an instant. Brought up short. Like on a film where there's boisterous music and then something happens and the music stops with an abrupt Zzzzzppp noise. (I know you know what I mean. If you're omnipresent you've certainly seen at least one film where that happens). Anyway.
How fragile are we, Lord?
A friend of mine miscarried this week. Another friend and former colleague is sitting in intensive care right now as I type, not knowing if her Mum will get better after a heart attack. I know of some people precious to me who are nursing a seriously ill friend of theirs who is surely dying. Some family friends called in tonight on their way back down south after attending the funeral of a lifelong friend of theirs.
We're all affected by it, aren't we? I've cried for my friend whose tiny tiny baby died. I'm worried for my friend that her Mum might die. I'm sad for the people who are watching someone they love inch closer to death. I sympathise with those who said farewell to a friend this afternoon. I had a tear in my eye as I saw the grief of the strangers outside church the other day.
John Donne said:
'No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.' (Meditation XVII)The ripples spread further than we think.
I don't know who that funeral was for, Father, but in death, that person touched me.
How fragile is life, Lord. How short, and how delicate. We look at butterflies and marvel that they only live for such a short time, and we pity them, because we can't see beyond our threescore years and ten, (and another couple of decades, hopefully...) but we are like that to you, aren't we? This life is over in a blink and the longer and more wonderful part is yet to come. I guess we shouldn't lose sight of that.
It's a fine line between enjoying the here and now because you want us to enjoy all the gifts you have for us, and not realising that the here and now will be back there and back then before we even notice that it's gone.
I don't know what else to say. It was a powerful moment that changed my day. Not as much as those of the folks at the funeral, of course. I went on to where I was going and I still had a Good Day, but there was something profound about that moment when I went from happyhappyhappy, walking along feeling that my life was painted in bright colours, with happy sounds and lots of exclamation marks, and then...whoosh...to a silent, stalled standstill and achingly sad for a group of people that I didn't know.
Thankyou for the happiness I felt as I walked down the road the other sunny morning, for the sun and the music and whatever it was in me that was singing away. Thankyou for the love that those people at the funeral had for the person they were missing. Thankyou that you care about us whether we are euphoric or at rock bottom, and all the shades in between.
Thankyou that you have promised us something wonderful when we die, Lord, and that the knowledge of that actually changes things in this life, now, today and tomorrow.