I used to dread my brother Daniel’s call, since he only called me when someone died. Daniel lives on the same farm that I grew up on. He gets up each morning, pours a bowl of cereal, and reads the obituaries. This is the way of folks who live in a small community. Many feel that missing a funeral is like withholding support.
“Where were you?” they would ask. “What could you possibly have to do that is more important?” I feel fortunate that Daniel is the one who lives close enough to be the family representative now that our parents are gone. I hate funerals. When I was growing up, I felt cheated because of the sheer number of wakes and funerals I had attended. I would literally lie in bed at night and count up all the people I had to see in a casket. I hadn’t even graduated from college yet, and the number was around 25. They weren’t all old, either. Many young people died, many of them relatives. Also, my two closest friends each lost a sibling. Those were the toughest, and it took many years for nightmares about my own brothers’ funerals to end.
On Wednesday my brother texted me: Jon Parks died, funeral Friday. Again the sense of dread invaded my soul. The question: Do I have to go? Should I go? Generally, working in the Cities gets me out of these obligations. Relatives understand. Work comes first. Bereavement days only covered close family, not third cousins whom I hardly knew. But for whatever reason, I decided to go. I called Daniel and made the arrangements, including a few texts to his wife, to confirm the age-old question all women have to ask, “What are you going to wear?”
I got up early, showered, dressed, and got in the car, all on autopilot. As I was driving home I started to doubt my decision. Why am I going? I hadn’t seen Jon since I was in college. I ran into him in the café there while having lunch one day with Kristine, a friend from high school. Jon spotted me and came over to say hi. I’m not sure how the conversation got there, but I remember Jon giving Kristine advice on lifting weights, one of Jon’s many interests. He used to come over when my brothers were in wrestling, and coach them on lifting weights. As I was driving I figured, well, I was already on the road, so I guess I’m going. I asked God to somehow make it worth it. Help me to gain something from this day.
Careful what you ask for…
Jon was an intimidating guy. Tall and very large, he had won several bodybuilding contests, traveling several times to Russia. He had a large face and long hair that partly covered his face. He was the type of person many people would walk away from.
Father gave a very nice eulogy, not having met the guy. He asked the family about Jon, and for words to describe him. They said he was kind, loved animals, and had a soft heart. He had served in Vietnam and had a deep love for his country. He loved learning and had several degrees. A friend also stood up and spoke of Jon. Of all the funerals I’ve been to, I believe this was the first where a lay person actually spoke about the person in the casket. He did a nice job and made Jon sound like a wonderful guy, very caring, first in line to help someone out, a devout Catholic who always found a church on Sunday no matter where he was or how much time he had.
As I listened to all these comments about this man I hardly knew, and basically stayed away from because he intimidated me, I wondered how many others I was missing out on because of worldly judgments, avoidance, and fear. How many people out there are living alone, lonely, wishing they had a family, friends to share a meal with, to talk to, to take care of them, to understand their pain, to support them, and to miss them when they are gone, and who are avoided because they are “different?” I’m not saying Jon was that guy, alone and miserable. Jon had family who obviously cared about him a great deal, and an awesome friend who took time out of his week to prepare a eulogy and speak at his funeral. How many of us have a friend who thinks so highly of us that they would do that? As I said, I’ve been to countless funerals and this is the first one in my recollection that included a friend that spoke.
The answer to my question, and the point God was making in my request to “get something out of the day,” was that there are really neat people out there that we – I – have to stop avoiding and start to SEE. Children of God who have talents and gifts to be shared, living in a world that judges so harshly on appearance that the world is totally missing it. Too many of us judge – we criticize, and we condemn those who are different than us. We walk away when we should walk forward. We are missing out on the great joy of heavenly-sent richness in human beings. I believe everyone has a unique personality that should be embraced and shared, yet we avoid anything that is different because it is uncomfortable and unaccepted by others. While everyone is trying to be like everyone else, fitting in and avoiding those who rebel against that premise, we are missing out on what God’s unique purpose is for us. We need to trust God and be authentic, embrace our differences, learn from each other, and enjoy His unique creations.
Who can you reach out to today?
By A Member of the 4th Day