Tuesday, June 19

The Answers None Of Us Have

I went to a funeral today.

My new (seven months) job has placed me smack in the middle of a business family, some with very tight relationships going back 15 years or so. My skills, personality, and outsider status have, so far, proven to be a catalyst for change this company needs. I am respected, I think, despite my "new" ideas, unintended faux pas, and have become an accepted member of this culture. When a long-time employee and respected sales person's spouse died a rather untimely, but not unexpected, death from cancer, the passionate and compassionate circle that is my workplace surrounded the widow. I have not made friends with, nor do I care for, the surviving employee in question. I do not know, have never met, her late husband.

I am, according to our social chieftan and progressive boss, a member of an elite managerial team, the missing leg of a table that has been heretofore unstable. Therefore, despite my begrudged respect in some quarters, I was expected to attend one of the most important and sacred events of someone's life, and by extension, his family, in-laws, and others with whom I am not worthy to participate. To not attend the service would be political suicide.

It was an ignoble endeavor on my part, in what should be a man's most noble day.

I am ashamed.

I drove, alone, to the service. I stood in the long line of friends, family, coworkers, and other well wishers. All of them knew the deceased, or the persons "he is survived by." The congregation was composed of so many, from so many parts of the world he so obviously loved. His grieving widow. His proud younger brother. His in-laws. Step relatives. Black friends. Hispanic friends. Jewish friends. Gay and lesbian friends. Workaday folks dressed in dirty construction uniforms, taking a rare unpaid half day to show their respects. A young man in an ill-fitting suit. A pregnant woman days away from delivery. Like Joseph's coat, the congregation was a beautiful mishmash of everything under God's benevolent gaze.

Except for me. I listened to the simple hymns, simple so that everyone could participate, but I did not know the melodies. I longed to recite the simple prayers, simple so that everyone could participate, but I did not know the words. I stumbled through the congregation's responses to the priest, murmured The Lord's Prayer, the only one I knew by heart. But I did not belong, did not know the Communion of Faith.

Throughout the Catholic funeral mass and Eucharist I did not fully understand, I was the outsider. As an atheist, I could not comprehend the community, the surety, the comfort of faith. I wondered why they believed. I wondered why it was important. I wondered why we fight over it. I marvelled; I cried. I saw comfort in the sharing of belief, of solace in knowing a truth I don't understand. I am ignorant, jealous, unworthy. I am a sinner, if there is such a thing.

I have no answers. I ask for none, for none will suffice. I know only that I am somehow adrift, pondering eternal problems for which my belief, or lack thereof, has no solution. My belief, my understanding, my spririt, are unshaken, yet I find no solace. And I ask and ask and ask and ask, forgetting that is not about me, but about a man I don't know, who has left this world sure in his belief.

I went to a funeral today, and I am ashamed.

3 comments:

Cravey said...

There is no shame in participating in paying respect to a life lived, and a person loved.

When my brother died, my stepmom said "I don't know how you get through this without faith" I said "I don't know how faith would help" - I am not ashamed of that, I think you do what you can with what you have.

It was good of you to go., and better of you to write.
JC

rennratt said...

Hear this, my friend - and understand.

Not with your ears, but with your heart.

The very fact that you WENT means more than you will ever know. The fact that you stayed, in spite of your discomfort, means even more.

As one who has recently lost a beloved family member, I can PROMISE you. More than you know, the widow - and your co-workers - will respect and appreciate you going.

Do NOT be ashamed for stepping out of your comfort zone.

They may never mention it, so I will:

THANK YOU for going.

tiff said...

What they said.

When I first read this, I couldn't comment. The deep and evident hurt were stinging, and I didnt' think there was anything I could say.

And then, they said it. Thanks ladies - you took that big knot of hurt in my throat and unravelled it for me.