Welcome to day 9 of 31 Days of Kissing the Wounds, a month of posts about the beauty, longing, and soul inherent in our damaged selves; in the world’s brokenness; in the imperfection, incompleteness, and transience of all that we love; in our recognition of each other as the walking wounded; and in the jagged, messy, splintery, deformed, sullied, unhealed parts of me, you, the natural world, our communities, the culture. Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others. I won’t attempt to tie them together.
Today, I went to a memorial service / celebration of life for a neighbour and friend who died in July. It was held in a simple, small Quaker meeting house, which was crowded with chairs, probably 75 people, maybe 15 of whom were family. Someone explained how a Quaker celebration of life goes: Some silence, then as people are led by an inward light and prompting, they can stand and speak their memories, stories, thoughts and feelings about the deceased, then let a minute or two or more of silence separate one person’s thoughts from another’s, and end with a handshake from the meeting leader after about 45 minutes.
Sounded good. We had a couple of minutes of silence, then a family member spoke about her father, choking back tears, and then, seconds after she sat down, before I could really process what she said, beyond the grief, someone else spoke. And so it went, with virtually no silence in between probably 12 or 15 stories, jokes, fond farewells, moments of deep human insight and tenderness. Most everything that was said felt true, touching, important, and yet I also had the feeling I was at a cocktail party, the words were coming so quickly, the laughter a little too much, the constant talking a shield held up in defense. I, if no one else, needed more silence and space between the words, the memories, the barrage of personalities speaking, the intensity of feeling.
And then, so fast, the handshake came and it was all over. It was over before I had said what I wanted to say, before I think many had said what they wanted to say. I felt there were stories and memories simmering, unable to come to the boiling point because we kept opening the lid. What was said seemed heartfelt, but the pace still felt frenetic to me, in a way that Quaker meetings and weddings never have. But I haven’t been to a Quaker memorial service before, so I wondered if it was because death was our focus, making some of us uneasy and impatient with quiet, fearful of time to think or feel too much.
Of course, these stories will be told in other settings, and it’s all fine. I think the family felt supported and held in our love.
I had tears in my eyes most of the hour, listening to his daughters and son telling stories, talking about their relationship with their dad. Especially his son, who said he hadn’t felt he had a dad until his dad retired, and then in these past 10 or more years, his dad had become his best friend. “I’ve lost my best friend,” he said, wonderingly. I knew some of my tears were about my friend, his wife (also my friend), his family … and some were for my own dad, his death in 2010, my loss. Isn’t that how it always is at these rituals, these funerals and weddings, milestone birthdays and anniversaries? The edges of our past and present experiences blur and bleed into someone else’s moment? We intermingle so poignantly sometimes.
What I wanted to say was that this man, during one of the worst times in my life (and not a great night in his life, either), had offered me reassurance and had done what was in his power to help me, to make it better for me, when he could have made my life so much worse. He was a generous, compassionate, perceptive man, and I miss him. (Another instance of his perception: When he and his wife were planning to bring me back a trinket from an island vacation, she was thinking about jewelry and he, having known me only a year or two, reminded her that I rarely wear jewelry. That’s true, but few people, and fewer men over 70, notice it.)
Anyway, I came home and this poem said what I feel now.
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go. — Pablo Neruda
So — “perhaps a huge silence / might interrupt this sadness / of never understanding ourselves / and of threatening ourselves with death. / Perhaps the earth can teach us / as when everything seems dead / and later proves to be alive.”
Let us sometimes have silence together.
Thanks for checking in. And be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers wrote about.