This is another article I wrote some years ago. I still find the message relevant, so I’m sharing it again here. I am open to hearing your thoughts.
31 July 2007
I went to a funeral today. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to hear that. Most adults have been to at least one funeral in their lives, and know that it’s one of the more difficult events we’re called to do. The pastor opened the service by saying “we’re all having mixed feelings of sadness, anger, and loss” but he prayed that we would also be able to feel joy as we remembered our loved one’s life.
I’ve been to six funerals in the past seven years, and each time it’s been a challenge to feel joy. I know cognitively through my own spiritual work that the joy is in me, but when the loss and sadness are still so fresh, joy feels very far away. After the service I said to a friend, “knowing that I’m going to feel acceptance and joy tomorrow doesn’t make my anger and sadness any easier today”. She responded, “knowing that we are spirits having a human experience doesn’t make it easier to be human”. I think I really needed to hear that. It also reminded me that every loss we experience brings up the grief of every other loss, and that helped make it OK for me to not only grieve the loss of my friend today, but to say another set of goodbyes for those I knew and those I didn’t know as well (including Tammy Faye Messner, Pete Wilson, Albert Ellis, and Coach Bill Walsh who all passed away in the last few days).
I don’t have a lesson that I’m looking to impart today, but I am reminded of the proverbial sayings “whatever you’re feeling now is OK”, and “our feelings are part of being human”. One feeling (or perhaps just an awareness) that I had was how distant we can become from each other. Sitting at my friend’s service, I realized I didn’t know how long it’d been since I’d last seen her. I know that type of realization can bring guilt, but I didn’t feel that. Instead, I’d say I felt more perturbed at how we live our busy lives distant and disconnected from each other, often giving empty promises to keep in touch. We send each other chain-letter emails and text messages, we go to movies, we tell each other we’re “fine” – but do we feel connected? As I looked around the service at the faces of dozens of grieving strangers, I wondered, when we leave here, will we go back into our separate, distant lives? Will we go back to being road-ragers, red-light-runners, line-jumpers, sidewalk-rushers, elevator-elbowers, crowd-pushers? Or can our loss serve to change how we see ourselves in the world? I think my sense of perturb got tweaked because I’m afraid that after the initial sting of the loss has softened, our lives will pretty much go back to “normal”. I remember hours after the September 11 tragedy, hearing the President encouraging us to go back to “normal”, to keep flying and shopping and living our American lives, to be “fine”. I realized then and again now, I don’t want to go back to being “fine”. I don’t want to only celebrate the lives and hearts and dreams and joy of my friends and family members at their funerals. When I came home after the service, my first thought was I’d like to call or write everyone I know and say, “I went to a funeral today, and I wanted to let you know, now, that you’re important to me and that I’m glad I’ve known you.”
“Death is just another part of life” is a phrase I’ve heard many times, but each time I hear it, I notice it doesn’t relate to anything my human experience can understand. But there’s a line from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” that does have meaning for me, especially today: “Get busy living, or get busy dying”. Not busy doing, not busy achieving, not busy getting, not busy “fine” and “normal”. But living, even if only a small part of each day; being in the present moment, taking a moment to reflect on the joy of being alive, taking a moment in gratitude for the people in our lives, taking a moment to breathe, taking a moment to be. Then maybe running one less red light, letting one person in line ahead of you, smiling to one homeless person … and telling someone you haven’t talked to in a long time why you’re glad to have known them. I think that’s living, and I think living is where we find the joy the pastor prayed for.
May you find and spread joy today.