In the Summer of 2008 I was sitting in a chapel beside a stain glass window that shed golden tones over my face, my hair and my hands clasped in my lap. I was attending a funeral.*
The California church was Episcopal, and the priest was in high church garb. Although Debbie and I and our boss for the summer, were dressed up, I noticed that some of the visitors wore jeans, tank tops and flip-flops. The ceremony seemed usual until the priest was finished with his message.
As a way of introducing the moment for people to come forward and talk about Robert, he compared our lives to a kaleidoscope. Each life is composed of various facets and colors that make up the unique pattern of an individual. Those who know us contribute to the our total image by being able to describe that facet of us which has touched them in a unique way. . . or at least that’s as much as I understood before I started wondering about my own facet-holders.
Recent friends of Robert’s were asked to begin. It was announced that family would go last. As they spoke their tributes to him, several Forest Service co-workers recounted individual anecdotes about the professional side of him. Our boss talked about how much he had helped her start a new business in the valley and made her feel welcome to the area. A couple of friends from college spoke about his flamboyant lifestyle. Then a long-time friend gave the early 70’s radically glitzy account of him. The closest childhood friend recounted boyhood anecdotes and recent compassionate and touching memories of him as a man who suffered.
Then, we were whip-lashed as the family’s appointed brother read a formal statement that sounded much like an anticipated rebuttal of any of these previous facets experienced by others.
The service ended with a hoedown style sing-along. Most participants jumped to their feet, clapping and swaying and struggling to follow the lyrics to an old recording of the Spirit In The Sky, nearly shouting the chorus, however.
I left with a complex portrait of the man I only met twice. The last time, he was only two weeks from dying of AIDS. For the visitors at the funeral, the pieces were disjointed, Picasso-like. It wasn’t a self-portrait, of course. Robert may have recognized himself with no feeling of being fragmented or he may have been surprised.
I’m challenged by this experience. What do people know about each other that an individual cannot know about himself by pure introspection? In all probability, volumes.
* This post is was written 3 yrs ago.