People I don’t know very well tend to ask me this question: “Remember in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when…?” Without waiting for an answer, they continue their story because of course everyone in the world has seen it. If you don’t know me, I understand that assumption.
Most people spent their good-old-days years building their repertoire of movie quotes and pop culture knowledge. My boyfriend is one of those people. He has an arsenal of movie references that would liken that of everyone the next three towns over combined. I swear if he’s seen a movie one time he’s memorized the entire script and every stage direction on the spot.
Sometimes he forgets who he’s talking to, and he tries to use a punch line reference to a quote from “Anchorman” or a Chris Farley skit. When I don’t react, he deflates. “What did you do growing up?” he says. And the answer is always, “I read.” His time of watching Nickelodeon and MTV was my time of reading Harry Potter and Number the Stars.
So of course, my favorite classes and teachers were those that dealt with words and the worlds that are created when they are put together in just the right way.
I had one teacher who was especially masterful with choosing her words – both the words she’d have us read, and the words she’d say. There are words she mentioned once that I have been mulling over since the day she expressed them, eleven long and winding years ago.
Always go to the funeral.
Though I am a collector of words, it’s usually hard for me to remember how they unite and fit together. I can remember how the words made me feel, but I often forget what exactly they were. Yet this line I remembered, perhaps because of its stark reminder of our solemn reality, and perhaps because I’d never quite been able to grasp them, removed as they were from my personal experience. Nevertheless, they’ve remained in my head, sweeping through my mind on occasion as I’ve gone about my quiet life.
So when I opened Facebook for the first time in five or six months and stumbled upon a post about a good friend’s dad passing away, I was immediately greeted by my teacher’s words. Always go to the funeral.
I spent hours considering this event over the course of the following week. I read and reread the post about his death, poured through the obituary, thought about my few run-ins with the man during off campus lunch from school, said infinite prayers for the family, and grasped endlessly for the context of those long ago words.
My first thought was to cast them off. Though we were close in high school, I hadn’t seen my friend in seven years. Toward the end of our time in college together, our relationship became more one of nostalgia, marked by only a shade less politeness than one would extend a down-the-street neighbor they ran into at the store. I had thought about him often through the years, and I was devastated for him for the loss of his father, but I had no right to show up in such an intimate place after so much time. The quote was still lost to me. It was reserved for adults and preachers’ kids and ladies who played Bunko and sewed scarves. Its meaning and relevance had eluded me once more.
Then I thought back to my aunt’s funeral just a few weeks earlier. She lived in Cincinnati, and I resigned myself to not going after watching the plane tickets climb to over $500. It was too expensive and too far to go in too short a time. But I thought about my uncle, and how I would feel if I had lost the one person I’d held most dear in my life. I’d undoubtedly yearn for every molecule of love I could find from any source it would come from.
With that thought in mind, my little brother, boyfriend, and I loaded up the car and made a 13 hour trek to see my uncle for only a few.
There has never been time better spent. My uncle burst into a smile when we walked in the door, and he wrapped me in his arms more times than I can count during our few short hours together. He said endless thank yous for my being there, and he told me he loved me with such absolute sincerity it moved me to tears. Though I knew practically no one at the service, I was so grateful to everyone who took the time to show up for my family. Their presence touched my heart.
Maybe this would matter to my friend.
Today, I went to the funeral.
As I waited in line to speak to his family, I questioned what in the world I was doing there. I worried that my friend might not even recognize me or remember my name. What could I possibly say to make up for the loss he was suffering and all of the time that had passed between us. I was a fraud.
When I got to the front of the line, his eye caught mine, and I could instantly see the spark. “Emily,” he said, and he gave me a hug, “thank you so much for coming.” We chatted for few minutes and made promises to get together again in better circumstances, and he thanked me many more times. My eyes filled with tears at the pictures and badges of the man I know was the foundation of my friend’s life, as well as at the love and kindness my friend extended to me while I was there. I cannot imagine what he was going through, and yet he and his mom were abounding in their graciousness and compassion for everyone in the room.
I rode home through the silent streets afterward, thinking over my teacher’s words. Once more, I realized her wisdom. It is truly in the simple things, like showing up for the funeral, that we carve out our lives. They change us. These moments, though fleeting and perfectly unheroic, are gifts of grace and love to those who receive them. They matter, just as surely as the rain impacts the spring earth. If my presence brought even one solitary moment of peace and happiness to my friend during the funeral, I am grateful. And the thing is, I know it did.
May we all always go to the funeral. Let us take these great actions to show that we care. Let us be a reminder of love. What a difference we can make.
Picture source: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/lissette-calveiro/breakthestigma-3-mental-d_b_10011142.html