About the third funeral that year, years ago…
I am not one to talk about my emotions. I shut them out, hard, and ignore them for days, weeks, months, decades.
Years ago a friend of mine was killed and her family held a funeral for her in the small rural town in which she grew up.
I was shocked by the entire thing. Numb, really. The death of her, and those who died with her, was so sudden and unexpected and fantastical. I didn’t know what to do.
I remember the voice of our friend, who’d been in the same class all our days, who ran on all the squads with us, as she called me at work days after the accidents and revealed that they decided to pull her plug.
She was gone.
That’s what my friend said, and everyone agreed.
I was mostly alarmed because it seemed so soon. Her organs were good. Her parents had given up hope…or were too overwhelmed to continue. I have no evidence that she might have overcome the situation.
Hell, she was long gone before I received the phone call. I was a courtesy number at the end of the list.
And I girded my loins and edified my spine and I prayed, and I spent time alone…then I attended the funeral.
See, the day before she died, we were at a bonfire. All around a smoking, ill-built, fire-to-the-heavens pyre in the back yard, where our dear friend was introducing her dear friend to us. And I was absolutely, a hundred percent, delighted with them both. And her dear friend and I talked philosophy and literature and human nature until the sun set and drove us from the spread of appetizers into the back yard where this bonfire was ablaze. And I felt such a comfort with them, an immediate solidarity, that I bothered to relax and lean in to the philosophy and I argued.
I had recently become atheist, you see, and the mystical was such a quagmire for me. And she told me of how she knew her father was still with her, even though he was a ghost and long gone, and only a child, but she could smell his aftershave.
And I wanted to ask, full of snark and anger and sarcasm (all the bastardized idiot cousins of genuine human connection) why a ghost would ever need to shave or don aftershave…
So I argued.
Ghosts don’t exist.
Then she died.
Which brings me back to the small town funeral.
My friend from high school finally found herself and someone she could love.
And she brought her home to meet their parents, and her old high school friends.
And then they were killed by a drunk driver swerving off a country road in the dead of night, crashing into a family reunion of sorts, a driver who then tried to bury his truck in a pond and hide the evidence and run drunkenly away from the thing as if it wouldn’t be discovered in morning light.
And she was brain-dead. Her girlfriend died on the scene.
One of her best friends from high school was working EMT at the time. She was called to the scene, saw the family pet smeared on the side of the road and said, “I know that dog. That’s HER dog,” before she saw our friends’ body.
And here were are at the memorial. In the gymnasium, in her domain (She was such an athlete. She moved like nature made her breathe and bend, and she looked at us like she didn’t understand why we needed zone defense and band aids) and the town was there.
A small town.
And her coach, who mentored her through high school, stood up to speak. He talked about how she was a shining star full of heart and talent. How everyone and God must love her, DESPITE HER CHOICES.
Obviously, he condemned her lifestyle. He never saw them together, how she’d been at such peace, how anyone with a heart could feel that love.
And I realized he, this old confidant, had disgraced her in front of everyone, the whole town, her parents, her friends, her church…
Because she didn’t fit precisely. Because who she loved meant she wasn’t good enough.
So I ducked my head like the throng of cowards while the idiot asked for forgiveness for a heart and soul that was dead and couldn’t defend herself or her love.
But her parents–or someone-had found a violinist to play at the end.
And it was Fiddler on the Roof, the Little Bird song.
The Fiddler on the Roof was a film done in the 1970s about the Russian revolution and Jewish relations before WWII. The fantastic father figure allows his daughters to find their way in the world, to feel their hearts and break authoritative tradition because he believes they’ll be happier that way.
But his third daughter falls in love with someone he cannot condone. He can’t accept the relationship. He disowns his daughter and sticks with his so called traditions. He loves her, there’s no doubt. He wants her to be happy. Of course. But she has gone too far.
So when the song played at the funeral, I broke. Loud, hard, I broke down. Hadn’t cried at all since I heard the news of those deaths. Her death.
And the fiddler played the song of the lost little bird.
The dead can’t defend themselves and shouldn’t have to. And why the hell do we think we can judge anyone, especially the dead? What are they going to say to you?
Should they come back as ghosts with aftershave and tell you of your sins?
I like that she was loved for who she was before she died.
And while I admire the quaint emotions that accompany tradition, those who blindly obey the past are walking over the bones of a dead girl in love.
The nontraditional sentiments can’t be accepted by people with small minds and closed hearts, and while others were stumbling drunk and building a fire like they’d never seen kindling before, we talked about the world and the universe and the soul.
And that damned, young, beautiful violinist played that damned, beautiful, ageless song, and I gagged and choked and wept in a silent auditorium with her jersey number hanging on the wall and her coach saying, what a shame.
Truly, what a shame.