It isn’t often that you walk into a church funeral and hear Disney show tunes being played on the piano. It’s even rarer to hear the once familiar, but now archaic clicking whirr of a film projector, but that’s what we heard today. We didn’t know Rusty, the man who passed away the day before New Year’s Eve, very well, but we knew his daughters and his wife. We had assumed they were just theatre parents like us, and also well loved teachers at the local college. It turns out he was a world reknown film editor and speaker on film studies. Thus the reason for the sweetly melancholy, but decidedly film oriented music, and the projector flickering away with snippets of the black and white silent films he loved. The musical accompaniment helping to augment and convey the emotion as only live music can.
Our family doesn’t go to church regularly. And while we are deeply spiritual, as a family, and in service to our neighbors and fellow humans, we reject the pervasive flim flam and hucksters of today’s popular evangelicals. So, when we do enter other people’s houses of worship for the occasional bumps and turns in lifes path, we do so in sort of a hyper observant manner. Maybe it was the overwhelming number people from the theatre and arts community who were there that caused me to think of it this way, but it started to dawn on me that there is actually quite a bit of theatre that goes into a funeral. It’s all there, the flawless orchestration of choirs and organists, the heartfelt personal anecdotes, and carefully selected bible verses, and, probably most awe inspiring, the respectful, but efficient crowd choreography/management. There is also high drama in the tense moments when you wonder if the emotional speaker will get through their reading of the gospel without sobbing, or that the bereaved niece with the beautiful voice will be able to finish her solo, and then the urge to applaud them, when they do. And of course, there is the pastor who officiates, and their ability to deliver the message, which, to me, can make or break the fragile mood or atmosphere the grieving family have tried to create.
We had a little extra helping of drama this morning when, just as they were pushing the casket up the aisle, and the congregation was singing, the young lady behind us began having an epileptic seizure. Again, amazed, I watched as her mother vaulted over the pew to lay her on the floor and hold her head, Downtown Dad wadded up his jacket to use as a cushion, the young man next to her called 911, someone brought a plastic bag of ice, and a doctor from two rows up, slipped in near her feet. The seizure subsided, and she was able to walk out with the help of two people on either side of her – all within the space of time it took to sing four verses of whatever song it was we were singing – because I frankly wasn’t paying attention!
Whoever you are, when death comes to your family, it’s hard. This hit me and the others in our social group because Rusty and his wife and kids WERE US. I guess what I learned today is that fate gives you only what you can handle – plus, the people in your life to help you along. If you are part of some greater community, tradition, and human spirit takes over and helps you keep your head above the emotional rip-tide. As I listened to the piano play Jiminy Cricket’s themesong, When You Wish Upon A Star, I took to heart the words:
“Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through.”