From One End To The Other

In my life, I've found myself at both ends of the church: in the pew and on the platform. Both perspectives have taught me a lot.

From time to time you get to reflect on life, usually because your life brings you a moment – an event – that forces you to stop and really consider what’s before you. The calendar holds two annual times for this sort of reflection: the graduation/wedding season (May-June) and the Christmas holidays.

This past weekend, I went attended the wedding of a former student of mine. It was beautiful.

Of course, it’s not just those moments on the calendar that count; there are other, unscheduled moments that offer us the same opportunity. Things like births, or birthday parties, or family reunions, or class reunions.

Or funerals.

I went to a funeral Mass today for the grandfather of my childhood best friend. It was beautiful.

As a minister, I’ve done my fair share of both services – weddings and funerals – and while it is always an honor to be the official, the kind of reflection offered is limited. You have a sacred duty to discharge when you’re a minister, to offer both hope and comfort, to provide constancy and peace. As such, you spend a lot of time thinking about other people, how they relate, how they connect, how they help one another cope with the immensity of these two very different, yet similar occasions. You spend a lot of time, as it were, being a detached observer and caregiver.

But when you’re merely part of the gallery, when you’re there as a friend, it’s a whole different experience.

I stood beside two families over the past three days, two families that are markedly different in their customs and traditions, but remarkably the same in their love and devotion to one another. One family celebrated the joining of a husband and wife til death do them part, while the other grieved a husband and wife being parted. There was music at both – the balm of the human soul must be music, because we sing it in good times and sad – and also much laughter. There were tears at each, as well as knowing looks, emotional hugs, and the sharing of wisdom between friends.

Each ceremony had tables lined with food, and friends and family seated to reminisce and review the common experience we’d just shared. People were dressed their best out of respect for those being honored, and though the final partings were ultimately opposite in both tone and finality, they were no less filled with the longing that we all feel when we watch someone beloved begin a new journey, a new chapter, one that we cannot really comprehend.

I watched the Sosebee family and the Newman families these past few days, and saw the love they had for their respective moms and dads, sons and daughters, grandkids and cousins and assorted friends. I saw my former student kiss his wife and lovingly take her by the hand to lead her to the dance floor. I saw my childhood friend hold his infant daughter in his arms and kiss her tiny little head as he greeted people sorry for his loss.

I got to be a part of the moment instead of being a part of the service, and the perspective that it afforded me was this:

There are some people, no matter how far the miles or the years may take you, who will always be in your heart, good times and bad. You meet them and love them and keep on loving them until, as the saying goes, death separates you. While the circumstances of your relationship will inevitably change, while you may not be as close to them as you once were, you will still do whatever it takes to stand with them in these moments, to be there when they need only just a friendly face to help them gain perspective.

There are some people with whom you are bonded and you will go with them through life, from one end to the other. Such is the power and privilege of being human.

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