February was a month of funerals for me. A decade ago, I reached the age where the obituaries became required daily reading, and this month was filled with synopses of the lives of friends, acquaintances, mentors, and family, who transitioned beyond this realm. Death claims lives we’ve shared, people who made impressions upon us and our worlds, and we are left behind to bear witness, to remember, to reflect upon, and to savor and pass on the best of their legacies.
My uncle, who passed last year at 101 years young, kept a bumper sticker on his vehicle that read: ‘Live so that the Preacher doesn’t have to lie at your Funeral’. No matter what the Eulogist pontificates, annotates, or embellishes, the truth is, our life is our eulogy. That insight resonated for me in quite a different way last week at a graveside service.
I’m sure the deceased had requested a brief service outside at the the cemetery. I can hear him saying, “Keep it simple, say a word or two, get my body into the ground, and then y’all go back to living the best of your lives.” He was a down-to-earth, an honest, folksy, kind of fellow, who found success working hard in real estate and development. A good and decent man, without a mean bone in his body, that you couldn’t help but like. He was fresh air in smog-filled boardrooms. He carried honesty and sincerity into chambers where deceit and loopholes flourished. He easily crossed boundaries of race, class, and sides of town, and made a difference in peoples lives on the ground. A life well lived, but someone thought it was not good enough.
A young minister, who met him for the first time in the hospital and received a deathbed confession of faith from him, was asked to give the eulogy, and he made that confession the highlight and summary of his life. What a travesty of shallow and narrow faith and experience! Clinging to creeds and rites, while ignoring evidences and graces of a life well lived. Some lives are just too big for four walls of a cathedral or the confines of thoughtless dogma. Some lives commune with God in the world.
I can’t say the Preacher lied, but I will say he didn’t listen. He just didn’t hear the most wonderful eulogy that had already been preached through 79 years of extraordinarily compassionate and productive life. May this soul be remembered, blessed, emulated, and rewarded for exactly who he was!
Humbly submitted by Imam Plemon T. El-Amin