We were standing in the street loading last bundles for a road trip when our good neighbor, Patrick, ambled over to bid us a ‘Vaya con dios’. But before bestowing his godspeed he offered an aside. It is these casual asides that turn out to be treasures of insight. He had been to a memorial gathering to say farewell to a friend gone too soon, he said. A stalwart Presbyterian (are there any other kind?), Patrick stood in the rank of family and friends at the graveside, beside that well where thoughts wander the great yonder.
The minister addressed the barest lines to the bereaved, announced that refreshments would be served at the church hall, and dismissed the mourners. There was no liturgy. No sacred writ. No hymn or scrap of prayer. No poetry worthy of the breath. A clergy collar was the merest hint that grieving souls had met to salute a passing ‘cross the great divide.
As attenders scattered in bewilderment, a friend turned to Patrick to ask about the minister, ‘Hasn’t he been to cemetery school?’ In the moment it expressed a longing for some shred of dignity, some solace or aspiration, some acknowledgement of sorrow. There is something, after all, about that moment beside freshly turned earth that begs for the whisper of wings.
About that whimsical question. It cuts a wide swath, is worth taking home. ‘Been to cemetery school? A rich venue, that. And whatever its murmured wisdom for the living – even just a ‘vaya con dios’ – it will dawn with lyric touch and comfort.