We went to the funeral service of our friend Joe on Sunday, and I have never seen so many men cry. Joe was under 40 and there are two small children and a single mom in her 30's left behind, and all these men in the pews were not only mourning a friend but also crying in utter terror of something like this happening to them. Of the possibility of being parted from their families, in their sleep. If, like in that bedtime prayer, you happen to die before you wake, these men weren't praying to the lord "their souls to take". They were praying for no taking at all.
There were those statements about how Joe will never be truly gone if we remember him in our hearts, the kind of platitude that, sure, is true, but that we've heard so many times in our post-heaven community that you start yearning for religion that just says the departed's soul is nurtured in heaven, forever. And the platitude about keeping him alive in our memories was spoken by a Unitarian minister even. Maybe Unitarians aren't heaven types? I'm not that familiar with that branch, most of my readings about religion are about the older ones.
One of his children is 4 years old and will probably not remember his father.
But there was this one eulogy by Joe's band's lead singer (his band played during the service, that was awesome) that spoke of Joe's constant small acts of heroism, which we were all familiar with but hadn't put in those terms. He was the kind of guy who would show up with his toolkit just by your mentioning in passing that your stupid bathroom faucet dripped. He did this kind of thing every single day, these simple unasked for acts. There was a long story involving a bunch of people getting lost on a mountain and night falling and Joe suddenly saying "Aha!", fashioning torches out of t-shirts, eventually stripping down to provide the last cloth fuel necessary. The story went on to include starting a motorboat with a shoelace and more.
Somehow the phrase "acts of kindness" doesn't really suit, because he didn't even seem to be doing it because he was nice or because that's what one should do or because that gets you into heaven. He just did it, on automatic.
You know why it's more like a small acts of heroism? Because he would show up with his toolkit to fix your faucet when you were just sitting down to dinner. Or bring up braised kale without thinking whether we would like it or not (we did). Does that make sense? They were tiny acts of heroism because heroism is an action without forethought—it is a jumping-in, a leap made before you think "Oh shit, are there rocks under the surface of the water?" or "Do they like kale?".
Now that I think about it, it's a kind of automatic that you hope to emulate but sometimes can't, because that means the effort of emulation, a pause. I'm the type who worries about whether someone likes kale or what time they eat dinner. I'm more considerate, I consider things, which means I will never do as much. During that time that I ask someone what kind of food they like and then angst over the most interesting recipe, go shopping for that meal and cook it, Joe would have already accomplished like 4 things for them.
Heroism is un-emulatable.
As a coda to all this, I haven't even mentioned the totally self-involved part, that this has been another installment in what Paul and I were already calling the Year of Death. This is our fourth funeral in 8 months and that doesn't even include the passing of our dog Mila. And though it would be nice to believe it will be bounded to 2012 we fear that it will be more circumscribed by a full 12 months, April to April. Circumscribed like a fortress wall around this one period. So we hope.
No more deaths please.