I entered a room in which people were still milling about some conversing in quiet voices. The room was full, almost crowded. That surprised me a bit considering the short amount of time that had been available to get the news out. I strolled among the attendees not addressing any one of them, but hearing their words as I passed.
“He always rode too fast.”
“It was the truck driver. People like that should be kept off the roads.”
“Still, if he had been more careful he could’ve gotten out of the way.”
“I don’t know how many times I told him he should take that advanced riders’ course.”
“He was always afraid of the rain.”
“But he rode in it anyway.”
“He would have been okay if he’d been in a car.”
“We all make our choices. He knew it was dangerous.”
“It was the rain.”
“It was the bike.”
“He was in his own lane. It was the trucker.”
“It was nobody’s fault.” A tall man in black leather spoke. His voice was subdued, but deep and heavy with authoritative finality, “It was just time.”
None replied. Some nodded silently, others looked away or wandered off.
It wasn’t until they began to seat themselves that I noticed him there, lying in the open box at the front of the room. I’ve often thought it was silly the way people say, “He looks so good, so peaceful, like he’s just sleeping,” but he did look good. He seemed peaceful as if at rest, his head turned sideways on the pillow and one hand resting gently on his chest. He looked like he was just sleeping. They had done a really fine job. I wondered how his ride must look. I’m sure they didn’t spend any effort there. In another time they may have put him into the ground with his mount, but not these days.
I was truly uncertain of what I was feeling as I gazed into his now still and silent face. What makes up our grief? I did feel somehow alone, lonely. There was, to be certain, a sense of loss and regret for the tasks unfinished, the love unspoken, the stories and music that had never made it out of his head and now would rot below the earth. There they would stay unheard, unshared, trapped within this disintegrating cell from which life had departed. But, then, there was at once a sense of peace, a contentment, an awareness that the fight was over, the struggle finished, the pain forever gone.
I was so immersed in my thoughts that I was almost startled when she stepped to the front of the platform only about eight feet from me. She was a beautiful young woman, not just in face and form but from deep within. Oh, she had beauty of face and form, there was no doubt of that, but something more issued from within her very being. Every smile, every dance of her eyes, the caring tone of her voice brought with it an almost mystical beauty. There had long been a special relationship between them. It was not father-daughter, she had all the parents she needed and he had daughters enough. It was not even an uncle-niece relationship, it was more like they were truly, well, friends. She could have talked, I’m sure, endlessly with anyone without repetition, condescension, ridicule, or distance; but to him it was always a special time. He seemed to revel in their conversations. She was either extraordinarily wise beyond her years or had an unnatural ability to draw wisdom out of those about her.
She began to sing, “When peace like a river attendeth my way,” and I was engulfed in calm tranquility. I closed my eyes. The sound of that voice had often transported me to heavenly places. I chuckled quietly. How ironic that I would think of that now.
His children filled the second row. Two of his sons sat solemnly side by side, their wives holding their hands. They stared stoically straight ahead with only an occasional twitch of the eye or quiver of the lip betraying an inner turmoil. How much they were like him and yet how different. They had both chosen lives of full time service to the Church and to Jesus Christ, and he was pleased and grateful for that. The two younger did not contain their feelings so well. Each of them sat in shocked silence, their expressions betraying hidden questions of future and past, the conflicted, unanswerable relationship of youth and mortality. How much they were like him in his youth! The one who seemed to struggle most for his acceptance was perhaps most like him in choosing his path with apparent disregard for others’ wants and wishes. He was his own man and always would be. He held a special place of great pride in his father’s eyes. The youngest would finish his journey into manhood without the guiding hand of his father, at least without his visible hand. Perhaps he would be the only one to follow his father into the service of the U. S. Marine Corps. He was in every way his father’s son.
One of the daughters was sobbing almost uncontrollably and another leaning trance-like into the comfort of her husband’s arms, while a third sat numbly as the tears streamed down her cheeks disappearing unhindered into her neck and hair. The fourth sat quietly, no betrayal of emotion on her face, but only an occasional twitch from her left cheek, her arm wrapped tightly about his grandson by her side.
His life partner sat quietly staring into nowhere in particular. I wondered if she was recalling how often he had told her, “If you see it happen, remember it only hurts for a moment.” Maybe she was remembering how he scolded her when she didn’t ride fast enough, or how his “suggestions” cut her heart. He was gruff in his communication and although not hard to get along with, he was sometimes painful to live with. They had married later, when he already had five children and life had taken its toll. They almost didn’t make it, but when they did finally find their way, it was the marriage and friendship for which he had always longed. She was his best friend, his riding partner, and the love of his life. After he married her he had found the relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that he had always claimed, and they had traveled that road together. She had waited outside the detention center for him, held his head when he cried and was ever ready and willing to go where he wanted to go. They had traveled many miles together and he was truly only complete with her. She was a strong woman and I was always greatly impressed by how fine she looked in black.
Strangely, the other two women were there also. Whether only to comfort their offspring or to say their own goodbyes who could know, but they were there nonetheless. Scattered throughout the mourners were the faces of men who had met with him on Saturday mornings over the past several years, some still struggling with their addictions, some relatively free. He was free now.
She finished the first song, and in the transition to “I Know Whom I Have Believed” she choked for just a moment. I glanced back at her. Tears were rolling down her face but the discipline of her music was strong and she regained her composure. The melodious soprano tapestry of her voice did not falter again.
I turned back to look at the crowd, at a brother and a sister, one sister missing. He and his brother were close. Different roads had brought them to similar points. .
The eulogies began and they were predictably unreasonable. They were filled with “always” and “never” and flowers and perfume with a hint of truth but in volumes that exceeded reality. Finally I could contain myself no more. I began to mumble, first quietly, then audibly as I moved to the side of the room, just below the corner of the platform and spoke my own epilog in words that no one would hear.
“He was not a particularly good man, but he was usually an honest man. He did not do all that he could have, but, I suppose, he did more than he might have. He was open and forthright to a fault. He was at once generous and irresponsible. He laughed, but not often. He was a true stick-in-the-mud when sometimes others laughed and he would proclaim, “That’s not funny.” He cried when it was time to cry, but when the flames were high he did not take the time. He would drop everything to pick you up, but in the next instance, you may have been part of the everything he was dropping. He was only a man. He had no interest in getting in touch with his feminine side. Were there choices he could have made better? Oh, yes! Were there things that he did right? You be the judge. What has he left behind? What is going into the ground with him? Is this world a better place because he has passed this way? You judge. You judge, for he will do no more.”
The soloist had risen again and began to sing, “I have one deep supreme desire.” I wondered at how often our lives have not properly reflected what our hearts have sought. The tears were now flowing unhindered down her cheeks leaving darkened streaks upon the fabric of her dress, but her breath was sure and no hint of weeping intruded upon the rich resonance of her voice that echoed from every corner of the hall.
“I want to be like Jesus. To this I fervently aspire; I want to be like Jesus.” Just for a moment I found myself pondering the interesting mix of words and life. What would Jesus ride?
They were filing past the container now. Some wept; some smiled. Some dropped a memory into the final bed of respite. A few reached out to touch his face. There was his brother and a sister, nieces and nephews, friends and those whom had been barely touched. It was then that I realized that not only was a part of him being left behind, but a part of each of them was going into the ground.
As the people paraded out I stayed behind to watch the funeral director close the sarcophagus. I glanced back at the row of solemn men in black apparel. I was surprised. There was one I would not have picked to carry the pall. It was closed now and I made my way back to the doorway.
I waited at the door as the procession formed. I would not go with them. I had no desire to watch them place him into the hole. The hearse was led by a large group of two wheelers riding in staggered column. What a beautiful sound they made as they fired up and began to roll. I have always loved the sound of a line of motorcycles winding up.
As the last of the line rolled out of the parking lot I closed the door behind me. It suddenly occurred to me that in my thoughts I had been referring to him in the third person, not “I” or even “we”, but “he”. For just a moment it seemed the clouds parted and a flash of sunlight broke through.
Well, that’s it, I thought. That’s the last of it. It’s over. His time is done, but not mine. And I have a place that I must be.
I turned to go, alone for the moment, but no longer lonely.