Friday, April 26, 2013

Funeral Crasher

I have sought out some memorable childhood friends on Facebook. There have been some pleasant interactions and the satisfaction that former acquaintances will be able to glean from my postings that I am married to a professional, have two presentable offspring and am not, despite what they might have predicted in high school, a bag lady. About two years ago I requested the friendship of David, a boy I remember as being particularly warm, funny and wildly creative, definitely on the short list of people I still feel fondness for. I forgot about it. There are a handful of people I have asked to Facebook friend without response. It's no big deal because it can possibly be ascribed to an indifference to Facebook in general and isn't necessarily evidence of dislike. Plus, at the age of 56 I don't even remember who may have drifted into my consciousness while I'm tooling around so I am oblivious in the case of Facebook, unlike real life, to the possibility of a slight.

About three weeks ago, out of the blue, David accepted my friend request. He'd obviously not been very devoted to Facebook as there were scant postings and only a few pictures. The most recent one showed his recent marriage although the photo of bride and groom was taken from a strange angle. This week David's death is announced on his Facebook Page. I see that his list for friends is comprised mainly of people I knew from Camp JCA and high school. Weird how this rekindles those adolescent era feelings of being an outsider. What was so wrong with me that kept the twenty five or so people whose names I recognize from staying in touch? One of my neighbors is on this list. I run into her and am told that David died after suffering for over five years with brain cancer. He was married in a hospital bed which accounts for the odd photo.

I guess we were about thirteen and sitting in front of the old lodge at Camp JCA Barton Flats. David's sister was about two years older and David read a letter from her out loud. The letter was hilarious and we laughed our heads off. He was obviously delighted by it. She signed off by saying she had an annoying booger and her nose now required a good “pick job.” The memory of this crass humor and intimacy and the pleasure that these siblings clearly took in one another has obviously stayed with me.

An e-mail announcing the funeral was forwarded to me. One negative is that attendees were instructed to eschew usual somber funeral attire and don festive colors. The usual upside of attending a funeral is that black is so slimming. And the prospect of attending oddly evokes my high school awkwardness. I feel like I'd be crashing the cool kids' party. But David was wicked smart and also kind to me. Even if I don't belong I am very curious about how he's spent his life since high school. Maybe my attendance, even on the periphery, will add to the mere mass and a good turnout will comfort his family and close friends.

It is ingenious to suggest that crashing the funeral of a friend I haven't seen in nearly forty years is an act of selflessness. I guess I will always consider myself too young to die but when I do embrace the inevitability it reminds me to turn off the dumb noise I generate and just be. In addition to a funeral, my social calendar is unusually flush this week as Joe College has returned for a few days. I take both of the kids to a movie. Spuds moves east in August and the opportunities to hang with both of them grow fewer. The kids do their usual shotgun routine and as usual, Spuds is slow on the uptake and winds up in the thick-with-dog-hair back seat. We sit through trailers for the summer blockbusters and simultaneously burst into laughter at some particularly ham-fisted dialogue. The rest of the audience glowers, presuming that I shared a bowl with the sprats before the show. We go to dinner after. The boys have their own private jokes and special shorthand. I am left out of a lot of their conversation but their connectedness makes the mortality issues du jour less distributing.

My stepmother calls me. She tells me that my father is looking down on me and protecting me from heaven. This strikes me as more creepy than implausible. I believe that death absolutely brings an end to consciousness. But in a sense, my stepmother isn't entirely off base. I worked side by side with my dad for thirty years. I look around the office and his tidy printing is everywhere. It's on rows and rows of film cases and thousands of pages of hand written film descriptions. Often the researchers use these notes and come to me and ask how Al would have classified a tea ceremony (see “Oriental”) or making tamales (see “Spanish food”). Dad taught me how to negotiate and run a business and leave the office at the office. Every few days I talk one of my competitors down from a freak-out. Dad isn't looking down from heaven but his gifts to me are much more evident now, long after his death, than they were during his life.

I don't expect to look down at my sons from heaven but when I cease to be I hope a kernel of what was good and right in me remains within them and that they long enjoy the pleasure and comfort they take from one another. I will join my peers, say goodbye to David and be reminded that we are never, any of us, too young to die. We will celebrate the life David had and leave reminded to celebrate the life the rest of us are still blessed with.


FionnchĂș said...

I recall when hearing of h.s. classmates who have died or vanished without a trace or in one trace, very plausibly, after a rumored trace in gay porn, of wondering how rapidly we fade from the memories of those who when we were teens, we figured we'd stay in contact forever. FB adds a strange aura to this. I type hellos to people I have not seen since the age of fourteen or fifteen, and I try not to see their profile pics (some guys at least if not gals--fewer of those to deal with as I went to an all-boys school--actually do use their own face, now) updated. I still think of their voices and non-grey let alone present and 70s-shaggy hair back then. Memories we retain may be better pre-FB, warmed by soft focus.

I wonder how our dear sons will "see" us in memory, as/if we peer down from heaven. One of the delights of the saved, averred the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas, was this. If contrary to neo-atheist spin, the gist remains. One way to pass eternity non-corporeally. Let's hope Grandpa Al's enjoying himself better than this, telling "blue" jokes to his pals whose signed portraits graced his cool pipe-smoke-infused office.

A thing may be a matter of rejoicing in two ways. First directly, when one rejoices in a thing as such: and thus the saints will not rejoice in the punishment of the wicked. Secondly, indirectly, by reason namely of something annexed to it: and in this way the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy. And thus the Divine justice and their own deliverance will be the direct cause of the joy of the blessed: while the punishment of the damned will cause it indirectly. (Comm. Sent. 94:3) xxx me

shawnak said...

Beautiful personal essay. I never thought of siblings as cushion against mortality (perhaps because mine doesn't speak to me) but I cherish the thought. Lovely piece on the weirdness of FB connections, too.

Barbara said...

Very elegant Layne. I've fallen behind in reading your blog, as many other things. Life has been hectic, though getting better. So your younger guy is off to college aye? Welcome to empty nest world - or "painting a new canvas". We get the time to reinvent ourselves. Any nibbles on publishing your book? I am editing mine - welcome any wisdom how to structure time. Great to catch up again soon. BE