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article for June 6, 2010

Postcard from a Funeral

 

Last week, about three and a half hours into dad’s wake,  Lizzie, and her older first grade cousin came with a request.  Grateful for any reason to leave that never-ending line for a break, I followed them to my dad’s open coffin.  There they displayed two small fist-fulls of plucked wild flowers.  “Can we put these in there with grandpa?”

 

And so, for the remainder of the visitation that proud old veteran, that savvy businessman, the one who prided himself on being “a man’s man,” bid his final farewells to colleagues and comrades with a child’s wildflowers pressed into his wrinkled, spent hands.  No pyramid’s treasures, no frankincense, no myrrh, no cathedral’s choir ever bore a soul to Abraham’s bosom more nobly than this freshly plucked bouquet of Solomon’s splendor.

 

During a lull in the funeral, I imagined my father looking for something to give Saint Peter that would serve to loosen the hinges of those formidable gates just long enough to slip into the milling crowd on the other side.  I imagined my dad trying each useless key that used to open doors for him back here on earth.  Accomplishments, professions of good intentions, another explanation of his side of the story, cleverness, manipulations…all useless.  And I could see Peter’s face growing progressively more worried, and finally alarmed.  And just as he was ready to turn and walk sadly away, something catches his eye, and The Rock of Ages’s face softens, and dad’s frenetic, bumbling words fall harmlessly away from the Fisherman’s ears, as he looks down and sees what my dad holds in his hands.   Clutched unconsciously in my father’s nervous fist are Lizzie’s wad of withered flowers.  I imagined dad’s eyes following Peter’s gaze down to his own trembling hands, and I can see those eyes welling up with tears as he realizes that here, in his hand he is holding the one true key that opens heaven’s gates.   More valuable than fortunes won and lost, more impressive than any item listed on his resume-style obituary…are these riches, unearned, valuable beyond measure…and the hinges squeeked a single musical note as the gates swung open.  “Welcome home grandpa.”

 

“And a little child shall lead them.”  (Isaiah 11:6)

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