The Common Good
September 2004

And Finally...

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September 2004

Funerals need to be a little more balanced, with time for rebuttal.

The battle was over almost before it began.

The battle was over almost before it began. The Armies of Darkness knew they had no chance against the legendary warrior. And now he stared down at them from his powerful horse, his hair blowing majestically in the wind (the warrior’s hair, not the horse’s). As he surveyed the vanquished field below, the great warrior sheathed his sword for the final time. "I will fight no more," he thought to himself as he took a moist towellete from his utility belt and wiped the dust of battle from his bifocals.

And then I woke up.

It must have been the voices murmuring from the other side of the room.

"Is he dead?"

"Nah. He’s just sleeping."

"But it’s the middle of the afternoon!"

"Yeah, well, he’s kinda old."

They were interns, interrupting my afternoon power nap, a nap I find increasingly necessary these days as my biological clock requires frequent rewinding. But what do interns know, these people of perpetual youth who leave after a year for some dark and secret place where their life forces are restored and their bodies given new forms for their return. They are ageless and forever young. They are the undead. Vampires.

OKAY, SO MAYBE they’re not vampires. It just seems that way because I think I’m the only one getting old around here. And having crossed the middle-age threshold, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to move on to the next exciting phase of life: Fearing Death.

Fortunately, death is not a new topic for me. Even as a young child I expressed an interest in the subject by frequently lying in front of a full-length mirror in the den and closing my eyes. Then I would open them ever so slightly to see what I would look like if I were dead. (I would lay there, eyes fluttering, until the dog came up and just sat there, drooling expectantly.) But I don’t do that anymore, mainly because all our mirrors are up high, and my daughters don’t like it when I lay across their dresser with my eyes partially closed. For some reason they think it’s creepy.

It might be the funerals I’ve been attending lately that have created this new preoccupation. It hasn’t helped that the deceased have been people not all that much older than myself. Fortunately, I’m there as the guitar player, so I can maintain a certain emotional detachment from the event. (Not that I mind being there, since I’m always looking for more venues to perform. Just not with so many flowers.)

Frankly, I’m over-qualified for funerals, and I seldom get to share the music that I am most prepared to play. For example, "Stairway to Heaven" is, in my opinion, the perfect send-off song. But people just stare blankly at me when I suggest it, like it was a bad idea or something.

But it’s more than the unfortunate song choices that bothers me about funerals. I’ve noticed that these events also suffer from a noticeable lack of perspective. I realize that it’s a funeral, but the eulogies of a life well-lived seem to cry out for balance. I mean, would a brief time of rebuttal be that disrespectful? Wouldn’t it be refreshing just once, in the middle of the appreciations, to hear someone stand up and say, "Well, yes, he had a great life, but I remember this one weekend when we were on a road trip and.…"

I DO NOT FEAR death. I believe most of the things promised in the books of the New Testament, not including Revelation, which predicts unnecessarily large quantities of trumpets, a musical instrument that I personally feel should be used sparingly.

I believe in Heaven, and your assorted Mansions in the Sky. And I believe in the Chariots of Fire with their special tires that don’t damage the Streets of Gold. It all sounds good, but I’m in no hurry. In fact, I’ve given specific instructions for my family to keep me around as long as possible. There’ll be no pulling the plug on me, no sir. "Spare no expense" is my motto for hanging around, at least until a medical procedure can be developed that allows my family to donate their major organs in as painless a way as possible. After all, I’m concerned about them, too.

But when I do pass on, I ask only for the simplest of memorial services, to be preceded by a brief month of public mourning and no more than a week of me lying in state. And when the mourning has regrettably subsided, my ashes are to be sprinkled, with appropriate ceremony, over the breakfast cereal of Tom DeLay.

And don’t tell him. I want it to be a surprise.

Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.

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