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Rabbinic spirituality

Funeral for a Good Man

After last week’s sadness over the death of someone about to be 22, it’s almost a relief to be doing a funeral today for a 53 year old man. Most of the time, 53 seems very young. This week, a little less so.

I often find that I am doing funerals for someone I didn’t know. Most of the time, I have a little sadness of never having gotten to know this person who is being described to me so lovingly. Occasionally, I’m relieved never to have met a person who sounds like they were particularly difficult. And sometimes, I truly feel a loss of not having know the deceased. Today’s funeral is one of those. He would a truly good man, who made a difference in the world. He used a position as general manager to give people chances, to help them make good lives for themselves. He was a man almost out of another era, who believed in loyalty and integrity.

At times like this, I feel the loss a little more viscerally. A little more painfully, and a little more personally.

The eulogy is easier to write, because there is so much that is wonderful to say, but harder to deliver, because the sense of loss to the world is so palpable. Right now, I am between the writing and the delivery.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Funerals are among the most meaningful work I do. Usually not the easiest. Definitely not the most fun. But deeply meaningful and fulfilling. I always feel privileged to be let into a families feelings for there beloved who has departed. I am humbled to be allowed to speak the depth of their feelings for someone so important, though I did not know him. And I pray that I may be adequate to their trust.

Categories
Rabbinic spirituality

Talking about People

 Three times in the last week I’ve had the occasion to speak about people. During a wedding, I described the relationship between the couple: what made them special as a couple, and unique as individuals. During a funeral, I gave a eulogy, describing the life of the deceased and what gave meaning to his life. During a bar mitzvah, I described the special gifts of the young men, focusing on how those gifts may serve them and others in the future. In each case, at least one person came up afterwards and informed me that I’d gotten that description just perfect.

When someone tells me I’ve gotten that right, it feels great. I work hard to try to find the heart of the people I’m working with, and sometimes I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding. I see what I think is the important parts, but do others see them as important? Is it even a side of them that they show to people other than the rabbi? Almost always the answer is, “yes,” but I am nervous enough about it that I find it wonderful to be told I got it right.

What I love most about the process is the ability to reflect  back at people a vision of their loved ones. This is a vision which they recognize, but which highlights people’s best, and hopefully, most central qualities. I help all involved see the person or people I’m describing in a way that is both true and meaningful. I’ve captured the essence of the person, and put it into a context which makes that essence good and important. When I get it right, it is a powerful experience for all involved, especially including me.

What I’ve realized in the last week is that all three of these lifecycle events, wedding, funeral, bar mitzvah, are  fundamentally about love. Wedding is obviously about love of the couple for each other, but it is also about the love of those gathered for the couple. And that is the part of love that is present in all the events. A funeral is largely about the love of the survivors for the deceased (and of the deceased for the survivors). A bar mitzvah is about a family’s love for the young adult. Love tends to be the central aspect of lifecycle events, and part of why they are so much fun, so rewarding and so stressful.

On another topic entirely: Daylight Savings.
I feel like I’m really getting the first morning of daylight savings time experience. I got up this morning at 7 and it was still dark. A beautiful drive down to Salem. Pretty much clear skies, with an occasionally stunning view of Mount Hood in the distance. Very nice sunrise. As I got closer to Salem, there was some scattered low fog (really more like a ground hugging mist), until I was in Salem, and then hit some true fog. A very pretty morning.

I’m getting ready for a full day, teaching Sunday school, teaching adult Hebrew, meeting with some folks about a wedding. I definitely feel like there’s a little less pressure on my schedule now that the Bar Mitzvah is done.