We stood around the earthen mound, forty, maybe fifty of us circling the hump of dirt covered in cut pine branches. Cold, but not nearly as cold as it should be in February, the sun hung obscured by a thin layer of gray clouds, like a mourning veil pulled across its face. Friends and family spoke, at intervals, gently breaking the silence with a memory or a story: the first time he met him, the last time she drove with him, a particular time he overnighted with him. I never met him. I saw him twice, both times at busy social functions that he and I provided different services for. I never spoke to him, and if we shook hands and said hello I don’t remember it. I stood in the crowd and met him then, met his spirit.
We held hands in prayer, a powerful thing that surpasses anyone’s personal beliefs, creeds, and causes. Then we sang, “Love will Guide Us,” a song I had never heard but could eventually join in at the chorus. One verse stuck in my throat:
You are like no other being
What you can give no other can give
To the future of our precious children
To the future of the world where we live
Tears streaked my cheeks. Was it the words, the group, the moment, the peaceful dead? I don’t know. A soothing hand rubbed my back. Then we walked, a long line moving across the face of one hill to the crown of its neighbor, threading our way through isolated pine trees and pricker bushes, the gray, frozen grass laying in heavy folds, crunching beneath our boots. At the top of the second hill we could see for miles, viewing the dark rolling hills that surround the Arnot Forest. I met other people who had also assembled. I talked with those who I knew a little in the process of knowing more. I talked about horseback riding and raising children and large families. The departed was a member of a large, local Irish family, most of whom were present.
From the cemetery we drove to the Log Cabin, the family home that I’d heard about but never visited. One of the sisters rode with me, her questions brought forth a second tearful outpouring. She said it was fine, healthy, but I felt foolish, having a difficult time separating the emotions of the day from the recent pains of my personal past. It was what it was, in the end, and we eventually arrived at the Log Cabin. The house was packed with people, grandparents, parents, brother, sisters, children, and friends, bathed in the warmth of the wood stove and loving fellowship. I knew almost all of them, I think, and when many of them asked where my son was I realized that I was becoming part of the group. We ate and laughed and shared old stories and made new memories.
I was one of the first to leave, needing to get home before my son returned from his trip to New York City. I sat in my living room, the dark pierced only by a single candle, sitting in the silence between the party and my son’s arrival, listening to the forced-hot-air heater blow, hearing the clock click the seconds of life away. We are all hurtling towards the end, our end. I thought of old Icelandic poetry, the Hávamál, and its prophetic stanza number 77:Cattle die Kinsmen die You yourself will die; I know one thing Which never dies: The fate of the honored dead.
Naturally I wondered how I would be honored. Highly by some, poorly by others, ignored by most, I presumed. It doesn’t matter. The story of my life is far from over. I smiled, lit some more candles and the oil lamps, and within minutes heard the happy stomp of my boy’s boots climbing the stairs to the front door. I couldn’t wait to hear about his weekend and his adventures in the big city, to move from memories of the honored dead to the new experiences of the growing, glowing living.