I went to a funeral last week. It was a sobering start to a new year. He was a young man, 53, leaving a wife and two young children behind him. I hadn’t met him, but his brother is a good friend of mine.
There is something about funerals.
They seem to be able to blow everything out of your life apart from the bare essentials. Living and dying. As I sat in the church the irony of having just started a new year full of hope and optimism to now being at the funeral of a 53 year old man was not lost on me. Life may start a new chapter but the detail of the script will remain the same. Nobody puts going to a funeral on their to-do list at the start of a new year. Nobody forecasts that this could be the year of their own funeral. Life will always be a step ahead.
I somehow sense that the thoughts going through my head at that funeral were not just confined to me. They would also have found a foothold, at some stage, in the minds of everybody else in the church. Each one of us is an amazing complex creation with fingers, and lungs, and eyes, and blood flowing through our veins, and voices, and hearts, and minds. Every single incredible piece of us, no matter how small, is there to perform its own unique, extraordinary, essential function. We are sustained on a planet that is way beyond anything we could even begin to contemplate, let alone create. A planet that rotates around a sun to give us light to live and darkness to rest. A planet on which we can grow food to eat and that provides water to drink. A planet that simply spellbinds all of us with the magnificence of its oceans, and rivers, and mountains, and birds and creatures of all kinds of unimaginable shapes and sizes. A planet that has clearly been created just for us. A planet that we would be impossible of creating ourselves.
So why does somebody die at 53? This man had lived a good life, in a good place, with a great wife and two beautiful children. But for all the magnificence and ingenuity of the creation, why for just 53 years. And worse still, why does somebody die at 3, or 13, or 23? Why is somebody murdered at 25, or tortured at 35, or in an accident at 45? Why in the world that was clearly designed to sustain us, do we have war, and famine, and terror, and disaster. Why, for those of us who are supposed to be doing well, are so few of us truly happy for any great length of time. Happiness only comes in little glimpses. Little bubbles and as soon as we try to grab them to keep them, they disappear in our hands. And happiness is the one emotion that links all of us. It is the universal aspiration that we all seek. So this planet may have been created to sustain us, but it does not appear to have been designed to fulfil us.
We have a strong culture of going to funerals in Ireland. I think it stands to us as a race of people. It keeps us grounded. A funeral, in more ways than one, is a very grounding experience. It keeps our own demise in front of us. And our own demise is in front of all of us. At some point it must have crossed everybody’s mind that rather than a 53 year old man, it could have been my turn to be in that coffin today. For all our advancement, and knowledge, and expertise and assumed control over what we do, this is life telling us that it is no more than the luck of the draw.
A funeral makes you see life as it really is – short, more difficult than easy, more uphill than on the level. Sure, there are wonderful moments of joy and achievement along the way, but rather than equal portions, these tend to be just sprinkled through the stoic base. The greatest human attribute of all, is the ability to keep going.
So given the amazing complexities that were required to create both the human being and the planet it lives on, my thoughts as I look on at the coffin of a man who is two years younger than me eventually subside to just one conclusion.
There simply has to be more.
As I grow older the leap of faith gets narrower and narrower. And the narrower it gets, the greater my belief becomes that the ‘more’, will be vastly superior to everything we currently know.