Last week I was invited to officiate at a memorial service for a friend. The memorial service was held yesterday afternoon. When the General and I first met the man and his wife, it was at a party being hosted by their across the street neighbors. The “across the street neighbors” were friends of ours and over the next three-to-four years we had opportunities to periodically share periods of time together at functions hosted by our mutual friends.
Actually, the time frame may have been four-to-five years. When it comes to accessing a time related reference, if the time line was last year or three years earlier, I’m not always certain. Time has a way of getting confusingly juggled in a time warp kind of configuration. Isn’t the same true for you? Life moves by too quickly. How do you effectively keep track of it?
Hold on, I know what you are thinking and you’re wrong. You’re thinking orientation to time and place has some relationship to cognitive ability and sound mental health. You’ll get no argument from me related to that principle. However, the principle relates to current time. For example, if you ask: “What day of the week is it and where are you located?” My answer that it is: “Sunday, January 15, 2017 and I’m sitting at the built-in desk in my home office facing my computer is the correct answer.” I guess I could be more specific and also state that: “My home address is 550 Loop 165, Dripping Springs, TX”. My answers substantiate that I haven’t lost my cognitive ability to differentiate time and place.
My need to know specifically that something happened three years ago, four years ago or five years ago can usually be ascertained through some marker other than memory. Consequently, getting those specifics correct or confused in my head is not an indication of cognitive impairment. If I want to know how long I’ve known the people I mentioned, I could ask my friends what year they moved to Blanco. Presto, I’d have the correct answer. Of course, the correct answer would have some relationship to my friends remembering when they moved.
Getting back to the concept of when “friends of friends” transformed into “our friends” is filled with ambiguity. For an inordinate period of time, I thought of the man whose memorial service was held yesterday and his wife as “friends of friends”. Yet, at some point the designation of “friends of friends” changed. I can’t tell you when it happened or why it happened, but I can say that it happened. One day they were “friends of friends” and the next day they were “friends”. Perhaps it is a miracle of transformation.
Yesterday morning as I prepared notes for the memorial service scheduled for yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me that I am privileged to have the invitation. It was a tremendous vote of confidence. Families in the midst of that kind of crisis are at a very vulnerable place both emotionally and spiritually. It is a big step to ask someone to officiate at a memorial service if you have never heard the person officiate or speak in that capacity. I’m grateful that the fondness in our shared friendship was strong enough to dispel the notion that inviting me was a “wild card”. I know, you’re probably thinking it could have gone either way.
Seriously, I can behave and be appropriate for short periods of time and I historically have taken the invitation to speak at a funeral or memorial service as a vote of confidence that doesn’t need to get messed up. You’ll just have to trust me one this one. In addition, it is the only time that I get the last word.
Earlier in the week, I visited with the wife and the man’s two adult children. The three have a very harmonious relationship. I really liked both the son and daughter. I had not met them before. Of course, the wife was already a friend. She said to me prior to the meeting that her husband wanted a minister to officiate and I was the choice. I found that vote of confidence very humbling.
However, the wife did have a couple of expectations for me regarding the service. She expressed it to me like this: “We want this to be a very casual gathering of family and friends”. Of course, from the way she was talking, I thought they were expecting about twenty-five people. I had no idea that there would be standing room only. The message was subtle, but I think that it was code for “not too much” and “keep it short.” In fact, I shared that perception at the service and gave those in attendance the notice that they could breath a sigh of relief. A casual gathering is one in which I am most comfortable. The announcement brought laughter.
As it turned out, it was a day of surprises and all of them were good. Truth be told, everyone has a story and unless we carve out the time to hear people’s stories and really get to know them, we miss part of the fabric related to their life experiences. What I discovered from reading the obituary published on the funeral home website was surprising.
First of all, I had no idea that the man graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in chemical engineering and spent a lifetime working at Shell Chemical in various aspects of the plastics industry. I simply knew him as a retired Houstonian that had the good fortune to retire in the hill country. I also knew that he liked to ride bicycles and that he grew tomatoes.
I was very surprised to learn from reading his obituary that one of the loves of his life was racing vintage Porsches. Wow! Can you imagine the stories he could have shared about those experiences? Regrettably, I missed hearing them simply because I never carved out the time to visit one-on-one and inquire about his life.
He also loved woodworking. Woodworking is one of the things on my bucket list. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve obviously missed a window of opportunity by not asking more questions and getting to know my friend better.
I also didn’t know until the memorial service that both the husband and wife were friends in high school. I learned that when the son read a quasi-love note from his dad’s high school annual. I’m not sure what happened, but life got in the way and the high school sweethearts didn’t marry until decades later following the death of the husband’s first wife.
The couple grew up in Portland, Oregon. Who would have guessed that yesterday’s weather in the hill country would duplicate the weather pattern in Oregon? The fog was so thick for most of the day that visibility to drive was greatly hampered. I guess you could say it was the equivalent of a Portland send-off.
So what did I learn from the experience? I learned a lot about the man I regarded as a friend. I also came away with the thought that I’d have been a better friend to him if I’d asked more questions, garnered his life story, and shared mine with him. We’re too busy. In the process, time has a way of getting confusingly juggled in a time warp kind of configuration. That can’t be a healthy way to live.
All My Best!