Friday, September 24, 2010

Yes, We Can Get Along

Phil Plait himself said it at TAM 8. Don't be a dick.

I recently had a very difficult honor to fulfill. My best friend, S (you read about her here) asked me to write and deliver the eulogy for her mother. As you can imagine, I was very close to her mother. She was my Aunt D (shortened for anonymity). I loved Aunt D so much, and I am so sad that she is gone. S wanted me to do her eulogy because I knew her, and also because she enjoys my writing and felt that I could inject some humor and happiness into what was such a sad, difficult time. I did my best.

Now, as you know from reading about S, she is a believer, but now knows that I am an atheist. That has not changed our friendship one bit. She really is the best. Aunt D was also a believer, and so there was a preacher who spoke at her funeral. S made a point to tell the preacher up front that her mother's funeral was not to be made into a spectacle to further his spiritual agenda (she didn't use those words; but that's the gist of what she told him), and that if he went too long or started getting too preachy (she did not want a sermon), that she would have no problem getting up and telling him to stop (this is all what I remember; I may be embellishing. But she is a spitfire, so this isn't an exaggeration). She would have, too. He seemed to understand.

The preacher opened with a few words and a prayer. S sat between her husband and me, with his arm around her shoulders and my hand clasped in hers. I didn't bow my head for the prayer; I was reflecting on my memories of Aunt D. She was fine with that.

The singers stood and sang. Of course they were Christian songs; and it was right that they were. I sat with my best friend and held her hand through the music. The singers sang beautifully.

Then it was time for me to get up and speak. This was a difficult time for me; I was terrified that I would not memorialize Aunt D as well as I felt she deserved. I was a little afraid that I might offend some of the family by not mentioning things that they felt were important. I was afraid that I would break down and not be able to finish. But I was honored that S had asked me to do this for her, and so I stood and walked to the podium, and delivered the best eulogy that I could deliver.

I said shit a few times in the eulogy. It was intentional. S knew I was going to say it; I was saying it quoting Aunt D. You see, Aunt D was one of the very few parents of my friends who would say "shit" in front of me as a child. I always thought that was awesome, and it was something I wanted to mention. Because it was a happy memory. And it was who she was. S also wanted me to mention the phrase "dumber than owl shit," because Aunt D said that often. So I worked that in there, too. I didn't say anything about where Aunt D "was now," that she was in a "better place," or any gods or Jesus or anything spiritual. I spoke about the strong, beautiful, loving woman that I remember, and about her daughter who so lovingly and selflessly took care of her during her final days. The preacher was displeased, but he didn't show it overtly. He gave me subtle glares. As if to say with his eyes, "I know that you are not one of us; you speak of earthly things."

After I sat down, it was the preacher's turn again. He said very little about Aunt D. He gave a mini sermon. Which is the opposite of what S requested. He talked about how he knew that everyone in the room had an ultimate goal to be with God (wrong), and how Christians should not dread death, but look forward to it, because they finally get their reward. I wonder how he would have felt if a crazy psycho had broken into the funeral home at that moment and offered to give him his reward? The hypocrisy infuriates me.

He made a reference along the lines of some people believe the world was started with a big bang - and "we all know that that is a lie." When he said that, S gave my hand a squeeze, as if to say, "I know. Don't say anything. Everybody knows he is absurd." I just love her so much. Of course, I sat there respectfully. I was there for S and Aunt D. This preacher man was not going to get a rise out of me.

After it was over, almost everyone hugged me warmly and told me that they appreciated what I had said about Aunt D. Except the preacher. He gave me a cold handshake and didn't say a word.

But, there were no cross words. There was no spectacle. As much as it pained him, he did not approach me about my irreverance. And I did not approach him about his. We silently agreed to disagree, and everything remained calm.

I guess my point is, when you have people who love each other very much (such as S and me), you can have huge differences in world view, and it's okay. It doesn't have to ruin anything. And when there is someone that you just really don't like (such as preacher man and me), you can just keep your mouth shut sometimes.

Phil was right. It's best to just not be a dick.

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