“Working in the death industry can have a profound influence on how one views life.”
Is that really the number 10 up there?
I wrote the first of these back in June 2008. I’d been at this job for a year and was experiencing a serious case of writer’s block. All I had after days of trying to write my editorial was a tangle of disconnected thoughts, each embarked upon with high hopes and abandoned after a paragraph or two. So I took a risk, threw them all in the proverbial pot, and called it what I thought it was: Slim Pickings. Every year since then, except for one, I’ve written another instalment. I’ve described it as grammatical goulash, an editorial salmagundi, a miscellany of musings, and a gallimaufry. If they have been judged and found lacking, at least I have expanded my vocabulary. Here is this year’s olio of opinions and cogitations. (o·li·o noun: 1. a stew of various meats and vegetables; 2. a miscellaneous mixture or collection of things.)
I work part time at a Life Celebration Centre—or as it used to be called, a funeral home. Although I am occasionally asked to assist with visitations, drive a car, or even to be a pallbearer, my main role is as a funeral celebrant. Increasing numbers of families have no connection to a local minister or priest. Some do not want a religious service of any kind. So, as a funeral celebrant, I work with families to put together a meaningful celebration of life service and then I officiate it. It’s interesting work. The people I work with are an amazing team of professionals who really care about what they do. I am meeting people in my community I would never get to meet otherwise. And, on a regular basis, I am forced to confront my own mortality.
Working in the death industry can have a profound influence on how one views life. More and more I find myself measuring my life not by the number of years I’ve had but by the number of years I have left. It reminds me of a passage from Canadian author Rohinton Mistry’s novel, Family Matters. Yezad, one of the main characters, is watching his father-in-law sleep. The old man is suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Yezad wonders:
“What folly made young people, even those in middle age, think they were immortal? How much better, their lives, if they could remember the end. Carrying your death with you every day would make it hard to waste time on unkindness and anger and bitterness, on anything petty. That was the secret: remembering your dying time, in order to keep the stupid and the ugly out of your living time.”
One day this past fall, I was working as a pallbearer for a funeral. The service had ended and we were at the cemetery. The casket had been placed on the grave. The minister was performing the committal. I stood a hundred feet away, watching, listening, thinking—wondering about my “dying time.” I looked to my right at the rows of silent gravestones and began to read the names of those whose time had come. That’s when I saw it. There, standing 50 feet away, staring me down with a stone-cold eye, was a large granite marker that simply read: KENNEDY.
I heard an interesting interview on CBC radio the other day. I don’t remember the name of the woman being interviewed, but she was talking about the affordable housing crisis in Canada’s major cities. When the interviewer asked her how she thought major change was ever going to happen, she replied, “relentless incrementalism.” I’d never heard the term before, but I immediately understood the concept. However and wherever else it may apply, I see its application to our spiritual journey. Even the major turning points of our lives, if we really examine them, are most likely the result of a long series of incremental events. Back when I was a Bible college chaplain, I remember talking with a student who was in anguish over what he saw as the slow pace of his spiritual growth. He poured out his distress and frustration and then fell silent, looking to me for the profound wisdom expected of a man of my position. I remember letting the silence settle and then saying, “Weeds grow fast. Oaks grow slow. God wants oaks, not weeds.”
I know I was not smart enough or wise enough to come up with that answer on my own. I don’t know if he heard me or not, but I heard me.
My Christmas reflection last December was that Jesus was born into a refugee family. Joseph and Mary had been forcibly displaced from their home by Caesar Augustus’ decree. Then Herod’s murderous threats forced them to flee to Egypt. So, Jesus spent the first years of His life as a refugee. We hear a lot about refugees these days. Did you know that at the end of 2016 there were 65.6 million forcibly displaced people in the world? That means that one in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee. Around the world, someone is displaced every three seconds. If you read at the average speed, then in the time it has taken you to read this far, 120 people have been forced to flee the place they call home. Every one of them has a name and a story. Many of them are children. Some of them are finding refuge in the place you call home. Have you met one of them yet? What are you waiting for?
- Rohinton Mistry, Family Matters (Toronto:McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2002), 347-348;
- UNHCR annual Global Trends Report, “Forced displacement in the world at its highest in decades,”accessed December 04, 2017, http://www.unhcr.org/afr/news/stories/2017/6/5941561f4/forceddisplacement-worldwide-its-highest-decades.html.
This editorial appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.