We buried my Uncle Gene last Friday. His life was long. His final years did not suit him. His body failed to cooperate with his mind. We celebrated his life and said goodbye for now.
As I stood behind the pall bearers, strong men with broad shoulders, my cousins, I was forced to accept that so much time has passed. We, who for a time, felt forever young, are young no longer.
So many of our relatives, those who were solid landmarks in a chaotic world, are gone. Those of us that remain are much older now. Our hair is dusted with gray. Our faces etched with lines. We ask each other, "Where has the time gone?" When did WE get so OLD?" Our age sobers us. We, who walked in the shadow of our elders, now cast shadows of our own.
For a few trying minutes, I felt the passage of time, the loss of what was, the loss of those who mattered. I stood behind a wall of somber strength and fought back tears. I was glad that my uncle was free from the limits of his failing body but I mourned the loss of time.
The pain of this hit hard. Giving in to the personal grief could not be allowed. Focusing on the flickering candles, the feel of the early summer air, the smell of incense, wax and wood, I realized that the best use of time is found in moments in which feeling intersects with life. This painful grief is an integral part of what makes other moments sweet. Without the contrast, life becomes a meaningless blur.
Much of my life has been a blur. Some thing, some one, seemed to have their foot on the accelerator and I have raced through the years riding in the back seat. The years that remain don't stretch before me like an endless highway of what-might-be. Time is at a premium. Soon, I will be back to bury another and another. All too soon, that other, will be me,
Silently, I pray to those who have gone before me.
"I need help. I feel lost. Nothing is turning out like I planned. What do I do?"
In my mind, they look on me with a quiet, benevolent silence. There is no need for words. They, who fought the good fight, who have run the race, wait at the finish line. Their trials, their fears and failures were part of the journey as mine are to my own.
In the end, life is less about what you have done and more about who you have become.
My uncle's life was a simple one. He made a living by the work of his hands. The land was the floor below him, the sky his cathedral. In his presence, I felt a reverence I never understood. Our relationship didn't have words to define it. They weren't necessary. Words aren't what really defines a life or shapes a destiny. Those monumental events occur in between the crevices of the minutes, days and years. They are found in action and choices, in moments of intense feeling both pain and joy. The blood and bone of life is in the doing and the being. It's in the showing up.
Thanks, Gene, Dad, Grandmas, uncles, aunts. . .Your lives have shown me the way. Please save me a spot at the table. We have some catching up to do. See you soon.