(*funeral of my uncle Tom, a fallen Marines)
We are in a deep freeze. For a stretch of a few days our temperature here in Iowa have not wandered above zero degrees Fahrenheit. I know my friends in California boast of warm weather there still. Plus recreational marijuana is now legal there too. It’s not fair!
There was even one day last week, that our actual temperature in Des Moines was colder (-18 F or -27.8 C) than that same day in Antarctica (-5 F or -20.6 C). This is not considering the wind chill factor that can be as cold as -30 to -50 F. I’m expecting Emperor Penguins to arrive in my front yard anytime now.
Yet few days ago, there was somebody who rode a motorcycle on the road in this dangerously frigid condition. Not a snowmobile, but a motorcycle. I know that seems all madness. But if I tell you the reason why he did it, you will be convinced that it was rather a valiant and selfless act.
We have somebody in our church who likes to ride motorcycles. What he owns is a big maroon Harley-Davidson trike. We were told that he rode it to many places, far and near. He even goes to work on it, and I have seen him come to church on this trike.
Recently his health declined and he became more sickly. His kidneys failed, and he started dialysis three times a week. Yet he continued to ride his trike despite all of his illness, and he even rode it to go to his dialysis treatments.
Few days before Christmas, he got hospitalized. Then with one complication after another, sadly to say, he died a few days later.
So earlier this week, we attended his memorial service that was held in our church. The temperature that day was negative 12 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill factor of 30 below zero. It snowed the night before and into early morning, so there’s freshly fallen snow on the ground. Even though it was bitterly cold that morning, what was more palpable was the love and warmth of the family and friends who attended that memorial.
To honor this fallen brother, they brought his trike to his memorial service. And yes, somebody rode it from this departed brother’s home and into the church, in this Antarctica-like condition!
So there it was, the Harley-Davidson trike, parked at the entrance of the church. It was positioned near the door, waiting like a sentinel. Perhaps it’s waiting for its rider for a final ride into the sunset.
I don’t like funerals. I don’t think anybody does. Except funeral homes’ owners, I guess. Here’s another reason to dread funerals….
I received a phone call last week. It was a lady in our church, and she informed me that a beloved church member had passed away. I thought that was it. But there was more.
She told me that the widow of the deceased requested her to sing in the funeral service, and she was in turn requesting me to accompany her in the piano. Moreover, she also told me that the widow asked me to play some hymns during the viewing, preceding the funeral service.
I was a little shocked by the news, and maybe even more shocked with the thought of playing piano in a funeral. But somehow I agreed to do it, out of respect. I played in church before, just not in a funeral service. This would be my first.
I can play the piano, but not very well. To sound good, or at least half-decent, I need to practice a lot, which I admit, don’t do.
A year ago, a church member requested me to be the pianist for his wedding. I know the wedding music pieces are difficult and I am fully aware of my limitations. I respectfully declined. I was afraid I will messed up so badly that when I play “Here Comes the Bride,” the guests will be looking at me instead of the bride marching down the aisle.
Unlike a recital, or a wedding, or a Christmas program, you have months or at least few weeks to prepare and practice. You don’t have that luxury for a funeral. I got two days.
It was not that the two ladies who asked me to play, don’t discern good music. The one who would sing had professionally recorded religious songs in the past, in fact, I even had a music CD of hers. She may not be in her prime, but I would not call her faded, as she still sings beautifully. And the widow? She was the church organist for several decades. She just elected not to play anymore in the past year or so, perhaps due to her age, or maybe more so to give way to the younger musicians.
But they had no choice. The three regular and “real” pianists in our church were all on vacation. Two were out-of-state, and one is out of the country. I was the only one available. I could have forced my 13 year-old daughter to take my place, who by the way, already plays better than I do. But I owned up to the responsibility, for the sake of the memory and out of respect of the departed brother. I tell you, do not die when the pianists are on vacation, for you will get a crummy piano player for your funeral.
As the time to play came, I just blocked my mind from the audience, and felt the solemn music, and immersed myself on the inspirational content of the hymns I was playing. And as I accompanied the singer with the hymn “Face to Face,” (the song the widow requested to be sang) I don’t think people were focusing on me, nor even on the singer. It was the hopeful message of the song, and the loving memory of the departed that people reflected on.
Face to face shall I behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory,
I shall see Him by and by!
After the service, I was standing by the door, waiting for the casket to be brought out and placed in the hearse. The grieving relatives passed by me and with tears in their eyes said: “Thank you. It was beautiful.”
I was grateful that I accepted the part, and contributed to the last memories of our departed brother. I now realized that it is not who plays it, nor how good we play the songs, but it was the songs themselves, and the messages they bring, that touches people. And it is not necessarily our mastery that is important, but our willingness to serve, is what really matters.