I have been away at a funeral for the past few hours. Mike Hughes, a lawyer who was one of the pillars of our local community, died suddenly over the weekend. It was a real shock. His son Stewart, who shared a law practice with him, is our family’s lawyer; I spoke with Mike not long ago, the last time I was in their office. He was a familiar face around town. Then again, everybody’s a familiar face in a town as small as ours.
The funeral, at Grace Episcopal Church, was rich and beautiful. The Rev. Roman Roldan preached a powerful sermon, and reminded us all that life is too short to hold on to resentments. This was no commentary on the deceased, who was widely liked and admired, but a memento mori; Mike was about to retire, and he and his wife Arlene were going to be able to enjoy being together all the time. No more. You never know.
It was standing room only in the church. Watching from the back as nearly everybody went up for communion, it was amazing to me to see how much we all have aged. It’s strange how I can understand myself getting older, but I want everybody I grew up with, and their parents, to remain the same age. But we’re all sadder, saggier, more weary than we were just yesterday. Death — which is to say, Time — is the great leveler. Father Roldan’s words struck me with particular force when looking at the faces of so many people of our town who were more real to me as young adults, younger than I am now, as a matter of fact, but who are now old people. Me and my generation, we’re now middle-aged, and starting to go to each other’s parents’ funerals.
But you know what? I will be back in Grace Episcopal Church this weekend for a friend’s wedding. A couple of years ago, I was there for her father’s funeral. The wheel turns.
I know. This is a commonplace. But the passage of time, and the entrance into eternity of which death is the demarcation, never becomes a commonplace. I was thinking as we left the church singing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” how brave it is just to keep living in the face of dying. And I thought: look at all of us, here. Our town.
From Philip Larkin’s great poem “Church Going”:
A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.