Except for Six Strangers


It was extremely hot and humid. Any movement at all caused perspiration to form on my brow eventually running like a fresh rain down my face.

I had arrived early and was standing in the parking lot.

After a few minutes I wandered inside to find a place out of the sun and hopefully into the cool air being generated by the small window air conditioner facing the lot.

I was out of the sun, but far from cool.

The only other time I was ever in a funeral home by myself was when my Gramps died. The director always let me arrive early so I could spend some private time with him.

I loved my Gramps so much.

This time, however, I didn't even know the man and I was about to participate in his funeral.

A man walked in and thanked me for being there. "We have him ready. There will be no viewing, of course. We will hold a simple ceremony at the grave site," he said.

When the others arrived we all followed the hearse a few miles down the road to the cemetery. Upon entering, the driver slowed down for a moment just outside the chapel.

"Good, at least he will have a church service," I thought to myself.

Suddenly the cars in front of me began to move.

Following them down a winding road we made a sharp turn and pulled up along the roadside.

The hearse drove right up to the open grave and back up to it.

I got out of the car and back into the sweltering heat. The grass crunched below my feet as dust flew up in the air with each step.

The back door opened and inside was the simple wooden casket of ...wait I don't even know his name!

"Can I help you with that?" I asked.

"If you'd like to. There's no handles on it so you have to grab it from the bottom," he said.

With little effort, four of us lifted and placed the man over his final resting place.

Including the funeral director, there were six of us in attendance.

The chaplain began his brief service and I began to disconnect. I mean, I couldn't believe this. All the thoughts of how sad this was. All the images of no one being there for him and no one caring trashed my brain.

"And so we commit our friend..." the chaplain went on.

And then it was over.

"May I ask," the director said. "Did any of you know him? I mean, would you know him by sight?"

One of the nurses replied, "Yes."

"Would you please take a moment to identify him?" He asked.

He was about to open the casket.

We all stood there nervously anxious and uneasy. I've certainly seen enough dead people in my life, but this seemed odd to me. Right there in the cemetery...he opened the casket.

The man was in a nice dress shirt and without any fancy linen, silk or even cotton lining in the box he was leaning toward us.

"This would be the very last time that the sun would shine on him," I thought to myself. Then the lid was closed.

For 57 years my life zig zagged in a thousand directions. For 70 some his did, too. On this day, in early August 2007, our lives crossed. I didn't know him and he didn't know me. I never had the honor of speaking with him nor did I ever hear a word about him before this very day.

He had loved, laughed and lived well over 25,550 days. In doing so he touched thousands of lives and still, on the very last day none of those people were there.

That is except for six strangers.

I have since learned that he did indeed have family. But none of them spoke to each other for more than a third of his life.

Are you saddened by this?

Me, too.

Is there someone you need to call right now? Someone you haven't spoken to for many years? Someone who would love to know you cared enough to forgive, ask for forgiveness, forget, move on, begin again, start over, love anyway?

Me, too.

Imagine being that man who had no one, "that is except for six strangers."

Bob Perks 2believe@comcast.net

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