Rest and Peace

Driving in this morning I was listening to the local NPR station.  During their Fresh Air program, there was a local interest story about the funeral of a homeless veteran.  Approximately 75 people gathered for the funeral of this man who served in the US Air Force from 1962 – 1968.  The curious thing is, none of these people knew the man they gathered to remember.  They had never met him.  

He was a homeless veteran, with no known surviving friends or family.  I don’t think the story indicated how he died, but nobody claimed his body.  He was destined to be buried in a pauper’s plot until a group called Dignity Memorial got involved.  This man received a full military funeral service with honors, and will be interred at a cemetery in Riverside.  
At the outset, I think this is a nice thing.  I don’t have any issue with this sort of program.  
But I suspect that it’s too easy.  
The story featured tearful testimonies about military mothers who never met this man, but who gathered to pay him respect, knowing that they would want the same to be done for their sons who have or are serving in the armed forces.  There was some official or other talking about how this man had, in receiving this military funeral –  been brought home amongst his fellow deceased service personnel.  It was all very nice and touching.
But I came away wondering how each of these people would have treated this guy a week before he died?  How is it that people could discover that he was a United States veteran after his death, but nobody knew it before hand?  Or if they did know it beforehand, why did they wait until after his death to give the sort of respect and care and love that they demonstrated after his death?  I wonder if the man, if he was watching the proceedings at the cemetery, would be shaking his head and wondering where in the world these people had been for the last 40 years.  Up until his death, was he just a homeless person?  Just a bum?  Just an addict?  Just a nuisance?  Just an eyesore?  
It’s easier to pay respects to the dead than it is to respect the living.  The tab is much smaller in terms of our time and emotional expenditure.  Ultimately, funerals are for our benefit anyways, not the deceased’s.  They make us feel better.  They provide us with an emotional outlet for grief and fears – whether related to the deceased or not.  They can be a cathartic experience as we face the reality of someone else’s death and in so doing briefly stare our own death in the eyes as well.  It’s not a gaze that we can hold for very long.  
The dead don’t need our respect.  The respect we pay to the dead ought to be a pointer to the respect that we owe the living.  The care we lavish on those we love who passed away ought to be a continuation of the love we showed to them during their lives, and a reminder to shower those still in our lives with that same depth of love.  Theologically and physically, our actions for the dead don’t make any difference to them.  But they mean a great deal to us and how we think about ourselves and our lives and how we would like people to remember us.
As such, gathering to show love and respect to a dead man nobody knows is a kind thing, but only inasmuch as it reminds us to show love to those marginal shadow-people in our own lives.  The people on the outskirts of parking lots or freeway offramps.  Scruffy and weather-beaten faces behind equally ragged cardboard signs.  If I showed up to one of their funerals but never bothered to give them a bite to eat while they were alive, what am I saying  about myself?  What am I demonstrating about the depth of my love and care for my fellow human beings?
As a Christian I am called to see Christ in every single person.  Without exception.  Whether they are a relative or a friend or a stranger or an enemy.  How does catching sight of Jesus in that other person affect my treatment of them or my acknowledgment of them?  Would I continue to scurry by and try not to let Jesus catch my eye as I went about my daily routine?  There are some days when the answer might be yes, and that’s pretty sad.  
Honor the dead, but let’s be honest about whose feelings we’re ultimately salving.  And in admitting that, let’s be honest about what that ought to mean for the remainder of the days we’re allotted in this world.  If this is the case about what is going on, then greater thanks are due the deceased man in the story this morning – hopefully in his death he will make an impact in the lives of those people who gathered on his behalf.  Hopefully because of his death, someone else’s life will be improved a little bit.  That’s certainly something worth honoring.  

One Response to “Rest and Peace”

  1. Brian Says:

    Hello Mr. Expert, When are going to write up a follow up article on this post… is it going to be anytime soon? :) _______ “We run a Lawyer Directory about Criminal Law” … ( http://www.QSLaw.com )

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