I’m up in NY this weekend for a family funeral. It’s an unusual thing, being away from the parish on a Sunday, but the “unusualness” of it gives me a chance to look at things through fresh eyes of faith.
I could wax theological on the power of funerals to make saints. I could opine on the comforts afforded by the funeral rites to those of us who remain… but I’m not going to. It’s the early hours of Sunday morning and my parents’ packed house is, for the moment, still quiet. I’m home from DC, my sister and her husband have trekked north from the Carolinas, and my younger brother has dug his way south from Boston. Likewise in our extended family – many have made long journeys back to New York for tomorrow’s rites. Jammed together in close quarters again, whether it’s here at home or at the funeral parlor, what strikes me is this: We “get” each other. There’s no other group of people in the world who will ever “get” you like a loving family. The jokes make sense… the same old stories repeated for the thousandth time land with surprising comfort on the ear… There’s no need for background explanations in conversations. And perhaps best of all, you can hug each other unreservedly. Think of it: for all our friendly, fashionable embraces in DC (on sidewalks, at happy hours at office retirement parties)… all of them are so circumscribed by official, professional or social boundaries. That’s not to belittle those boundaries, but when you’re with family your embrace is all of “you” freely given, freely received. And there’s something really wonderful about trusting 100% of yourself to another person and knowing that it will be freely and fully received.
We have a lot of young adults in DC. We take great joy in our social scene and how “comfortable” we’ve become in a city where casual-fine-dining is the latest thing. Walking around downtown I notice a surprising number of smiles and laughs exchanged even among strangers. Laudable as all that is, is it family? Are our relationships marked by the “100%” nature of family? Would my circle of friends be there for me around my death bed? I’ve been privileged to know circles of friends who really have been family to each other. A dear old man I knew was single his whole life and found family among our college Knights of Columbus… He became like a father to the guys, and they became as sons to him. At his funeral, half the Church was grandees of the scientific community (there was even a British knight on hand), the other was all under the age of 25… impressive to say the least, but probably an exception to the rule. With each passing year, young adult Washingtonians become “less young” adult Washingtonians (myself included). Where does family fit in to our picture? It’s a worthy question to approach through eyes of faith. Meanwhile, I smell pancakes downstairs!