The mercury hovers in the upper twenties as the white winter sky delivers a light snowy mist. The roads are smeared in a grayish mush, while the sidewalks are covered in a clean blanket of white. The radio disc jockey shouts his dismay of the inaccuracies of the local meteorologists’ predictions. A man pushes his bicycle on the sidewalk as the conditions have become too slick for pedaling. A light blue min-van has veered out of control and hit an electrical pole. The entire driver’s quarter panel is a mess of jagged metal with flecking paint and busted plastic. The emergency crews have blocked off the lanes and traffic slows as each driver gawks at the accident.
The Evangelical church sits on the edge of the Rolling Green neighborhood. Using the back church driveway entrance that is adjacent to the neighborhood is safer, but most approach from the bustling four lanes of Broadway. The cars filling the slushy parking lot have lost their individual color and are becoming a communal snowy white. Attendants scurry from their automobiles to the entrance before their eyeglasses are spotted with too many snow flakes.
Upon entering the double glass doors a suited business man in his sixties directs me to the end of the long stained glass hallway to sign the registration book. I ask where the restroom is and he directs me in the same fashion. Supporters are busy hanging their winter coats on the available metal hangers of the open faced closet. I spot a few recognizable relatives as I pass a talkative room of people that stand in front of the corpse, undaunted. The room has several pieces of generic furniture that somber guests use to relax before the ceremony. The casket sits below an overwhelming painting of Christ’s bust that consumes the room.
I head towards the organ music that is billowing from the A framed chapel that is nearly sixty years old. It is the kind of music that has no words but offers a familiar childhood memory of Sunday services. The organist is a woman of short stature in her seventies. She is no taller than the organ that she commands. Her thick white hair is a tidy curled cut that barely falls below her gold pierced ears. Her round spectacles reflect the sheet music that she intently follows. She is wearing a royal blue and black large checked sweater with navy polyester pants. Pinned is an ornamental golden quaver brooch that is adorned with faux diamonds near her left clavicle. Her black leather wrist watch is fastened tightly enough that round golden face is flush with the surrounding flesh, as if it grew from her being.
The elder people in the neighboring pews notice me as I approach. They sit in their pant suits and sport coats, as I casually attend in my argyle sweater and blue jeans. They sit orderly without baggage as they adhere to their strict memorial service rituals. I lay my bulky winter coat in the pew and take a seat near an exterior white painted brick wall. The horizontal rectangular stained glass windows were designed more as a function for light rather than artistic decoration. The medium sized chunked glass is encased in thick mortar as if the builder was worried that the pieces might fall from their own weight. The heavy blues and greens attract my attention and detract from the white and teal pieces. Each of the six windows contains three rudimentary pieces of artwork. The one nearest me represents a tulip, but the center of it looks more like a mouth than a flower. I defocus my eyes and imagine the flower coming to life and pecking at me. The petals look like flapping wings as the tulips spatially float upward.
The wood planked chestnut ceiling peaks near seventy five feet. The planks are sustained by chocolate colored metal beams every twenty feet. The wall behind the altar is painted a hunter green which matches the sidewall stained glass. It serves as a backdrop for the projector that is mounted just below the balcony. The over-sized simple wooden cross is awkwardly offset close to the apex of the ceiling to avoid interference with the modern convenience of visual aids. The altar is flanked with falsely lit pastel stained glass that flow like ribbons from the sky. The soft pinks, greens and purples don’t match the rest of the color schemes of the chapel. The precision pieces are assembled in an arc like fashion that reach toward the heavens.
The music streams from the organ as it has hundreds of times before now. The organist’s worn hands are in constant motion with keystrokes and adjustments, and her shiny black shoed feet dance lightly across the pedals. Her winter snow boots are tucked neatly next to the wooden bench upon which she is perched. The funeral directors appear at the rear and wait for the song to come to a close. They slowly wheel the gray blue casket to the front of the chapel and park it perpendicular to the aisle. The family soberly passes me and is directed to the first three rows for seating. The casket is adorned with a carpet of white carnations, daisies and a few roses to justify the cost that the funeral director is charging. A red ribbon is embossed with gold descriptions that this man was – uncle, father, and grandfather. The greens cascade over the side, nearly to the metal rail handle fixed for lifting.
The pastor approaches the altar and stands at the dark oak pulpit and looks miniaturized amid the immense backdrop. He wears a dark monotone suit as to not attract undue attention, and the color of his ordinary brown hair would blend in with any crowd. A white pastoral scarf is draped around his neck and bedecked with a single burgundy cross. He bows his head to read his agenda and presents his balding head with the Charlie Brown wisp of hair in the front.
He reads from his Bible and regurgitates some generic words on the man lying before him. He directs the assembled to stand and sing How Great Thou Art. The old man in my row is singing too fast for the tempo. A woman that is two rows behind me has likely had years of experience singing in the church choir. Her voice is lofty with changing octaves that masks the other singers near her. We sing a couple refrains and the activities continue. A few relatives and life-long friends of the deceased stand and share memories and antidotes. Smiles break the across the faces of the swollen eyed crowd and joyful groans are heard with the use of a pun, a favorite past-time of the deceased.
I wasn’t close to the man whose life is celebrated. Of the people in the room I am probably the furthest removed from him. Nonetheless I am a participant in this community of death. I close my eyes and absorb the moment into my heart. My eyes begin to well with tears. We are instructed to stand and sing Amazing Grace. I didn’t hear the hymn number and cannot find it in the blue hardcover hymnal. I give up trying to find it as I wouldn’t be able to read the lyrics through my blurred vision. I sing the song from memory and dry my eyes.
The ceremony comes to a close and the funeral directors lead the way, pushing the coffin. The family follows and some of the younger grandchildren are happily wiggling again. People exit in an orderly fashion, pew by pew. They file down the stained glass hallway and I observe their ambiguous colored shadows walking into life.