You Never Know the Real Story

She was my friend. 

Let’s live life, for her.

She always had a smile on her face, even if she wasn’t smiling inside.

The purple and yellow glass of the jagged windows conveyed a quiet hopefulness along the north end of the funeral home sanctuary. The coffin was small, a finite end to what can seem an endless life.

That’s the thing about living. At times it seems endless and full of possibility, and at other times, it is a burden we bear, trudging through days and wondering at the point of it all. For those of us lucky enough to discover our purpose and our path, how beautiful is this life. And for those who wander without that clarity, it is excruciating.

This morning, I bid farewell to a woman I’d known since I was 16. We weren’t close, but her daughter is a dear friend, and she was one of those people who impacted my life in the way that the parents of friends can. Her friends wept and spoke about how she wore a smile on her face all the days of her life, just to make others happy, even though inside, she was not.

They spoke of how much she loved her family and her friends, how she sent cards just to show she cared, even without the excuse of a holiday or an occasion. And in final words, we were encouraged to live life to make her memory a blessing and an inspiration.

Death comes suddenly. And when it does, we halt everything and rearrange our routines so that we can comfort those who mourn.

Today I wept for my friend’s sudden loss. I wept for the turmoil inside her mother. I wept for all the hidden stories we never know, the burdens borne by those around us.

We never really know what someone hides inside. Think of the store clerk who snips at you when you make a purchase. Or the driver who flicks you off or honks because he’s convinced you were out of line.

What lurks beneath their surfaces? What demons plague them?

We can smirk back and blame them for offensive behavior – or we can be kind to everyone we encounter, driven by the knowledge that we can never truly understand another person’s journey.

Kindness is the great equalizer. And really, there is no reason not to be kind.

I think of all the rants and arguments on social media nowadays, people indignant and stomping their views behind the safety of a computer screen or smartphone. No human-to-human connection, no skin to skin.

When you look into the eyes of another and see pain swimming there, or nervousness, or insecurity, you cannot be mean. The edges soften, and the barbs disappear. You see into their soul, the clarity that lives there, and how deep below the competing emotions of the surface it truly resides.

The rabbi said this morning that the soul is pure. That doesn’t mean that our bodies, or our minds, are in concert with our souls.

In this life, it is sometimes very hard to see the beauty in a new day. But it is there, vibrant and dynamic, raining golden sunlight between luminescent silver-blue clouds full of possibility. And love.

One of the greatest gifts we can give another is to accompany them to their final resting place, and show love to those who mourn their passing. It is incredibly hard to attend a funeral – any funeral – because it reminds us of our own mortality.

And yet it is one of the most important things we can do.

Sitting in that chapel, I knew I was in the right place. In the middle of my workday, I could have found many reasons not to go. She won’t notice me there. I hadn’t seen her mother in years. It’s for closer friends. 

But no. My son asked me to drive him many miles south a few months back to pay his respects after the passing of a friend’s grandmother. An acquaintance, really. He just felt it was the right thing to do.

Because it is. Sharing in life with another is the only thing that makes this life worthwhile.

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