Before anyone thinks something bad has happened, let me assure you it has not--at least not to me.
I work in a synagogue, which means I watch Bar and Bat Mitzvah students arrive in the afternoon to meet the Cantor to practice their Hebrew, babies carried through on their way to baby namings, dressed up couples arriving for pre-wedding photos.
And there are funerals.
There are doors closer to the sanctuary than the one that goes past my office, but people who have been members for a long time often come to the office door out of habit or to speak to the Rabbis before the service. I sit at my desk and watch the family slog past my office looking shocked, sad, stressed, and broken.
My father died when I was 21. I have no idea what the minister said during the funeral. (A friend told me later that was a very good thing. Apparently his theology would have made me violent.) I kept looking at my father in the casket, and I was sure I could see him breathing even though I knew he was not.*
On the way to the cemetery from the funeral home, we drove a road I have driven hundreds or thousands of times. It was late October, and one of the fields we passed was being harvested.
The farmer stopped the tractor, took off his hat, placed it over his chest, and sat immobile until the entire funeral procession passed. I can still see him, and I bow to the ground to him.
When someone you love dies, the most gut-wrenching part is that the world keeps going. People go to work, go for coffee, help their kids with their homework, pick up their dry cleaning. They keep living their life as if the whole world hasn't shifted with the loss of the human being you loved. Your world is changed, but their world has not.
On days when there's a funeral at the synagogue, I dress up and wear black. If the family glides past my office, I stop typing and sit quietly. It's not enough, and it probably isn't noticed by anyone, but I remember the farmer who was trying to get the harvest in before it frosted, and I remember how he stopped and covered his heart to show respect for the funeral procession of someone he may or may not have known.
For that moment, at least, the world did stop. I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same, and I knew that this stranger understood it, too.
Today I am wearing black.
*I want to be cremated. Seriously, write it down. Give away everything you can--organs, eyes, whatever--and then burn the rest. Don't pump me full of chemicals, put me into a cushy box inside a concrete vault and put me in the ground. Don't. Thanks.