I attended the funeral of my friend’s father on Friday. Historically, I have not been a fan of funerals in general, but this one was really nice. My friend’s father had served in the military during the Vietnam war, so there was an honor guard present. One of them played “Taps” before they lifted the flag from the coffin and folded it very neatly and exactly. Then one of the honor guard members knelt before the widow and said, “On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
I found myself with tears in my eyes. I did not know my friend’s father, yet in that moment, I wished that I had. The pastor delivered a eulogy that contained an interesting twist. At the start, he handed the family a bag full of jigsaw puzzle pieces and asked them each to take two pieces and hold onto them. He then went through the normal things said at a funeral—he was loved, a great father and friend, loyal, loved to work jigsaw puzzles. After that, some of the grandkids spoke about their memories.
Finally, the pastor explained the puzzle pieces. He compared the puzzle pieces to life as a big picture made up of many smaller parts, experiences, and people. He went on to say that with their loved one’s passing, a piece of them was now missing. He asked them to keep one of the pieces and drop the other into the grave. The piece they kept was to remind them of the bigger picture and that someday they would be able to see the whole puzzle put back together again.
I have been reading Boom Town by Sam Anderson. It is a fascinating narrative about the history of Oklahoma City, filled with stories and facts I did not know. One of these stories was about the Modern Classics Club meeting where the ladies were discussing the work of J.B. Priestley and his unconventional notion of time. Priestley believed that our conscience travels along a track as we might travel on a train. The past is like the station we just left, and the future is the station we are heading toward. While we are no longer at the “past” station, it has not ceased to exist. This framework, found in a book published in 1937, is actually very consistent with the current physics “block” model of time.
Priestly thought we did not move through life shedding moments like flowers shed petals. Instead, he thought all moments were physically in existence always. Sort of an eternal present. It is only our perception of those moments that makes them seem to disappear. Like travelling on that train, we come into, pass through, and then leave each station. The station doesn’t change; we do.
I have not been a fan of funerals because they remind me of the people I have lost. Their absence from my life has been a source of pain and, at times, even anger. For much of my life, I considered them gone—like those petals—dropped from my life. And that big picture the pastor talked about was now forever incomplete, as they took their piece with them to the grave.
Then I was texting with a friend after the funeral, and he said, “It’s a good time to reflect.” Reflection leads me to think differently about things.
As I reflect on the loss of people I cared about, I see a different way to view their “departure.” I like the puzzle analogy; however, instead of seeing a piece being taken from my puzzle, I choose to see all the pieces added to my puzzle by the people who have come into my life. Rather than mourn something being taken away, I can celebrate all that has been given.
All the people in my life, including the difficult ones, are adding pieces to the puzzle and helping me see the big picture. The best puzzles are not all one color or texture. They are variegated and challenging and complex. The puzzle isn’t complete without all the pieces, and every piece is equally important. At the end of my life, my final disposition won’t be about me; it will be about all the pieces other people have put in my puzzle and all the pieces I have put in theirs.
Those pieces don’t fall away when we are no longer present. Our impact on others and the impact others have on us is part of the picture that remains, like the station, after the train has passed through. That is reason enough for me to treat each person I meet on this journey with respect and care. They are completing me, even as I am completing them. Appreciating the important pieces others place into my life helps me see them as the gifts they are, and it is The Kimray Way.