The Dash in the Middle

I went to a funeral yesterday and I am terrible at funerals. I don’t know that anyone is actually good at funerals but I guarantee you I will cry. I will cry and I will also do that people-watching thing I do everywhere I go, so that my thoughts are often full of observations I can write about later or – in worst cases – produce a sort of hysterical hilarity that comes from high emotions and threatens to embarrass me by the very nature of everything inappropriate. I did cry – but the hilarity did not come (thank God) and I’m going to tell you why.

I wore a nice pair of jeans and boots, and a sweater. I worried that maybe jeans would be inappropriate – remember, I grew up in a generation that wore their Sunday Best to church and wore black at funerals. But I didn’t have any clean black pants and thought my new black dress was too much and all this caused me stress but then I pulled a page from the over-50 playbook that says it matters less what you wore and more that you were there.

I arrived and parked in the last spot in the lot and, upon entering, noticed that everyone was well-dressed in shades of black. Okay. I got in the visitation line that snaked from the door in the back of the room through a dense crowd of folks chatting and greeting one another. I noted one kid toward the front wearing jeans and a nice shirt. There were a few others but by this time I was focused on my friend up front and praying I could look at her without crying.

Nope. I took one look at her and it was over. I think I hugged her for the first time ever in our friendship and I hugged her longer than I probably should have. So there was that. I proceeded to greet the rest of the family who I had never met before with tears in my eyes and tried to form appropriate words and I’m sure I made no sense whatsoever. I told you I am so bad at these things and why TF did I not bring Todd with me?? He’s good at this stuff. Like my dad, who never misses a funeral because he’s a good man and why am I even saying this because it makes him sound like a psycho.

Anyway. I left the line and went through to the hallway so that I could find a spot to stand in the back. Standing room only and when I tell you it speaks volumes of the man whose life we celebrated that day, I mean it. As the minister stated multiple times, he left a huge hole in his family’s lives and for that my heart is sad and broken. If I know nothing else, I know this acutely.

So I stood against the back wall in the corner, next to three guys who were chatting amongst themselves and I tried to be inconspicuous. There was a table with a lamp in front of me that was turned on, with what felt like the brightest LED bulb known to theatre production and I was struck with the strongest urge to turn it off. But I didn’t. My goal was not to draw attention to myself. I already felt like I’d gained a little with my wiping my eyes with a tissue. Not to mention the jeans. (See? People with anxiety and social anxiety often think the world is watching and judging them.)

Anyway, so this guy comes over and greets the aforementioned group to my right, and says, “Is this the wall of shame?” and my awkward-silly jumped right in, looked at him with incredulous eyes and said, “I’m not with them.” And we all laughed. I am a very weird social creature, I assure you, and it is not lost on me that everyone probably thinks so too. A few minutes passed and the guy to my right walked away and wall-of-shame guy stepped in and took the place next to me. The service began.

The minister invited folks to speak and there was a long awkward silence where no one said anything and I felt that old sick pang that always accompanied the teacher calling on people when no one speaks up. Like, OMG – someone’s gotta do it, but it aint gonna be me. Finally, a man stood up and made his way to the podium. He was wearing a nice suit and God bless him he was taking deep breaths and praying he could get through what he wanted to say, and then he looked up and said, “wow, that’s a lot of people” and I wished I could run up there and hold his hand. But that would have definitely been weird and awkward and for sure no one would have forgotten the sweaty, tearful woman in the blue jeans. Did I mention I was also sweating?

So he was the only one who spoke and the minister took over and began speaking about loss and God and Jesus and – most poignantly – about the space between birth and death, which he called “the dash in the middle.” 1957 – 2022. It’s the dash in the middle that matters more than the two numbers; I’ll call them bookends. All of us need to focus on that dash. And, now that I think of it, “dash” could just as easily be exactly what its verb suggests – because isn’t life sometimes like a dash, in retrospect?

Then the director thanked everyone for coming and … suddenly, the man on my right spoke up rather loudly that, could he say something? And he would just do it from there? NO! No, no, no. And THE ENTIRE ROOM, because we are standing in the back against the wall, TURNED AROUND to look at the man standing right next to me. FUUUUUUCCKKK!!!!

Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. So much for inconspicuous. Now I’m the woman standing next to this dude who had nothing to offer until we were almost home free, for God sakes! Was there a hole in the floor? Or, perhaps a secret door behind me? Fuck. Fuck!

So that was my morning. And it had absolutely nothing to do with me and I know that. Even though I joke about feeling like everybody saw the sweaty, tearful woman in the blue jeans at the back of the room standing next to the guy who had one last thing to say and he just happens to be wearing jeans too so then I worry that everyone will think we’re together and really, why the fuck does it matter? See? I should’ve brought Todd. But anxiety lies, just like so many other mental health conditions. And it is also exhausting, because I got nothing done the rest of the day. Which is okay, because Wednesday.

Wednesday I left work early for another dentist appointment to add to my ongoing issues that have actually prompted my coworker to joke that there’s nothing wrong with my teeth at all – my dentist just has a crush on me and, “well, Tara, I think you need to come in for another impression…”  

It was a positively GORGEOUS day for February in the middle states. After my appointment I went home and went to work on the gardens out front and in the backyard – pulling out dead plants and leaves – listening to Sirius on my ear buds and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville channel and feeling light and joyful.

The breeze was gusty but warm and the sun was shining. It was a glorious day and it was magical to just be in the moment, with the music and the feel and the accomplishment (13,152 steps). Todd got home and looked down from the upper deck and found me in the backyard singing and dancing and it was like we were in a musical! Okay, not really but you know how musicals make your heart swell? Yeah, that.

So today is a new day and I have a long list of stuff that didn’t get done yesterday so I have no excuse to sit on the couch with my books because it’s Sunday. God may have rested on the seventh day but my rump took a cash advance so I have to earn it today. And not a moment too soon. I have laundry and taxes and spackling and treadmilling.

In closing, I would like to remind ya’ll about the message. We all have stuff we “have to do,” but remember that you are the steward of a life well-lived. Make it count.

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