I sit in a fish bowl. In my office. I work at a church, and I sit in a fish bowl of an office. My fish bowl of an office is the main office -- you know, the kind of office that has all the answers, like where to get this form for a baptism or contact that person from the food pantry or get a Band-Aid for the preschooler's skinned knee.
The whole front wall of this office is made of windows. Sometimes, I feel like a fish with these windows -- windows that look out, windows that look in. Most of the time, when I look out, I see empty hallways. Last week, during vacation Bible school, I saw kids running, tripping, dancing, laughing.
But today, when I look out, I see black. Black pants, black cardigans, black mascara smeared under the eyes of a teenage girl wearing a black lace dress. It's a cute dress, one of those little black dresses you could wear anywhere, really. I wonder when she picked out this dress. I wonder if she picked it out to wear to something exciting, something fun, like a first date or a Sadie Hawkins dance (do they do those anymore?) or a graduation party.
I wonder if she knew, when she picked out this dress, that this would be what she would wear to her mother's funeral.
Normally, when we have funerals, I don't let myself really think about the fact that a person has died -- a person with a family and memories and a life that isn't a lived life anymore, but a soul separated from a body. The hallways filled with people putting themselves back together through shared memories and stories and wearing the same shade of the darkest color.
Today, I let myself think about it. The fact that a person has died too soon. Maybe it was the girl in the black lace dress or all of the people here looking at pictures. I don't know the person who died. But this funeral hits close to home for me because there are girls here, young women, probably sisters or cousins. They are crying. They are embracing. They are grieving. Grieving a mom that they lost. A mom that is pretty close in age to my mom, with daughters that look a lot like me. I put myself there. I think about being in their shoes. My eyes get wet.
I sit in the fish bowl and for a second, I strongly dislike these big windows that show everything, including me. I try not to make eye contact with the people -- so many people -- here to pay their respects. I don't want to be disrespectful, as if I'm watching the grief, so I sit down and check my email. An email from a clothing store telling me that the summer's hot new crop tops are 50% off today. I answer a phone call from a person angry their For Sale sign was stolen from the corner.
And it all seems so arbitrary. Crop tops and anger about for sale signs and phones ringing.
We all have dark shadows in our lives. Funerals, tumors, addictions, heartbreaks. Life is hard. It just is. Life is unfair. It just is. The fact that time runs out and we lose people too soon and we have grief for things and can't let go of things -- it sucks, really.
I look out into the hallway again -- into the sea of black cardigans and dresses and heels. I don't know the person that died. I don't know these people. But they do. They have pictures and stories and memories, and as I listen, I hear laughter amongst the tears. Their pain is their strength, the hallway thick with memories and a shared circumstance.
Life is painful, but feeling a shared pain? That makes it a bit more bearable. When we need relief, we can throw anchors out to each other to give some weight so we don't feel like we're floating above this reality. And maybe that's what life is about. Having people, loving, sharing in the good and the bad. It's a scary world, to go through it alone. But we don't need bloodlines to be connected.
I glance out into the hallway -- quick -- and see the group of girls, all wearing black dresses. Hugging. Holding. Leaning. Sharing.
Tomorrow begins the process of moving forward. For this whole group of people who share this loss.
But first step is a lot easier when you have someone by your side.