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Simple gesture makes world seem less cold

DeenBess Sherman

Deena Bess Sherman

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Updated: November 13, 2012 6:14AM

We’ve had more than our share of funerals to attend lately. A week ago my husband and I were in a small city east of Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate the life and mourn the death of his uncle, Fred Paetz. Fred was a good man and talented mechanical engineer. A very aggressive brain tumor took him only three months after the initial diagnosis.

As we drove from Our Savior Lutheran Church to the cemetery, I began to think how the world seemed particularly harsh lately, taking the best of us too soon and fostering a culture where we are all moving so fast and working so hard that we barely take time for one another. As the long line of cars processed slowly through the town, I worried that we, being toward the end of the group, might get cut off because motorists would be too impatient to let the whole funeral procession stay together through red lights and stop signs.

And then something amazing happened. I saw cars ahead pulling to the side of the road and stopping. Many remained stopped as the entire long procession passed. One older gentleman even got out of his car and took his hat off as a gesture of respect to the deceased. I felt a deep gratitude and renewed hope.

And before I could tell myself that it was a purely small-town phenomenon, I remembered a few people standing beside the route — which began near another Our Savior Lutheran Church and went to the Riverfront Playhouse in Aurora — to see Jack Schultz’s funeral procession two weeks prior.

Just when the world looked cold and it seemed society lacked all compassion, strangers reminded me that we are still capable of pausing to remember and respect the passing of a fellow human being. I find that supremely encouraging. Even during the final month of a sometimes ugly, stressful political campaign cycle and at mid-day when everyone is busy, people were willing to pause for a moment and humbly recognize our common mortality, without caring whether the deceased was part of the same political party or religion. For some, it is enough that we are fellow travelers and for one of us the journey is now over.

I hope we all teach our children this tradition of stopping for a funeral procession so it is not lost in the next generation. Not only does it mean a lot to the grieving family, I think it is also a good thing for us, now and then, to pause and remember that ultimately “dust we are and to dust we shall return.” None of our titles, honors, wealth, or accomplishments will matter in the end — except for the other lives we touched and made better along the way.

This may be the perfect time of year to consider what seeds we sow from day to day and what lasting memories our friends and families will have to treasure when we are gone. As we think about those we have lost this past year, let us also consider what legacy each of us wishes to leave behind when the journey ends and gracious people pause as we are carried to our final places of rest. And to those who bring hope and light into the lives of others in so many large and small ways, may the blessings you bestow return to you tenfold.

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