06 August 2013
Moments of Transcendence
There are times in life when we feel that there is more going on that what we see around us. Times when we feel part of something larger than the current moment, when the past, present, and future all seem to be one, and we are able to commune with others outside that moment. These moments transcend time and space and scream "WE ARE ALL CONNECTED!"
Modern science can probably map our brain and see all sorts of weird stuff going on during these moments, and I that is part of the wonder and the mystery. Science has so many surprises, and there are still many things that make researchers scratch their heads because they don't quite understand why something happens the way it does, and that is so exciting for everyone involved.
Music is what often does it for me. That's why I study music history. Aside from the satisfaction which comes from reconstructing the past, there is an intangible pleasure that comes with experiencing the same music as those who came before, and which will be experienced by those who come after. It connects me to my past, and the history of my culture, and makes me feel like I am experiencing more than my current situation. That's not a feeling I want to give up.
The same is true of liturgical traditions. The singing of hymns in four-part harmony at church is especially dear to me, as relatively recent as the practice may be. I feel some sort of bond to others who have worshiped using these same hymns. It doesn't matter that they were somewhere else, sometime else, living a life that is so different from mine. For this moment, we were united, and the boundaries of the universe melted away briefly. My Amish grandfathers funeral was like that as well, as it was heavily steeped in tradition. The church men singing during the burial of the body brings such a sense of closure and connection with the past.
All thing brings me to the more recent funeral of my non-Amish Grandfather, which triggered this post. My great grandfather died a couple weeks ago. He loved my great grandmother dearly, and you could see it when they were together. They weren't all over one another like a young couple, but there was a kind of comfort between them; like they knew they were two parts of the same person, and each knew the other would be a companion for eternity. Don't get me wrong, they could be steamy and romantic, especially in the past. My grandfather and great uncle found all sorts of love notes which painted the picture of two people head-over-heels in love, complete with pictures. You see, my great grandfather was in the military in WWII and fought in some of the most famous battles in the European Theater. He met my great grandmother back home while he was in the military and became enamored with the young lady, and I think maybe she is what kept him going. Military service wasn't his choice. He was drafted, and I'll never forget what was said of him by (I think) one of his children: "He didn't want to be in the military, and yet afterward he was somehow glad that he was." He persevered, and I believe was grateful for the camaraderie and community (both very human needs) formed in a group like the military. And somehow he managed to maintain a relationship with a lovely lady back home, and he eventually married her and they spent many years together, happily married, raising children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and one great great grandchild.
Anyway the transcendent moment: I was a pallbearer at the funeral. With uncles and cousins, it was my job to carry the body to its final resting place. As I took my place in the center of the left side of the casket, I reached my right arm down and saw tears on the faces of my family members. And it suddenly seemed very real, and very unreal at the same time. We picked up the casket, and I watched six other men also pick up a casket. And as we walked out the doors and across the parking lot, the church bell tolled. It was a mournful sound, disturbing the peace of an unusually cool July morning. It was letting people know that something was wrong. Someone was gone from this life. And I thought of all the other deaths that bell had tolled for. The other family members buried in that cemetery, some I had met once before, some I had never known, some dead long before I was born. And then I thought of all the other deaths that had been marked by church bells everywhere. I felt as though I was no longer carrying the casket at all, just watching. And in that moment, I felt connected to everyone else who had lost a loved one all throughout history. That is one thing we as humans all have in common. Everyone has experienced death.