On Saturday afternoon, I helped officiate at the funeral of a young man who was murdered. From where I sat, I saw the tears running down the faces of the pallbearers, young men, all of them. I saw the family’s devastation. As we recessed at the end of the funeral, I saw row upon row upon row of grief and sorrow. I was glad there were so many of us there for the family; I was so mindful that whatever we might have to offer in the way of comfort and consolation was but a drop of water in a desert of loss and desolation. No parent should have to bury their child, no one should have to die too young, too violently, too senselessly.
Perhaps as poignant as that afternoon have been the pictures that found their way to Facebook of a young man who was obviously droll and funny. Who shared a mop of gloriously red hair with his twin sister and baby sister. Who posted videos that allowed those of us who had not yet met him to get a sense of his musical gifts. Who stands goofing off with his father in one of the pictures where you can see the laughter and the joy and above all, the love they share.
This morning, a dear friend posted a picture of her parents’ wedding. The picture shows two young, gorgeous, radiant young people. My friend’s mom died too soon after that picture, in a horrible car accident that killed her and her toddler son, my friend’s baby brother. There would be far more loss and devastation ahead for my friend.
I find myself looking at my friend’s picture and the pictures of the young man we buried with new eyes. I am so aware of the happiness—in part, because I know the happiness was not as long-lasting as we all desperately hope for—for ourselves, and even more, for those we love. Perhaps it is another small reminder of my age, my vocation, the life I have lived, that I no longer take happiness for granted. I know too well how short-lived it can be. What I also know, though, is this: no matter how long or how short a time of happiness, the happiness is real. That moment that was captured, of A. and T. goofing around for the camera, that very traditional and singular wedding portrait my friend shared—that happiness was vividly, beautifully, purely real. You can’t capture it in a bottle, can’t stop time, can’t make it be more real than other parts of life. But neither can those moments be denied or diminished.
On Saturday afternoon, Andrew, the rector at Ascension preached a lovely homily riffing on what continues to be for me, the most powerful phrase of the Rite of Burial in the Book of Common Prayer: “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” That was the phrase that got me through my mom’s death, that is the phrase I hold on to with all my might, still. And it is precisely, because we have known happiness that we are able to sing those Alleluias. For some this may seem a morbid, angst and gloom-filled assertion. For me, it is a fierce declaration and defense of the happiness that was, and is, and is to be.