Like many readers of this blog, I’m at “that” age–the age at which you experience what seem like weekly losses of long-time friends, acquaintances and family members.
Last Friday, I went to yet another funeral.
My deceased friend left an accomplished and loving family. He died after a lifetime of service–to his profession, which was (ironically) that of funeral director–and to his various communities: the Indianapolis Jewish community, of which he was a part, the political community (he was a longtime, passionate liberal Democrat), and especially and always the larger human community, for which he demonstrated infinite love and compassion.
It is a tired phrase, but so true of this particular individual: he never met a stranger.
What struck me during the service were the characteristics the clergy focused on (a number of them participated). One after the other, they remarked upon his integrity, praised his compassion, and admired his willingness to stand up for what he believed. They repeatedly noted that he was a man of his word–that no matter how difficult, if he made a commitment, he kept it.
If he gave you his word, you could “take it to the bank.”
To use an old-fashioned but entirely appropriate word, he was righteous. Yes, his smile could light up a room, his personality was warm and his laugh infectious–but he was also righteous. He was incredibly kind. He was unfailingly moral, but never judgmental.
He was righteous.
As I listened to the (entirely accurate) glowing eulogies, all I could think of was that as those in the (jam-packed) room mourned the loss of a good man, we continue to live in a country with a chief executive whose word is worthless, whose commitments are laughable, and who has displayed absolutely no connection to–or comprehension of– integrity or righteousness. At Trump’s funeral, no one will be able to say with a straight face that he was a good or loving– or even nice– person, let alone honorable or righteous.
There is a growing abyss in our country between truly admirable people (of whom there are more than we sometimes realize) and the empty and pitiable “captains of industry,” political posturers, and pious hypocrites who currently occupy positions of authority and power in this country.
My friend saw that abyss, and it troubled him greatly.
There were hundreds of people at my friend’s funeral. They had to put up a tent outside the capacious funeral home to accommodate the large and diverse crowd who were there to pay their respects to a man who exemplified the attributes of human kind we most admire–a man whose smiles and hugs reached into multiple neighborhoods and constituencies.
At the end of the day–and we are all closing in on the end of our days–the genuine affection of our fellow humans, the earned respect of our peers, and the honesty of a celebratory eulogy is all the success that any of us can really hope for. To repeat another hackneyed truth: we can’t take anything else with us.
It’s the memory of a life lived with integrity, love and compassion, not the trappings of power or wealth or celebrity, that ultimately matters. The hundreds of people who came to my friend’s funeral were there to comfort his family and mourn the passing of someone they genuinely cared about. I’ve been to a number of funerals where that wasn’t the case.
In the Jewish tradition, there’s a saying: may his memory be for a blessing.
Leaving a memory that is a blessing is beyond the ability of today’s self-engrossed wanna-be autocrats to achieve.