Last Saturday I attended a funeral for a man whom I had not interacted with much in over 20 years. Our paths just did not cross ordinarily. But, he and his wife were exceptionally kind to me and my wife and my eight-year old daughter during the time she was dying from a brain tumor.
After the illness began to severely impair her mobility and her vision, they would pick her up in the mid-morning and return her to us around supper time. It was a welcome break for Barbara and me. It was also a welcome break for Cheska, for they’d always arrange something diverting for her - usually some kind of low-impact field trip, say to a petting zoo, or a high tea. Something an 8 or 9 year old desperately ill girl would genuinely enjoy. Barbara and I remained ever grateful for their faithful, abiding kindness.
So, to honor him and to honor his widow (whom Barbara would run into a couple of times a year in the shops around town) we turned out for the funeral. It probably would have been a bitter-sweet affair for us, except for this:
The funeral was in a church - a church we attended for 14 years and departed when the national church just got to be too too much to ignore or to bear with (another story, some other time). After all were seated and the prelude music had stopped, we sat there in the silence for long enough to wonder if something was awry. And then to our horror, this happened:
I saw out of the corner of my eye a tall man in a dark uniform materialize in my peripheral vision. I turned to look as he passed near us (we were near the front, next to the center aisle), and I saw that he was a Sikh. He had the tightly woven turban characteristic of the men of that religion. He approached the chancel with very slow formality, stood at attention, and then offered a very slow, precise salute toward Fred’s remains (in an urn).
Then the man did one of those ballet-like about-face maneuvers, again in very slow motion. Seeing him from his front, now, it was clear he was in a United States Army formal uniform. He had a smattering of stuff often found on the front of those uniforms. Then he stood at attention as the silence continued.
What next? Fairly soon, here comes another United States Army serviceman, this one not a Sikh, uncovered, carrying a folded flag. I won’t belabor the details of what turned out (I’m guessing) to be the Army’s “flag ceremony” when the deceased is cremated. It was presented to the widow. Then both faced the chancel again, saluted in that super-formal, super-slow way, then about faces, and a very slow exit.
By this time I was minded to pick up something from the pew rack and throw it after them. I did not. But, that spectacle continued to fog everything that happened for the next hour. My lovely bride, poor thing, was near to vibrating as we walked to the car.
I am a veteran (USMC; Viet Nam vet). I know that we veterans are entitled by statute to receive a military honor such as was offered Fred at his funeral. I have told my wife, and I will also tell my children, to forbid such honors at my funeral.
Am I erring in this? Was our outrage inappropriate?
For the record, we did nothing (so far as I recall) to let this reaction show to others. Who knows? Perhaps that was inappropriate. The whole situation caught me completely off base, out of position to think or to act calmly. In those situations I usually become morbidly stoic.
I’m asking a serious question. Someone somewhere said something about the safety in a multitude of counselors. I judge the current inhabitants of Sanityville to be serious Christians, and because my own departure cannot be very far away (all things considered), I’m putting the question out here for serious evaluation by others.