A Funeral in Brooklyn

The casket is gray and it reflects the sun brilliantly.  It sticks out like a silver finger in the fist of black clothes, halfway out the door of the funeral home, pointing at the hearse.

The coffin rests on a stainless steel cart with black rubber wheels.  The sides of the cart are a cross-hatching of metal bands, and it’s clear that it scissors closed, collapsing into a thin plank of steel suitable for storage against a wall in the preparation room.

It is the first real day of spring and the sun is warm.  All of the black faces clustered around the door wear sunglasses whose reflections mirror that of the coffin. 

A fat woman walking with her child home from the market walk slower and slower until she stops just outside the loose knot of the bereaved.  She stands awkwardly still, looking for an opening that won’t take her too close to the coffin.  She looks relieved as a small man with red skin and carrying a plastic drugstore bag forges a path from the opposite side.  She waits until he passes then walks backwards along his wake, coming briefly between a middle-aged man in black moving towards an elderly woman in a deep maroon dress struggling to climb into the first limousine.

On the next avenue two young fat Latinas are painting a set of cabinets on the front porch of their row house a languid flavor of green, and the jubilant R&B music screaming from inside their house blankets the block, including this patch in front of the funeral home. 

The mourners are talking loudly to each other  in Swahili, working out the logistics of who is riding in what to the cemetery.  In the midst of their discussion, an old Caucasian man with a bushy white handlebar mustache turns his Harley-Davidson off of 4th Avenue and onto the sidewalk.  He thrums his engine and walks the bike in a slow circle around the sidewalk less than one hundred feet from the coffin before bumping back onto the street and roaring across to the next avenue.

The travel arrangements have been finalized just as a fire truck begins its backward beeping into the firehouse across the street.

I am used to death rites being practiced in a vacuum, but there is no vacuum in Brooklyn.  There is only people, a seething blanket of lives and errands intersecting and interfering with each other.  Seeing the sun burning bright and blue down on a funeral happening in the midst of such life can be a bitterness-inducing revelation of God’s callousness.

No one was sad.  No one was happy.  It was an event, amongst so many others.


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