A small flyer I didn’t see was left on doorsteps. This morning a neighbor told me what it said.
Now it made sense, the assembling together down the street only a week ago. There was a message on the back windshield of a red Buick. Something about “In Memory of a name I can’t remember” and dates I can’t recall. The years at the end of the second dashes weren’t too far apart. He was young. It must have been tragic. Death usually is.
Death is an act played out on us by God. A bit of grace. A bit of judgment. A bit of however we wish to view it.
It was at night when I saw the car. Someone lost someone close and you could sense the timidity to speak loud about it. There were whispers outside. Two men. Hispanic. Mexican, maybe. It’s usually someone’s best guess. Often my own. They huddled back inside, leaving behind the scent of cigarette smoke.
“They’re selling tacos from 1 to 5 p.m. to help raise money to bury him,” my neighbor said.
1 to 5 p.m. A good window. Plenty of time to walk over about five houses down the street.
Interesting how death or anything close to it doesn’t regard circumstances or plans, much less the weather. We always think it should be raining. Or at least overcast. Or winter. Isn’t that when things die? But it’s a beautiful day. The day before Mother’s Day. A Saturday. A day you shouldn’t be worrying about burying a boy. Definitely not a son.
“That’s his dad over there in the cap and striped shirt,” a girl helping sell tacos told me.
He was on his cell phone, taking calls of condolences, I’m sure. Or arguing about coming into work. Or something futile. Who knows? Much like the weather, people often disregard someone else’s tragedy.
“Do you want a taco?” I’m asked.
“Oh, no. I ate earlier. I’m really not hungry. I just wanted to help out,” I said.
Help out. Help out. Those words couldn’t seem less heartfelt.
A small donation to help out. A drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of funerals.
A word of sympathy to help out. A drop in an ocean of grief. Or frustration. Or anger.
“How did it…?” I urged to know. Why did I need to know? Human condition? Curiosity? “I’m sorry” and “Help out” weren’t enough for me. How did he die? Perhaps a car accident. I was thinking car accident. Everyone buried at a young age seems to be involved in a car accident. The same kind I get so angry about. The kind that keep me stuck in traffic.
“His half-sister…” the girl began slowly, quite uncertain of how to frame the next few words.
She could have said nothing else and I would have known. I understood. It’s an odd conversation to have with someone you’ve never met. Who just dropped by to help out. Give a donation. Do his part. You don’t have to tell him anything. He’s simply someone who cared just enough to walk a few houses down the street.
“…she killed him.” Of course she did. I knew she did. You didn’t have to meet me all the way. You could have stopped at “half-sister.”
“Oh, my God.” “Wow.” “I’m sorry (again).” “I can’t believe that. (Sure I can)”
What else did I have to say? Nothing. I had made the walk. I had made the donation.
“You sure you don’t want a taco?” another lady asked.
“No, thank you. I ate already. I’m just blah blah blah.” I was getting my part down. The slight insincerity. Compassion at arm’s length.
Amidst the feeble conversations, I noticed a sense of bewilderment in everyone’s eyes. I think that’s what it was. No one seemed quite certain whether to smile, though they did. An appreciative smile. I did just come out of nowhere. But then again, I was asked to come. I think. There was a flyer everyone received. I didn’t see it. But everyone got it. I think they did. What more? If I didn’t get it, I came anyway. That means something doesn’t it? During an emotional struggle, it has to mean something. Someone coming out of nowhere to offer condolences for someone they didn’t know. I didn’t even know his name.
That’s what I thought about when I walked back home. “I didn’t ask his name.” I can pray anyways. One of those anonymous prayers that Jesus understands. He gets it. He’ll figure it out when I pray about it.
The girl. I didn’t get her name either. That was odd. The whole encounter. Who knows how to act around death? Who knows what to say? What questions to ask? Do you take a taco?
That was the extent of it. Show my face. Refuse a taco. Short conversation. Give a donation. Walk away. No names. In short, it wasn’t very different than had I not walked a short distance down the street. But that’s how I deal with death. I avoid it as much as possible, even when it’s only a few houses down.