“Funeral! Funeral!” my friend Fritzie shouted, as he rode his bike through the neighborhood. We all came running. There was going to be a funeral. Yippee! This was one of my favorite times as a kid.
My neighborhood friends and I were in the funeral business. Whenever one of us found a dead animal (usually a bird), we reverently wrapped it in a rag and had a procession to the Little Woods at the end of the street. We took it to a small clearing among the trees where there was an animal cemetery with tiny crosses made from tree branches marking the graves.
After digging a hole, we carefully placed the dead critter inside and covered it with dirt. Then it was time for my part. I was the one who said what needed to be said. It was always the same. I would fold my hands and bow my head and declare, “May he rest in peace.” I believe it was something I had picked up from old cowboy movies, the words spoken after they covered a dead guy, still wearing his boots and spurrs, with a mound of rocks in the desert. I always figured that they wanted him to rest in peace because they were hoping and praying that he stayed dead and didn’t start moving those rocks or he was going to be pretty upset with his buddies who had buried him without his consent. (Maybe this was why they never buried them with their guns.)And although waking up with a bad hangover only to discover you have been buried alive didn’t seem to be a big issue with the dead animals we buried*, still, “Rest in peace” was all I knew to say.
I think about those animal funerals often when I conduct human funerals now that I am a bona fide pastor. As a kid doing animal funerals, never once did I entertain the thought that I would one day grow up to be doing this as a professional holy person. But there I was in the Little Woods, playing the role of the pastor without realizing the significance of my actions.
It’s funny how childhood moments often foreshadow greater themes in our lives. I’ve been noticing a lot more of them lately. I suppose it takes having some years behind you to be able to look back and see the great ironies of your life. It’s all rather amazing and delightful and scary at the same time. A clever novelist couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s hard for me to imagine that it’s all random, so can I say that it’s been God’s doing? That seems to be as good of an explanation as any, although I have trouble believing God is involved in the details of my life like that. And yet, somehow I know God is in the mix in some way. It doesn’t really matter if I understand it. The unfolding adventure continues to amaze, delight and scare me. I can’t wait to see how the story continues to unfold.
*This was back before I read Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.