Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Musical Chemist

I arrived with suitcase in tow, an hour before the rest of the assembly was due. Finding the warden and placing my luggage in safe holding, I returned to the door and looked out to the street. The wind buffeted the trees preventing snow from accumulating on their boughs. The tracks I hadn't realized I had left in approaching the building were disappearing fast. And so it seemed this was the perfect metaphor to mark the occasion. Our life is so short it leaves a negligible imprint during our time on earth, and it begins to erase as soon as we are gone.

I'm really not very good at funerals. Part of it is the weight that comes with such a somber occasion, as if the atmosphere inside the church comes from another planet with a much heavier gravitational force. Perhaps on that planet funerals are a more joyous, upbeat affair and they compare the floating sensation to that of being temporarily transported to a planet with a lighter gravity? Either that or soul crushing weight.

The other reason is the general awkwardness. The simple reason why I'm better at weddings is because I've had more practice. It's not as if experience with that kind of congregation is much value for coping with the one today, in fact it has already proved to be distinctly unhelpful. "Umm, I'm with the bride" I volunteered to the ushers intending to convey I was with the wife of the deceased.

The chapel was housed inside a rotunda within a larger rectangular building, with rings of chairs fanning out from the alter in all directions. Seated uncomfortably in the third row from the front my mind began to wander. Aloft above the center of the rotunda and obscuring what looked like a large skylight was the upside down spaceship from The Day The Earth Stood Still.

It seemed at first an unexpected setting, but then with the pattern of concentric circled seating all drawing towards the center it dawned on me: people are coming to church to seek passage to another world after all, so the visual motif makes perfect sense.

My mind needed something, a yo-yo, some juggling balls or a piece of string to keep it occupied and distracted. As I swiveled in my seat to watch the rest of the congregation it was as if the cast from a Pedro Almodovar movie about a circus was streaming in. Every single person had one body part unnervingly out of proportion from the rest. There was the human equivalent of a dachshund, a man with legs so short they were almost not visible beneath him; a woman whose head was half the size it should be for her neck, making her shoulders seem muscle bound in comparison; two brothers with noses so large that it shaped their walking gait, forcing them to lean forward to carry the cranial weight they bore, and an old lady whose arms were so impossibly long compared with her torso that her hands actually trailed on the ground as she walked.

This motley cast, unified in their diversity were coming together today to pay their respects to a lovely man. Chemist by training, Choir director and singer by passion. A man with a genuine affection for those he spent time with. Who tickled himself when recounting a story he found amusing, the skin crinkling around his eyes as they twinkled.

I'll miss you Larry.

No comments: