Friday, January 30, 2015

Death in the Slow Lane

Traditions are terrific things. Whether they run in families, bring together communities or even entire nations, there is no mistaking the notion that honoring tradition is a noble and cozy thing to do, when not misguided.

But let's do away with the funeral procession, shall we?

In simpler, less crowded, less rude times, the funeral procession, particularly when done using the horse and carriage, was a fine way of respecting the newly-deceased.

Today, it's more along the lines of a nuisance and, frankly, it can be dangerous.

The journey from church (or other nonsecular place) to the cemetery or mausoleum can certainly be a somber one. There isn't a limousine leading the way with cans and string attached, with a hand-painted sign that says "Just Died."

So I get it that commuting during an occasion of burial isn't the most pleasant thing in the world. And I have nothing against respecting and honoring the dead.

But the funeral procession has worn out its welcome.

Today, with roads packed more than ever with vehicles, the idea of stringing together dozens of motorists and allowing them to pass through intersections and running red lights with impunity, simply isn't very bright.

It's nothing against the processioners, per se, although there does always seem to be one car that lags behind the rest, creating a potentially dangerous gap. It's more about the rude, disrespectful motorists who aren't part of the procession.

I just don't think we need to drive en masse to a burial.

I think you can give folks the target address and driving instructions and say "We'll see you there."

An exception would be for something more stately, such as the funeral of a police officer or political figure.

If one of the purposes of a funeral procession is to show, in a very visual way, how beloved someone was, I am reminded of some sage words uttered by a wise person.

"The only thing that is going to determine how many people show up to your funeral is the weather."

My inspiration here isn't because I was recently inconvenienced by a funeral procession, though Lord knows that I have been. Nor is it because I have encountered strange and exasperating moments whilst driving in a funeral procession, though I once drove the entire way behind a car with no functioning brake lights (that was fun).

In fact, this really has nothing to do with inconvenience. It has everything to do with practicality and safety.

I don't have the numbers, and maybe they don't bear me out anyway, but I still think that you increase the chances of an accident anytime a funeral procession rolls on by.

Besides, they're depressing.


Enough.


What's a more in-your-face reminder of mortality than watching 30 cars drive slowly by, following a hearse?

I see enough images of death and destruction on TV and the Internet to last me a lifetime, thank you very much.

Would death be any less significant and the occasion of a funeral be any less morose or somber if we stopped traveling to burials in herds?

I recall a stand-up comedian once remarking that as a show of life's cruel irony, the only time you get to drive through red lights and stop signs is when you're dead and can't enjoy the gratification.

Besides, in my non-funeral procession fantasy world, if I really want to drive miles and miles in a tight-knit pack while pumping my brakes, I have that opportunity, twice a day: my commute to and from work.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kept in the Dark

I think one of the most depressing parts of winter is that we spend it cloaked in darkness.

It's dark when you wake up to get ready for work. The afternoons are often overcast and everyone has to drive with their headlights on. It's dark when you drive home from work. You can go days without seeing any serious sunlight.

In Michigan, you can pretty much put your sunglasses in the drawer in October and not pull them out again until April---if you're lucky.

It's like in wintertime, we've all forgotten to pay the light bill.

That's why, when you get a day of sunshine in the winter, your eyes hurt. You spend the day squinting. Everyone looks like Robert De Niro in every movie in which he's ever appeared.

But there's something called the Winter Solstice, and we actually passed it a few weeks ago---December 21 to be exact. And when you pass the solstice, you're in for longer days, slowly but surely.

When I was a kid, I remember folks talking about December 21 as being "the longest night of the year."

Kids, as we know, tend to take phrases literally. I was no exception. One year, I heard all the blather about December 21's "longest night" and when that night actually came, I thought it would be dark for the whole next day.

The "longest night" aspect, of course, is an astronomical phenomenon rooted in minutes, not hours.

But that's not what kids hear.

So here we are, 23 days past the Winter Solstice and while it's still mostly dark out, the commute home from the office isn't quite as depressing anymore. I take heart in the fact that from this point forward, nightfall stays away a tad longer, day by day.

But it's still dark a lot.


This photo was likely taken at 1:00 in the afternoon during a Michigan winter


I like December 21 in the same vein that I dread June 21, the Summer Solstice.

Because after June 21, the days start to get shorter.

I love it that in the summer, the clock will read 9:25 p.m. and you could still mow the lawn if  you want. There's that much sunlight still available.

But after June 21, sunset creeps closer and closer. It's like a slow water torture.

By August, 8:00 becomes the point where you need flashlights outside. A couple months later, with the leaves on the ground and with more chill in the air, sunlight becomes a precious commodity.

Then we start the whole depressing winter thing all over again.

This blog post may seem like an exercise in futility, because no amount of complaining in the world is going to change the Earth's axis. We can't rally and join hands to make our winter days filled with more sunshine.

But I write this because today it hit me---I made it home after work with a sliver of sunshine left in the sky. It was gone a few minutes later, but this is improvement.

Plus, in Michigan, the longer the days get in the winter, the more we get to see all the snow that needs to be shoveled.

Give and take, you see.