Reluctantly, I grasped the shovel, walked toward her and the hole she laid in. I thrust the shovel into the dirt. The blade of the spade splintering the earth as I drove it downward. Hefting a large scoop, I heaved loose earth into the diminishing hole and onto his Bride’s body. With that heave, my own tears began to flow.
“I can’t do this”, I thought, when he said “two more, please. . .”
A funeral was held at a mosque in the Minneapolis area. As the funeral was about to begin an usher escorted us into the worship space. The Muslim members stood ahead of us, we stood behind. Chairs took the place of many prayer mats. We stood when the assembly stood and either sat or kneeled when the assembly kneeled.
The funeral service progressed. Words spoken in Arabic and English honored my friend’s Bride. Regardless of the language, I was overwhelmed with a sense of celebration for a life well lived. Immediately following the assembly in the Mosque, the Imam guided us outside. At once, several people lowered her body into a grave. Members of the assembly began shoveling dirt. I stood back, watching my friend bury his wife.
He looked over his shoulder as he emptied the shovel into her grave, paused and walked to me. With tears in his eyes, he handed me the shovel.
He said, “It would be my highest honor if you would take this shovel and place three scoops of dirt into the grave.”
I did not know his wife. I had never had the opportunity to meet her. When I started working with him, she was already battling the cancer that ended her life. She had spent the majority of the prior year at Sloan Kettering in New York. Regardless, I knew him well. The tears flowed from my eyes, my heart felt heavy.
I heaved two more scoops of earth before handing the shovel off to another member of the assembly. Everyone participated in this, a final farewell. Wiping the tears from my eyes, he walked to me wiping tears from his.
He hugged me and said “thank you my friend”.
We embraced for a while, his body shaking as he cried.
Following her internment, we walked back to the Mosque and a lunch was served in the commons. I sat among the friends and neighbors of my friend. His friends greeted me with warmth, often a hug and firm handshake. I was welcome.
We talked. I asked questions, seeking to understand the customs and rituals I had observed. I learned. We talked about children, work our hobbies. I learned. We talked about my friend and the support he and their daughter may need in the coming weeks and months. And I learned some more.
This was two-and-a-half-years ago.
I have had several Muslim colleagues over the years and have a few Muslim friends, yet I had never set foot in a mosque. This experience was eye opening. Eye opening in the sense that travel and immersion in an another culture is eye opening. To share in such an intimate event, with a person from a religion that was foreign to me, was enlightening.
You see, I learned many things that day.
First, is that Islamic faith has a deep respect for life. Their faith requires burial as soon as possible after death. In this case it was three days, as she died in New York and required transport back to Minnesota. In those three days, all preparations were made.
There was a true sense of celebration of life. The funeral did not discount the sense of loss, pain and grief of a wife, mother, and sister. This faith community came together unified in support of my friend and his daughter.
There is no “them” and “us”. Sure, the faith is different, yet it was evident that this community embraced us. Whether we were Muslim, Christian, Jewish, agnostic, Did. Not. Matter.
There was a sincere, palatable, acknowledgement that we are all one humanity. One humanity with the capacity for love, kindness and generosity.
Strangers with open arms met me that day. I was welcomed to join them in celebration of a life. I was invited to their feast. I was thanked profusely for sharing my time with this family. I was blessed.
Today, the need for us to learn, understand, and embrace our differences is greater than ever. While this was a somber event, it brought an enlightenment to me that I had not had before. It brought a new perspective.
Funerals are always sobering, yet in so many ways this funeral was a gift.
A gift of understanding.
I am a senior operations professional employed by The Toro Company. The comments, opinions and views expressed herein are mine and do not represent those of my employer.
I write to share ideas and generate a conversation. Most often you will find me writing personal stories exploring the correlation between our personal and professional lives.
© 2016 Aaron Skogen
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn
Photo credit: Getty Images