There’s an old joke about two Hollywood executives who are walking past a Beverly Hills funeral home when they see how massive the crowd is, so they stop to find out who is being interred.
It turns out that the funeral is for a top Hollywood agent whom nobody liked.
“How do you figure such a big crowd?” asked the first executive.
“Same old story,” said the second one. “Give the people what they like, and they’ll pack the house.”
I’m thinking of that story because I attended a funeral last week for a friend of mine, and the house was packed, not because he was a bad guy, but because he was beloved.
It was a religious funeral, and there were all the trappings.
Speeches by notable religious personages.
Shout-outs to still other religious leaders who were in attendance and whose presence decorum needed to be honored.
I thought of my friend lying in the closed casket and wondered what he would have made of all of these people essentially turning a private moment into what sounded like a political rally.
His family got up and, true to our Oprah-driven times, each made speeches, one more excruciatingly personal than the next.
We learned his pet names for his grandchildren, the stories he would tell them, how positively he affected everyone in the known world, and all sorts of other platitudes.
I’m sure the speakers were all quite sincere about their encomiums, but I have to admit the whole thing rang terribly false.
It was perfect from the standpoint of religious expectations, right down to the sobbing son-in-law reciting scripture in a quavering voice.
In other words, it was theater.
It was Kabuki.
From the perspective of spirit, it left a lot to be desired.
It took me a few days before my thoughts about the funeral crystallized.
I was in an AA meeting at the time, listening to just everyday people talking about their everyday relationships with God–individuals with various levels of education and income talking about the Eleventh Step, in which we increase our conscious contact with our Higher Power through prayer and meditation.
There were no fanfares.
No conspicuous demonstrations of bravery in the face of sudden loss.
Just people talking about God.
There’s a place for religion, and societies are poorer when they abandon it.
So I’m glad I live in a primarily religious country.
It’s just that the nice thing about being in Alcoholics Anonymous is that I don’t have to go through all the rigmarole that religion demands when I need God the most.
My friend died.
It’s not “let’s put on a show.”
But that’s exactly what happened.
It made me think about what I want for myself.
Surely not that.
I’m not as important a dude as the guy who died, so it’s not likely that a thousand people would be packing the pews to see me off.
On the other hand, I don’t want what the late Tonight Show host Johnny Carson said he wanted—to be folded up into a giant Hefty bag and left on the street corner, “and then on Tuesday morning, I’m the county’s problem.”
He also said that on his tombstone, he wanted it written, “I’ll be right back.”
Death isn’t showtime.
The spirituality we get in Twelve Step Programs is what happens when we check our ego, money, reputations, and power at the door.
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