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the undertaking

Poets, for example, will almost always regard any opportunity to dress up and hold forth in elegiac style as permissible improvement on their usual solitude. If free drink and a buffet featuring Swedish meatballs are figured in the bargain, so much the better. A reviewer of mine quite rightly calls poets the taxidermists of literature, wanting to freeze things in time, always inventing dead aunts and uncles to eulogize in verse. He's right about this. A good laugh, a good cry, a good bowel movement are all the same fellow to those who otherwise spend their days rummaging in the word horde for something to say, or raiding the warehouses of experience for something worth saying something about. And memorable speech like memorable verse calls out for its inscription into stone. Poets know that funerals and gravesides put them in the neighborhood of the memorable. The ears are cocked for answers to the eternal adverbs, the overwhelming questions. "And may these characters remain," we plead with Yeats, in his permanent phrase, "when all is ruin once again."

(...)so rabbi and preacher, pooh-bah and high preist do well to understand the deadly pretext of their vocation. But for our mortality there'd be no need for churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues. Those clerics who regard funerals as so much fuss and bother, a waste of time better spent in prayer, a waste of money better spent on stained glass or bell towers, should not wonder for whom the bell tolls. They may have heard the call but they've missed the point. The afterlife begins to make the most sense after life - when someone we love is dead on the premises. The bon vivant abob in his hot tub needs heaven like another belly button. Faith is for the heartbroken, the embittered, the doubting, and the dead. And funerals are the venues at which such folks gather. Some among the clergy have learned to like it. Thus they present themselves at funerals with good cheer and an unambigous sympathy that would seem like duplicity in anyone other than a person of faith. I count among the great blessings of my calling that I have known men and women of such bold faith, such powerful witness, that they stand upright between the dead and the living and say,

"Behold I tell you a mystery..."

~The Undertaking, Thomas Lynch

Victoria Uhl