Today I went to the funeral of a teacher. The normal people, her husband and children and grandson and siblings, were there. And the old people like her. She looked shrunken to me, lying there in the casket, like a withered version of the flower-like person she had been. She had always reminded me of a rose, both elegant and delicate, both soft and with just enough of a thorny edge to engender respect.
I sat near the near back entrance. That’s how I saw them slipping in. By the end there were rows of high school and college-age kids, who didn’t look like they belonged at the funeral of a little old lady, whose body had been wracked with pain for years. Cool kids with piercings and dreadlocks and man buns and hair dyed pink or gold. They wore long, curled-up eyelashes and low-slung pants and jeans and boots.
At the graveside, they clutched their cell phones for comfort. They managed tears under their masks.
They listened as the preacher said, “Death is a fearful thing, but Jesus made death a shadow.”
Then they bowed their heads as the casket was lowered.
Afterward, I talked with some of them. And I wasn’t surprised by what they said. They talked about her pluck and confidence, her jokes, and how she often fed them before she taught.
“And she was kind, always kind,” one of them said. “With her, I could count on kindness, every time.”
Some had been visiting her at the nursing home, where it wasn’t easy to see her wracked with pain. One of them sang to her when he visited.
“I actually sang,” he said with a sheepish look. “She liked it.”
Another young guy didn’t actually make the funeral. Breathless from the airport, he arrived just in time for the burial. He had cut short his Jamaican vacation.
I’m sure there were days when this beloved teacher wondered if anyone was listening. I wish she could have seen what I saw today—and heard what her students told me.