The Funeral of a First Friend

We three sat in a row, silent and waiting.

We hadn’t known we’d see each other at this funeral. But we had each come, of our own accord, and found spots on the same row. Living across three states and in different worlds, we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. And we probably hadn’t sat in the same row since second grade.

Suddenly, we couldn’t help it. Just as we had back at Yoder School, we began to whisper.

But our talk was changed. It was no longer about what to play at recess or how many plants we had found in the woods to add to the class collection or that our parents had said yes—we could order chocolate milk, not white, for the afternoon snack.

Now we spoke of knee replacements and cataracts and nitroglycerin. But mostly our words were about our schoolmate Nathan, who was no longer sitting in our row and whose family was beginning to gather in the front rows, preparing to honor him.

In our little huddle, we paid our own pre-service tribute. The three of us had been placed with Nathan in the same school group, one that was expected to work a little harder and a little faster than the rest of the class. And Nathan pressed us forward.

He was so smart. In flashcard contests, he beat us, almost every time. But we remembered that he was also kind. How could he be so smart and so kind?

And for the next hour and a half, those twined themes kept reverberating in the scriptures and songs and words of people who loved Nathan, only in more grown-up verbiage.

It’s a strange thing to bury a first friend. We three sitting in our row were perhaps the only people there who carried memories of Nathan in primary school when the seeds of intelligence and kindness were sprouting in him.

Now, six decades later, his body had given out, and ours were wearing down. But our minds were still sharp enough to consider Nathan’s life. I don’t know what the other two were thinking during our friend’s funeral. But I was hoping that, when my time comes, the word kind will show up in a thought or two about me.

Once again, Nathan was pressing me forward.

Nathan, front row, far right; my friend Gertrude, front row, red dress; my friend Ruth, third row, yellow dress.
I am seated in the front row, blue dress

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