a laugh not soon forgotten

On the way back to the airport tonight, I watched the sun set low over the Mississippi River. This is not an unfamiliar sight – I’ve watched it many times in my life. Each instance manifested vastly different than the one before, sometimes subtle, sometimes drastic changes in the nuance of color, the shapes of the clouds, the heat of the evening, and in the long tail of dusk. Each one brief, powerful, and altogether its own.
Thing is, I wasn’t the only one who watched that sunset over the Mississippi. I took part in a viewing audience of thousands – each one of us interpreting the scene in front of us as differently as one sunset from the next. Each one of us bringing our own baggage to the show, our own understandings, prejudices, daily troubles, victories, and more. All of us carrying something different to the same display.
As a worldly people, we share so many of these occasions – sunrise and sunset, sleep and dream, marriage, faith, birth, death… We share the physical manifestations of them, but interpret each differently from our own perspective, our own universe of perception.
We struggle in minuscule and massive ways to come to terms with these differences. We grow frustrated and argue, launch insults, mistakes, and wars. We grow willing to kill over how our different faiths interpret similar moments.
Sometimes, however, we find success. We mesh with a group, with a friend, a lover, and find communion of spirit, mind, or heart. Sometimes we only understand better – disagree, but know each other more deeply. Sometimes that simple act of attempting understanding is enough, and budding respect forms.
If I took anything from my Lutheran upbringing, it was the idea of unconditional love. The idea that while we, as flawed humans, might never be able to attain the perfection of it, there was no reason not to continually try. No reason not to strive to find that level of respect for everyone we encounter in our lives.
My Uncle David passed away this week. Today, we gathered family for his funeral. We traded our stories, swapped our memories, and smiled as we tried to imitate Davey’s laugh. We will remember a good man – a strong man in family, friends, and faith, willing to offer much to those he cared for. Regardless of the myriad beliefs we carry for the afterlife, we all bore witness to a life on Earth well-lived.
We aren’t offered a great deal of time here on this soil, not long to come to an understanding of our selves, let alone each other. Time is a ravage we cannot stop or slow. But we share that struggle, share the attempts to learn, to better ourselves, to ask the big questions and seek answers to the whys that we perceive. We grow together, laugh together, play together – we find ways to cherish what we have been offered, to hold close what time we have been given. We fight valiantly to maintain the flame of life in the here and now and shine the brighter for it.
During the service, a letter from David was read aloud. He had written it to my Aunt and their four daughters on the one year anniversary of his battle with cancer. It was proud, hopeful, thankful – powerful. He understood grief and joy, pain and pride, he offered fortitude for others and gratitude for the strength that he received. He offered hope and he offered peace. In the middle of our grief, as we listened to his words, David reminded us of a more ancient wisdom – the center binding a lasting strength:
“Nothing means anything if you do not have love for one another.”

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