The First Word in Funeral…

Yesterday I went to a memorial service for a man I never met. However, I have met his daughter and she’s awesome. She’s a young cultural archeologist who does most of her current work here in the San Luis Valley where her family has a farm. She is currently working at an old fort — Fort Massachusetts — and did her thesis on potato cellars. I wrote about her a couple of months ago here, Potato Cellars and Tea Party.

I wanted to show her my support. I know what it’s like to lose your dad before what should be his “use by” date. At the very moment he died, I was hiking with my friends. It’s impossible to be this age and go hiking with your friends who are also “this age” and not feel the passing of time and be grateful for your friends, for being on a trail. It’s one of time’s changes. A beautiful one, but, intense.

I rode to the service with my friends, who needed to go early, and I planned to walk home afterward. My friend’s husband was giving a eulogy and they were probably going to linger and maybe go out to the farmhouse for the reception. I was just going to go, hug the young woman offer condolences to her mom, sit in the back, and leave. There are times when I feel like (and am) an outsider and I knew that service would be one of those times. I’m OK with it. It’s just reality in this case. Everyone’s uncomfortable most of the time — the conclusion I reached years ago.

As I was waiting, people came in, sat down and more or less avoided my pew. I sat on the end so they probably thought I was saving it. Finally, the choices were sit in front or ask me to move over and I moved over saying, “I’m not saving these seats.”

“Oh, OK.”

A couple a little younger than I sat down beside me. In front of me was the town mayor and his wife. They started talking, catching up, the husband asked the mayor how he liked his job. He’s been mayor a little over a year now. The mayor said, “It’s politics.” He then went on, listing the litany of politics that intersects? or IS the job of mayor. He ran unopposed with big promises to turn the town around. His short tenure has faced some opposition that was quickly dispatched, and has had some successes. I didn’t vote for him. I thought his platform was vague, and when I asked for clarification in a letter to the paper, he smacked me down.

“All this being PC,” he said with disgust to the man sitting next to me on the pew.

“Ah,” I thought. “I had your number right. You sought that job, you have no right to bitch about it. And being PC? You’re everyone’s mayor.”

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive or unwarranted

I also resent the whole “PC” thing in a way. It (to me) has always seemed superficial and petty, but at bottom, “PC” doesn’t mean calling someone of a different race by their preferred label; it means not using labels at all and treating each individual with respect. It’s giving the benefit of the doubt to ideas of which we are unfamiliar. It’s not “judging a book by its cover.” It’s understanding that each person struggles just as we have struggled. It’s respecting differing opinions and striving to find common ground. It’s realizing that no person is “better” than the next; it’s humility.

As the service went on, I thought about the comment. I live in a town where there are two “creeds” frequently touted. One is the Cowboy Creed and the other is the Farmer’s Creed which was printed on the back of the memorial service program. These creeds have existed all my life. In my mom’s old Bible was a yellowed wallet card with a slightly different version the cowboy creed. The man who died was a potato farmer. The mayor claims to be a cowboy.

In my book, PC ought to boil down — for the mayor — to living by either of those creeds. Yeah, we can say it’s legislated behavior changes, but it shouldn’t be. At bottom it’s nothing but simple human kindness and respect. It should never need to be defined. That it DOES need to be defined says something about human beings.

It’s extraordinarily difficult. If it were easy, the Golden Rule, which exists in every major religion and has been written for at least 4000 years, would never have needed to be said.

I don’t much want a mayor that struggles to be kind, tolerant, open-minded and fair. BUT since he doesn’t seem to like the job, maybe he won’t try to continue doing it next election.

A Farmer’s Creed: A man’s greatest possession is his dignity and no calling bestows this more abundantly than farming. Hard work and honest sweat are the building blocks of a person’s character. I’ve often heard friends, neighbors and family – my dad for one – quote bits and pieces of it. I’ve heard others refer to it at meetings, in church, at a sale barn, funerals and many other places where rural people live, work and congregate. It exemplifies the farm and ranch vocation. It goes something like this.

   Farming and ranching, despite its hardships and disappointments, is the most honest and honorable way a man/woman can spend days on this earth. The vocation of agriculture nurtures the close family ties that make life rich in ways money can’t buy.

   Children who are raised on a farm or ranch earn values that last a lifetime and that can be learned no other way. Farming and ranching provides education for life and no other occupation teaches so much about birth, growth and maturity in such a variety of ways.

   Without question, many of the best things in life are free – the splendor of a sunrise, the rapture of wide open spaces, the exhilarating sight of the landscape greening each spring – true happiness comes from watching crops ripen in the field, watching children grow tall in the sun, seeing your whole family feel the pride that springs from their shared experience living, working and harvesting from the land.

   Farmers and ranchers believe that through their shared vocation they are giving more to the world than they are taking from it – an honor and privilege that does not come to all men or women. Agricultural producers believe their lives will be measured ultimately by what they have done for their fellow men and women and by this standard, fear no judgment.

   They believe when they grow old and sum up their days, they will stand tall and feel pride in the life they’ve lived. Farmers and ranchers believe in their vocation because it makes all of this possible.

7 thoughts on “The First Word in Funeral…

  1. I think you are right about kindness. We need more of it not less x. By the way I just saw the film Oklahoma. Haven’t seen it for years. The song Cowboys and Farmers should be friends seems very relevant x

  2. I never thought kindness and respect was PC. I’ve always thought of PC as being more devoted to political dogma than anything else, regardless of where on the political spectrum one lived. If that is his opinion, maybe that mayor ought not to be mayor.

    Saw this on a shop window in downtown Angola, Indiana today:

    • I agree — I always saw PC as a way to codify what people should do anyway. I LOVE this window. It’s exactly on point! What’s surprising to me is day-by-day in this town this is what people do.

      As for the mayor? I don’t think he should be mayor especially if he thinks dealing with different opinions and interests is offensive.

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