You may know i spend a bit of time in cemeteries. Peraps that is why i noticed two recent minor news stories that were televised here, about death, grief and reverence.
The first was about the headstone of the grave of James Kingi, member of the Mongrel Mob gang. There had been objections to the city council about this headstone, which carried Mongrel Mob insignia. A woman whose relative was buried next to James felt the headstone was offensive. The council was considering a bylaw against offensive headstones.
Well, as a keen cemetery walker i could get offended about quite a few things. i object to vulgar and maudlin displays of sentiment for a start. It's just not Ango Saxon to festoon graves with cheap garden ornaments from big box stores, and soggy teddy bears (don't get me started on soggy teddy bears), and masses of artificial flowers that spill onto other people's grave sites. i am also not keen on mawkish, grammatically unique, overly personal poetry. i don't particularly like photographs, partly because they deteriorate over time and end up looking beige and weird. i even have my reservations about some of the themes i see as grave site art develops past the old school conventions of 'loved father of...' , or the Bible quotes. i have noted that the statements on graves about women stick to their relationships, whereas those of men often mention their hobbies or sports either in text or with a picture. i think in the end being defined by the fact you liked fishing is a limiting and impersonal as 'now in the arms of Jesus'. In the end, who cares about whether or not you played golf? i think about my mother's funeral, and how inadequate i felt as i tried to describe her life in ten minutes. She loved her garden. She played the recorder rather well. None of it touches on how her life streamed through time and streamed through my own life, and what she took with her when she died and what she left behind for us. The Mongrel Mob insignia on James Kingi's grave seems rather petty in comparison. It is as adequate an expression of his life as anything else.
The other story was about the funeral of young Troy Kahui. His friends showed the proper respect by doing burnouts in their cars outside the funeral home. Police were called and the young friends were arrested for endangering the public. Troy's mother, not a car enthusiast herself, was disappointed with the Police response. She felt his friends were giving him the sendoff he would have wanted. She was right.
What is reverence? It is one of the most mysterious and beautiful virtues, and one of my favourites. Reverence is full of surprises. It hides in plain sight. It is wonderfully accessible and yet often missed.
A defintion comes from The Virtues Project:
'An awareness of the sacredness of life. Living with wonder and faith. Having a routine of reflection'.
In our society public grief is very limited, if you want to be socially acceptable. And we have little sense of the liminal - few rites of passage for example. So we can undergo our death rituals with not even a sniff of reverence, and we barely notice.
A young man dies of cancer. His funeral is large, as they usually are for the young, and mostly the preserve of the family. Lots of aunts, lots of hugs, little cousins, sandwiches, the crematorium booked for an hour and the next funeral party waiting as everyone leaves. At the 'after party' some uncles get ridiculously drunk, and there are more little cousins twirling in their fairy dresses.
Blessed reverence comes to his friends the next night. They meet up more or less accidentally. They light a fire on the beach where he used to surf. They smoke probably too much pot and cry more than they expect. They talk about him, only a little, but they feel his life as it streamed through time, as it streamed through their lives, and they feel it streaming still.