“The Trip” Re-Visited
Recently two friends of mine from the Bay, Grant Olson and Bob Major, passed away within a week of each other, causing me to remember a similar set of passings some twelve years ago. At that time I was writing a column for the paper under the title of “Golf and Beyond” and I now offer this same column for today’s readers as being appropriate for today as it was twelve years ago:
In a space of three days – Thursday, Aug. 1, Friday, Aug. 2., and Saturday, Aug. 3, (2002), three gentlemen known to me thru playing golf at Indian Hills, all died suddenly. I attended two of the three funerals that followed these untimely deaths.
Arriving approximately one-half hour before each service was to begin, my wife and I slid into a typical church pew and sat quietly. Inwardly, however, my mind was awash with a host of vaguely connected thoughts: how well did I know the man; how special of a friend was he to me; and how were his wife and family going to cope with the abrupt departure of their loved one. I also took notice of who else was there paying their respects. They too were probably thinking thoughts similar to mine as they sat in the same funereal silence.
But other less noble thoughts crept into my stirred emotional state- centering not on the deceased- but on my own inevitable departure! How would it be when my turn came? Who, if anyone, would be there at my funeral – and why? What kind of an impression will I leave? Good guy or fool? Loved or tolerated? Respected or disregarded? It seems that when one draws close to another’s death, it stirs up a great deal of soul-searching, centering on the attendees own final outcome.
It struck me that sitting there in the quiet of the church was similar to sitting in a large railroad station. The wooden benches in both places are much the same with their hard seats and curved backs. Alike too, are the high ceilings found in such places. Also much alike in these two settings is the separation between the space where the officials of both places work. In each case the employees of these enterprises are stationed behind a barrier facing the people sitting on the benches.
Another parallel that is present in both the funeral service and the railroad station is an atmosphere of an eerie nervousness, a muted anxiety. The funeral attendees wrestle inwardly with their bouncing emotions. They worry about what they should say to the survivors afterwards. What is appropriate? What is soothing? Or is a nod or a hug the right thing?
In the railroad station, the travelers are nervously waiting for the moment when they are told that they can board the train for their journey. Others in the station are there to see the travelers off. Some of these are sad knowing they will miss the one who is departing. A few others might be on edge with regret, thinking that maybe they should have gone on the trip, too. Why didn’t they buy a ticket, they accuse themselves.
Another interesting similarity is the role of the “Station Master” in each place. Both of these officials wear dark uniforms. Both carry a book with them. Both speak of the journey ahead. One mentions several stops and the final destination; the other speaks primarily about the final destination. Both officials advise that anyone wanting to make such a trip should buy their tickets in advance or risk missing it.
A central difference between the two places involves the business of “buying” a ticket. In the case of the railroad station, this requires only a payment of money, the amount determined whether it is a one-way or a round trip ticket. To get a ticket for the journey spoken of in the church requires not money but simple faith.
According to the officials at the churches, all three travelers had previously “bought” their tickets (one way and noncancelable) and were already enjoying the delights of their final destination. It could not happen to three nicer guys. It was a thrill to be part of the crowd that saw them off.”
These sentiments from twelve years ago are the very same I have for Grant and Bob today.