Last week I passed an empty hearse going the other way. It set me musing.
Freed from its solemn duties, no longer slowed by a weighty coffin and all the gravitas attendant upon such a thing, emptied of flowers and no longer the misty-eyed focus of profoundly sad people, it had about it none of the majesty and decorum, the grandeur and grace, that properly wreath a hearse. It looked inessential, superfluous, dispensable. Gawky. Going too fast.
You think I’m banging on a bit. You’re right.
I then fell to musing on the way people in cars treat hearses these days. They buzz and harry them, cut in and chop up processions. It’s like watching a kestrel mobbed by crows. People these days have no manners, no solicitude. They’re in a hurry, they’ve got places to go.
But it’s not just a manners thing, is it? Or a hurry thing? There’s more to it than that.
Once upon a time (not so long ago) the death of someone touched everyone. It evoked the mystery of existence. In everyone’s mind a funeral procession awoke questions: how long have I got? What does it feel like? What comes after? It spoke of the universal human drama of those born to die. It inspired awe and the doffing of hats.
It’s not a manners thing. No, it’s a universality thing. In place of a general drama of life and death and the mystery of existence played out in our midst, for us, disconnected from matters elemental, there are one-off sketches in which unknown unfortunates die — bad luck. Seek not to know for whom the bell tolls, it ain’t tolling for me, mate.
And so a funeral procession, instead of speaking to and for the human condition, is seen as descriptive of no more than a little local difficulty afflicting someone else.
And the funerals of these incogniti address the particular and the personal, the private hurt, the here and the now, in crematoria which divert those who cared for them briefly from life’s mainstream (where death belongs) before setting them on their way again.
Moral: it’s much easier to write prettily about mortality and funerals wearing a reactionary hat.