Why do people go to funerals? After all, the dead person won’t be there—not in spirit.
I always think, when I survey a crowd at a funeral, that these people are being as unselfish as people can possibly be—and what a very rare thing that is.
What’s the motivation? To be there for the dead person. To be there for their family. Ask them what they feel about the dead person. They say “She’ll be much missed.” Note the use of the passive tense. They don’t say “I’ll miss her very much.” Self-interest doesn’t come into it. Do they come looking for comfort? They will certainly be comforted if the funeral is any good: if it does justice to the dead person But no, they do not come looking for comfort. Comfort is an unlooked for by-product. They are not there for I.
I’ve read two accounts of funerals this week, both on this theme. Both of them were for people who were unsuccessful in a worldly sense, but just happened to be incredibly nice human beings. Both accounts give us grounds for believing that, however horrible the human race can be, people are essentially good.
The first is told by a funeral director. He concludes: The feeling of love that poured out of these people for him was immense. The recurring theme was that he truly loved everyone he came in contact with, and that the feeling was reciprocated by all he met … You see, you don’t have to be a well-known politician to have a positive affect on the lives of others. You don’t have to be magnate of industry or a famous actor to make the world a better place.
The second is told by journalist Matthew Parris. His conclusion: People do detect goodness in others. They do respond. Nobility of soul does find its echo from other souls. Was Thomas Gray, in his ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, right to say that ‘Full many a gem of purest ray serene/ The dark, unfathom’d caves of ocean bear/ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air?’ No. We speak carelessly of the ingratitude of others, and the loneliness of virtue; but I think that when in some way a person rings true, many can hear it and they respond.