Monday, May 02, 2005

Burying the Dead

I’m sitting in the Irish pub after work hoisting a few pints with my fellow server Beth. You remember her. She’s the one that was still wearing Underoo’s when I graduated college. The beer and the conversation flow freely.

“When I was in the third grade I was mauled by a dog,” she says matter-of-factly.

“Wow,” I say surprised.

“Yeah, he ripped off my eyelid and damaged my eye socket. My eyeball was like exposed,” Beth continues.

I peer closely at her face. There’s no sign of trauma.

“You’d never know it happened,” I say.

Beth smiles, “I had a good plastic surgeon. It took three surgeries to repair the damage.”

Beth is a very pretty girl. She almost wasn’t. The surgeon was very talented.

“Amazing,” I murmur.

“That wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me,” she says taking a pull on her beer.

“What was?”

“My best friend Alice was killed in a car accident when I was nineteen,” Beth says.

“I’m sorry.”

“She lived right across the street from me. We grew up together, went through school together. She was so beautiful that she could’ve been a model.”

“I lost a good friend once,” I say mostly to myself.

When I turned eighteen she showed up to my birthday party in her prom dress and sprinkled me with confetti,” she continues.

I smile

“She was my birthday fairy.”

“She sounded like a wonderful person,” I say.

“After she died her parents asked me to pick out her clothes for the funeral. They knew I knew her best - what she’d like to be wearing.”

“Wow,” I reply.

“And then I did her makeup at the funeral home.”

My heart skips a beat.

“Really?” I say in wonderment.

“Alice’s face was bruised from the accident. The mortician had to fix that part but I did the rest. She looked the way she would’ve wanted to look. I even used the sparkles she liked so much. "

My response was honest and totally wrong.

“I don’t know. If you were my daughter I'd be so uncomfortable letting you do that.”

“I know it sounds a bit strange. But you know what? I was honored to do it. I loved her very much.” Beth says.

There’s no sadness in her face – just a kind of serenity.

All of a sudden I’m ashamed of myself. Images flood into my minds eye.

I see my father kissing his mother before her coffin closed forever….

My cousin singing “Ave Maria” in the ER as her mother died….

A couple gently stroking the hair of their dead child while I watch wordlessly from the corner of an intensive care unit a long time ago…

The Pieta….

Sometimes our tenderness is the last gift we can give the departed. I’ve forgotten my catechism. It’s a work of mercy to bury the dead.

“You should be honored,” I say finally, “That was a tremendously kind thing to do.”


We’re quiet for a few moments.

“You know what’s strange?” Beth says.

“What?” I say.

“It sounds weird but Alice’s death changed me for the better.”

“It’s probably the truth,” I say.

“After she died I realized what a gift it was to be alive. I can’t waste time with bullshit anymore.”

I take a long look at Beth. She is very young, very courageous, and very wise.

“I’m thirty seven and I still haven’t learned that lesson.” I say.

Beth smiles gently and drinks some more of her beer. “Remind me to show you a picture of her one day,” she says.

“I’d like that.”

An hour later we say our goodbyes and I walk to my car, humbled by the fact that someone younger knows something about life than I don’t.

I fumble with my keys and open the door. Turning the ignition I remember the philosopher’s words, “Ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.”

Despite my “wise daddy shtick,” my experience and background, I don’t know a whole hell of a lot. Beth reminded of me that.

I just hope the seeds of my ignorance blossom into wisdom. Maybe someday.

I drive off into night thinking about tenderness and burying the dead.

Yeah, well we all have things to learn Waiter. When I found out life was worth living was when I almost ended it with a bottle of pills after being raped, getting pregnant and having an abortion. But I didn't end it and every day I'm here, I try and notice something good about it. As we all should. Thanks for sharing it with us.

I'm sorry to hear you had to go through all that, but good for you for being strong. Sometimes adversity is our friend. I've been in a similar situation and it's amazing the inner strength that shows up when you least expect it.

Waiter, thank you for sharing that with us. Wisdom comes with life experience. Unfortunatley (fortunately?) some of us experience more than others. Hopefully we get the chance somewhere along the line to pass it on.
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That was really wonderful. Really.

That was very lovely. I personally enjoy your rants. ^_^
That story was amazing and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing it!

I look forward to reading you, often.
Never stop learning...we all have things we can discover from others, no matter how old we are. Nice story
At first I was thinking morbid but as I read on I was completely enthralled by joy and it's hard for me to say things like that. I also really appreciate the fact that you let yourself be opened up by someone of lesser life experience at least you thought, good job, check ya' later...
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I love your rants and will be linking to you from my own blog later today.
Life itself should never be taken for granted.Great postings!..Have a great day!...or as George Carlin once said....if your tired of having a great day, then have a crappy one instead!..< not meant as a smart ass's just a line taken from one of his skits...:)
Waiter, excellent story. I drifted here from a link on my girlfriend's blog. She's one to spot the best, and I can see this rings true here.

From my personal experience, I've had about three near death experiences. Two were medical, one was a freak accident, and hell, I'm only 18. Still, I do realise that I notice things that other people my age don't. It's scary, knowing that you could go any time, but having lived through that feeling three times, you learn to be prepared. You tend to live life in a way that you know you will have one less regret should you go that next instant. Each day you take, you do what you can with what you have, hopefully never having to look back and say, "I could have done that better." Yeah, we still do stupid things that we regret, but we also know that life's only that long to fret over.
A beautiful story, brilliantly told. I love this blog for its consistently wonderful writing, its humour, and for delivering up the unexpected.
Way to tell a story - wow! I'll be back to read more, 4 sure.
we all have our sad stories. you have the ability to tell them well.

it's funny how, in the midst of being the super cool self that we (especially us jaded restaurant freaks) think we are, we stumble on simple little things like really good people. it can be jarring - but it's a good thing.
I am a waitress, and a few weeks ago at work, I was waiting at the bar with another waitress for our drinks. She mentioned that one of her customers had lost his wife yesterday, I too loudly asked "WHO?" and she subtly motioned to a man sitting at a table about 8 feet away. In my haste that evening I had missed him, but once she pointed it out the mourning was hovering around his head. Its brave to go out for a nice meal with a friend the night after a loss. It reminded me to take a moment to see my customers.
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