A life worth living is a story worth telling.

A Russell Lee photograph from my book, Kilgore: Echoes from Forgotten Streets.
A Russell Lee photograph from my book, Kilgore: Echoes from Forgotten Streets.

I HAVE REACHED THE POINT in life where I spend a lot more time on strange days and at odd hours in churches I have never entered before.

A few friends are in the pews.

Mostly they are strangers.

But that’s life.

I can wear almost any jacket I have, reach inside the pocket, and pull out the program for a funeral.

There’s living.

And there’s dying.

And it seems that time is running out for so many I know.

Friends.

Family.

Family of friends.

Friends of family.

We sit there in dim light and in silence.

Music surrounds us, music engineered to make the hardest of hearts cry, and there are no hard hearts around me.

Some of the songs are pre-recorded.

I hate that.

Some are sung out loud and in person.

I love that.

Even if the singing is bad, and it almost always is.

Funerals are all the same.

An obituary.

A eulogy.

A sermon.

In Baptist churches, we hear a warning that we, too, will die and we’d better be ready to meet our maker like Sister Jones or Brother Smith was.

But that’s what preachers do.

They are always selling.

There is a laugh or two.

A tear or two.

A memory or two.

The words differ from funeral to funeral.

But in the end, they are all the same.

What fascinates me about funerals, however, are the photographs of a person’s life, set to music and fading in and out on a huge silver screen in front of the church.

Ten minutes.

They never last more than ten minutes.

And in those ten minutes they tell the story of a person’s life.

One picture at a time.

One frame at a time.

Old snapshots.

Black.

And white.

Grainy.

And yellowed with age.

We see a child.

A young girl.

A young wife.

A young mother.

A hunter.

A fisherman.

Little League.

A father.

The good times.

The happy times.

And the times that pass them by.

Age.

And then comes the wrinkles.

Babies.

And grandbabies.

Families together.

Families at Christmas.

Families at the last Christmas.

And then it goes black.

And then it’s over.

A life can be seen in a handful of snapshots.

And each snapshot tells a story.

It’s a story forgotten.

It’s a story untold.

A life worth living is a story worth telling.

I grieve for the departed.

I grieve for the family.

Most of all, I grieve because the stories came and went, and I have no idea what they were.

My novel, Deadline News, is about a small town newspaper telling stories about the trials and tribulations of an oil boom town.

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  • Don Newbury

    Love the line about all pockets holding funeral folders! I agree with well-presented position, particularly in preference for LIVE music! Along this line, Bugles Across America provides buglers free to play “Taps” at any funeral in America, military or not! “Canned ‘Taps’ never hits a wrong note,” one funeral director defended. Bad answer; even if “Taps” bugler hits wrong note, so be it. Life whose memory is honored hit some wrong notes, too.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Great insight, Don. A wrong note on Taps is the sound of a heart breaking.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Everyone has a story and needs someone to come along and tell it.

  • Recently I was called on to conduct the funeral of an old friend which brought to mind the one we did for a total strange (father of a friend) – from my point of view, they were equally difficult and for the same reasons. Brilliant post my friend.

  • Funerals are always so hard. I lost a high school friend this week who seemed so full of life days before the tragedy. His story, the untold story I’ll probably never hear, breaks my heart.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I’ve reached the age, Sue, where i’m attending a lot more funerals and my circle of friends is growing smaller. If I knew more of the stories they kept inside them, I would have more to hang onto when they’re gone.

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