My buddy’s mother passed away after a battle with cancer.
The last time I set foot inside a synagogue, I was about 12 years old. Rachel Beardsley’s Bat Mitzvah. I had to wear a funny hat and everything was in Hebrew. I expected this funeral service to be about the same, by which I mean completely unintelligible and extremely awkward.
I was wrong.
The service opened with a short song and then the rabbi spoke.
“It’s not fair. It’s NOT FAIR!” he said. “How can this be fair? She should be here with us. Now. In this room. Do you hear me? She should be here with us. It’s NOT FAIR!” He railed on like this for a few minutes. It made me angry. It made me sad.
“But it’s not literally unfair. It’s not actually unfair. None of us is guaranteed a certain number of years.”
“It is emotionally unfair. It is devastating. But it’s not actually unfair. We must make the best of the years we have. And she did.”
He went on to describe her life and the impact she had on her family and friends. He spoke about his relationship with her, things he had observed over the years. He was funny.
I cried the entire time.
Later, I thought: “Could a priest have said those things?” It’s hard to imagine. A priest is more likely to say things like “she’s in a better place now” and focus on theology and faith to comfort. As near as I can tell, Judaism doesn’t obsess about an afterlife. There are obviously teachings about a messiah, but it doesn’t seem to be central to the religion. Judaism focuses on the here and now.
People relate to each other directly and honestly. The jokes are, in fact, better, I think because Jews study human nature as it is and not through some unrealistic spiritual lens.
I don’t know, maybe I’m being too hard on Christianity. I knew some incredible people during my 6 year teenage odyssey as an evangelical. Sometimes I look back on those years and feel embarrassed or angry that I was brainwashed. But the reality is more complicated. Rone, Pete, Eric, Tom, and others were spiritual guides to me. They were genuinely good people who cared about me, who loved me. They were kind and wise. They had an enormously positive influence on my life.
I just wish I could have had all of that without the man-in-the-sky parts.