As I viewed the ceremonies for President Gerald Ford, I found myself reflecting on the universality of funerals and the power of the life of a good man. I never gave much thought to Ford's presidency. Watching the broadcast was a worthwhile history lesson. It conjured up memories of the turmoil our country was in at the time. It brought hope that we can find our way out of today's turmoil.
Comparing our current administration and members of Congress with that of Ford, we cannot help but see a stark contrast. The civility then and the churlishness now is palpable. But the example of the past gives us the confidence that healing is possible.
We saw friendly exchanges between diverse people, most notably Chelsea Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. It was striking to see former presidents gathered. They appeared to be comfortable together, old friends with much in common. They share a unique perspective and experience, and in spite of being political foes, I suspect they truly respect each other. Ford brought them together.
At the end, he was a man with a loving family, which gathered around his widow to protect her from the chill of the day. It was an affectionate expression we can all relate to. Who among us has not felt the need to take care of a vulnerable parent or grandparent?
My tendency to personalize public events gave rise to thoughts of the funeral of another good man: my father. When I was young, I didn't appreciate the healing value of wakes and funerals. I thought of them as morbid and depressing. Dad's wake taught me differently. As a family, we were comforted by the stories and high regard people shared for our father. The virtues and behavior we cherished were appreciated by many. His life had touched people we had long forgotten. We found the affirmation by others of my father's goodness was exhilarating. The gathering of old acquaintances was anything but depressing. We could not help but laugh as we recalled shared memories.
The most profound and lasting effect was the appearance of an estranged friend. Several years prior, we had been involved in an automobile accident. She was driving. The streets were becoming icy and the car began to swerve and then rolled off a bridge. We were both thrown from the car. I suffered head and back injuries and spent many days in the hospital. Medical bills had to be paid.
To complicate matters, I was involved in another accident a month later. A drunken driver hit the car I was in, head on. Of course, this made insurance claims more involved and messy. Each insurance company blamed the other. Unfortunately, the possibility of a lawsuit compromised our friendship. The suit was settled out of court, but our long friendship seemed to have ended.
That was until my father's wake. It was a total surprise to see my old friend there. Her first words were: "I hope you don't mind that I came. I had to say goodbye to your father." She and my father had always liked one another. She couldn't stay away. The tears and hugs that followed helped to mend our relationship. I had my friend back!
That was 16 years ago and our friendship has flourished. We have since shared many laughs and tears, needing each other during good times and bad. A good man's life had brought us back together. Our reunion proved there is also power in death. It makes me think of a phrase from one of my favorite religious songs: "We remember, we celebrate, we believe."