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The Funeral

Posted by Dr. D , 21 November 2010 · 75 views

I have removed the dark suit and hung it in the closet.  The white shirt was tossed into the laundry basket and the tie set aside for the cleaners.  A spot of chili sauce could not be concealed and who knows when I will need it for another funeral?

Here, in this village that I call mine, it is the custom to walk behind the hearse to the distant cemetery.  Not all the roads are paved and the dust dulls the shoes and forces your hand over your eyes.  

It is a long walk to the cemetery, 6.4 kilometers or four miles for some of you.  The serpentine road moves through the village and into the outlying regions where stout pecan trees stand in rigid rows.  At last, the cemetery of San Jose is there, surrounded by a tall white adobe wall.  At one point in that wall one can see the holes left by the execution of Christeros in 1927, but that's another story.

Yesterday, Manuel Leonel Mendoza Solis died.  For more than half a century he had walked the road that I trod for his funeral.  He had always carried a shovel, rake and cutting shears with him and sometimes whistled a melody from his youth.  He walked proudly, with wide steps and with eyes alert for all that was around him.  He spoke seldom but when urged to do so, his words told of humility and graciousness.

Yesterday, Manuel Leonel Mendoza Solis walked the dusty road and felt the warnings of his frail heart.  He sat to rest and found his breath labored.  At last, he laid in the fragrant grass as if to rest but his mission was simply to end his journey upon this earth.

Today, I walked behind the hearse and lingered a while beside the fresh mound of squared earth.  The others who had walked the route of mourning had left and returned to prepare meals and scold children.  It was better for me to sit upon the grass and remember the man who should have been my friend.

For 52 years, Manuel Leonel Mendoza Solis was the caretaker of the Cemetery of San Jose.  He found pride in maintaining graves as if they were memorials to those they contained.  Often I saw him pause to wipe the sweat from his brow or drink from an old, dented military canteen.  I had visited the graves and tombs of those I knew who had passed before and he was always there.  Yet, only once did we speak.

"I am blessed by my work," he told me when I asked if he enjoyed his labors.  "Those I have known in life now rest beneath my feet.  I care for them and they sing to me.  You may not hear it, but it is sweet music that makes me happy."

I stood and brushed the soil from my pants.  It seemed too dramatic to say goodbye but I did nod and sigh deeply.  A step or two beneath the umbrella oak where he laid, I seemed to hear it.  It came as wind chimes and angelic voices that caused the leaves to rustle and the grass to bow.  At least, I like to think that I heard it.

Now the day moves toward darkness and I lift a glass to Manuel Leonel Mendoza Solis.  I congratulate him for the good life.  It is the least I can do.

A beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing.

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Nov 22 2010 12:40 AM
Such a moving memory. He is blessed to have you as a friend. Most of us will be lucky to have had one person notice our passing.
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A very heartfelt tribute to another's life.   Well said.   :)
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