On Saturday I joined a group of 24 singers to sing for the memorial service of an elderly friend. I didn’t expect to cry as much as I did – I hadn’t put any kleenex in the pocket of my vestments, and had to ask for some from a fellow singer. I hadn’t expected to cry that much because the service was indeed a celebration of a life that had been joyfully and fully lived.
My friend had led a life filled with service to others, and he found some of his greatest pleasure in listening thoughtfully and unhurriedly to people as they worked through both their tangles and their celebrations. He was so present when you talked to him, and his children attested to the fact that he was that way at home as well, both during their childhood and after they became adults. He deeply believed that God was revealed in each of us, and he thought it a privilege to sit in the presence of someone as they talked to him. He was fond of quoting St. Irenaeus using inclusive language; “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Fully alive. It is what the French mean by the phrase Joie de vivre, although a lot of the meaning is lost in the translation into English. It doesn’t just mean the joy of life. A closer translation would be “the joy of being fully alive.” Being embodied, grounded, delighting in each moment as it comes, whenever that is possible. And when it’s not, whether due to health conditions, pain, trauma or grief, to do our best to still find some beauty or kindness in the world, despite all. Or even more so, perhaps, in the midst of all.
My friend didn’t have a perfect life. None of us do. But he had a way of living fully and delighting in other people’s joy. I met him in his elder years. I wish I had been able to know him when he was younger as well.
I think I cried as much as I did during the service because even though he was at peace and was ready to “cross over the river,” as he phrased it, a beautiful soul has departed this life, and I shall miss him.