It’s a crystal-clear cool fall day in Georgia. Treetop to treetop there’s nothing but blue sky. There’s just enough breeze to ruffle the heavy leaves still hanging on before the first frost. The broom sedge is coming on strong across the old pastures, bending over under the weight of the wind. As a kid, I used to imagine the sedges were like amber waves of grain. A lazy afternoon walking in the tall grass down to the lake.
On this fine day there is a funeral in progress. A small country church. Red brick with white trim. The organ music is despondent. Sniffles and Kleenexes abound. The final amen is spoken. The casket is wheeled down the aisle and out into the crisp fall air.
Most of the world is oblivious to this modest and personal grief. There are kids across the road from the church playing ball in the yard. A work truck with PVC pipe on the rack rumbles down the dirt road beside the building. The country store just down the road is busy with folks pumping gas and buying cigarettes at the counter.
One family mourns while the world keeps churning. This is how it goes. At any given moment on any regular day there are tears and laughter, rest and work, the prayers of the saints and Johnny Cash on the radio. Does anybody see? Does anybody hear? Does anybody even notice?
The crowd exits the church and moves in whispers to their cars. Gray suits and dark dresses. Some of the small children giggle and are gently hushed. The pallbearers grip the bar and lean into their job. The rear door closes. All the headlights come on and the blue lights flash up front.
It’s not a long procession. Maybe twenty cars. And it’s less than a mile down to the cemetery. Grandma sits in the back seat and holds her youngest grandchild in her lap. The oldest daughter comments, “That was a beautiful service.” There wasn’t much else said, nor that needed to be said.
The deputy stops his car across the centerline just past the gate into the cemetery. One by one, the cars turn in past the stone columns. Cherubs sitting on top of each pillar as if to welcome these guests to another world.
A worn two-tracked lane leads the procession down to the green canopy where a handful of folding chairs sit atop a blanket of plastic grass. Six young men gather at the rear of the Hearse to bear the old man to his place above the covered ground. A dog barks in the distance. A horn blows out on the road.
Grandma smiles at her daughter from behind moist eyes. “Sure is a pretty day. Your daddy loved days like this.” The family gathers to their chairs. Holding hands. All is quiet.
Right next to the cemetery there is an old block and tin roof warehouse of a building. A pallet shop. Rip saws, nail guns, and fort lifts. Enough noise to raise the dead.
I don’t have a clue who made the decision, but what happened next is the reason I’m telling this story.
You know how it is in this world. Time is money. Pallets have to move down the line if quotas are going to be met. The guys on the clock have jobs to do. And it can’t be done quietly.
But here’s the thing. Somebody noticed. Amid all the crazy busy hubbub where almost no one pays attention, somebody saw the funeral procession roll in next door. Maybe this is company policy. Maybe the funeral director called ahead. Maybe this is not the first time this pallet shop has exercised its commitment to good old-fashioned respect.
As the family held hands to pay their last respects, the industrial commotion next door went silent. Work came to a halt. One little piece of the world stopped in its tracks to honor the moment.
I know this because I got a text that read: “We have stopped working and have cut off all the machines. There’s a funeral going on next door.”
I am struck by this simple but powerful gesture. That a smalltown shop can recognize a greater need. That progress can pay homage to pain. That men will stand around on the clock for a time and no one in the office cares. In fact, those in charge are willing to bend over backwards to make sure that the prayers of a family are heard over the clamor of metal and wood.
It makes me think that all is not lost on this earth. Decency can still be found. Dignity still has its place. The deep and personal sorrow of this family did not go unnoticed by all. Just a regular bunch of guys made sure that didn’t happen.
How much better this world would be if no grief ever went completely unnoticed. If we could pause once and a while to consider what others might be enduring. If we could see the human heart and understand the hidden loss. If we could shut down the noise long enough to realize what’s going on right next door.
The graveside service didn’t last long. I’m not sure if this family was aware of the offer of grace from across the way from the pallet shop. But as soon as folks began to shuffle out from under the canopy, a four-foot exhaust fan kicked on. A couple of air compressors roared to life. You could hear table saws chewing through lumber, and nails guns fired off in syncopated rhythm.
I’ve seen cars pull off on the side of the road for a funeral procession before. I’ve seen strangers stop on the sidewalk and quietly face the cars passing by on the street. I’ve known cemetery maintenance guys to stop their mowers. But I’ve never known an entire shop to shut down to show their respect.
Maybe it was the clear blue sky. Maybe it was cool air that made someone sit up and take note. Whatever the reason, I tip my hat to a bunch of guys with sawdust in their beards.
The human spirit never ceases to amaze me.