Back when a handshake was as good as a man’s word and a man’s word was everything, communities had unwritten guidelines regarding funeral processions. Everyone knew what to do, how to handle these delicate situations, simply by having seen the reactions of their parents over the years.
It was quite simple, really. When a driver saw the hearse, he or she would carefully and quietly pull off to the side of the road and respectfully wait until the last car with lights on during the daytime had passed. Then, slowly, once the last car in the procession had passed, the driver would ease back onto the road and continue their travels. It was the manner by which communities paid their respects to the deceased and to the families that were grieving.
No one honked the horn or blared music from the radio; no one sped passed the procession in either direction; no one seemed to be in a hurry to continue on down the road. Rather, it seemed to be a moment to pause, to feel empathy for grieving strangers, to remember the family members that we had lost, to remember that we are only here for a short time.
Pulling over to the side of the road when encountering a funeral procession does not happen much anymore, though there are still a few small towns across America who still practice this tradition. Why have communities lost such a simple expression of respect and sympathy?
Progress, as it is often called, has changed us. Though we are more connected than ever through cell phones and emails, we are more distanced than ever from people, from our families, from our communities. In our rush to be the best, to make another dollar or climb the corporate ladder, we have traded family meals for eating alone on the run. In our attempts to create a better future, we have left much of what we have learned in the past behind us. And, we continue to progress with blazing speed.
We run through our days, mindlessly maneuvering from one point to the next, trying to check items off of our to-do lists. We forget to call friends and neglect to visit family because we are so very busy, though it is often difficult to recall exactly what it was that kept us that way. Perhaps it is time to take a break, to sit back and breathe, and to remember the list that is truly important to us.
Have you told your kids you that you love them? Have you spent much meaningful time with your spouse lately? Have you had lunch with your best friend in a while?
Life happens; people grow and communities change. The world is not meant to remain the same forever. But, during progress, we must make an effort to steady ourselves so that we do not forget the parts of life most important to us, so we do not neglect the very reasons that make life worth living, so that we remain grounded in our families and in our communities.
So, the next time that we encounter a funeral procession, let’s all take a moment to pause and, respectfully, slowly pull over to the side of the road and patiently wait. There, in the quiet of the car, our hearts will feel for the family that has suffered the loss and remember our own loved ones who have gone on before. Perhaps, in that moment, we will realize how fortunate we are to still have the opportunity to tend to that truly important to-do list.