25 July 2009

Funeral or Party?*

A couple of weeks ago we had a memorial service at church for one of the youths who died about a year ago. He's name was John Kumwenda. John's death came as a shock to all the youths of the church. I recall the day he died very well. The youths had organised a "careers seminar" and had invited two schools to attend. It was huge. The entire church building was teeming with students in there final high school year. One after the other, speakers with different vocations gave 15 minute presentations on their respective careers. The careers seminar was held on a Saturday and was a whole day event. After lunch, the presentations continued. We all knew John was in hospital. My buddy and I planned to pay him a visit after the careers meeting. At about 3pm, I think it was, one of the girls came to where my friend and I were sitting. Being a very charismatic girl, full of surprises, my buddy and I thought, she was just being her, coming to sit between us uninvited. She came to our bench, we moved apart to allow her to sit. She looked me in the eye and told me that John had just died. She told my buddy as well. Words can't describe the emotions that overwhelmed me in that moment. I had known John all my life and though we weren't close friends, we had an understanding. I always imagined that we'd all grow up and marry and have kids. John's death was not part of the plan. Not before we had lived our lives and grown up. It was unbelievable.

Our sister in the Lord didn't wait for us to swallow the news. She got up to go and tell the other youth members who were sitted in the seminar. My friend and I walked out and found clusters of youths outside, all trying to realise what had happened. John was gone.

Later that day, I asked my friend whether he would linger at the funeral home. He replied with a statement I'll never forget because of its truth. "This is our funeral."

One year later, we had John's memorial. Time sure flies! After the funeral service, at the grave site, I looked around and saw the graveness of the occasion. It was a somber moment as I saw how saddening the sight in front of me was. Graves in their tens and hundreds. Grave after grave. Name after name. Epitaph after epitaph.

It was then that I remembered Ecclesiastes 7:2, "It is better to be in a house of mourning, than a house of feasting." I immediately turned to my friend, who is the unfortunate homo sapien who has the unfortunate burden of hearing my every thought and musing! I whispered to him, "The bible says, it is better to be here than to be at a party." He looked around him and replied, "I wonder why."

His response transported me to the happenings of the previous night. I had sat in the sitting room at home, by myself, with the booklet that had been printed for John's memorial in my hands. It contained among other things, testimonies from John's family and friends. Those testimonies were glowing. John's friend from church testified of his wisdom beyond his years. How that John helped him grow in his Christian walk and how that John knew when to speak and when to be silent. John's brother called him "the best big brother anyone could ever have". John's Aunt spoke of how John was a very serious but humorous young man, dearly loved by his cousins. John's brother boasted of how John was brilliant at his academics. John had some glowing reviews in that booklet!

After reading through the testimonies, I couldn't help but feel depressed. I thought of what my family and friends would write about me if I died. I thought of how much they'd have to struggle to find excellent things to write about me. I discovered that in this life, I had been doing very little worth writing home about. I tossed John's little booklet on the table, pointed at John's smiling face on the front cover and said, "John, you're making me look bad."

My mind raced back to where it ought to have been and with it, an answer to my friend's, "I wonder why" reply. I whispered back to my buddy, "Because it puts life into perspective." "Then I don't want to put life into perspective," He said. "Then, you're a fool." I retorted.

I think it would be a good idea to attend a funeral or memorial at least once a month, preferably, once every two weeks. Imagine the life of an individual who attends a party every weekend (Our workmates and worldly friends actually do that, don't they?). Imagine how distorted his view of life this party boy will be. He would begin to think that life is a party, that we are meant to have fun all the time and live life like there is no tomorrow. He will develop an unrealistic view of life.

Imagine the life of one who, on the hand, attends a funeral every weekend. Every weekend, he will be reminded of the brevity of life. The fact that we can die any time and we must, therefore, be prepared. That man who attends a funeral every week will develop a sober view of life. He will live life objectively. He will reserve money for his children after seeing the death of a father, he will work hard for the Lord after seeing a young man in his casket. He will spend and be spent for God, after attending the funeral of a wealthy man who gained the whole world but lost his soul. Death brings us to the reality of life and puts things into perspective. It helps us make the right decisions when setting priorities in life. It is indeed better to to be in a house of mourning than a house of feasting.

After attending John's memorial service, I strive today, to be more productive, more concerned about my family and more importantly, about the things of God. John's memorial helped me put things back into perspective. Unfortunately, we easily forget-No wonder a funeral a month would be a good resolution.

*In loving memory of John Kumwenda (1986-2008)