Tea and Unitarians
One of the last things Steve gave me was a cold that lasted for three weeks. In fact, even by the days leading up to the funeral, the interior of my nose was still a rubberized glacier of mutated silly putty as I stood in my Aunt’s kitchen in Rhode Island. I couldn’t drink coffee, not with the amount of milk I have to put in the stuff to keep my skin from turning green and concerned bystanders from dialing 911. I lived on hot, strong tea with honey in it. Our house had run on PG tips, so I drank Earl Grey–at least it was something Steve had never liked, so somehow that kept me from dumping Aunt Briggs’ supply in the compost.
I had to put a funeral together for my husband. Now, I have always had very strong feelings about people (won’t name any names beyond…oh, how about Glen Beck) who react to crisis by going to a phone book and essentially dialing 1-800 religion to find some random clergy to help them deal with whatever mess they are in. Here was where things got interesting. Steve was (and possibly still is; I suspect even the Gods weren’t cued into his stubbornness until now) an agnostic, and he felt rather strongly about the importance of saying he didn’t know what went on in the spiritual world. I’ve got two in-laws who are ordained Baptist ministers–Steve’s youngest aunt and her husband. My mother is Catholic and dad worships at the shrine of Male Patronizing Behavior. (I think their Basilica is located somewhere in the southern mediterranean–the ancient city of Test-ost-to-ro-ne. Having said that I have to admit he has behaved very kindly since Steve’s death.) And then there’s me, Steve’s widow the Irish-Jewish-American Druid.
So I had some choices. The Funeral home offered me a Baptist minister that they swore was “very liberal.” Well, six months previously I had enjoyed a minister’s (not my in-laws’) sermon where the man had described the Jews’ “murder of Christ.” Steve was not thrilled and I was infuriated. My great grandmother’s ancestors were not that stupid, thank you. Then there was Steve’s mostly Christian conservative family. Steve was their boy. They had all known him and loved him, helped him grow up, given him father figures and Auntly support in kind. They loved him, they mourned him, and Druid funeral rites would have been as much of an affront to them as to Steve’s agnosticism.
So I guess in essence I dialed 1800 religion. Actually, what I did was go on-line and search out Unitarian congregations in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Hopefully that was less of a Glen Beck approach.
Why did I do this?
I had, maybe, been to one Unitarian service in my life and could remember nothing about it. Their Church as an organization still came highly recommended. In 12th grade, where I was chained (sorry, enrolled) up at Our Lady of the Perpetually Crossed Legs and Titanium Chastity Belt (Catholic girl’s school), we had each been assigned a separate faith to report on for our Daily Indoctrination Hour (religion class). Most of these oral reports ran along the lines of “The Quakers don’t BAPTIZE!” or “Pantheism says that EVERYTHING is holy!” in tones of horrified shock that you usually only hear on commercials for bathroom mold removers. The Unitarians were described by their designated impartial representative as “Absolutely crazy! They ordain WITCHES and AETHEISTS…” My other favorite was “Jews spend so much time talking about the Holocaust…” Now, certainly I wish I was exaggerating. Unfortunately I’m not. I may be peeling some details from other romps with rampant bigotry over my five years at that school, but just stop and consider the implications of that…
In absolute honesty it was mostly this memory that prompted me to search Unitarian congregations to find a minister for Steve’s funeral. If the majority of uninformed opinion in my High School thought they were too liberal, chances were good that I would at least appreciate a conversation with one of their clergy.
(I wasn’t looking for shock value.–See Laura’s personal principles of Paganism, line 3 “Thou shalt not convert for the sole joy of letting thy conservative Catholic grandma find thy pentacle in the laundry, scream, and spontaneously birth a litter of kittens as thou laughest in late teenage rebellious pique.”)
I was trying to find someone who would compassionately include every disparate faith in saying goodbye to someone we all wanted back.–And the unlikelihood of a Unitarian celebrant accusing my maternal ancestors of killing Christ really did add a high gloss to the idea.
So I stood in my Aunt’s kitchen–one of my favorite rooms on the planet. I let my feet settle into the smooth, burnished wood of the floor and looked out the large windows over the sink at the curtain of silvery Weeping Elm branches. I drank my tea and I called the first Unitarian congregation on my list of four.