Weddings and Funerals

When was the last time you saw Cousin Ted or Aunt Myrna? Chances are it was probably a wedding or a funeral—the only time people put aside personal triumphs and trials to publicly acknowledge life and death.

After attending a wedding or funeral, a person may pledge to value life more in the future, but once the ceremony ends and Life returns the blinders to his eyes, seventeen months or nine years will pass in a blink, and then one day he will be in a room with the same group, a few additions and deletions, all slightly older and heavier, mutually wondering where the time has gone.

This is not a banal attempt to motivate people to take life more seriously. Rather it is my recommendation to accept that just as everyone has an annoying drunk uncle, weddings and funerals will be the only time you see certain people for the rest of your life.

As with other fundamental laws of the universe, do not fight that which will not change. Learn to use the law to better position and strengthen yourself. Follow these seven rules and the weddings and funerals you dread may actually become the ritualistic ceremonies they are intended to be.

Dougie’s Rules for Weddings and Funerals 

1. Clothes in your closet do not change; fashions and your waistline do. If the business casual society in which we live has decreased the frequency of the times you don that dark suit or black dress to the point a moving truck shows up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue more often than you wear the outfit, try it on from time to time. And, if it doesn’t fit, have it altered. Don’t run the risk of your ass exploding out of your pants or your newly emerging fat roll introduce itself to the family when you bend over to pick up your nephew.

2. Ensure the presence of a social lubricant. Although this seems obvious, there are people who attempt to have dry events. Alcohol is on this earth because of family functions. If more than your immediate family is gathering, alcohol should always be present. While it may create a whole new set of problems, the problems are more entertaining than trying to bridge the awkwardness over orange Fanta. If you do not have a say in the decision, save yourself. Dig out the flask you got as a gift for standing up in your college roommate’s wedding and fill it with the strongest liquor you can tolerate. Don’t forget to pack the rest of the bottle with a case of beer in a cooler for the car. Once others realize you have alcohol, you will be the most popular person at the event.

3. Only take a date if you love the person. While it may be more tolerable to deflect or diffuse familial interaction by using a human shield, leave casual dates at home. Why subject another person to the people you avoid throughout the year unless that person is bound to you by love? Besides, weddings and funerals are great places to meet people. The grief, the joy, and Rule #2 can work to your advantage. One caveat to this is rule is if in clear conscience you can say that you are willing to go to your guest’s next family event, bring the person along, but beware of his or her motives. If you don’t want to be there, why should he or she?

4. Bring the kids along; leave the pets at home. Although the event may coincide with your date night, unless it is declared a “no kids” event, bring them along. They deserve to learn as early as possible about the family into which they were born. On the contrary, even though the dog may be considered a member of your immediate family; he may be better behaved than any of the kids at the event; and it wasn’t explicitly stated not to bring him, leave him at home or at the sitter. If you’re trying to make a statement about the new family unit of the millennium, see Rule #6.

5. Treat your cell phone like a cigarette: step outside to smoke; step outside to talk. This rule applies to all mobile media devices and all public places. I wouldn’t even mention it except for the repeated egregious transgressions. Although it may be more enticing to text the person you met last Friday or catch up on work e-mail, keep the phone in your pocket. You’ll only draw more attention to yourself and attract the people who everyone else is avoiding. In addition regardless of how cool you think you look with your Blue Tooth earpiece on, leave it in the car. Wearing an earpiece, is there a difference between you and the wrestler with the cauliflower ear who sat next to you in study hall in high school that you found revolting?

6. Do not use the event as your platform. There’s still two hours to go and you’ve run out of small talk. The temptation is to dive into some current events but stick to the how nice the flowers look and how tasty the food is (lying is permissible). If you’re exchanging superficial conversation, you’re still too deep. Think stratosphere; think ozone. Read a People magazine prior to attending. You’ll have plenty of trifling ammunition. Remember, no one cares what you think, just as you’re not interested in their theories about where the weapons of mass discussion really are.

7. Regardless how good relatives look, only compliment them once on their physical appearance (more than that is creepy). We all have that hot relative that just looks better and better each time we see him or her. Sure the person may only be related through marriage or be a distant cousin, but they are off the list. It’s acceptable to compliment or offer a consolatory or congratulatory hug ONCE. Any more than that and people will start referring to you as Jerry Lee. This is also where Rule #2 may backfire on you. What seems like a good idea after five shots of Jaeger may make you the subject of conversation for many events to come.

Forked Up

DC

Imagine running down a narrow path in a dark forest. Moonlight straggling down through the ceiling of leaves offers the only light. Twigs snap under your feet. The ocean calls in the distance. You accelerate, but the sounds of the sea drift farther and farther away.

Dew dropping from the leaves chills your skin. Your pace quickens. Your breathing becomes heavier. Your heart feels like it will burst through your chest. But you’re still not getting closer. The synchronized pounding of your heart and feet and the faint call of waves are the only audible sounds.

You arrive at a fork in the path. The soothing murmurs of the sea fade. Noises from the surrounding woods scream out. Probing stares from invisible specters penetrate. You spin around, desperately searching for a sign of which way to go. Nothing.

When this happens in life, what do we do? In the absence of instinct, when we lose sight of the signs we have been following and are at a crossroads–completely forked up, which way do we go?

Robert Frost recommended taking “the road less traveled by”. But what if we can’t tell? Do we just pick a direction and go? Do we turn around and go back? Do we follow Thoreau’s advice and “Dare to strike out and find new ground” by blazing a new trail through the forest?

Life is easier  and much more invigorating when a vision guides our actions; when we have experienced a “Wow!” or “Aha!” and scrape and struggle to reach the goal. But unfortunately we don’t always have that clarity. As energizing as pursuing a dream can be, the disappearance of that guiding force is equally as terrifying.

Whereas I have always advocated a plan of action – do something even if it is wrong – I am questioning whether any move initiated without full commitment and instinctive drive is merely a response to the fear of not knowing. If we are not running toward something, are we not avoiding something else?

Sometimes advice hangs with us because it resonates so clearly and others because we have no clue what the person is talking about, but for whatever reason, we can’t seem to let it go. One such statement has hung with me for many years: Have enough sense to do nothing when nothing is exactly what needs to be done.

It came from a principal at a junior-senior high school in St. Louis where I taught in my previous life as a math teacher. I was at the beginning of my working life and he was at the end. He had a large family with only daughters; I didn’t even have a plant.

When we conversed, I wondered whether he was really just happy to have another male to talk to or whether he felt obligated to share the abundance of wisdom that only a life surrounded by women provides. From southern Missouri he had the slow, drawn-out delivery that you would frequently seek out and gulp down like an iced tea from a rocking chair on his front porch on a warm August evening, but it was also one you sometimes avoided because you didn’t always have the time to listen.

When he uttered those words I remember thinking: The old man has lost it. What does he mean, Do nothing? Doing is being. If you want something out of life, you have to act. Sitting around and waiting is for the old and weak.

And so for many years I charged on. Sometimes when I came to the fork in the road and wasn’t sure which way to go, I went right and sometimes left; sometimes I went back and retraced my steps, wondering if I missed something along the way; other times I just set off blindly in a new direction. Regardless I was always moving.

But maybe when at a crossroads with no clue which way to go, the best move is to simply do nothing. When the sound of the sea has faded, and the probing stares and chilling screams radiate from the surrounding woods, just stare back into the darkness and smile. Abide with the uncertainty. Do nothing. Let the penetrating glances pass through. Allow the frightening cries to wash over. When the time is right, the path will reveal itself.