Today’s post is the monthly reflection from the February 2005 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.
It was an unexpected day, with an unexpected schedule — and an unexpected experience. The day prior, I had been in a rush checking my voicemail while driving from one meeting to the next. There were several messages, but one that made the rest seem less urgent. The son of a friend had suddenly died. The message indicated that the funeral was going to be held the following morning.
I was grateful that I was able to rearrange my schedule to attend the funeral and pay my respect. A gray sky with light falling snow and frigid temperatures set the stage. As with most funerals, it was impossible not to step back and put the rush of life in perspective. The messages were wonderful, fitting and eye-opening.
I was sitting in the last row of this funeral home’s quaint chapel. As the funeral ended, everyone quietly proceeded out in exact order from the front row to the back. This put our row at the end of the line. I slowly followed the solemn crowd to retrieve my all-so-common full length navy wool coat from the rack. As I reached to pull it from the very end of the rod where I had specifically hung it — it was gone. Compounding the jump in my heart was the realization that I had done what I never do: left my car keys in the coat pocket!
With the cars lined up and pulling out for the procession to the cemetery, I realized I wasn’t going anywhere. And realizing that my extra set of car keys was with my wife, who was teaching in her 2nd grade classroom, I wasn’t going anywhere for quite a while! Even with the best efforts of a funeral director, asking everyone to check their coats, there was no immediate fix to my situation.
The small funeral home left me little option but to stand in the only hallway or go sit back in the chapel where they were preparing for the next funeral. From the hallway, I could see the workers quickly preparing the chapel with wreaths of flowers and the open casket of a gentleman in his late sixties.
Shortly after the preparations were completed, people started filtering in — right past the only place I had to stand. Every passing person looked at me as they walked towards the chapel. A couple asked directions. It dawned on me, as I stood in my navy suit, white shirt and conservative maroon- striped tie that I looked like a funeral director!
Setting aside the frustration of my situation, I couldn’t help but see the comedy in this tragedy. As a speaker who focuses on customer service, I was the last person who wanted to contribute to a perception that this funeral home had unfriendly employees! I chuckled inside and decided the only choice I had was to nicely smile and greet each person. I prayed that no one would ask any questions, other than where to go. With only one funeral on the schedule, I could answer that one!
I have to admit that I was relieved when the final guests arrived and the chapel doors were closed. My guests were settled in and my job was done — until their departure, of course!
For the next hour, through the thin insulation, I could hear the kind of music that stirs your soul and softens the walls of your heart. It was there that I could see the gift of this unusual situation. With no car keys, no cell phone, no computer and no chairs — – I had but one choice. To stop, stand and think. Coming off a fast-paced few weeks and the funeral of a dear friend’s son — there was a lot think about. And it was amazing how the rush of life fell back into perspective.
Although I couldn’t see through the closed doors, the full-sound of the guests singing Be Not Afraid was my indicator that I needed to get ready for the departure of my guests. As they proceeded out I smiled at each, hoping no one would have any questions about directions to the cemetery. Fortunately they all knew where they were going!
With all of the guests departed, the funeral home was quiet once again. It seemed all too routine as they dismantled the recently built display of beautiful flowers. With still no where to go, the owner of the funeral home came out, noting that no one had yet returned with my coat. He invited me back to his office to sit for a while. Hanging on the wall was a picture of his large family. I asked about his family and soon learned about each of them and the entire history of the funeral home he had run for almost 40 years. It was a touching story of passion and commitment. A story that reflected nothing was as routine as it might appear on the surface. I enjoyed the story and was glad to know that my afternoon employment had been for an owner who really cared about what he did.
Shortly after, I was able to get a message to my wife, who patiently made the hour drive to bring me my other set of car keys. That evening the funeral home called me. When I saw the Caller ID, I wasn’t sure if they had recovered my coat or were calling to offer me a job! They, in fact, had recovered my coat from a distraught family member. The next day, as I made the hour drive back to the funeral home, I realized there were two ways to look at this little situation — had the guest taken my coat, or had they given me an afternoon of needed reflection? They will never know how their distraction ultimately became my gift.