The Tent

I didn’t know my friend’s sister very well. Embarrassing truth be told, I kept forgetting he had an older sister. “What do you and your friends talk about?” asks my mom, whenever I admit such ignorance about people I’ve been close with for years. I knew he had a younger brother and sister, but if I ever met his older sister it was once, possibly twice, at our college graduation, and later at his mother’s wake.

I didn’t know she was technically his half-sister, since his father had her with his first wife, who also passed away. It doesn’t seem right that a man should outlive two wives and a daughter. Various family members got up at her memorial service this past Saturday to remember her, and the theme was common. It didn’t matter if she was a cousin or a sister-in-law; each and every person considered her their sister. At the end of the service, the reverend remarked that, though he’d never had the pleasure of meeting the deceased, he felt like he knew her through her family. I felt the same way.

I didn’t know my friend’s maternal grandmother was still around, or remember that I’d met her before. I began to introduce myself, but she knew me and another of his friends whom he’d known since high school. “I remember when you were just kids!” said a woman with remarkable energy and vitality for her age. “We’re still kids!” joked the other guy.

I didn’t know there could be singing or clapping at a funeral service. I’m used to more somber Catholic wakes, with quiet prayers and people whispering in a dimly lit room. This gospel service had a singer that encouraged us to clap, and a minister who encouraged us to hug one another and celebrate life. It was still a time of mourning, but also one of joy and love, a room full of people, some strangers, united by the person who was gone.

I didn’t know my friend’s brother was a minister, or such an eloquent speaker. My friend tried to say a few words but got choked up, as did his nephew. His brother spoke frankly and inspirationally. He told us of his sister’s troubled youth, how she left home at an early age and went to live with her aunt and cousins, how she turned her life around. For twenty years, more than half of her life, he only saw her once or twice a year, but spoke to her several times a week. He and others spoke of her love for her husband now of nine years, and her stepdaughter, whom she raised and treated as her own just as cousins and in-laws welcomed her so completely.

I didn’t know she was sick until my friend e-mailed us a few days before her passing, to ask for prayers. As some of my other friends at the service noted, too often since college we reunite under such circumstances. My friend’s brother spoke of why he was so optimistic, why his tears were ones of joy. A few months back, of all the places his job could have sent him on a weekend business trip, they sent him to his sister’s home, and he got to spend a weekend with her and her family on her turf for the first time ever. A few months later, when she knew something was wrong, even before she knew what it was, something drew her back to her family in New York. His sister traveled a lot, but her heart was always at home. My friend’s brother spoke of a tent. What is a tent? It’s some canvas and few sticks that shelter us from the elements, but we’re still outside. She slept in a lot of tents, but they were never home. He then tugged at his jacket, but it was clear he meant more, that the very skin we wear is our tent to shelter us from the elements. He spoke of his sister’s liver wearing out as surely as the canvas of a tent. This world is outside the next one. Heaven is home. And he knew, in his faith as well as the faith she had developed, that she was finally Home. In that he drew more than comfort; he drew joy.

What don’t you know about the people around you? Ask the person next to you the simplest of questions. We’re all out in the elements. Each and every one of us is waiting to go home, whether we realize it or not. Our friends and our family are on the same line, and getting to know them is the best way to pass the time. We might regret not knowing some people before it’s too late. We might appreciate people while they’re still here. Because these tents have more than a few good stories in them...


Blogger SPM said...

Excellent post, sir.

12/08/2009 8:54 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...


12/08/2009 5:57 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

Gracias, amigos.

12/08/2009 10:54 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home