Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Last Great Silence

My wife attended a visitation at a funeral home recently. She expected to do the thirty minute drive each way, spend thirty minutes there, and to be gone for a total of ninety minutes. When she was still not back home after two and a half hours, I called her cell phone to make sure she was alright. She was fine, but was still in a queue outside the funeral home, waiting to get in to pay her last respects. Hundreds of people had shown up to do the same. The deceased had been very well known and liked by everyone.

My wife and I discussed this when she got home. I suggested to her that at my funeral hardly anyone, other than immediate family would show up. It's not that I make enemies of people or anything as sinister as all that. It is just that I am at heart a hermit. I like to be by myself. Friends and acquaintances have tried for years to change my solitary ways, to get me to join the usual clubs, to go to parties, to do all the usual social things. Eventually, they gave up. I have friends who know that they can count on me in a pinch, if they need my help or an impartial ear, but mostly I prefer to spend my time alone or with my family.

I don't think my predilection is either good or bad; it is simply the way I am. I know people who think they couldn't survive for even a single day without some social interaction, and that is fine, for them. I can go for weeks without feeling the need for any real-time human interaction. Even at home, I like the feeling of having my wife and son around, but I don't feel compelled to have them in the same room with me all the time, and am even less inclined to spend a lot of time interacting verbally. To me, a few appropriate words mean more than volumes of gibberish, and actions always speak louder than anything else. You know those awkward silences that you hear about from time to time, when people run out of things to say momentarily and everyone desperately tries to think of some bon mot to get the words flowing again? You won't experience those with me. The absolutely best kind of companionship is where two people can sit, side by side, each lost in his or her own thought, and not feel compelled to dispel the magic by saying something just to break the silence. Silence is golden. It also means that there is one less opportunity to offer up some inanity, or even worse, gossip, as conversation. Gossip, as George Harrison wisely pointed out in a song, is "the devil's radio."

When I do interact in conversation occasionally, I like dialogue. To me, that means one person speaks, and everyone else shuts up until it is their turn. Interruptions turn me off, and I surrender my part in the conversation to others who have a greater need to chatter than I. That reasoning extends too to venues like talk shows. If the host keeps on interrupting or shouting down the guests, no matter how silly or inane their utterings, I'm away to play some guitar or do something else more peaceful and relaxing.

On those occasions when I do mingle with others, I like to listen. I learn things that way. Sometimes I learn things that I will explore further to help broaden my own horizons. Sometimes, though, I learn that there are points of view and fixations that are so bizarre that they deserve not one single wasted second of further contemplation.

Does the fact that few people are likely to show up at my funeral bother me? The reality won't bother me then, because I'll be dead. The prospect doesn't bother me now, either. I hope the people who will be there at my funeral will be the ones closest to me, and that they will each remember a good thing or two about me that they can share with each other.

If I were somehow able to listen in on the conversations on that eventual and inevitable day, I would like to hear at least one person say: "He lived, he died. In between, I never heard him say a single bad word about anyone."*

*I do reserve, however, the right to say bad things about politicians and other thieves, the lazy, the shiftless, and anyone who feels they have a unearned claim on my life and my earnings.


  1. I am completely indifferent to what happens after I'm dead. Completely.

    I don't care if I'm remembered or not.. or whether anyone finds it necessary to lament my passing.

    All I have is right now.. and when I'm dead, I'll be on to another adventure.



  2. If there was a "best post ever" award given out to every blog, I'd nominate this one, probably only to find it upstaged by another a few days later.
    Solitude is bliss, and becomes harder and harder to come by.
    In conversation, quite often less is more.
    As for the business of dying, I'll be happy if it's the only thing I have to do when the time comes around. "'chani" captured a lot of my thoughts on it...NOW is all you're guaranteed. Your end could come in ten minutes or not for decades; make the most of now, and you'll never worry about it.

  3. it's funny you wrote this, i too was recently reflecting on who might come to my funeral, and i think it there will be few there, too.

    i don't know why i was thinking about it, but i was. and so are you. and so it goes.

  4. It's weird what pops into our heads sometimes, isn't it?

  5. I would love it if they could say I never said a bad word about anyone...it's a goal, anyway.

    By the way, I tagged you for a meme if you so choose.

  6. I am just now catching up with my blog rounds. I noticed the tag, Bellezza, and will write it today. Thanks!

  7. I would come. But, hopefully someday, I can meet you before your passing! ;)

    I've been remiss. I will remedy this. Heavy, Weekly Exams.. no excuse, really, but if there was one, it'd be a good one.

    I've got an interesting story coming.

  8. It would be a pleasure to meet you in person, Penny. I have responded to your Facebook request.

  9. In the past five years I have become seriously isolated and was also recently considering the who would come to my funeral question. The answer? Most would be there for my husband. And that's OK.

  10. I can relate to your predilection for quiet time alone. I love my solitude, my me-days which involve no driving, no talking on the phone, no interaction. The irony is that I know tons of people and interact with a great number of people professionally and socially. However, I've never understood a degree of friendship which involves chattering with the same people from day to day - how dull! I do stay in close contact with my sister and parents, but beyond that - it's simply too taxing!

  11. ...oh, but as to who comes to my funeral? Well, that's not my problem, is it? One less social occasion for me to worry about!

  12. I remember taking a week-long driving trip many years ago for the express purpose of making a BIG personal decision that involved lots of thinking, calculating, planning, etc., and I asked a friend if he wanted to come along. My condition: No talking except during meals or while having a drink somewhere. I wanted not to be distracted. It was a great trip. We talked very little but both agreed it was a relaxing and useful trip. I returned home refreshed, with all decisions made and knowing exactly what to do.