Biff America: We will find out, soon enough, what comes after death
February 12, 2016
The beauty of being dead is that it puts life in perspective.
To be clear, I have no firsthand experience in the matter. But I do hope that after that last heartbeat you retain a sense of humor; if so, Jimmy Glick was chuckling as he looked down on his memorial.
It was a battle royal of faiths. In one corner, you had Jimmy's Jewish parents; in the other was his new-age wife. Couple that with various and contrasting Christian, "crunchy" and agnostic friends attending Jimmy's memorial, all of them professing with conviction to know exactly where his soul was on the beautiful California day 30 years ago.
If the truth be told, then Jimmy was an alternative farmer in Northern California. I knew him casually but my girlfriend at the time, Jane, was a good friend of his common-law wife. I was living in Paradise, California, for the summer and attended Jimmy's memorial service about two hours away. I've been to many memorials, both before and after, but Jimmy's left a mark.
He died suddenly, and keeping with his Jewish upbringing, his parents insisted he be buried within a couple of days of his passing. His wife, a "No-Cal" hippie with a name something like Moon-Flower or Mung-Bean, was passive enough to let his parents take over — to a point. So after the rabbi read from the Torah, Mung-Bean walked around the casket barefoot with a burning smudge-stick, and the flood gates opened.
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Being raised on Catholic wakes and funerals, where only the priest had a speaking part, I was a little surprised when multiple mourners took the stage to pontificate. Mung-Flower's "soul sister" Squash Blossom rang a Tibetan gong and chanted, and one after another various "greave-ers" — Christian, Jew, Buddhist, etc. — stood and offered diverse, lengthy options. I've had relationships that didn't last that long.
It seemed a little passive aggressive, as friends and family stood at the lectern and issued their contrasting opinions of what was to become of Jimmy. It became more about personal proselytizing, rather than honoring the dead.
My date and I began to edge toward the door, when a large, biker-type guy wearing leather lurched to the front. His hands were so large at first I didn't notice that one held a can of beer. He stood up in front of the lectern, blocking from sight some guy who was about to read from some sort of holy book (not sure which, since the guy never got a chance to speak).
The large man eschewed the microphone but rather shouted, "Jimmy Glick was my friend. We used to ride together. … He was a loyal partner and good dude and a grower of righteous plants. Someday, we will all be dead; Jimmy already is." He raised his beer and took a long drink with some of it running down his beard.
The room got deathly quiet, which made my applauding sound even louder. Jane said, "I think we should leave."
I've been to a lot of memorials the past few years. I guess that is to be expected as we age. Most of them reflected the hopes and faith of those who passed. In dealing with the loss, it is a comfort to have that hope. "To live without hope is to cease to live." But in truth, what we can count on is an afterlife of a legacy of kindness and compassion toward those whom we touched and loved.
We will find out, soon enough, what is next. In the meantime I'm content to hold quiet and cautious optimism with an emphasis on "quiet."
After Jimmy's service, most of us went to a local watering hole. Seen amongst the crowd were crucifixes, yamakas, tie-dye and crystals. I headed up to the bar and encountered the biker who offered that harsh eulogy. I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed his words.
He told me his name was Ace and looked at me suspiciously, as if my compliment was sarcastic. I assured him it was not. I told him I thought Jimmy would have approved his message and that, unlike the others, his words were brief and to the point. Ace answered, "Yeah I was going to say more but I had to go hit the head."
When I joked that the Lord works in mysterious ways, Ace countered, 'No, I think it was the beer."
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book, "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores and at backcountrymagazine.com/store.