And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead ...
-- Liz Phair, "The Divorce Song"
At some point in your life you realize you have occasion to go to more funerals than weddings.
I hit this inflection point in my early 40s after spending a good part of my 20s and 30s watching my friends hook up and settle down. Second marriages are generally quiet affairs.
Quite a few of those weddings took. While we all seem to remember hearing that 50 percent of American marriages end in divorce, that's not been true since the 1970s. About 60 percent of '80s marriages held and more than 70 percent of people who married in the past couple of decades are still together. It's estimated that a full 75 percent of marriages performed in the past decade will make it unto death.
It shouldn't be lost on us that the relaxation of social stricture has solemnized marriage. Fewer people feel the need to get married, so the only people who do get married really want to get married. It was this way with us: Neither Karen or I thought that getting married was absolutely necessary for our happiness. We could have gone on without any official recognition. Neither of us wanted to. It was a luxury we could afford.
A more forgiving culture encourages couples to co-habitate before getting married, so they can break up without having to go to court. They will delay marriage for a few years. There's greater acceptance of people living by themselves--and of single parents--so there's less pressure to jump into a second or third marriage (which are statistically far more liable to end in divorce).
So most of our friends are married now, or confirmed in their singleness. What weddings we are invited to are usually those of people we knew as (and therefore must still secretly consider) children. We are invited out of politeness, if at all, and that's fine. We attend--or, more often, send regrets--in the same light spirit.
It is the funerals that are difficult; I try to go because you are supposed to, but I don't always, for the churches are often crowded and close and the smallness of the talk depresses me. I am too much into myself at them, when I should be there for selfless reasons. So it is easy to talk myself out of showing up. No one is taking attendance. No one judges you for not coming. No one notices your absence at all.
But one of the things I admire most about my friend is that he always goes to the funerals.
He wakes up and puts on a starched white shirt and a dark suit. He ties a silk tie with a real knot, a half- or full Windsor, not the schoolboy four-in-hand I employ on the rare occasions I'm called upon to wear a tie these days. He signs the book and looks the widow (most often in our cohort it is a widow) level in the eye and says something that provides comfort or lift, that re-affirms the world as a realm of dutiful and compassionate people. He is a steady sort, a square and respectful man who reminds me of the way our fathers presented themselves in serious social situations.
The sort of man who, through grip and gaze, communicates his competence and unspoken strength, his willingness to help with the difficult matters. And the ordinary ones too.
He is the sort of man you want to come to your funeral, to be there for the people you love when you no longer can.
I have known him for about 25 years now. He didn't come to our wedding because no one really did, we just ran off and did it without telling anyone beforehand. He helped us move twice, and picked us up from the airport many times. He probably can blame his golf addiction on me though I'll take no responsibility for his fondness for good whiskey. No, no, sheriff, it wasn't me.
He's been at our table countless times. My dogs know him, even if he's never quite figured out which one is which in the latest batch. (He could work with Coal Dog but that damn Bork was intransigent.) In the same evening we have discussed the respective wagers of the great pragmatic philosophers Peter Edward Rose and Blaise Pascal and the classical passions of Will Percy and Elvis Costello. We have parsed the residual Jesuitism of Garry Wills and the contradictions implicit in Hannah Arendt's human rights critique. We have come to some agreement on the relative merits of Rebel Yell and Colonel Taylor single barrel; for the moment we have tabled our ongoing debate on the morality of various methods of performance enhancement available to world class athletes.
I find him wrong often enough to be interesting. He is just left-handed enough to occasionally baffle me. And I guess I love the hairy-eared bastard.
So at the end of this week, I will get up and put on a shirt that might not be white, and a suit that might not be dark. As to whether I will wear a tie or not I have not decided.
And I will go to his wedding, his first one ever, and wonder at the woman who would have this man with all his kindness and decency and dumb luck.
Because, if it ever comes to it--and, being indestructible, I cannot quite imagine that it ever will--I want him at my funeral.
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Editorial on 08/12/2018
Print Headline: Of funerals and weddings