The Stunning Ordinariness of Death
I went to a funeral, and I couldn’t stop focusing on the mundane
My cousin Sam died on Thursday. On Sunday I flew to Virginia to attend his funeral, because Jews waste no time getting people into the ground. Someone asked me why we do it that way, and I had no idea.
I thought that flying to a funeral would somehow make the airport different but it was the same. I was annoyed at the ticketing kiosks that replaced humans. I was convinced that I’m guilty of something at the TSA checkpoint. I was thrilled to buy gossip magazines for $40 at the newsstand, relieved when I got to the gate, and convinced I was going to die on takeoff and landing.
A young, joyful kid with bleached blonde hair and many earrings was at the hotel check-in desk. He did not look like someone who would enjoy wearing a name tag, but he smiled the whole time while I awkwardly explained to him that I didn’t want to Uber to the funeral, I wanted a taxi. I liked this moment. Unlike all the other moments of the trip so far, it fit into the little movie in my head about how a funeral should go: There should be a scene when a perfect stranger looks at you with kindness, even if he’s paid to be kind.
I don’t know why I thought a taxi was more respectful or somehow more sacred than an Uber. I was wrong about that, because the taxi was a beat-up minivan that smelled like smoke, a pack of cigarettes in the drink holder. “I need to go to Hollywood Cemetery,” I said, assuming he already knew. “Which Hollywood Cemetery?” the driver asked. I didn’t know the answer to this either.
I pulled out my phone, scrolled to the email from one of my still-alive cousins and found the address. I tried not to think about the fact that there are —I guess? — corporate cemetery chains, because otherwise why would there be two locations? Do they franchise? is a thought I remember having.
This taxi did not fit into my little mental movie about how my cousin’s funeral was supposed to be. I was supposed to be solemn and sacred. I was not supposed to be nauseated in the back of a dirty minivan.
When we got to the cemetery there were arrows leading to the gravesite, but the taxi driver stopped at…