On Saturday at the Williamsburg Storytelling Festival storyteller Kathryn Wyndham - at 89 looking frail but lovely, and certainly in top notch voice - told the story of how she had her coffin hand made by a hometown artisan.
No fancy decorations and trimmings for her. It is hand polished wood pegged together. The only nails are square - to tighten on the top. No viewing. The coffin is waiting in her garage - storing crystal until it is needed for storing her.
Its a wonderful story. Told simply and with humor. Placing reality gently before us. I have heard her tell the story before - to a crowded tent at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. That day she closed by telling the assembled that she knew they would not be able to attend her funeral "when the time came" and asking everyone to sing a favorite hymn, "I'll Fly Away" with her - now.
Not a dry eye to be seen. Touching, beautiful and very sharing.
Well, I thought of Kathryn Wyndham's story the next day.
Jim was called on Saturday and told that next day, Sunday, the burial for his friend and mentor, Arnold Meyersburg, MD, would be held at 2:30 pm. We would leave Williamsburg early and reach Washington in time to be there.
Sunday was a warm and beautiful day - blue skies dotted with snowy white clouds. Very little traffic to complicate our trip. We arrived at the King David Memorial Garden on time. A few mourners were standing on the lawn at the edge of the road waiting for the hearse to arrive. Hellos, handshakes, condolences with the family, sadness at losing Arnold but grateful for his long, productive life (93 years)
I was startled when they opened the hearse and slowly lifted out the sanded,six-sided, yellow pine box with rope handles that held Arnold's body. It was stark. It was beautifully simple.
In the back of my mind, I heard Kathryn Wyndham describing her simple,dark wood, six sided coffin - the one that is waiting in Alabama.
When the family and mourners reached the grave the pine coffin was lowered into the ground. Family sat beside one edge of the open grave with mourners standing around them. On the other side of the grave was a mound of red clay with two shovels standing up in it - they had been stuck there to wait.
The Rabbi read psalms and prayers. Afterward, there were no formal eulogies. Standing beside the grave members of Arnold's family told stories, loving memories of their father and grandfather. Tribute will be paid later. This was a time of story, of remembering.
When the stories were done, first the family and then each of us, the mourners, took our turn to drop in several shovel fulls of the red earth. It dropped onto the pine box with a muffled thud as Arnold was covered with a red earth blanket.
It was right. It was beautiful. It was a sweet good-bye.
I was grateful to Kathryn Wyndham. Her story had prepared me to see and appreciate Arnold's service with an open heart.
Isn't that what story does?