Monday, February 28, 2011

A Funeral Story

It wasn't my first Croatian funeral, but it was close.  I hadn't even been to that many American funerals, nor had I played solo trombone at a cemetary before.  So this was a new experience. 

After warming up with Amazing Grace to begin the ceremony, I waited for the small village procession to move towards the grave that had been prepared a few minutes beforehand.  Like most outdoor funerals I've attended, this one was overcast, muddy and generally dreary.  The blacks, browns and grays made the event especially dismal. 

We trodded over to the tomb in a sloppy line and listened to the preacher speak.  His tone was pointed, but hopeful, his message short but clear - a stark contrast to the rest of the funeral. 

It was my turn again.  As I raised my trombone to begin It is Well with my Soul, I heard yelling in the distance.  I hesitated, but still began the melody. 

When peace like a river 
Footsteps, like those of someone being chased, gradually approached. 
attendeth my way
All of a sudden, several sheep began trotting between my trombone and the grave. 
When sorrows...
The climax of the verse never made it further than my buzzing lips.  As the flock of sheep grew, they began coming faster, the shepherd's cries were louder, and the dog's barks filled up whatever space was left free of sound.  It was utter chaos.

But only in my little world.  The rest of the small village continued doing whatever people with bowed heads do.  They didn't look up.  The funeral went on.  I quickly realized my "sea billows" had to continue to roll.  So I kept playing - taking a cue from the funeral attendees.  Even when the dog stopped at my feet and began howling up at me, as if to accompany, I continued playing.

When all was said and done, I realized it had been a normal funeral.  No one seemed surprised, embarrassed or at all affected by what I thought was a blatent interruption.  The villagers acted as if attending a funeral with a traveling petting zoo is a frequent activity. 

And you know what?  It probably is. 

Two facts about villages in Croatia were at work here:  1. Farming of some kind is the primary way of life, and 2. Villages are dying.  I don't know much else, because I don't live in a Croatian village. 

Looking back, there was only one abnormality about the funeral to those in attendance; the American with his trombone. 

Even the dog knew that.


Erin Wilson said...

Best post ever! Well I'm not sure I like making a claim like that but WOW what a great post!

Tracy said...

I agree with Erin! It made me laugh so much I read it to my husband. :)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and true. Good job Jeremy :)

Laci and Keri Németh said...

GOD is speaking.

cannibal-daisy said...

I'm lying on a couch now, I have my laptop, a mug of coffee, and a smug grin on my face - "American in Croatia? Welcome to the Balkans, brother!"

I think I'll enjoy every word of your Culture Shock blog. :) We know almost everything about American culture, let's see what you think of ours. :D

And when I say Welcome I mean it. I do hope you feel good here.

cannibal-daisy said...

(Trombone? But we do have some kind of music at funerals... Perhaps people were too immersed into their sorrow to react?)