Up Close and Uncomfortable

Indonesian-Funeral-PrivateI am so uncomfortable right now.

It’s not that I’m physically uncomfortable, though I am. I’m sitting on a concrete floor with my bare feet tucked under me, trying not to elbow the woman to my left or knock over the open candle on the floor to my right.

But it’s not that.

I’m uncomfortable because there is a woman laid out on the floor in front of me, and her small son—who had a living, breathing mother just yesterday, before the gruesome accident—is watching someone lay pads of cotton on her body under sheets of fabric. The only man in the room is sitting cross-legged and palms up, melodically chanting the same Arabic phrase over and over. I’m praying hard and fast with my eyes wide open. They finish dressing her body and uncover her face, and people start taking close-up pictures.

It’s tempting to relieve my tension by pretending that I’m okay with all of this. The truth is that I’d be much more at ease if we were in a funeral home, if she were in a raised coffin, if I were wearing shoes, and if this candle were in a votive somewhere less hazardous.

But if there is anything God is teaching me to do in Indonesia, it’s to acknowledge my discomfort and simply sit with it.

Before leaving I go to offer my condolences to the woman’s mother. She’s lost all of her children to various unrelated tragedies; this daughter was her last. I’ve never met her before, but she pulls my cheek to hers and sobs. My mind is racing to think of something else to say, but none of it is adequate. In my heart, it’s all an attempt to snuff out her bare candle of grief, or put it somewhere where I feel safe.

I hold her much longer than I feel comfortable holding a stranger. I pull back and hold her gaze a little longer still.

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