Wednesday, February 13, 2013
“GOD, Who, in creating human nature, did wonderfully dignify it, and still more wonderfully restored it….”
It can be very easy to judge a dead person when you have never met them and you are only formulating your opinions on the things that you are seeing and hearing at their funeral. They are actually the easiest target for judgment because you are never going to get their side of the story. Let’s face it, judging people and situations comes a lot more easily and with a greater deal of satisfaction than we all like or want to admit. Often times when I am in judgment mode it is because I am working overtime to divert attention from my own fears and weakness. For the better portion of my existence I was completely unaware that I was doing this. My conscious feeling was that I was offering a valuable service in so acutely pointing out the fallibility of others to my nearest and dearest. I was intuitive and knowledgeable! As I look back on my notes regarding a funeral for a very glamorous gal named Doris, I am forced to see right through myself on the topic of judgment: It was a spring day on the cusp of warmth and as I walked into the church, I remembered being told that this was a memorial mass. In other words, there is no casket or ashes and the mass is in the traditional format rather than the funeral text. This type of service is easier for me to sing because typically the family has had some time to process and it feels less like standing in a hurricane of grief. When I entered the church there, to my great surprise, was a massive portrait of the deceased set on a large easel in front of the steps leading up to the altar. This was not just a large photograph; it was a painted portrait with an ornate, gilded frame like ones that the Royals commission. She was a lovely looking woman of about 35 years at the time it was painted. Her features were clear-almost plain. Her grey eyes were fixed and stern and I surmised that she spent most of her days taking no prisoners. It was her red lipstick that gave her away completely. Full tilt glamour on a slightly curled lip that told the story that her eyes dared not tell. She was seated on a dramatic, chaise with carved wooden border. It was obvious that the portrait dated sometime during the days of Camelot, as her dark blond hair was coiffed like Jackie Kennedy and she wore a tailored, moss green dress that looked as if there would have been a jacket to go over her bare arms, but she chose not to wear it. She wore three strands of pearls and as I gazed intently at her face, I found myself fiddling with the heavy strands of faux Chanel pearls that I often don for these occasions. If I had to choose a few adjectives, on the spot, to describe my first impressions of this portrait I would have quickly said; authentically confident, bold and bewitching. But, at this point, left to my own default devices, my thoughts turned to how grotesquely showy and out of place it seemed standing in the humble church. I also remembered that her children picked the music for the service. How did a woman with four children find time to have a portrait PAINTED?! Could her husband have possibly thought that this was a prudent dispensation of family resources? I can’t find time for a mani pedi with two sons (and by the way, I color my own hair because it is too expensive) and this woman can sit for a painter? I read The Girl with the Pearl Earring-I know how long this takes! Then the real judgments roll in: she must not have been a very attentive mother or wife. She must not have pursued a career. She never learned to cook. When it came time for Doris’ eulogy, it was delivered by her widower who looked to me to be very well cared for, especially considering his age. He courageously delivered the words because, as he said, “nobody else could have”. It was a tender story of many years in love, raising their family and working together. Nothing fancy-just a great life. She had died suddenly without ever being ill. I heard nothing of the shallow woman that I had designed from looking at her portrait. She seemed to have changed all the kid’s diapers and cleaned her own floors. The only reference that I heard to Queen-Doris-of-the-Oil-Painting, was that she loved fashion and beauty, worked outside of the home and saved to have fine things. Go figure- A woman before her time that wanted her sense of worth and purpose to be reflected in a lovely outer appearance, rather than a fear-filled Diva, wielding a credit card, striving to create an image that had absolutely no inner reference point. It seemed, at the time, to be an irrefrangible rule of my profession: Fake it til you make it. That may have worked for some, but it could never actually resonate with me, no matter how hard I tried. After years of shooting in the dark on brightly lit stages, having a face down with my deepest demon of unworthiness was long overdue and it was going to happen in that choir loft. Whether many of us realize it or not, when we feel least deserving we are most critical. I spent many of my tender years of career building judging other people’s singing calling it discriminating and selective. But how many of us do this when we feel threatened, unworthy and just plain scared that there is no place for us? What I began to realize was that as the Funeral Singer I never compared myself to other Funeral Singers!! Every circumstance in which I found myself singing was perfectly and effortlessly designed for me to give my best-to open my heart and heal my corner of the world. It amazes me how we change everything when we offer our gifts with that pure intention- Showing up with our lipstick on (feel free to replace lipstick with whatever reflects your hit-it-out-of-the-park fabulousness) ready to give what we have without checking or worrying or comparing. Ego be gone! Now the challenge has become singing my other jobs with the soul of the Funeral Singer. As for Doris, when I was on my way out of the church the Funeral Director was collecting the portrait, as well as a collage of candid photographs that had arrived after I had passed before the mass. I asked if I could quickly survey the pictures. There she was with children on her lap, laughing with friends, dancing with her husband, relaxing in a lawn chair; looking different in every picture, yet so completely lovely and real that she could have jumped off the photo paper. “Beautiful.”, the Funeral Director said. “Yes she is.”, I answered. She was worth every drop of paint that it took to commemorate her time as queen of her life and she knew it. Wonderful, dignified Doris caused me to recognize that it is not only alright to love ourselves, but it is against our true nature not to. Not selfishness or self centeredness, but real, courageous self respect. It is the proverbial oxygen mask that gives us the strength to breathe life into our homes, relationships and professions. You may not ever catch me sitting for a portrait, but you will definitely find me in the pedicure chair.