Black humour when the deceased is known to those in the vehicle hurtling at the speed limit falls to an awkward reception. Hurtling down the freeway with time already having escaped one party and soon to bypass another. Scheduled for a one p.m. service, traffic and an ear full of soapy lather in a library of incense added much to the urgency. The premise of dying on the way to a memorial service never really entered into the minds of the occupants of that car. With fifteen minutes into the proceedings, the nondescript Macarthur Christian Life Centre was spotted and in entered four more known to the deceased.
Upon the stage the pastor or such halted for a second to register the latecomers. Many seats of the auditorium were filled with friends and family, the inner section mostly with those under thirty and the flanks with those over. Projected up there on the screen, right of the stage, Joseph Flores, Jr., the Marine. American Joe to some, Joey Joe Joe to others. Other names ever more so. Joe dead body was nowhere in sight. An expectation of an affair similar to a wake leading to that assumption. On a table just beside the steps to the stage were a few mementos, a Letterman jacket, an American flag and a Pizza Hut uniform among others.
Asked to rise out of their seats, the audience watched as a Christian youth band made their way quietly on to the stage. Starting with "week" for "weak" in the hymn, Jesus Loves Me, it was followed up by at least two others and closed with Amazing Grace. Inexplicably, and never explained, was the style of the lead singer and her take on the lyrics to the hymns. The first line of each new verse presented on the slide would be whispered under her breath but not under audibility. Opening most of the lines were words in a similar vein of, "Jesus loves me" and "God is my saviour." Affirmation? Leading the flock? An aside to the operator of the computer working the projection? Never understood. Never explained. Partially annoying, but nothing to worry about beyond the soul that wanders from the line.
Present on the left, a set of bongos. Nobody in the foyer afterward would lend any notion to the real question as to why they were there, or if they were Joe's. Clear skies outside were taken away toward the end of the set by the rain outside crying on the rooftop. Tears were welling up in many eyes and the older set opened up their palms to the love of Jesus, God or magnets in the ceiling. A minute or two of sleep were banked and a drowsy feeling washed over.
Taking back the stage the pastor passed the microphone around to a few in the front. Emotional and broken from the experience of sitting there with the fact they opened up their hearts and memories. Two of his buddies choked through and Joe's mother was buoyed by the turnout. His aunt read a poem or tale about centred around the regret of not having made each second and minute count, of having thought that there will always be another day. At one point, during the passing of the microphone from one to another, the look on the pastor showed fear of losing his mouthpiece.
Dido's Thank You served as soundtrack to a slide show of photos of the late. Now with the lights dimmed and a stronger light from the projection it proved to be a great relief to all the grief. Humorous pictures were the aid in this, and the sweet sound of laughter cried out on a couple of images. Life, not death were in this captured procession and, added with the reflections, opened up a reminder as to the great hole left by Joe's absence.
Things then turned commercial. Or at least as commercial as they were going to get without a price tag at the end. A new, younger pastor tagged out the older and took to the podium. He had no idea who the deceased was and said as much, "In fact, these photos are the first I've seen of Joe." The spiel was on and his mouth frothing at the chance to bring in more to the fold.
John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
The hard sell continued as he rattled off stories about men walking and talking with God in dreams. Energetic, it was hard to take him seriously given his earlier confession. Offering the chance to watch again the slide show he slipped in his business card by way of his office and brandishing a very thumbed copy of the Bible.
Cakes dressed the awaiting table in the foyer outside the auditorium. Chocolate and caramel wedges, banana squares, lamingtons and mud cakes. Iced vovos, scotch fingers, various biscuits and dip with crackers made sure they weren't left out. Consistently holding onto their own, the cakes made eating slices in one breathable chomp an easier affair. Pizzas served were late and hot from the local Hut and held the advertisement angle down.
The mood was sombre and apparently inappropriate jokes were kept to a bare minimum. While it was great to catch up with the friends and colleagues of long past, it was a shame one was missing.
Reviewed on Sunday, 20 June 2004