Rebirth of Reason

Sense of Life

I Didn't Pray Yesterday
by Merlin Jetton

The truth is, I don't pray on any day. But yesterday was a special day to not pray. I went to my uncle's funeral. He was a religious man—the Christian kind—and a minister-friend presided over and monopolized the service. It took place in a funeral home, not a church. Thank God! Still, a good part of what the minister said was the nonsense you'd expect to hear. My uncle's soul had ascended (in his case, "flown"), to be in heaven with the Lord for eternity, having escaped this "imperfect" and lowly world in which we live.

We were told, or invited, to pray a few times. I refused to partake or even pretend. After all, "pray" is a four-letter word in my book, in more ways than one. I talked into a toy phone when I was a toddler, but I'm grown up now. I won't be prey to a phony metaphysics. Whenever the minister called for prayer, eyes were closed and heads were bowed, except mine. I tuned out the minister by scoping out the parlor, especially the chandeliers and other lighting above me, and by reflecting. My reflection included comparisons between myself and the others. They closed their eyes to reality. I kept mine wide open and on reality. The others were probably imagining all sorts of unreality, adopted from someone else's wild imagination. Accordingly, it was second-handed, and accepted uncritically. I must admit to imagining, too, but first-handedly and not in an other-worldly way. I was in the second row and didn't look back to the people behind me. But later it occurred to me that maybe I should have done that—to see if anyone else was behaving like me. If so, I could have shown them a thumbs up and a smile.

Overlooking the religious part, the rest of the minister's talk was well done. He talked about my uncle's life, which was well-lived in many ways. My uncle was devoted to his family, was usually in an upbeat mood, was conscientious, and enjoyed his life. He was good-humored. The minister told several funny tales of things my uncle did or said at different times, like when he took the very hesitant minister for a plane ride. There was quite a bit about his life in the military—duty and service to country and such—and about his love of flying. He was a bomber pilot in World War II, having flown in the African theater and over the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and Brazil. He flew 900 combat hours over a 20-month period. The minister missed the opportunity to mention in his allegory that, at the time, my uncle was based on Ascension Island.

When he returned stateside still an officer in the military, he trained military pilots. After military service, he continued flying small planes as a hobby for much of his life, despite losing his sight in one eye in a cropdusting accident.

The portion at the cemetery was memorable. It was a military-style burial, with an honor guard of 15-plus men. Several of these veterans fired three shots with M-14 rifles. An American flag was folded and presented to my aunt, along with a few of the expended cartridges. There were salutes, and all the while, a small two-seater plane circled in the sky overhead. It was the same kind of plane my uncle flew for many years. Indeed, it was there in honor of my uncle, flown by a member of the flying club to which my uncle had belonged. It brought tears to my eyes.
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