Saturday, October 22, 2005

A LIFE WELL LIVED

Many of you who know me, and some of you who read the blog regularly may already know that I’m just not much of a group person. Not that I don’t likes groups of people, I just don’t like organized groups, like bridge clubs or PTA’s. Maybe it’s because I’m too independent and bossy and would rather do everything myself….MY WAY, rather than have others involved. Maybe it’s because I resent the rigidity often imposed bys such groups or organizations. Maybe it’s just that I’m more spontaneous and free-thinking. Probably it’s because I’m too bossy, but anyway……

I’m not sure if I don’t like organized religion because I don’t like organized groups, or if I don’t like organized groups because I don’t like organized religion. Either way, the end result is the same, and I still don’t how to refer to myself, religion-wise. Ex-Catholic? Recovered Catholic? Former Catholic? Surviving Catholic? Semi-normal DESPITE being raised Catholic? Jaded and pessimistic BECAUSE I was raised Catholic?

Those of you who are of my generation and who were also “raised” Catholic know what I’m talking about. For the most part, when I tell others that I’m NOT Catholic BECAUSE I was raised Catholic, they nod their heads in complete understanding. Somehow the whole religion thing just didn’t “take” on me.

Now I do believe in a spiritual power, in divine intervention, and in something after death, but I just don’t quite know what. I believe there must be some sort of re-incarnation, but everyone you ever read about who claims to be reincarnated seems to think they were someone famous and I have to wonder….who were the common people and why don’t THEY remember their past lives? Too boring to remember? Too painful to remember?

I’ve never had any sort of past life feeling, other than when I land in England or Scotland….then a sense of peacefulness comes over me that’s hard to put into words. I just feel the relief of finally being “home”. Despite our love affair with Italy I’ve never felt the deep sense of familiarity here, although conversely, and strangely, I’ve never felt the pull to live in Britain like I did for Italy. Anyway, as usual I digress.

So far our contact with religion in Italy has been minimal. We did attend Mass at our local church once, but that was because it was Easter Sunday and my daughter wanted to go. I figured it would also be a good way to let everyone in town get a good look at us for the first time.

When the locals ask us if we’re Catholic I respond that I was Catholic in the past, but not now. My limited Italian prevents me from elaborating about my feelings concerning the patriarchal system in general, and about the various abuses of power, ranging from the concept of keeping the people poor and ignorant, with the only way to heaven being through the church, up to the current day abuses of power involving priestpedophiles and the corrupt hierarchy who not only ignored it but actively worked to cover it up.

So where did we find ourselves yesterday afternoon? In church. A Catholic church. At Mass. It was the funeral mass for our neighbor’s mother, who was 97 when she died. (So there! to the Nazi ophthalmologist in Louisville who told Art that it was okay to live in Italy as long as you didn’t want to live a long life.)

But what else could we do? Although I ‘m not completely sure, I don’t think the funeral home concept even exists in Italy. I think the bodies are still viewed at home, and I’m fine with that. I think the funeral home industry in general is full of crooks, and even those smaller operations have now created an entire industry for something that used to be very simple. What’s wrong with propping the person up in the corner, sticking a beer or a glass of wine in their hand and letting everyone else stand around and tell funny/sad/strange stories about things they did while they were alive? And then drive to the cemetery, dig a hole and bury them. Simple. Done. A normal part of life. (As you can tell, I’m pretty okay with death.)

But of course we had no idea where the viewing for Giulda’s mother was, and attending the funeral Mass just seemed the simplest way to pay our respects. At least we wouldn’t have to fumble around trying to understand or respond to chatter at the viewing. So there we were, sitting in the back row, surrounded by a large crowd….they were packed in the pews and standing in the back.

I recognized a few things…I understood some things based on the rhythm of what the priest was saying. Other things I recognized because I understood the Italian (!), but it’s been a long time since I even heard a Mass in English, so most of the time I just sat and thought about stuff. The irony of having to attend this funeral was that it was on my mom’s birthday, which of course made me think about her….and her funeral.

I told Art that I couldn’t even remember her funeral. I know we had it as the church she liked, the old fashioned one on Baxter Ave. near Oak. But I don’t remember anything about the funeral. I remember lots of stuff about my dad’s funeral. His was probably the only funeral I’ve ever thought was worth a damn.

For my dad’s funeral we didn’t want a funeral Mass because he had grown disillusioned with the church too and hadn’t gone for many years. He didn’t like the Mass in English, but neither did my mom. I guess my dad must have had other issues as well. So anyway, we just planned a service for the chapel at the funeral home. Because there was no Mass being said by a priest, someone would have to say something. So everyone did. Except me.

The day after my dad died I went to work. The rest of the family took off from work and spent the day planning a funeral service. They wrote original poems, put together a short biography, found a poem that my dad liked (“Pick More Flowers”). They asked me to read something at the funeral, but I knew that I just couldn’t do it. I really have a hard time letting people see me when I’m weak or vulnerable. My dad’s death and my grief were just too personal and too private to put on public display.

Anyway, despite some teary moments and lengthy pauses, everyone (else) managed to read something or tell something about my dad. It was truly a personal and meaningful service, as opposed to the impersonal Mass….one that’s said for everyone….no changes, no exceptions.

And then of course, how many of you have been to a funeral where the priest gives the homily and it’s SOOOOOO apparent that he never even met the person he’s eulogizing? What a disappointment that must be for the family! I want to hear about the wonderful and silly and even stupid things that someone did…I want to remember them as they were…a regular person with faults and talents.

So yesterday as we sat in church at the funeral of Giulda’s mother, age 97, I just had to think that a life well lived has to be something to be celebrated, and I certainly didn’t need a church to teach me that.

1 Comments :

At 10/25/2005 08:20:00 PM , Blogger John Purssey said...

I remember a person referring to himself as a "retired catholic". It seemed succint enough. Maybe you could use the term.

 

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