As we are surrouned by March Madness, let us Consider a bit of Rosary Madness .
|Holy Rosary, Batman!|
This post may come across both as somewhat irreverent and certainly hypocritical coming from a person who just lost one of her dearest friends and went through all the Catholic ceremonies and liturgies on her behalf. I certainly don't wish to mock the newly departed nor the family and close friends of the deceased. My fingers, however, feel as though they are going to fall off my hands. I'm barely able to type.
I just played [a toy] piano for a Portuguese Rosary for a relative of a relative. Claire was a relative of a relative of a relative, but her situation was much more personal to me, and it seemed much more tragic. This situation is not less tragic because I happen not to know the person for whom the Rosary was held, but rather because the man was in his mid nineties, had lived a wonderful life, and was, by all accounts, ready to move on. Judging be the number of people attending the ceremony tonight, I would assume there are many people who will miss the man, but everyone was relatively upbeat throughout the Rosary. I anticipate that the mood at the funeral mass tomorrow will be not necessarily chipper, but far from the gloom and doom of Claire's service.
I know Claire's parents would have liked a more light-hearted memorial for Claire, and we all tried, but in the end we just couldn't pull it off for them. I hope that maybe on Claire's next birthday many of us who are close to her can gather with her parents and siblings and truly celebrate Claire's life. It's not like her parents or any of us will be over her death in half a year, but even just that bit of an increment of time might give all of us the strength of spirit to dwell on her life and the things that she accomplished instead of functioning the best we could in a state of total shell shock.
Anyhow, my newly-formed opinion is that one cannot say that he or she has truly lived unless he or she has attended a major Azores Portuguese-American Rosary. I can only surmise that the Rosaries held in the Azores are every bit as intense if not more so. This one, as Azores-Portuguese Rosaries do more often than not, began with a viewing of the body, which was supposed to start at 6:00. My aunt, who is an actual by-marriage relative of the deceased, asked me at the last minute to play for the ceremony. She was going to pay for my plane ticket to the nearest airport to her town almost midway between Fresno and Modesto but up in the foothills just a bit. After the recent Lufthansa tragedy, however, I'm not crazy about the idea of hopping on an airplane just yet. People who fly frequently (Knotty, Judge Alex, and my dad come to mind quickly), you are in my prayers that you have sane pilots and otherwise safe flights. I suspect the Lufthansa thing has us all shaken up more than just a bit. I thought about taking Am-Trak, but with my luck, I'd end up with a rogue terrorist or garden-variety lunatic train engineer who deliberately derailed the train. Anyway, I told my aunt that even with the discomfort of a broken foot, compounded by some roadwork on the 99 that prolonged my trip, I would much rather drive.
It was a last-minute thing, as two other musicians backed out of the gig with not much notice. My aunt wouldn't otherwise have asked me to give up a substantial part of my relatively short break to play for this event. She insisted on paying me. I was going to try not to take anything but gas money from her, but after the ordeal of the rosary, I'm inclined to keep what was probably over-payment by most standards. I earned every cent.
I arrived at the church at 5:15, not looking all that fresh after the six-hour drive, but I would be in the choir loft, so my appearance wasn't much of a concern. The church is a small country Catholic church with a barely functioning organ.
My aunt had set up a 72-key electronic keyboard in the loft. I consider such instruments to be toys, but it was supposedly the best that could be done. Had I known, I would have brought my own digital piano, but it's too late for that now. i'll have to play the same lovely instrument tomorrow, and the music will probably once again sound like the aural equivalent of cow poop, but I'm told the funeral will involve much less playing on my part.
So I arrived at 5:15, thinking I was quite early for a 6:00 viewing, to be followed by a 6:30 recitation of the Rosary, to be followed by another viewing. I was told that my involvement would be between the hours of maybe 5:40 and 7:20 or so. Whoever came up with that time interval was thinking most wishfully. When I arrived at 5:15, the funeral director told me that since mourners were already arriving, the viewing had already begun, and I should start playing immediately.
I had brought two hymnals, not so much because I needed them for playing but just as back-up in case I went brain-fogged and couldn't think of anything to play. All I really needed the hymnals for -- a Catholic one and a mainline Protestant one -- was to use the indexes as a playlist. I didn't need to look at the actual music. I thought two complete hymnals, plus a fairly large repertoire of memorized music, would be more than sufficient. I hadn't counted on the magnitude of the Rosary, which would have been roughly an 8.9 on the Richter scale.
I played virtually every hymn in the Catholic hymnal except for the holiday and special occasion hymns (each one at least twice through, with variations and key changes) in the time before the Rosary, which was supposed to have started at 6:30 but didn't actually kick off until 6:50. I got a bit of a break during the recitation of the Rosary. The lady who led the recitation spoke as though she was on meth or had a massive case of hyperthyroidism, causing her to recite at breakneck speed. The congregation did its best to keep up with her. She got us through the entire rosary in 20 minutes.
Then every single person in attendance had to wait in his or her seat, spot on the wall, or place in the standing room in the back for his or her turn to again file past the body even of he or she had already done so, and also to greet all fourteen members of the deceased's immediate family, to hug all of the relatives who self-identified as immediate family. My Uncle Ralph, the deceased's nephew, who sat in the choir loft with me, said the classification of whom would be immediate family from all the other various and sundry relatives appeared to be almost random; one guy who was a second cousin placed himself in the group, while a grandson exempted himself. Thank God someone exempted himself or I'd still be there playing. It seemed that each person in the reception and viewing line had to have an intimate conversation with each member of the funeral party, and i had to come up with something to play all the while.
There were reportedly almost five hundred people outside in addition to the roughly three hundred (I'm estimating; it's a small church, but they were packed in like canned sardines) in the sanctuary and entryway, and another twenty-five in the loft with me. fire Marshall Bill would not have been a happy camper had he been aware of the conditions. The people outside on in the very back presumably had the option of not going through the conga line to get to the body and the family, though most of them seemed not to have opted out and to have made the trek. The people seated in the sanctuary and plastered along the walls were stuck. It seems to be an Azores Portuguese custom that one must remain seated to avoid a major breach of protocol until the crowd from the back and outside has filed through. I'm sure some of those people would have preferred not to have waited the extra two hours it took to file the outside and SRO-in-the-back (the wall-plastered people had to wait their turns just as the pew seaters did; people just squeezed past them) crowd through the reception line before the inside people even began to be invited out of their seats to join the procession. It took another hour and twenty-five minutes to filter the in-house crowd through the line.
If you did the math, you know that I played for an hour and thirty-five minutes before the rosary, and then for three hours and twenty-five minutes after the recitation. At about an hour into the post-Rosary postlude, I was beginning to conclude that my part of the program was over and was preparing to wrap things up, assuming no one could possibly want to hear any more of my so-called music on the muzak-like electronic keyboard. At that point, a funeral parlor employee showed up. He held an envelope in front of my face with my name on it. He asked, "Is this you?" pointing to my name on the envelope. I quietly answered yes. He then asked, "You're not going to just disappear if I hand it to you now." I assured him that I would play for the duration.
So I played on and on at the toy keyboard for the next two hours and twenty-five minutes. I had exhausted the remotely acceptable possibilities from the Protestant hymnal. I had played the Ave Marias (3 versions) the Panis Angelicuses (Panis Angelici ? [Idon't know which is the correct plural form] three versions) Pie Jesu, and all tho other Catholic standard funeral fare. I had played every classical piece that I knew that was remotely funereal or even sufficiently reverent-sounding. I snuck in a couple disguised showtunes. i played the BYU alma mater, hoping that no one who had attended BYU was present, as well as the University of califronia Alma Mater, the alma maters of my own high school and of two other high schools, and the one from the University of Ohio. I though about Cornell's alma mater, but it seemed to blatantly obvious. I stuck in a few uniquely Mormon hymns, assuming no one would recognize them. I was deciding what disguised pop tunes would be my next selections, and was preparig to go into Leonard Cohen's hallelujah" when a funeral company employee appeared and said things were wrapping up and I could finally stop.
It was good that I was allowed to stp when I was, because i was beginning to wonder if I would survive much longer, and was speculating that there might soon be two dead bodies in the room. If I had died from excessive cheep keyboard playing of funeral fare, Would the prayers uttered on behalf of the deceased have extended to cover me as well since I would have been in the room so shortly before my death, thus saving my family the trouble and expense for holding a separate Rosary for me? I understand that it would not have been appropriate for me to piggy-back myself into the guy's actual funeral mass, but maybe I would have been adequately covered by his Rosary.
It ended up being a moot point, since playing the cheap keyboard for a total of five hours didn't actually kill me. Nonetheless, a cheap keyboard is more difficult to play, period, much less to play well (a virtual impossibility). It was on an unstable stand, which meant that in addition to playing the notes, my fingers had to simultaneously hold the keyboard in place. it's no wonder that my fingers are literally feeling pain tonight. My foot's sore from both the immobility of driving, the awkward positioning of it while playing the keyboard (which had no damper pedal, incidentally, making the fingering all the more precarious) and the discomfort from putting too much weight on it today.
I'm taking a Norco and going to bed in order to be ready for tomorrow morning's funeral, which I've been assured will be much faster and easier for me than was tonight's ordeal, although I'm still having to play the pretend-piano with only seventy-six keys and no damper pedal. I will drive home immediately afterward, as I like to spend as much of my vacation time as possible with my Godchild. He is incredibly cute, and he seems to remember me. He's almost five months old and getting ready to crawl. I'd give him ten days or so before he has the right leg/left hand and vice versa operation down and will be propelling himself across distances in an efficient manner. It's hard to believe that in another three months or so he'll be a big brother.
I wish everyone a good night, and I also wish you the once-in-a-lifetime (for me, anyway; some of these folks who surrounded me tonight do this sort of thing on almost a regular basis) opportunity of attending a true Azores-American Portuguese Rosary, hopefully for a person advanced in age who was ready to move along. It's an experience not quite like any other, and one that a person must actually live through in order to really believe it.