There was still a memorial service to plan. Relatives to feed at my house. Lots to get through before I could really let down. I walked in a shades-of-gray world, no color, no joy, no movement. Made clam chowder for a crowd, sat and listened, even talked, to relatives who had not seen Joe for, possibly, years. Answered the phone, answered questions, identified Joe’s body after the American Embassy finally intervened to get it shipped home. Arranged for cremation.
The service had to be held in the gymnasium to accommodate all the people who wanted to be there.
Mom wore a long red chiffon dress, Joe’s color. The gymnasium looked like a political nominating convention, with red balloons, picture and posters of Joe, and tiers of bleachers for the hundreds and hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and friends. Mom smiled through the Trumpet Voluntary played by eight trombones, a lineup of brass across the front of the gym, Joe’s band buddies from all over the city, grownup men blowing their horns through tears and snot.
Mom smiled through the eulogies. Smiled while people stood in line to squeeze her hand and offer tributes to her youngest son.
“He’s fulfilled his purpose,” she said over and over. “Like Jesus.”
What purpose is she thinking of? I wondered. How does anyone ever know for sure what purpose they are here to fulfill?
I stood next to her.
A line of people waited to talk to me.
I turned to the first in line, a Mexican father and his son.
The father stepped forward and handed me a lapel pin, the joined flags of Mexico and the U.S.
“I wanted you to have this,” he said. “My son was in Mr. Shultz’s choral music class when he was in middle high school.”
His eyes filled with tears, as did his son’s.
“Your brother told my son that someday he would sing in Carnegie Hall.” His tears spilled over, and he wiped his eyes with his sleeve.
“I wanted you to know that…last year…he sang in Carnegie Hall.”
We all three cried and embraced each other. My eyes wandered to the slowly emptying bleachers.
How many of these children and their parents and the other teachers felt Joe’s purpose had been fulfilled in part through themselves?