On Reading "Reflections on My Father's Life"

1999-09-27

Reading my poem Reflections on My Father's Life at the memorial service for my father was a moving experience for me. I had my hesitations about reading this poem in a church, because I have been an atheist since the age of nine and I thought the poem reflected something of my pagan outlook. I wrote the poem mostly in the car driving back and forth to the airport to pick up various relatives, and in fact I did not plan on reading it at the memorial service (though I did have it in my back pocket in case the moment seemed right). The priest who presided over the service did not know my father well (although my brother-in-law had "interned" at that church last summer), so he asked those in attendance (an overflow crowd) to speak of my father, since he could not. It was so moving to hear his patients, the nurses and doctors he worked with, our neighbors and friends, and some of my relatives speak of my father. Two of my sisters spoke at the end, and the things they said were close to what I wrote in the poem, so I thought it would be appropriate to read it. By this time there was so much emotion in the church! After certain individuals spoke I know that people wanted to applaud but that's not really something you do on such a solemn occasion, so there was all this pent-up feeling in the church. But after I read my poem there was a spontaneous cloudburst of applause by the whole congregation. It was quite a surprise to me! And no one got up to speak after that, perhaps because they felt that everything had been said. It was a moving experience for me -- and many people in the receiving line (is that what one calls it at a funeral?) asked if they could have a copy of the poem, so I guess it touched a chord with those in attendance, too.


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