Monday, March 09, 2009

Two Funerals and an Observation

Over a span of eight days, I attended two funerals. Although they were in different towns, and for different types of people in different socio-economic groups, there was one striking similarity. Some people showed up dressed inappropriately.

Sure, there's the school of thought that appearance doesn't matter. We should accept the person, not the clothes they wear. And in most situations that's true.

But clothes do matter, even to those who claim they don't.

And they especially matter in highly symbolic rituals, such as church services, court appearances, graduations -- and funerals.

Funerals, at the heart of it, aren't for the dead, they're for the living. It's a ritualized way to officially acknowledge the departure of a loved one, and to say goodbye in a formal fashion to provide closure.

It's no accident that funeral service attendance is referred to as "paying your respects." By attending, you show your respect for the deceased and their family. So does it matter what you wear? I think so.

I've seen cut-off jeans and ripped T's at funeral services. I even saw someone come in with a water bottle in hand that she swilled throughout the ceremony. Sure, they showed up, but the message is clear: It is not worth the effort for me to change attire, nor am I willing to give up even a little personal comfort. I'm here, and that's enough.

But is it? To take time to change into something appropriate speaks volumes. It says that you're marking this event in some significant fashion. And I'm not necessarily talking about dark suits and black dresses, either. For some, a pair of slacks and a polo shirt might be the high end of their wardrobe. By appropriate, I simply something you wouldn't necessarily wear everyday.

Here's another way to think about it. Most everyone I know who claims that dressing up for funerals, church, and court dates are irrelevant and outmoded always change out of their everyday clothes to go to out for the evening.

If appearance is unimportant, why do that?

Well, because it is important. And it's just as important for less happy occasions, such as funerals. You might come to pay your respects, but your appearance will say whether or not you mean it.

- Ralph

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