Have you got a minute?

By: Steve Fowler
Thursday, June 30, 2016

I had the privilege of participating in a funeral procession recently and was deeply gratified to see that here in Saint John, New Brunswick there remains, among many of my fellow citizens, a fundamental respect for the significance of a hearse passing by leading a procession of grieving family and friends.

To the gentleman who, about to step into a crosswalk, realized the approaching vehicles were in procession, stepped sharply back, doffed his hat and waved the slowing lead car on, thank you sir. To the long strings of motorists navigating a busy day who none-the-less respectfully pulled, one after another, to the side of the road until the family had passed, your kindness was noted. To the group of young men who simply stopped for a moment to recognize someone else’s loss, thanks for setting a good example. And to the young woman with two small children who paused in the midst of a summer outing to quietly observe the progress of the procession, bless you for helping to ensure that this simple gesture of humanity, compassion and respect will not be lost on future generations.

I’m very proud that this practice has survived here in my hometown and is still commonplace in the Maritime provinces. In many parts of our country, particularly in urban centres, I’m told this tradition, if it once existed, has been lost. Traffic congestion, safety issues, and a busy world have all been cited as the practical reasons this just can’t happen any longer. That’s too bad.

I’m not disputing the practical issues – you can’t, for instance, expect highway traffic to stop for funerals (although I’ve seen it happen) and there are some genuine safety concerns, but sometimes I feel that, in the name of being practical, we’re doing away with a wonderful tradition entirely – not just the aspects of it that could potentially cause a problem. It is, it seems, simply more convenient to eliminate the practice altogether than to retain what we can in the name of civility and kindness. And, sadly, I’m not just talking about those ‘other places’.

As gratified as I was to see so many people respond with the courtesy and consideration I’m accustomed to, I was also saddened to see too many examples of people who apparently just couldn’t take the time – all of 30 to 60 seconds in most cases – to pause briefly in silent tribute to a life lived and a show of respect for a family who have suffered a loss. To the lady who, upon realizing why the car in front of her had come to a stop, quickly glanced back, annoyance and impatience obvious in her expression, before pulling out to pass between her thoughtful neighbour and the procession of mourners; was your destination really that important and your schedule that tight? If so, please accept my apology, but if not please, the next time you have the opportunity, consider taking just a moment from your busy life to pause and show a grieving family that their loss has not gone unnoticed. It matters, perhaps more than you know.

I think it would serve us all to think a little about what it says about us, as a community, that we have held on to this practice and, perhaps more importantly, what it says about us if we let it go.

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