Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thoughts at a funeral

Some thoughts at a funeral today:

Wise King Solomon wrote:
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4)

But we seemed to have managed to combine the house of mourning with the houses of feasting and mirth, all in the same occasion.  I guess doing all three at the same time should be pretty good too. 

Maybe having 1000 wives and concubines, as Solomon did, would make any man wish for the day of his death.

The wise man of baseball, Yogi Berra, said: "Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise, they won't go to yours"  I don't think I'll care if anyone goes to mine, though.

Another baseball manager, Chuck Tanner, who coincidentally died Friday said:  "You can have money piled to the ceiling but the size of your funeral is still going to depend on the weather.”  Not actually sure that's true.  He lived in New Castle, Pennsylvania, so I expect the weather will not be good for his funeral.  Lots of people will probably go anyway.

After the congregation stumbled and mumbled torturously through the four long verses of a very long  hymn sung in a variety of keys to an organ accompaniment too soft to be heard despite the hesitant singing, except at the beginning of each verse where we could hear just enough of the organ to prove that we were off key, and it was impossible to find the bass part anywhere, the first two words of the opening prayer expressed my sentiments exactly:  "Merciful God!"

I never cease to be amazed at how much I learn about a person, who I have known all my life, at their funeral: all the things I never knew about them until they died.  Seems a shame.  All those things I'd have talked to them about if I knew it before.  Wouldn't it be better if you all posted your funeral notes someplace like your Facebook Wall well ahead of time, so I wouldn't have to wait for your funeral to learn all that interesting stuff about you?

For instance:  I had no idea she collected tea cups, like my wife.  The family brought her collection to the dinner after the funeral and used them as table decorations (with chocolate kissses in them).

If you like to collect something, make sure at least one of your children appreciates them.

I always feel a little guilty going to someone's funeral when I haven't spoken to them for several years before that.  Seems like they might have preferred me taking the time to visit before they died instead of waiting 'til afterwards.  On the other hand, it is a lot less awkward - I don't have to figure out what to say to them.

The deceased's two son's in law eulogized her.  My mother in law asked if I was making notes for her funeral.  Cleo, there is just no way I will be able to get any words out at your funeral.  I will be too choked up.  I would say wonderful things about you if I could talk, but I'm sure I won't be able to.  I'll just have to tell you now instead that I love you too much to be able to say so at your funeral.

Walking around the cemetary, I saw some husband-and-wife combined headstones where one spouse was buried but the other still has a blank for the date of their yet future death.  Seems a bit morbid seeing the headstone just waiting to have the date of your death filled in.  I suppose though that it is reality:  Whether we have commissioned it yet or not, somewhere there is a piece of stone just waiting to have each of our dates of death engraved on it.  Puts things in perspective.  But still, I'd rather they waited 'til I was dead to have my headstone made up.

Actually, I'm thinking about donating my body to UCLA medical school.  I've already donated 14 gallons of my blood to them, so they might as well get the rest of me to go with it.  We did buy funeral plots once, about 35 years ago, when a salesman persuaded us it was just good planning.  But we cancelled the deal the next day when we came to our senses.  Don't think I want to buy any more funeral plots.  If I'm going to buy land, I want to be able to reside on it while I'm alive.

The last line on this headstone was pretty helpful - yep, those Seagoes.

There were a lot of other Seagoes lined up there too.  Without this one to identify them, I wouldn't have been sure it was the same family I know.  I guess the engravers charge by the letter.  Too bad.  It would be nice if more gravestones had more information on them about the person underneath, instead of just the dates of birth and death.  Come on, expand a bit on that hyphen in between.

Funny why the grave diggers nowdays wait for everyone to leave before they lower the coffin and fill in the grave.  I like it better when you can watch.  The idea of going off and leaving the coffin still sitting out there seems sort of, unfinished business.

Still haven't figured out what to do with the programs from funerals.  I find it hard to throw out the last memento of a person.  Some people collect them. Not sure I want to do that either.  Pretty sure my children won't appreciate the collection when I'm dead.  Pretty sure I won't care by then.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Indianappeals, IN

Strange.  I never would have imagined that events in Indianapolis would have any direct affect on my life.  But that's how it's turning out.  Two appeals of two quite different types were held in Indianapolis the last two months.  The outcome of USC's appeal at NCAA headquarters two weeks ago will have a huge effect on the football team I root for.  More directly, the Indiana Supreme Court in December heard oral arguments on a case that will decide whether we will continue to be allowed to rent out our house in Northwest Indiana, which would have a significant impact on our income. I found that Indianapolis had more appeal to me when I was there to see the museums and the zoo and when we ran in their half-marathon than it does as a venue for legal appeals.

Regarding USC's appeal to the NCAA, I have two words:  Fight On!

About the case in the Indiana Supreme Court, it is the only time I can recall any court case actually having a direct personal affect on me.  Like most people, my contact with the courts is generally limited to the occasional traffic citation and periodic calls for jury service.  Neither of those has ever inspired much trust in the court system.  I do not call it the "legal" system or the "justice" system, because law and justice seem to have little relevance to the outcomes.

Some people in the town where I own a vacation house decided they didn't like vacation rentals and got the town to sue another owner (Siwinski) who was renting out his house, despite the fact that vacation rentals have always been common there, the town ordinances make no mention of rentals of any sort, and there was no previous history of them ever attempting to enforce this interpretation.  In truth, it was really a feud between Siwinski and his neighbor, an attorney who has a law office in her house.  It was a personal feud that got out of hand and got blown all out of proportion; where the town took sides in what should have been a private dispute.  The town got lucky with an incompetent local judge.  That ruling was overturned in favor of Siwinski by the Indiana Appeals Court.  The town appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which should have refused to even hear the case, but accepted it for some incomprehensible reason.

If you are curious or masochistic, you can see video of the oral arguments before the Indiana Supreme Court here:  Personally, I thought both attorneys and most of the Supreme Court justices appeared incompetent and ignorant both of the case and of relevant law.

I really never wanted to go to court, and now that a case there directly affects me, I am more convinced than ever that going to court is a baaaaad idea. My personal involvement was in trying to keep both parties out of court.  I pleaded with both sides to find a way to work together to solve the real problems rather than both wasting time and money in court.  Besides, I am convinced that is the only Christian thing to do.  I talked to Siwinski and other rental owners and I talked to the town council and several officials.  I told both sides that the only people who win in court are the attorneys and that there are better ways to work out differences.  Neither side would listen.  4 years and about $150,000 later, I think that point has been proven.  There will be no winners.  Any useful result could have been better achieved in a different way.

The biggest loser of all though is justice itself.  What I have learned is that the government can ruin you in court without having any legal basis.  Even if they lose (as they should) just making Siwinski defend himself has cost him more than the fine and the profits he was making.  If you are accused of a crime, simply the accusation alone can ruin you, even if you are completely innocent.  Being found "not guilty" (and innocence is no guarantee of that) will be a hollow victory after your finances and reputation have been ruined in the process of defending yourself.  In reality, it made no sense for Siwinski to defend himself in court. He could and should have settled.  The cost was more than it's worth.  The reason he is fighting seems to be that he can afford to and hates to lose to the neighbor.

What I find frightening and depressing is finding that although the law itself was very, very, clearly in Siwinski's favor, it gets interpreted by judges who might as well be flipping coins or examing their magic 8-balls when they make their decisions.  The outcome is virtually random.  Any connection between a court verdict and actual truth or justice is only slightly better than coincidence (maybe worse).  Worse yet, in Indiana, the local judge runs for election and has to curry favor with local voters, so a case between a local town and an owner from out of state is not going to get her unbiased judgment.

Defenders of American institutions would like to claim that the ability of the system to make corrections in the appeals system is proof that it works.  The Indiana Supreme Court hasn't yet ruled and might possibly even make the right decision.  But even if they do, justice that takes four years and $100,000 to defend against what is not even a misdemeanor is not justice at all.  The function of the courts in the American system is not merely to punish the guilty, but perhaps more importantly to protect the innocent against abuse by tyrannical governmernt (and all government tends to tyranny if it can get away with it).  The local judge totally failed in that duty in this case.  Seeing the court system up close and personal has been very disappointing and disillusioning. 
I guess, in a way, I should be glad that the "wheels of justice" have ground so slowly, because in the meantime, I have been able to continue renting my house for the last four years while the town fights with Siwinski.  Siwinski's neighbor obviously doesn't feel that way though.  And Siwinski has his house listed for sale and just wants out of the whole thing.

I try to maintain a philosphic or religious outlook on this.  It's only money.  My life is not about money.  If I put my trust in God, none of this matters at all.  It's a good lesson about not putting my trust in the material things of this world, which can be snatched away at any time on any whim of those in power.  The fact that I have two houses means I'm obviously not poverty stricken.  It seems pretty spoiled of me to worry about having two houses when most people would be happy to have just one to worry about.  I will not go broke either way.  And of course, it most definitely reinforced my basic religious viewpoint that going to law is not the Christian thing to do if there is any way to avoid it.  But still, I can't help but feel a gut wrenching churn of injustice being done.

Indy, I loved running your half-marathon, but right now, you are not on my happy list.

Oh, and USC:  Sorry, but your season ticket prices have gotten too high anyway.  You'll have to fight on without me.