Memorial service

Kam accompanied me tonight to the Kara memorial service in Palo Alto that I mentioned a few entries back.

It was probably perfect for a lot of the people there, but alas, it wasn't really what I was looking for. (In case any Kara people come across this: I do appreciate your putting this together, and I don't intend this entry as criticism; just describing my personal reactions, which I suspect were out of step with those of most of the other attendees.)

It took place in Unity Church; we got there a few minutes before it started, and it was about 2/3 full. (I'm guessing attendance was reduced somewhat by the rain, but there were still quite a few people there.)

They started with some music and an invocation, and then a couple went up to the altar and lit the Candle of Love, which was one of the four big candles there, while the director of programs for Kara read a piece about the person who that couple had lost. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that--it seemed like a lot of detail to go into about one specific couple--but it made more sense later, when I understood the structure of the service. After the candle, a minister from the church spoke a little about love; then there was a piece of choral music (arranged by Arthur E's old guitar teacher).

Then came the Candle of Memory; a different person lit that one, while the director again read about that woman's loss. I'm guessing that they were aiming at showing the variety of different kinds of death that the attendees were mourning. Then some discussion of memory by the chaplain of a local children's hospital, then more music; and then that structure repeated with the Candle of Hope (with discussion by a local Buddhist leader), and the Candle of Courage (with discussion by a local Catholic priest).

Then a request for donations to help fund Kara; then a song from a solo singer, about keeping the memory of her parents alive; then the candle lighting.

The candle lighting was the most moving part of the evening for me; I'm glad we stayed for it. Kara people (I assume) carried the four big candles down the aisles and let us all light the little candles we'd been given when we arrived. I wasn't thrilled with the song that accompanied it (not bad, just somehow didn't quite speak to me), but the moment when (as I'd hoped) they turned out most of the lights and we all raised our candles was lovely and sad--looking around the room, seeing hundreds of people each with their own story, each having suffered their own loss, each grieving, all adding our own little bits of light.

Then they brought the lights back up, and there was a benediction, and they gave out cookies, and we went off to dinner.

There were certainly other parts of the service that moved me; I wiped away tears three or four times during the evening. And I liked the music (though a couple of pieces got a little repetitive), and I very much liked the bell-ringing music (especially the performance of Arnold B. Sherman's "Grazioso"); I need to go find some more of that kind of music and see if I like it as much. I think it was worth going; I'd been curious what it was like, and now I know. But I didn't find the service overall as comforting or as cathartic as I think a lot of the attendees did, and a lot of it didn't really speak to me. And there was a little more God in it than I'd expected from various descriptions; though yes, one might expect that from something billed as a memorial service and taking place at a church, and I was pleased to see the Buddhist guy, and I was okay with the amount of religious focus up 'til the Catholic part. But I wanted that final segment, the Courage one, to bring everything together, to provide some kind of dramatic resolution, and instead it turned out to be extremely God-focused, essentially saying that it's all okay because Jesus loves us. Which I imagine the Christians in the audience found very comforting, but which didn't do much for me.

And having that almost immediately followed by a fundraising appeal also rubbed me the wrong way. I had been planning to make a donation--there was a note in the program about how to donate via the envelopes they provided--but going from "Jesus loves you" to a music piece and then directly to an explicit request to donate, followed by a long pause to wait for everyone to get out their money and put it in the envelopes, felt a little tacky to me. I donated anyway, 'cause I think Kara does good work, and again I imagine that lots of the people there were feeling uplifted and generous and that it was therefore a good time to ask them for money. So it was probably a quite reasonable approach; just didn't work for me.

Perhaps the more general issue, throughout the service, was just that I had a hard time turning off analytical/cynical brain and just being in the moment.

Anyway. Glad I went; I probably wouldn't go again, but I hope my description doesn't turn people off from it, 'cause it was clearly very helpful/valuable, and very moving, for a lot of the attendees.

Thanks for accompanying me, Kam!

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