First, a little derivation of one of the most recognisable phrases in modern English. ‘Till death us do part’ is one of a few phrases from the Book of Common Prayer. Along with the works of Shakespeare and the King James bible, these three works form the basis of English as we know it today.
I just looked up the full title, it’s one hell of a mouthful: The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church according to the use of the Church of England together with the Psalter or Psalms of David pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches and the form and manner of making, ordaining, and consecrating of bishops, priests, and deacons. I guess that didn’t fit on the front cover (it must’ve been horrible to copy out in full, back before printing presses were invented), so it’s known simply as ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ today.
It seems that the book was written and revised a few times around the 1500s and then majorly in 1662. The point is, I’m not sure who actually penned the famous phrases. I guess, much like the Bible, no one really knows who wrote it. It just kind of… appeared on paper. A great example of divine will at work, I guess…
Much like the works of Shakespeare and passages from King James Bible, phrases from the Common Prayer Book have actually become part of our language. Today, many people use phrases such as ‘Speak now or forever hold your peace’, or ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ without really knowing where they came from; we heard them as children, or more commonly nowadays in popular media. They are very religious phrases indeed; they stem from some of the oldest Christian rites!
Anyway, using a line from the marriage liturgy was perhaps a little disingenuous, as I actually want to write about the complete opposite of marriage: death. Perhaps the ‘Earth to earth’ phrase would’ve been a better choice… Oh well!
For those of you that are following me on Twitter you might be aware that a few days ago my great uncle died. Now, being the lucky kind of guy that I am, this is actually the first death I’ve had in my immediate family, discounting my grandmother that died when I was quite young (and I wasn’t very close to). Tomorrow I will attend his memorial service, and on Thursday I will attend my very first funeral.
‘What will the mood be?’ I asked the world in general, when I found out I would be attending a funeral. ‘Bittersweet’ came the reply from my friends. Instantly, being a connoisseur of dark chocolate, my mind hopped, skipped and jumped back to the sensations I experienced while eating my very first piece of 99% cocoa Lindt chocolate. Now, I have to tell you that my first piece was enjoyed in the presence of The American, so my senses were perhaps just a little skewed, but the experience was… unique. But what I do remember clearly, once I strip out the fuzzy, love-fuelled memories, was a moment — a brief, fleeting explosion — of dark and powerful intensity. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it was intense.
That’s what I imagine the funeral will be like: dark and intense, but swiftly followed by clarity and the brightness of things to come. Once our farewells have been said and our prayers delivered I hope the sadness and loss that hangs over the ceremony like a cloud will simply waft away. He’s gone and the darkness of his death will be quickly be replaced by the sparkling possibilities of tomorrow.
If anything does in fact remain after death, it will certainly be his wise, gently-nagging Jewish rasping voice whispering time-tested advice into our ears!
Looking forward though, even if the day itself is veiled with sadness, I know he will be happy knowing that he brought the entire family together again. People will come from all over the world — hundreds of people — to remember a great man, a man that was dearly loved by many and respected by all.
Discussing the funeral itself, I posed a rather silly question to my mother:
‘Mum, can I go to the funeral with my half-good-half-evil beard? I’ll be able to mourn with one side, and be happy with the other at the end!’
‘No, Seb, don’t be silly; there might be some nice girls there that you can marry!’
Jewish to the very end!