It was hot out there, the sun glaring down on us in our suits and ties.  The air was sort of smoky, the way it usually is down here near the Gulf Coast.  A parade of suits and uniforms marched behind the fire truck.  The casket was sitting in back, and the sun glared off our sunglasses and the stark metal of the fire engine.  It was very green, too.  There had been lots of rain down there.  The sycamores, elms, and pecan trees were leafing out, and the massive live oaks lining the road provided a welcome canopy to guard us against the sun.

The bagpipes were playing songs I knew and ones I’d heard but couldn’t remember the names of.  We wiped our foreheads with handkerchiefs and kept walking.

It was Good Friday.

I didn’t know I was a pallbearer until my family and I arrived at the Spring Branch Christian Church for the service, parting a sea of firemen and police cars ready for the big send-off.  He had been a fireman and paramedic for almost 20 years.  He had been my friend.

They had called me earlier that week and told me he was in the hospital and probably wouldn’t make it this time.  It was a shock, since he hadn’t told me he was sick again.  I had called him a couple of weeks back, telling him I wanted to come down and let him meet the kids.  He seemed happy about that and as talkative as ever.  And he never let on that he was so sick.

But that was the way he was.  He didn’t want anybody worrying or feeling sorry for him.

He had gotten back in touch with me a few months before, and I promised him I’d be around.  Now that I think about it, I figure he knew then that he didn’t have long.  He was straightening up the furniture, tying up loose ends before he left.  Funny, back in school I was supposed to be the tough guy, the strong one.  But it was him all along.

He used to do things for you and make you think it was your idea, so that you did not notice the kindness.  I guess he didn’t care about being thanked.

I walked next to Hank, our old buddy who became a preacher.  He had married Marc off.  Life, which had been mostly a parade of graduations and weddings and births for us, was taking a turn.  Hank had buried Marc’s dad.  Now we were there.  Hank’s demeanor—talking and smiling—helped remind me that Marc didn’t want sadness, or pity, or shrouds, emotional or otherwise.  It’s tough.  I’m glad Hank was there to help.

The sun had shown bright through the stained-glass window, a gentle Jesus reaching from the skies to take us home in a scheme of reds and blues and whites and flesh tones.  Bright life from beyond, sweet chariot riding away.

The church was full.

Somebody sang “How Great Thou Art,” then Hank marched up to the pulpit and began talking about a conversation he’d had with Marc a long time ago, about how they had lots of questions, but few answers.  “Is life worth dying for?” he asked.

He talked about death washing a tide over everything and about how nobody knows all the answers, like why this man died and another didn’t.  What we have
is Jesus and living with the questions.  What we have is the knowledge that Jesus came down here to live among us and that He shared our sorrows and worries and troubles.  And when He cried out from the Cross, He shared our questions—and taught us to trust His Father when we couldn’t answer them.

“There’s no faith without doubt,” he said.  “No hope without anxiety.  And no trust without worry.  Trust Him.”

So we carry the casket, draped in a Lone Star flag, out to the fire truck, and we walk to the station, and we sweat and talk some.

Some of those thick Gulf clouds pass over, and we can feel the dampness and the smoke in the air.  Strangers line the street and watch us as we go by, kids grinning and pointing at the fire truck, a pair of boots and a helmet and a coat sitting on the last step behind the red machine.  An older man takes his hat off and puts it over his heart.  A fireman and a little boy on the roadside salute.

There’s a ceremony at the station, and Hank and I stand in the shade of the garage.  The men take the flag and fold it and give it to Marc’s wife, who hasn’t cried.  She takes the flag, and we line up to say goodbye.

The clouds pass over again, and a little breeze blows, drying the wet shirt on my back.