I was reminded of that feeling today as I attended the funeral of Grace Rebecca Mann at the synagogue where I am a member and past-president. Grace was 20 years old. Grace was murdered while away at college.
Grace was the only daughter of Mellissa and Thomas Mann and grew up in our Temple, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. She was not ‘average’ or ‘typical.’ She had visions of changing the world. We heard from those who spoke about her that everyone who met her and knew her believed she would, as she had already made a difference in every world she had been in through her short 20 years on this earth.
The construct of The Actual Dance imagines the moment of death to be a ritualized ballroom dance with the person you love. You are surrounded in some form of comfort circle that embraces your soul and heart as they break with the loss by everyone you have “ever met, ever known, ever loved” including “generations that came before you” and maybe even “generations yet to come.”
Today as I set in an overflow room with the funeral service projected onto the wall, I felt that I was part of that “mass of people crunched around the darkened walls of the ball room” as Grace lay in a plain coffin in our sanctuary.
I hope the presence of over 1,300 people offered some comfort to Grace’s parents, family and friends. It is a commandment in the Jewish religion to comfort the bereaved. We are mandated to be present to provide love and comfort. It is important to just be there and somehow people know that and just show up.
The first eulogy was offered by Cedric Rucker, the Dean of Student Life at the University of Mary Washington where Grace was a student. As he stepped up to the lectern he presented himself in a way that reflected what I think everyone in that room felt. “I do not want to be here.” Of course we do not “want to.” If anyone could undo the tragedy of Grace’s death they would have done it at that instant. Yet, we “did not know where else (we) could possibly be.”
The quotes are from the show, offered in the context of this funeral. In the play, I say these words as I stand next to Susan in the post-operative hospital room helping her as she suffered nausea and pain from her surgery. I did not want to be there with her doing the things I had to do, and yet then I said: “I don’t know where else I could possibly be.”
The Dean’s emotions were palpable as he said it slightly differently: “Like all of you, I could never see myself at a place like this with one my students (laying) before me.” He embodied what we all feel when facing the loss of someone we love deeply. We do not want to lose them. We don’t want to be there.
Yet we are and we know at that time and in that situation we cannot be anywhere else. Instead, we enter the dimension of the ballroom, another place. A place where we sense and feel God’s presence in our heart and in our soul. We share the only gift we have at that time and that is the gift of love.