I’m sitting in the last row of a church, attending the funeral of a friend’s father. The sanctuary is packed, a fitting tribute to a loving and well-loved man, an exemplary pillar of the community.
It’s been a lovely service, so far — a beautifully personal eulogy by an eloquent minister, a stirring rendition of the family’s favorite song and a thought-provoking sermon on the ways we mortals come to terms with death.
A moment of silence follows the sermon as a soloist slowly takes her place in the balcony above the chancel.
It’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop, and I reflect on my own father’s death last March, and whether this mortal, yours truly, will ever come to terms with death. The stillness is palpable; I can hear myself breathe.
Then, the unthinkable happens. My flippin’ CELL PHONE GOES OFF!!
The horror of it takes a moment to register. My eyes dart from side to side, looking for the culprit. “Oh, God. Anyone but me! Anyone but me!” I pray, under my breath.
“No can do,” the Lord answers back. “That catchy calypso ring tone piercing the air belongs to only one person. Where do you think you are, the Caribbean? This is my house, and we ain’t servin’ pina coladas!”
“Jesus!” I cry in a hushed but audible tone, as the phone rings again from inside my purse. The lady next to me visibly flinches. Oh great, I think. Not only have I disrupted this solemn ceremony with my crazy clambake music, I’ve taken the Lord’s name in vain, to boot! Good God, can anyone say, “Express ticket to Hell?”
“Fuhgettaboutit!” the Lord replies. “Just turn off that damnable thing. Jamaica’n me crazy, mon!!”
Turn it off! YES! That’s what I need to do, just as soon as my heart starts up again and I can feel my fingers. But, wait! I DID turn it off, before I entered the church. I set it to “Standby/Mute.” I swear I did!
My ring tone begs to differ. I start slapping my purse furiously, as if trying to put out a fire. Surely that will stop it. My face and neck are redder than the crimson pew cushions. My heart races at 200 beats per minute.
Slapping isn’t working. Calypso music fills the air. The woman in front of me is starting to shimmy.
“What in the hell (sorry, Lord) was wrong with my OLD ring tone?” I ask myself, “the one that sounded like an old-fashioned phone! People would think this God-forsaken noise was coming from the office. Or, why couldn’t I have chosen something more subdued, like Bach’s ‘Fugue in D Minor’ or ‘Ave Maria’?”
On the third ring, I flip open my purse, grab the blasted BlackBerry and stab wildly at the Ignore button. The sound stops. Thank God.
“You’re welcome,” the Lord answers.
I don’t look up for the rest of the service, but I feel people scorching me with their eyes. Mercifully, the funeral is over. The family files out. I duck my head and pray they didn’t hear the blaring (albeit festive) racket.
Ushers guide the congregation out, starting with the front row. I wait my turn, clutching my Blackberry — now, definitely in Standby-Mute mode — wondering if people know I’m the offender and if they intend to rat me out to my grieving friends.
Everyone files into the vestibule and turns toward the reception hall. I bolt in the opposite direction, through the halls, taking refuge in the little girls’ room of the Head Start Preschool.
“I can’t face people now,” I say to myself. “It’s too soon. I’ll just sit here on the world’s smallest toilet until most of the people have gone.”
Ten minutes later, I wash my hands in the pint-sized sink, slink into the reception hall and pay my respects to the family. They suspect nothing. So far, so good.
Suddenly, a woman I’ve never met taps me on the shoulder, and says, “Don’t worry. My cell phone went off once during a Zen meditation retreat. And my ring tone was Aretha!”
“God bless you for trying,” I respond. “But I think mine’s worse.”
“Think nothing of it,” she said with a smile. “Thought I’d give it a shot.”
“No, really. I’ll see to it that God blesses you,” I replied. “I’ve got him on speed dial.”
— Cathy Hamilton is a 53-year-old empty nester, wife, mother and author, who blogs every day at BoomerGirl.com.