A man whom I know (he is a Christian) has an odd hang-up: he is fascinated—almost paralyzed—by the sight of a hearse. It is not fear he experiences when he sees a hearse, nor is it glee. His feeling is ambiguous; but the mixture certainly includes perplexity, recoil, attraction, and bemusement.
As far as I know, the perplexity in his feeling about the hearse arises from some such questions as: Who came up with such a design for this vehicle? It is sleek, glittering, quiet, and comfortable. There is something peculiar about the way the long roof rises away and back from the tinted windshield—one isn’t sure whether the thing is a limousine or a truck. Or again, What do we mean by this luxury with which we surround a death: polished woods, simonized cars, pomp, hush, and slow processions through the streets, everyone—bystanders and mourners alike—tacitly agreeing without the help of sirens and flashing lights that here is something that requires utter precedence. “Stand away from death,” it seems to say, or “Here comes the lofty corpse.” The mourners themselves seem to take on a dreadful prerogative simply by virtue of their connection with the thing. Or again, the question arises, To whom is all this ceremony addressed? The dead person? us? the bystanders? the gods? Nobody is going to argue that a pick-up truck wouldn’t serve as well to convey the item from the chapel to the graveyard. What, precisely, are we telling ourselves by this spectacle? Or again, why this kind of spectacle? There are a thousand ways of marking death: some tribes dance and sing; others feast; others do almost nothing; we do this. Why?
And so on—an array of perplexing questions. But ...1
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