I saw my first dead body up close when I was 12. It happened quite by accident. I was walking home from school in New York City and happened to pass by a church. There was a long line outside, and always curious, I stopped to find out what was going on. “It’s a funeral,” someone said. “But why is everyone lined up out here instead of going inside?” I asked. “We’re waiting to view the body,” another added.
That gave me pause. “View the body.” What exactly did that mean? How do you ‘view’ a dead body, with a special magnifying glass or something? Was the person dressed? Were they stuffed? If they were already dead why would someone want to look at them? All I could think of was that if I were dead I certainly would NOT want anyone “viewing” me. That would be pretty embarrassing.
Now I was really curious. I just had to see what this was all about. Casually, I sauntered to the end of the line. Since everyone else had on a serious face, I put mine on, too. We moved soberly toward the front door of the church, then down the aisle towards a large, glossy, wooden box. One by one, the mourners ahead of me stopped in front of the box, looked down briefly, crossed themselves and then left. I was getting closer. My heart was beating so fast that I could hear it in my ears.
There was a man in there! He was all dressed up in a nice, new suit and really, shiny, leather shoes. He looked perfectly fine with a nice haircut and everything, only his eyes were closed and he wasn’t breathing. I know because I stood there long enough to be sure of that. I had never seen anyone so completely still before. Then I noticed his hands. They had been placed on his chest in a way that I imagine he had never put them in real life. His fingers were stiff and awkward as if they had been sculpted by a very, bad artist. Indeed, they did not seem to belong to his hands at all!
I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I didn’t even stop to wait for my bus home and ran all 27 blocks. As long as everything was still moving on me, I planned to keep moving it. Gotta keep your eyes open as long as you can. Someday, someone else will be closing them. Until then, there’s always something around the next corner and it might just change your life. (Helen Hudson is the author of, “Kissing Tomatoes.” http://www.helen-hudson.com)