It ended like so many action movies seem to begin. Oh, not with the explosions and the bullets and all sorts of those teasers, but the part that normally comes after that: you know what I’m talking about – the part that gets passed off as character development or the main character showing that he’s not just a walking, talking killing machine, but actually a man (because it is always a man) of profound emotional depths.
We were all gatherer around a hole in the ground saying farewell to someone that the all claimed was a dear friend. I say claimed because, for the most part, we were here out of a vague sense of ill-defined duty, a hold on us bound by shared associations of employment and acquaintance.
It was a Wednesday morning, with a miserable grey sky and a wind that seemed to be only barely interested in blowing, coming in momentary gusts and fits. Meanwhile the business of life was going on around us – there was a couple of disinterested workmen leaning on shovels out in the street, contemplating their own hole in the ground, and I could hear metal clanging from the auto workshop down the road.
We were here for Rachel. I knew her through the Labor Party. We’d been to the sam functions and meetings every month or so for about the last five years. We’d been to trivia quizzes and fundraisers and SEC meetings together. We’d even handed out on election day together. But I didn’t really know her, and I wonder how true that is for everyone else at her funeral.
Are we all standing here, shuffling our feet and thinking about other things, secretly wishing it was already over? My feet are sore from standing around in uncomfortable shoes, and I can feel my shirt scratching uncomfortably across my shoulders. How many other people are thinking the same thoughts? How many of us are desperately thinking about anything – anything else?Are they hungry? Bored? Horny? They’re wondering what to have for lunch, or thinking how much they hate their boss, or what they have to get from the shops on the way home. Thinking about anything – anything at all – so they don’t have to acknowledge how close they are to Rachel in that box in the ground. How many of them have a whispering at the back of their mind that say, ‘thank God it’s not me!’ Not yet, not yet…
Rachel’s partner talks about her life, and the even the wind seems to listen now, because suddenly it’s whipping the words from his mouth, stealing them away so that the rest of us have to strain to make out what he’s saying. As I listen, I realise that I didn’t know very much about Rachel at all. I had no idea that she lived in Lightning Ridge for so long, or that she learnt to cut and shape opals. I knew that she was a talented musician, but I didn’t know that she was part of a band. As I hear it, I think about how that makes sense. I had no idea about her family. I’d only met her partner once or twice.
And now she’s gone. And none of us will ever have the chance to talk to her again. We will never find out more about her. And that seems like such a waste to me. Life is such a fleeting experience, and our time amongst others is always far too short.