Brooke and I went to a funeral this past Saturday. It was not for a woman that I knew well; it was for a woman that people I know well knew well. A woman that my wife worked with, and other friends worked with; a woman who was and is the mother of another friend. It was a sad day.
I have heard it said that Jesus was a rabbi. I have also heard that, perhaps, rabbi is not the best moniker for what he was. Perhaps other labels fit him better. It does not matter. I do know that Jesus had followers. And, whether his followers spoke about it, or whether it became a tradition in the years after Jesus, I know that followers of a rabbi became obsessed with doing everything that the rabbi did. They ate when the rabbi ate, they walked when he walked, they slept when he slept. They listened when he spoke. They learned, through living and following him, to be like their rabbi. It became popular for them to say that they wanted to be covered with the dust of the rabbi: as he walked down the dry streets of Israel, the dust that his sandals tossed would cover them. To be covered with the dust of a rabbi was a good thing. It meant you followed close.
I listened, at the funeral, to Sue’s youngest son talk about reading his mother’s prayer journals. He talked about being surprised at how much she prayed. She rarely spoke of it. He talked about reading a journal when he found his mother praying for his cold. Who prays for a cold? he wondered and I wonder the same: Who does pray for a cold? His eyes turned wet and red and he told us of the woman his mother was. He told us, and others told us, how she cared for people and probably had even prayed for everyone in the room.
I think of Sue now. I do not know if she was cremated or buried. If she was buried, then she is now covered in dust. She is thisclose to her rabbi and finally has the dust to prove it. And we sit and look now, and realize that all along she had the dust, but only in death do we celebrate it, do we acknowledge it. By praying for colds and helping third-graders learn to read and loving her children and grandchildren and everyone in that room on Saturday, she is covered in dust.
Or maybe, she already is the dust. Maybe she is able to cling to her rabbi’s beard or the wrinkles around his eyes, listening to every word that he speaks and able to see, finally, all the hope and love and strength in the eyes of God.