It’s overcast in Mississippi. I’m with my wife and my coonhound. We are on the wide porch of a vacation rental house.
This is the main road which cuts through town. There are sounds of kids laughing, playing. Easy traffic.
This is an old porch. The kind my father used to sit on. I can see him in my mind, shirtless, reading baseball box-scores. Or carving a pine stick.
My wife is asleep in a rocking chair. My dog snores beside me.
I see vehicles. Lots of them.
The first car is a police cruiser—blue lights flashing. Another cruiser follows. Then comes a slow-moving long black car—with curtains, and chrome fenders. It’s followed by the world’s longest line of cars. A million headlights.
The cars are flanked by a railroad crossing.
The train is running. The funeral procession comes to a halt at the flashing railroad-crossing lights.
There’s a man on the porch of the house next to me. He’s within spitting distance from me.
“A funeral,” I hear him say to his wife.
They step off their porch together to stand in the yard.
This is what we do.
A few other folks in nearby houses do the same. It seems like a good idea. My dog and I walk off our porch to stand by the mailbox.
Across the street, a woman in an apron holds hands with a little girl. An old man is in his driveway, holding a wrench. Watching. Kids stand beside bikes.
A few cars pull to the side of the road.
We’ve all stopped what we’re doing.
And truth be told, I don’t even know why we do it. Of course it’s a gesture of respect. But why? Why respect a stranger we’ve never even met?
I guess it’s just how we do things.
The string of cars is impressive. There are models of all kinds. Fords, Nissans, BMW’s, a few work trucks. A motorcycle.
The train is still rolling past. The line of headlights grows.
And I’m thinking about the lead car. I know what the family inside it is doing. They’re doing the same thing my mother and I did once. We were too stunned to even cry.
We stared at police escorts. The blue lights in the distance were frightening and comforting at the same time. We looked out windows, plain-faced.
That day, men pulled trucks into ditches. Cars parked on shoulders. People stepped out of driver’s seats to stand. Strangers respected a stranger.
The same strangers who looked at us with serious faces when we rolled past. I’ll never forget it.
The train finally passes. The railroad-crossing barricades lift. The funeral line resumes. It takes six minutes for every car to pass us. Six long minutes.
Afterward, we spectators wander to our houses. My wife is still asleep. My dog starts snoring again.
For few minutes today, time stopped. We stopped it. We did it to remember someone I’ve never even met.
People did this for my family once. And I’ll do it for their family until I join my ancestors in heaven.
Because this is just what folks do for each other.
This is what we do.