The Procession

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.

It’s overcast. I’m with my wife and my bloodhound. We are on a wide porch of a 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 a gift folks give to each other.

This is what we do.

28 comments

  1. Renee' Flory - October 8, 2018 7:07 am

    Thank you for this solemn picture. While I live half a world away, when I am home, if there is a funeral in our small town, I’m sure to attend as my parents know everyone and know that this is one of the best ways we can show our love.

    Here in Ukraine, when a fallen soldier comes home, people, young and old, line the street, on their knees, in homage. I’ve yet to kneel with them myself, but each time I see a new video of a new procession, it does bring my heart to its knees.

    Reply
  2. Barbara Pope - October 8, 2018 7:10 am

    A wonderful heartfelt tradition that never fails to warm the heart.

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  3. GaryD - October 8, 2018 9:18 am

    I always pull over for a funeral procession. Always. And I always remove my cap. It’s the polite and civilized thing to do.

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  4. Jean - October 8, 2018 9:50 am

    Yes it is what we do! When my father’s funeral procession was on the way out of town to the grave yard the police that had escorted us thru town was standing by his patrol car..hat off at attention. It was one thing I will never forget about that day. It meant the world to me as did all those who show respect by stopping their cars.

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  5. Cynthia Harmon - October 8, 2018 9:52 am

    It’s a gift that’s appreciated and so we’ll keep on doing it. Also it’s in keeping with the Golden Rule.

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  6. Jill McKenzie - October 8, 2018 10:19 am

    Sean, Is that a Southern small town custom? I never saw “everyone” do it until I went to a funeral in Tifton, GA a while back. I live in Atlanta where people don’t take take for that but I have to say the custom really touched my heart. Thanks, as always, for shining a light on the small but important things that make life meaningful.

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  7. Marilyn Vance - October 8, 2018 10:23 am

    For my husband’s procession, we went through two small towns that run city limit to city limit without a break…the police from each town tag teamed, stopping traffic all the way down main street. We didn’t stop for any red lights…my husband would have been tickled by that!

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  8. Cathi - October 8, 2018 11:44 am

    And yes, this is what we will always do.

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  9. Edna B. - October 8, 2018 12:34 pm

    Respect…it’s important to us. Giving a bit of respect goes a long way in helping the family to heal. So yes, this is what we will always do. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

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  10. Connie Havard Ryland - October 8, 2018 1:41 pm

    Yes. This is what we do. In the South, anyway. Love and hugs.

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  11. Dianne Correll - October 8, 2018 1:51 pm

    This showing of respect still touches families in our busy world today!!

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  12. Carol - October 8, 2018 1:53 pm

    I have always done it , don’t know them or their color but they’re one of God’s children and their family , good or bad will miss them and we need to show we respect each other!!
    Love ya!

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  13. Roxanne - October 8, 2018 2:34 pm

    It most certainly is what we do. And it brings comfort–to this in the line, and those watching the line go by.

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  14. Jeanne Butler - October 8, 2018 2:48 pm

    That is what good people down Douth do. Here in the Nirth people just get ticked off because it is holding them up. Only once years ago when I was working and one of my bosses died did I ever see that here, cars pulling over. But that was 25 years ago when people here were nicer. Sad. Love you Sean

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  15. Brenda McLaine - October 8, 2018 3:10 pm

    Did that Saturday for a stranger. Yes, that’s what we do.

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  16. that's jack - October 8, 2018 4:19 pm

    I’m told it is against the law in NC, but somehow we still do it. WE STOP to honor a stranger. We stopped just yesterday for a funeral procession in Gastonia, NC, it was VERY long. Suddenly we recognized a kin person in the procession. Later my wife learned it was someone I should know (but I don’t remember) But we stopped anyway. Yep that is what we do.

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  17. Bobby - October 8, 2018 5:09 pm

    I went to a funeral for the 16 year old son of a good friend last week. My friend’s son died as result of injuries sustained on the football field, a sport he loved and at which he excelled. His dad and I were just talking about the upcoming game a few days before. He was, and still is, one proud dad. He is now also a grieving dad. He and his wife have lost their only son, a fine young man. The show of respect not only at the funeral service but across the state of Georgia has been overwhelming. Despite what some may think, we are still a country of mostly good and compassionate folks.

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  18. Shelton Armour - October 8, 2018 5:39 pm

    Nice word, Sean. My father’s funeral is a blur. I wish I could remember more.

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    • Kathy Grey - October 8, 2018 9:47 pm

      Shelton, that’s how my Mom’s funeral is — a blur. I wish I could remember more, too.

      Reply
  19. Becky - October 8, 2018 6:48 pm

    It is what we do….. I pray it never changes, I hope we will never fail to stop and show respect for the family and for the deceased.

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  20. Diana - October 8, 2018 7:08 pm

    It is what we do.. What a wonderful way to show respect. There are still a few that think their time is more valuable, and don’t stop. For those of us who know the importance of respect, it is appreciated.

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  21. Jan Bruck - October 8, 2018 8:25 pm

    Beautiful, Sean!

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  22. Kathy Grey - October 8, 2018 9:42 pm

    My Dad volunteered at the Catholic school library. All eight of us went to the school, and my Mom taught there for many years. When my Dad died three years ago, students and faculty lined the street the church was on. It was an amazing sight. That’s what they do. ❤️

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  23. johnallenberry - October 8, 2018 10:51 pm

    Thank you for the reminder. This IS what we do. It’s what we should do, all of us being mortal, and in the same long train to the grave. it’s right, fitting, and proper to honor those who have preceeded us. Thank you for reminding us of it’s importance.

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  24. Marlea Foster - October 9, 2018 2:53 am

    Sean, you will never know how much your post meant to me today!!! I always start my day reading your blog as my daily devotional. Imagine my surprise that on today the day of my father’s funeral you posted about the respect in the South for a funeral procession. Thank you!!! Your most faithful reader in Birmingham, Marlea Foster

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  25. Marie Reynolds - October 10, 2018 3:09 pm

    You never realize how much it means until you are near the head of that long line. I hope we never stop our tradition. Thank you for the reminder.

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  26. lisatindell - October 12, 2018 4:30 pm

    I’ve done it. I’ve stood in silent stillness. I’ve pulled my car to the side of the road. All for strangers I’ve never met. I’m not sure why, but, you’re right – It’s just what we do. Having practiced this tradition for many years at the teachings of my father, it was always “just what we do.” But, one day, I was in that line of cars with headlights on as we took my father to his final resting place. No casserole, no prayer, no card, no hug could ever give me as much peace as seeing all those cars pulled to the side of the road to honor my daddy – a man they never met. Thank you….I, too, will be among those pulling to the side of the road for a procession – until it’s my turn to be in the long, black car.

    Reply
  27. Melissa Claunch - October 13, 2018 11:55 am

    Amen

    Reply

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