Thursday, August 23, 2007

This should come as no surprise, but I'm not a very spiritual person. I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church back in the 1960s, but over the past thirty years my church attendance has been restricted to weddings, funerals, baptisms, and community meetings at someone else's house of worship of choice.

(By the way, I am reasonably sure there can not be a God, because, if there were, he would not have invented that stupid 'sign of peace' greeting that forces you to shake hands with random strangers when you really want to be left alone. Not that I get all weirded out about it or anything, but... really!)

Despite my lack of faith, I am not unfamiliar with church etiquette. I can still fake my way through Episcopalian and Roman Catholic services, and have even made it through more than a few of those marathon fundamentalist services, because politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows. But hard as this is to believe, in almost a half-century of life, I had never been to a Jewish funeral.

Until yesterday.

Regrettably, the father of one of my closest friends passed away early this week, and yesterday was the funeral service. I couldn't not be there, so after driving for more than an hour to reach a funeral home that was 25 minutes away (New Jersey highways are confusing) I arrived just as the service was about to begin.

Which is when Crisis #1 hit. I noted that all the men in the foyer were putting on yarmulkes as they entered the chapel, and I... well, I hadn't thought about that. But even if one doesn't believe, one should respect the practices and traditions of the believers, so I grabbed a yarmulke from the pile on the table near the guest book and entered the chapel, taking a seat in the back row.

Which is when Crisis #2 hit, and I realized that a sizable minority of the men at the service were not, in fact, wearing yarmulkes. I had been misled by the late arrivals! And now I -- a lapsed Episcopalian (if that's even possible) -- was sitting in the chapel wearing a yarmulke and probably disrespecting the Jewish faith! Or so went my thought process. After a few minutes, when I was sure no one was looking, I slid the yarmulke off my head and tucked it in the breast pocket of my suit.

Which leads us to Crisis #3: it was only when I got home that I realized I still had the yarmulke in my possession. And I have no idea if I was supposed to return the yarmulke that I took but probably wasn't supposed to wear and didn't anyway. So on top of everything else, I might be guilty of the misdemeanor of Yarmulke Theft in the Third Degree.

From now on, I think I should just send a sympathy card.