once in a lifetime

An Eclipse, A Welding Helmet and the Kindness of Casual Acquaintances

tree people

Detail from “In the Land of the Tree People…” by Michele Bledsoe

Many years ago I was the manager of an outlet store in Indiana. It was surrounded by a handful of other businesses: A liquor store, a laundromat, a sandwich place… and a funeral parlor.

The two brothers who owned the funeral parlor were frequent customers and I always treated them with great kindness and respect. Such a noble profession, to care for the dead. The brothers would often remark that people usually became very uncomfortable around them when they found out what kind of work they did.

I was familiar with the brothers’ regular purchases and often had them waiting on the counter when they walked in. If one of their favorite items was on sale, I would set it aside to ensure they would not miss out on the discount.

Since I was not in need of funeral services, they were always trying to find another way to return my kindness.

Once, while driving the hearse, one brother stopped a funeral procession.. wanting to let my car cut in front. I waved frantically at him to keep going.

Around this time, an amazing event was about to occur: A total eclipse of the sun.

The news was filled with constant eye-safety reminders, instructions on how to view the eclipse, and serious warnings not to look directly at the sun.

Desperately, I wanted to see the eclipse – to watch this once in a lifetime experience unfold! I could not contain my excitement. The eclipse was all I could talk about. The two brothers listened to me rant about it for days.

I was at work when the eclipse occurred. The streets were empty. People were probably trying to avoid accidentally exposing themselves to potential retina damage or blindness.

But, I could not stay inside. I left the counter and stepped out into the deserted parking lot.

I kept my head down. My fists clenched at my sides. I was breathing hard. The air had a weird grainy quality like an old newspaper. I had to fight the urge to look up.

Suddenly, across the parking lot, I heard voices yelling my name.

It was the two brothers from the funeral parlor. They were running towards me, carrying a welder’s helmet.

Before I could say a word, they thrust the welder’s helmet on my head and told me to look up. I was trembling all over. My legs were weak.  I thought I would pass out. So there we stood in the middle of the parking lot: one brother behind me, holding me up – and the other in front of me, holding the huge helmet on my head.

I saw it all.

It was terrifying and beautiful.

I suppose if I had died right there in the parking lot, the two brothers would have treated my remains with exceptional love and care.