On Sunday I went to a funeral for a stranger.
This was not in my travel plans for the trip to California, but I was here and the funeral was here, so I went ahead and attended the service with about a thousand other people, lined up all along the pier that I've been walking to and from in the mornings and the evenings.
I didn't know Bobby, the man who died, but I was able to gather (and by "gather" I mean, of course, that I eavesdropped on all of the conversations around me) that he was in his mid to late 40's. The numbers that I heard most often were 43 and 47, so I assume that one of them is correct. I know that he died from cancer, although nobody knew or nobody said what kind. I know that he was cremated, and that the reason so many mourners were gathered at the pier is that his ashes were going to be scattered into the ocean on the north side. Someone said that Bobby would find it ironic that the north side was his final resting place, but no one said why. As a stranger, I didn't think it was my place to ask.
The reason so many people were gathered, even strangers, to see Bobby's ashes scattered is that Bobby was also a surfer, and that meant that he had a surf memorial. I'd never seen one, and probably never will again, but here's how it worked.
The mourners/attendees were split into two groups: those on the beach and those on the pier. Those on the pier were all in regular clothing, and many carried flowers or leis. I was surprised to see so few of them in black, but this appears to have been a pretty informal affair, which I can only assume Bobby would have wanted. Those on the beach, including some of Bobby's family, gathered beneath the pier for a prayer and a few words, and then, all of them in wetsuits and carrying their surfboards, they took to the water and began to swim out into the sea:
The man in the front appeared to be a pastor, although someone near me said that he was a church youth group leader and not ordained. Again, I did not feel that I was in a position to ask a lot of questions.
After the leader decided they were far enough out, which was a little tricky because the lifeguard truck announced just before they took to the water that due to the high waves no one should be out further than 200 yards, the surfers began to circle their boards and hold hands:
This is a lot more difficult than it sounds like it should be. I was thinking, "How hard can it be to float into a circle and grab each other?" but due to the waves the circle kept breaking as it tried to form, and sometimes people slipped off of their boards when they didn't mean to, and had to maneuver back into place.
It took about twenty minutes for them to get the whole circle together, with Bobby's family and some close friends in the center:
Once they did, someone in the center of the circle said a few words, they bowed their heads, and then the people on the pier began throwing flowers, leis, and flower petals into the water. The circle pulled in on itself as the people in the center began to scatter Bobby's ashes, and then people started to wish him well:
That was the part that surprised me. The people in the water were cheering, laughing, and clapping as they tried to stay on their boards and threw their own flowers (most of which they had carried in their teeth or tucked into the backs of their wetsuits), and the people on the pier were clapping and yelling back at them.
"So long, Bobby!"
"Safe journey, Bobby!"
I've never been to a funeral where everyone seemed so happy before. It was kind of like Bobby was leaving for a trip, and all of these people showed up at the pier to see him off. I didn't see anyone crying, and for a few minutes it seemed like everyone shared in positive feelings. I felt included in a moment of togetherness and, oddly, hope.
I didn't know Bobby, but I really enjoyed his funeral.