All in the Same Boat

January 25, 2019 in Rabbi Greg Harris

‘Painting the Sloop’ by Andrew Wyeth

A few days ago, we observed the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  His vision for America and humanity continues to resonate even as we continue to fall too short of his dream.  Of the many quotes attributed to Dr. King, I have been thinking about one in particular – ‘We may have all come in different ships, but we are in the same boat now.’  This is true in so many ways.

In our national ‘boat’, we drift along with our racial differences, diverse religious traditions, varied educational levels and political opinions of every shade.  We travel with our neatly packed assumptions and biases pointed at each other.  These are all securely stored in our personal steerage compartments seemingly impervious to others’ experiences.

I experienced something today which pressed against some of my own stowed baggage.  I attended a Muslim funeral and burial.

The woman who passed away was an incredibly kind and caring person.  Tutti was a friend’s nanny who suddenly died without warning.  Over the 15+ years we have known her, she has cared for our kids, taught us adults how to parent, shared her love with numerous families and raised a wonderful daughter who is now in college.

Tutti immigrated from Indonesia but learned to assist with setting a Shabbat table or cook a brisket to the highest standards.  We have celebrated High Holiday meals, week night pizza deliveries, and countless birthdays together over the years.  So attending her funeral was a small act of kindness towards a woman who shared so many acts of kindness with me.

Muslim burial practices, at least the ones I experienced in this specific instance, were very similar to Jewish burials: quick burial after death; washing and preparing the body for burial (tahara); dressing the body in shrouds (tachrichin); prayers for the soul at the service and burial (El Male Rachamim); placing earth into the grave; washing your hands upon leaving the cemetery (netilat yadayim); a mourning period (15 days in Islamic tradition, 30 days in Jewish tradition – sheloshim); a tradition of an exclusive faith cemetery – only Muslims or only Jewish people.  (This last part has opened up to mixed faith burials in progressive streams but each has this deep tradition.)

During the service, the leader encouraged the non-Muslims in attendance to offer our individual prayers for Tutti according to our personal faiths.

The only Muslim funerals I had previously seen had been on television.  They seemed to be extremist rallies fueled by hate.  In contract, this was a beautifully simple ceremony in which all were welcomed.

That was the perfect tribute for a beautifully simple woman who welcomed so many of us… and our children.

Today, Tutti reminded me that even with our difference, we are all in the same boat – our end days are all the same.  As is written in Ecclesiastes, “The dust returns to the ground as it was and the life breath returns to God who bestowed it.” (Ecc 12:7) Tutti never attained the stature or fame of Dr. King but she shared wisdom no less profound.