When Souls Pass, Part II

life in a village


I crowded into the tiny foyer attached to the front of the Episcopal Church; there was no room in the sanctuary. I was eager to learn this side of life, the end of things, and how our community faced the loss of those they loved and respected.

He had been a man of stature, an elder, a traditional chief of his people and many came from other villages to pay their respect. There were no invitations to his funeral. Gwandak Radio announced the date and time; that was all. On this day perhaps two hundred people attended, about a third of our population. Our only store, the AC, closed. Our post office closed. Our city offices closed.

There was a platform covered in linen before the altar and on it rested an open spruce box. Its lid was not hinged but separate, lying behind and out of the way. It had no handles. It had been modestly handcrafted with great care; its only adornment a light scorching, spartan and tasteful. The box was not made to preserve the man for decades but to return him to his earth. It was not turned perpendicular to the aisle, as is the habit in my native culture, but turned in line so loved ones could approach both sides while the guests viewed them in profile. Banners hung on the wall behind the altar.  They were fashioned out of moose hide and adorned with ten thousand beads that weaved together symbols of the church and images of beloved Athabascan flowers. A large wooden cross, maybe eight feet tall, stood leaning in the background at the altar’s side…


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