Driving behind the hearse carrying my dad’s body to Angel Crest cemetery in Valparaiso, on cold Saturday in March, I watched with surprise as oncoming traffic pulled to the side of Campbell Street as the funeral procession passed them.
Campbell has four lanes — not a highway, but no skinny residential street either. Two whole lanes, the innermost going north and south, separated us from them. I saw no reason for them to pull over from a traffic safety standpoint.
But each car that slowed to a stop and put on their blinkers on that rainy morning meant something to me. The nameless people sitting behind fogged windshields reached through the impersonality of the situation and, in some small but not inconsequential way, shared in my grief.
I’ve lived in Chicago for the past 14 years. Here, cars whiz past funeral processions, passing in the left lane as state law allows. I’ve even seen cars turn through a funeral procession when a gap formed between two cars. Other than momentary irritation with the general lack of respect shown to the dead, I never thought much about it.
It’s easy to become enamored with glass skyscrapers, world class restaurants, abundant jobs and the museums, zoos and cultural opportunities afforded by a city like Chicago. But witnessing strangers honoring my dad by pulling over, an act not required by law, reminded me of what I value most about having been raised in Northwest Indiana.
Because I remember my dad pulling our Suburban to the side of the road when he saw a police cruiser leading a funeral procession toward us. We sat in silence as the hearse made its stately way down Sturdy Road, followed by rows of cars and pickup trucks heading to Graceland cemetery.
Yes, it delayed us the five minutes it took for those cars to pass. Yes, we could have continued to drive without violating the law. But peering out the window at the tightened faces of the mourners, I learned something about empathy. About respect. About being part of a community.
The last car in the funeral procession passed, then Dad slipped the Suburban into gear and accelerated away. I didn’t ask him why he had pulled over. I didn’t need to.