Monday, June 09, 2008

Hamlet, Horatio, and Harvey

I officiated at the funeral of a 93 year-old church member last week. Harvey was a retired postal worker, and a WWII veteran. He participated in the Battle of the Bulge. If you don’t know anything about that, shame on you. It was Hitler’s last ditch effort to win the war. He was defeated, but only after almost 20,000 soldiers were dead, and almost 24,000 were captured. (For more information:

Harvey’s daughter asked me to read a quote from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” It is said to the dying Hamlet by his best friend, Horatio at the end of the play . Basically, the story is a tragedy (some say one of the most influential and powerful tragedies in all of English literature) in which Homer, a prince of Denmark (I didn’t know my town had such a rich history!) takes revenge on his uncle, who poisons Hamlet’s father, takes the throne, and marries Hamlet’s mom.

On this journey through themes of treachery, revenge, incest, and moral corruption, everyone including Hamlet ends up dead except Horatio, Hamlet’s best friend and the voice of sanity throughout the play.

Horatio’s final words to his dying friends were the sentiment Harvey’s daughter
wanted included at the conclusion of the service: Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" - Horatio (V.ii.370-371) After some research (including an emergency email to my former English professor!), I found some important context to the quote that altered my concluding words at the funeral. For even more information on Hamlet, go to:

You see, Horatio wanted to join Hamlet in death, but Hamlet wrestles the poison away from him, bidding Horatio "to live and to help put things right in Denmark!” Here's Hamlet's quote:
"If thou didst ever hold me in they heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story."

Okay, here goes my ruthless slaughter of great literature: Hamlet seems to be saying to Horatio, "
if you really love me, even though you will be sad, and live in the reality of a life which is difficult and painful, you need to remember me and tell my story so people will know what really happened."

I ended the service saying that we are part of Harvey’s legacy, and part of being someone’s legacy is to continue to “tell their story.” The last thing anyone who dies would want is for his or her death to be the emotional/spiritual death of those who are left behind. A better choice is to be grateful for all the love and lessons left behind by someone, and then to continue to share with others the positive impact the person has had on you. Maybe we all need to read a little more Shakespeare!

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