Joe Eyestone is a real “Minnesota Man.”
Joe Eyestone is a real “Minnesota Man.”
It would have been really easy to not attend the funeral last Friday. It was a very busy trip to St. Paul, with a lot of scheduled events and in between doing the seemingly endless errands. However, this memorial service was for a very special person, and attending it just naturally moved up to the list of must-dos.

My friend, Joe, was my trainer when I was a new employee at the big airline almost 48 years ago. He was what I later learned is a "Minnesota Man." He was the epitome of gentle, kind and patient. He was honest, trustworthy and filled with integrity. It was a joy to have known him - and all the other Minnesota Men that I know and have known - and a privilege to be able to attend his memorial service.

It was in the middle of that service that I remembered some advice I had heard, and even wrote a page in this diary about it (Oct. 23, 2006). I had been listening to public radio and heard a segment of "This I Believe," a show that had been originally hosted by Edward R. Murrow and ran in the 1950s. According to the NPR website, at that time we were "a country worried about the cold war, McCarthyism and racial division. As in the 1950s, this is a time when belief is dividing the nation and the world," according to program host Jay Allison. "We are not listening well, nor understanding each other." The goal in reviving the show "is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs....it is to foster respect for beliefs different from their own."

Part of what I wrote in 2006 bears repeating: "The essay I had heard when I was driving on that Monday was by Deirdre Sullivan, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. She started out, 'I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.' She said that the first time he said it directly to her she was trying to get out of going to the visitation for one of her grade school teachers. Her father did not budge: 'You're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.' But even before that, her parents had been taking her and her siblings to funerals and always on the way home, her father would say to them, 'You can't come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.'

"'Sullivan went on to explain that her dad's expression means a lot more than just getting into the car and going to the service or to the visitation. Instead, she has made it into a personal philosophy that has affected many aspects of her life. It means that 'I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it....I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party.'

"Sullivan listed a few other events that it would be easy to skip or things one would rather not do. I would include eating the untouched dish at a potluck.

"Sullivan adds, 'In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing. In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.'

"She is so right. Too often, what for us is a minor inconvenience, going just a little bit out of our way to help someone else or to show them we care, is a huge thing for the other person. Convenience has become one of our culture's top values, and we prioritize almost everything as to whether or not it is convenient for us personally. In the meantime, we forget what might be really important for the other person or for the community as a whole.

"Sullivan ended her essay by telling about a time when others did something for her that might not have been convenient: they attended her beloved father's funeral on a Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of a workweek. She said, 'The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.'"

Sullivan could have been talking about Joe; I think he always did the right thing, convenient or not. He could never have written that essay, however, because he was also a humble person. In fact, I think he would have been surprised to have seen a building full and overflowing with "inconvenienced" people on a beautiful fall afternoon who were there to show respect and admiration for him. I think he might have been embarrassed to hear all the beautiful things people had to say about him.

Yes, Joe was a true Minnesota Man who would never forget to "always go to the funeral." That is timeless advice.