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More Respect, Less Speed

 If you think about it, it’s a very ugly phrase: fast food. The meaning isn’t just that you can buy the food quickly, but that you can eat it quickly too. On the move, without wasting time. Because who wants to waste time just for food?

 Well, the French and Italians do. They think food is too important to be rushed. You should take your time, enjoy the flavours and the company you have. They don’t like the “greed for speed” of the English-speaking world, where people want to do things as quickly and conveniently as possible. In France and Italy, they think that living like that is foolish and self-defeating. You don’t enjoy life and you lose sight of what’s important.

But the greed for speed has affected more than just the way we eat in modern Britain. What about the lack of respect shown today to funeral processions? Fifty years ago it would have been very hard to believe that people could honk their horns impatiently at a slow-moving hearse or break up a procession by pulling out before it has passed. But many funeral directors today can tell stories about behaviour like that – and worse. Do people have no understanding of the etiquette required?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Although all drivers should learn how to behave when they encounter a funeral procession, too many of them don’t learn the rules or forget them. At worst, they simply don’t care. But how difficult is it to understand why a funeral procession is moving slowly? It’s a mark of respect to the deceased and the mourners. Losing a loved one is very painful. It can leave us filled with violent and chaotic emotions of bewilderment, loss, disbelief and even guilt and anger.

At times like that, we often want the world around us to be calm, orderly and silent. That’s why funerals have been traditionally associated with dark colours and slow movement. It’s both a mark of respect to the deceased and a way of helping the mourners to deal with their emotions. In the old days, when transport was pulled by horses, a funeral procession wouldn’t travel at a brisk trot but a slow walk. The horses’ hooves might be muffled by wrapping them in cloth or by strewing the road with straw.

After the shift from horses to petrol power, this tradition of slow movement and little noise stayed strong. A hearse might have a powerful engine, but it doesn’t zoom to the church or crematorium, its engine roaring and tires squealing. Instead, the hearse drives slowly and carefully, keeping an air of dignity and calm. Why is that so difficult for some people to understand? It may not be simply ignorance and impatience: sometimes selfishness is at work too. Community bonds have loosened in the modern world and many people no longer care about showing respect to others.

When they show their disrespect by honking at a funeral procession or driving inconsiderately, that’s obviously bad for the grieving friends and relatives. But it’s also bad for the disrespectful person, because it means that they are missing an opportunity to reflect on some very important things. A funeral procession has a message for everyone. It should be a time for both respect and reflection. We should show respect to the deceased person and the mourners, recognizing the value of the life that has ended.

But we should also reflect on our mortality. One day, sooner or later, our own funeral will arrive. Are we making the best use of the time that remains to us? Will people be truly sorry to see us go? A funeral procession should make us think. And one message it sends may be particularly valuable today: speed is not everything.