It's a pretty standard tie as far as ties go, I guess. It's got some reds, some blues, some other colors in between. Sort of an all-purpose tie that can go with most any shirt and suit.
But for me, this tie is reserved for those occasions when I'm officiating a funeral. Which may sound strange, unless you know the story of how I came to get this tie. Which I'm getting ready to tell you right now.
Five years ago on a Tuesday around noon, I was sitting in a fun little diner a few blocks down the street from the church where I used to work. Enjoying a nice leisurely lunch - chef salad, to be exact - when my phone rings. I see it's the local funeral home calling, so I know it's probably not a good thing. It's Bob on the other line. Bob is the third-generation owner of the local funeral home in Mount Airy, a wonderful member of my church and an all-around good guy. As I suspect, my services are being requested. An older lady who used to be fairly active years ago but had not been to church in a while. Her children, knowing her previous ties to the church, have asked me to officiate the service. This sort of thing is not uncommon in my line of work so of course I tell Bob I'm happy to.
"When's the service," I say, as I stick my fork in the salad and lift it to my lips.
A sigh and then Bob says, "Half an hour."
I drop my fork.
In case you're wondering, this never happens. No one really plans a funeral in advance - it's not like a wedding - but when the funeral home does call you can just about count on a good 3-4 days. Two if the family is pushing it. But a 30-minute heads up? Nope. Absolutely never happens. Well, not until now.
Bob tells me he's sorry. Bob tells me they told the family when they met three days ago that it was their responsibility to secure the minister; it's always the family's responsibility to secure the minister. And I believe Bob because he runs a first-rate funeral home and no way would they leave out this important detail. No, the family had totally not heard them.
The date had been set days before, the obituary sent out, and now the service is in half an hour. He knows he's putting me in a tight spot but says he has no choice. Can I do it? I tell him yes and that I'd see him in 20 minutes.
I hang up. Don't panic, I tell myself. You got this. Somehow. Think. Process this out. What do you need to do to make this happen in 30.......wait, 29 minutes? The clock really is ticking.
So here's what I do.
I take one last bite of the salad (I was almost done anyway) and leave some cash on the table to pay for it and the tip.
As I walk out the door I whip out my cell and make two calls. The first is to a men's clothing store right up the street, almost halfway between my lunch place and the church, run by another good Presbyterian. I need a tie, you see, and hadn't worn one that day. I hardly ever wear ties during the week, unless I happen to have..... well, a funeral. Which I didn't know I was going to have when I rolled out of bed earlier that morning. Because that'd be, what, six whole hours notice? An eternity, practically.
John answers the phone. "Hey John, this is Steve. I need you to do me a big favor. I'm going to be outside your store in two minutes. I'm in kind of a hurry; I'll explain later. Can you meet me out there with two ties that go with the light blue oxford pinstripe shirt I'm wearing?" He tells me he'd be happy to.
I hang up and place a second call to our church secretary. "Lynn, hi it's me. I need you to do something for me kinda quick. Can you print off a copy of a bulletin from one of our recent funerals?"
"Sure," she says, a little puzzled. "But which one?"
"Doesn't matter," I reply before she finishes asking. "Any one is fine."
I hang up with Lynn right about the time I get to the men's clothing store, and John is there as promised with two ties. I can't even remember what the other one looked like or why I chose the one I did. But I take it from him, barely breaking stride, thank him profusely and ask him to put it on my account.
I keep walking as I put the tie on - which must've been quite the sight for someone strolling down Main St. What's that crazy Presbyterian minister doing now? When I get to the church, Lynn has the bulletin ready cause she's awesome. I fill her in as I grab my robe out of my closet. She stares at me incredulously.
I make it to the funeral home in seventeen minutes. Bob introduces me to the family, I tell them I'm terribly sorry for their loss, we say a prayer and head into the funeral home chapel for the service. Say nothing about the thirty minute notice, because really, what would've been the point? It's not my most personal funeral for obvious reasons. But in the end a person's life is celebrated, the family is comforted and all goes well. That's what matters.
And if nothing else, I get a nice tie out of the whole thing. Which, sadly, I'm having to wear a lot these days. At least I have a good story to go with it.