April 20th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN)–I saw a 16-year-old girl buried Thursday.
At the prayer service, her younger brother, weeping, choked on his words.
Her younger sister told us not to be sad.
Her father said, “I believe in God, I believe in God, I believe in God,” perhaps because he was no longer so sure, or maybe just for emphasis.
Her mother said that parents are not supposed to bury their children, and then she did.
A gaggle of high school girls dressed in black hung onto each other, each registering a different sort of shock, a different measure of loss.
Someone read from Emily Dickinson (“Because I could not stop for Death,/ He kindly stopped for me”) and then Kahil Gibran:
Readings from scripture reminded us that death comes to every living thing, including ourselves.
On this day that scripture was the Quran. We gathered in a mosque. We said our prayers in English and Arabic. And when we were told that everything comes from and returns to God, the name of that god was Allah.
Since 9/11, some Americans have projected their fears and anxieties onto the faces of America’s Muslims. As I stood to pray in the mosque and as I knelt in the cemetery to throw dirt onto a simple wooden coffin, I found myself wishing that some of those Americans were with me today, looking into the faces of these Muslims bearing up under the weight of grief.
I wished they were there as we prayed silently in the mosque, each in our own way. I wished they were there in the cemetery as a woman sang softly from a chapter of the Quran in a voice closer to the angels than anything I have ever heard.
We were women and men in mourning. We were black and white, young and old, East Asian and Middle Eastern. We were dressed in suits, or not. We wore head coverings, or not. Some of us were Muslims, Jews, or Christians. Some were none of the above.
A few were stoic. Most were not. A young woman with blue and purple hair sobbed uncontrollably. An older woman laughed and smiled, perhaps because she could not bear the alternative.
To each his own, when it comes to mourning, I suppose. But when it comes to sickness and death, we are in this thing together. We all inhabit these soft bodies. We all make mistakes with them. And after there are no more mistakes to be made we all die like human beings.
To be sure, we are remembered in different ways. Some of us are buried. Some are cremated. Some are reborn to the chants of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Some are ushered into heaven on the wings of the words of The Book of Common Prayer. But death itself is shared.
We may live as women or Muslims or Americans or conservatives or rich folk or artists or New Englanders, but when we die we die like human beings do.
Immortality comes to none of us.
Death comes to all.
Here at least we are united.
Why not in life as well?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.