Years ago at a party, I asked a friend how many people in the room — in her opinion — had a Barry Manilow CD at home.
“Everybody has one,” she said.
I asked around.
It turns out she was the only person in the room who owned one.
I still remember the look on her face.
Her look said, “Please pass me the big, red rubber nose.”
Her look said, “What happened to the world I thought I knew and loved?”
Recently, I found myself in my friend’s shoes.
Only my “big, red nose moment" involved funeral songs and religious faith.
I had thought the world and I were waltzing together in perfect step.
Turns out, I was waltzing. The world seems to be doing some crazy mambo.
It started when I found a quiz online. The question said: “Name the Top 10 Funeral Songs Today.”
I decided to take a shot.
I put down “Amazing Grace” first, since I knew that was the most popular hymn in America. Then I added “How Great Thou Art,” “Nearer My God to Thee” and a couple of upbeat, Christian pop anthems I thought the younger set might choose.
Then I checked the list.
What happened to world I thought I knew and loved?
Please pass me the big, red nose.
The top funeral song on the list was Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” a declaration of self-importance and self-interest. Even Sinatra said he hated the song.
Second was “Time to Say Goodbye” — the Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli duet.
Nat Cole’s “Unforgettable” was on there. So were “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
There was, indeed, a song associated with the Titanic, but not “Nearer My God to Thee.” The song was “My Heart Will Go On,” performed by Celine Dion.
Apparently at modern funerals, faith had taken a holiday. At modern funerals, the word "heaven" was in bad taste.
I leaned back.
For years, some of my friends have been trying to tell me we live in a "post-Christian” era. I thought they were engaging in wishful thinking.
Now I had to wonder, was I the wishful thinker?
Had everyone else been spirited away in some kind of Secular Humanist Rapture, leaving me behind?
At funerals — times of tremendous longing, love and hope — I found it hard to believe the deepest feelings people today could summon was Sinatra crooning the line:
“I’ve had my fill, my share of losing,
"And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing.”
What did that say about us?
If our best answer to the blood of our dead soldiers, the tears of heart-broken parents and our own profound grief was Sinatra’s amused smile, how jaded had we become?
I knew some of my secular friends saw me as a fuddy-duddy, as a man trapped in the past and given to fantasy, but if the songs I saw on that list were the hallmark of the new "post-Christian America” that awaits us, I knew there was one name my friends could never call me.
They could never call me shallow.
They seemed determined to wear that one themselves.