The Coal Miner's Lament

The pastor was standing by the casket when the men filed in the front door. He knew they had come to pay their respects. This was a coal-mining country and the deceased had spent a good part of his life underground. Most of the adult men in this small West Virginia community had done the same. It was a close-knit community and everybody knew each other.

Black lung had been the cause of his death. Something common for the miners to have. Breathing the fine coal dust particles did irreparable damage to their lungs. He knew it was the cause of his death. He had seen it many times and had been called in to do the service for several of them, including members of his own church.

Now he watched as the men did something unusual. He thought it was strange that they would come to the service with their work clothing on. Looking closer, he saw that their coveralls were clean, many of them had patches and sewn-up rips, so he knew they weren’t coming straight from work. They had their work boots on and on their heads were their carbide lamps. They gathered around each other and did something that amazed him. They lit their lamps.

As if on command, each man approached the casket with tears in his eyes, bowed his head, raised his hand to his brim, and slowly dimmed his lamp until it went out.You could hear a pin drop in that funeral home. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen as each man paid his respects to his friend in the same way. Each man, after his lamp went out, returned to the back of the room and stood with his hat by his side.

The pastor approached the lectern, stood, and bowed his head. After a couple of minutes of deliberating, he spoke.

“That concludes the service,” he announced while stepping away from the lectern. He knew there was nothing he could say that could express what the men had shown any better.

That service was talked about for many years. It brought grown men to their knees. It was amazing!  Men, hardened by their lives spent in the mines and taverns, repented and found Christ. Marriages were restored and families were reunited. All because of the love and respect those men had for their friend. The symbolic dimming of their lamps to represent and honor the soul and spirit of the man flickering out was special, something not to be forgotten. And it never was.

February 18, 2022

Photograph Courtesy of Pixabay