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One of the illuminating things about living in a country with a truly free press is what we learn about our fellow citizens — especially when the pressure is on.

Take the big flap that erupted over where they were going to bury the punk who bombed the Boston Marathon.

Before they’d snuck off to Virginia with the body of the man with the unpronounceable name, pretty much everyone in the greater Boston area was carrying signs and foaming at the mouth about how they didn’t want the remains of HIS kind anywhere in their ground.

In fact, according to a story in the Boston Globe, the good folks living around the rural Virginia hamlet weren’t exactly thrilled with the news either.

According to a May 11 Globe story, “One local man heard about the burial on the news and drove near the site. But he did not want to see the grave, saying if he did, he would spit on it. ‘They should have burned him and sent him back to his mama,’ said Wayne Pierce, a 61-year-old restaurant owner. ‘I just can’t believe this. I don’t know how they slipped him in like this.’”

OK, hold it right there. This is not going to be a discussion about whether those who set off bombs and kill innocent people are evil, or should be forgiven, or anything like that.

But why should I, you — or anybody else — care where they bury somebody?

Has burial suddenly become an endorsement of the dead person’s deeds? Comments from some of the Virginia neighbors revealed an even more hideous aspect to it. More than just the fact that the guy was a killer, they also made quite a to-do about his religion, an especially unbecoming side effect of unbridled free speech.

“He’s a Muslim; we don’t need that here,” 68-year-old Margaret Stevens was quoted as saying. “All that stuff started in Boston. It’s just not right. They shouldn’t have brought him. It didn’t happen here. I don’t care what they do with him as long as they don’t bury him here.”

So, did those people think this dead Muslim was going to be preaching from the grave, trying to convert good old all-American Christians?

This is also not about religion, so get that thought right out of your head. You can believe in whatever deity you want — or none whatsoever — and it doesn’t change my attitude about this harassment of the dead.

They’re dead, for cryin’ out loud.

But we do get some hilarious notions about the dead, don’t we?

My mom, for instance, made it clear years before she passed how she was extremely concerned that, if she were to be put in a coffin, there needed to be a respectable time before the lid is fastened down, lest her soul get stuck in there and not be able to rise from her body.

As it turned out, she was cremated (as per her wishes), and we poured her ashes off the Alsea Bay Bridge in Waldport. I’m pretty sure her soul floated over Old Town for one last look before flying off to wherever she remains to this day.

The same woman, when she lost a son in childbirth, showed us the burial site she chose outside Albany. She was especially pleased that he was on a little hill, beneath a big tree, with a view of the Coast Range in the distance. Even as a young kid, I seriously wondered about the value of shade and a view for someone who really was no longer there.

We do get crazy ideas in our heads about death, but it’s often said (and correctly so) that the funerals, memorials and the like are for us, the survivors, not the deceased. And, the nice thing about living in a free country is that even people who are not insane get to express themselves.

The same Boston Globe article that handed certain nut cases enough rope to hang themselves also quoted Martha Mullen, a mental health worker who admitted to being grossed out by the protests going on at the funeral home across the street from the Virginia coffee shop she frequented.

“It portrayed America at its worst,” she said. “The fact that people were picketing this poor man who was just trying to help really upset me.”

Mullen said her Christian faith compelled her to assist in the burial. “Jesus says love our enemies,” she told the reporter. “So I was sitting in Starbucks and thought, ‘Maybe I’m the one person who needs to do something.’”

So she did. After some Internet searching, she found the Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, a nonprofit that owned Al-Barzakh Cemetery, which is where they finally planted the bomber and touched off the big debate. It was the dead man’s Uncle Tsarni who paid for the $850 burial plot. Bukhari Abdel-Alim, vice president of Islamic Funeral Services, said his organization had no regrets about its decision to take the body.

“The only regret that I would have is that he wasn’t buried sooner,” he said. “Whether he was Christian, Muslim, Jewish, atheist — when you’re dead, you need to be buried.”

Right on, dude. Spoken like a real American.

Former managing editor of the Times newspapers as well as the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.

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