Remembering the Dead

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I have posted excerpts from Abbie Graham’s, Ceremonials of Common Days before.

This little book is almost a century old, and while not overtly religious is one of the most spiritually healing books I own. Graham is not well-known. I had never heard of her when I plucked this book on a whim at a library book sale. Without that happy chance, I am certain I’d go through my life never knowing her. This book that calms me, inspires me, provokes my creativity and gives me hope in the dark, I almost passed by.

At this time of the year, Halloween/All Saints/All Souls/Dia de los Muertos, when the recently dead and the ancestors call out for remembrance, Graham has this to say to me. I hope it is meaningful all around.

 

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When the kingdoms of the world have passed before me, I close my eyes that I may perceive that mightier kingdom, the kingdom of the spirit. I re-see people in terms of spiritual values.

I see people in human forms and all of the material creation as scaffolding for the spirit. When the human spirit is ready to be launched on the infinite seas, the scaffolding will be thrown aside and the spirit will slip out to sea, unencumbered, yet grateful it will be for the things of the earth that prepared it for its long voyage. All things will be hallowed that helped to shape it for that eternal launching.

Sacred, for me, will be the western prairies, the mountain streams, the lake paths, the sunrises seen above neighboring chimneys, the quiet walks along a village street, the gardens, the fragrance of old-fashioned flowers, the moonlight falling in my room, and rain at night with trees blowing.

How much these things and others shall have shaped my spirit, I shall not know, but of their daily fashioning I am aware. As my spirit, dominant and eternally adventurous, shall enter the vast seas, I shall not forget the sacramental service of the scaffolding of earth.

To all the newly departed, I say, “Bon Voyage!”

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First it was Called Decoration Day

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After the Civil War soldiers and other family members would go to their local cemetery and decorate the graves of their fallen comrades and relatives with flowers. After the First World War, all war dead were honored in what came to be called Memorial Day.

 

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Decoration Day Parade 1870, St. Paul, Minnesota

 

On this day we remember the fallen who gave their lives for the ideals of an America they believed in. May their ultimate sacrifice not be in vain.

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National Monument for Military Working Dogs. They are honored as fallen soldiers, too.

 

We must never forget the goals and aims of what our Founders envisioned for this ‘great experiment,’ no matter how dark the days may seem.

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Decoration Day
Sleep, comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentry’s shot alarms!
Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannon’s sudden roar,
Or the drum’s redoubling beat.
But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.
All is repose and peace,
Untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!
Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.
Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.
                              — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

By the Waters of Babylon, Emma Lazarus, 1887

For the Fourth of July, 2017

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Vast oceanic movements, the flux and reflux of immeasurable tides, oversweep our continent.

From the far Caucasian steppes, from the squalid Ghettos of Europe,

From Odessa and Bucharest, from Kief and Ekaterinoslav,

Hark to the cry of the exiles of Babylon, the voice of Rachel mourning for her children, of Israel lamenting for Zion.

And lo, like a turbid stream, the long-pent flood bursts the dykes of oppression and rushes hitherward.

Unto her ample breast, the generous mother of nations welcomes them.

The herdsman of Canaan and the seed of Jerusalem’s royal shepherd renew their youth amid the pastoral plains of Texas and the golden valleys of the Sierras.

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In the Sierras. Onion Valley, I believe.

 

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(When I was looking for a poem for this holiday, I liked that this one deals with America as mother to refugees, which is both a historical idea and modern controversy. But it’s also personal…my mother’s side of the family came from Ekaterinoslav, as Lazarus describes above).