On November 19, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the Gettysburg cemetery to all those “brave men, living and dead, who struggled here.”
No matter what one’s religious faith, no matter what one’s ethnic origins, no matter what one’s status in life, all are filled with inspiration by Lincoln’s memorial address. From the distant past, he announces that it is now for us, the living, to be dedicated to “the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
As we honor the dead, Lincoln invites us to ponder more deeply our own lives, our own purpose and our own dedication to a genuine, lasting peace and freedom for all peoples.
This whole autumn season evokes similar memories and gratitude for those who have passed on before us. In fact, November is the month “par excellence” for remembrance and for thanksgiving.
In some traditions, folks pray for the “dearly departed” — on All Souls Day, November 2. As a nation, we recently commemorated the many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation – Veteran’s Day, November 11.
Now this may sound strange, but I’ve read obituaries for years and years…. They are often very moving and certainly reveal people’s lives, values and commitments. Most often, families offer special tributes and gratitude for their loved ones.
Recently, when I have been scanning these obits (come on – some days I am bored), I zeroed in on burial practices. Over the last three-week period… I sorta made a game out of it…. I tracked the funeral practices recorded in The Seattle Times. Only 40-60 percent – it varied by the week — were to be buried from a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Many noted a memorial for the deceased at a country club, yacht club, memorial park, a funeral home or a simple graveside service. About 10 percent said, “At the request of the deceased, there will be no service.”
While I am no fan of funerals AT ALL, I still found this “request” somewhat anomalous. With lots of due respect, I somehow don’t think it is up to the deceased to make that choice… come on you are dead – what do you care??? What does your family want? This one is a very hard one for me… I just want nothing…. zip, nada…. …. It is time for me to let go – then. I have come to terms with the fact that my family might want something else… so, we compromised… no funeral, but a remembrance party…. I am ok with thatThe memorial (however you decide) is not for you, but for the living, for those who need to mourn their loss, for those who need to express their affection and care for the loved one and, as appropriate, give thanks to the universe for the graces that flowed through this person’s life…(hey, I am not referring to me, here….).
I did a similar survey (still very random and totally unscientific) of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, land of my origins (well most of them)… not the Lake Wobegon, but nearer to LaCrosse, WI. I am getting off track… you get what I mean, right? Anyway, in this land of Lutherans especially, but also Catholics, Methodists, Evangelicals and other religious traditions (now including Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) close to 90 percent of those who died had a religious service. So the contrast between the two regions highlights how many people in the Northwest are “unaffiliated” with any religious tradition. Hmmmmmmmm is all I can say…. or maybe interesting…. Very off track, but interesting, huh?
As we recall the lives of our loved ones, our hearts move naturally toward gratitude, which probably is the best preparation we can make for Thanksgiving. As we gather around tables of abundance, we hear echoes again of Abraham Lincoln who was the first president to make Thanksgiving a national holiday for remembrance and thanksgiving.
Have a good Thanksgiving, folks…..