Several years ago I was in a play called “Voices from the Mountain,” which was set in Appalachia in the late 1800s. As our theater company prepared the production, we learned from a ‘tradition-bearer’ from western North Carolina of the family practice of Decoration Day…a day when families would prepare a picnic lunch, get out one of their quilts, gather flowers, and head up the hill to the town cemetery to clean the graves, lay flowers on them, and celebrate the lives of the dear ones now gone. The day ended with singing and dancing and with a large communal meal. It is a much-loved annual tradition in Appalachia, and, as the sign on one of the trees near a cemetery suggests, there is much to be learned of how a community regards its people by how it honors them when they depart this life.
So I am touched by these customs as I note that this weekend is Memorial Day, a holiday created to allow us to remember those who have offered this country military service and who have passed on. But I also know that the holiday has become more than that – a time, at least for me, to remember those in my family and extended family who blessed us with their presence, and a time to think about those who shaped this faith tradition of Unitarian Universalism that we share.
I’ll be going to Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine this weekend, camping in the Grove, lying on the beach, reading, breathing in the sea air I love. I know that I will spend time in the chapel in the woods that is part of Ferry Beach…a space where one can sit quietly, look up at the majestic pines, meditate, and remember Rev. Quillen Hamilton Shinn, the Universalist missionary who, along with other contemporary bearers of the faith, traveled this country to preach a gospel of inclusion. Shinn and others built the Universalist camp and conference center I love, so it is right that we remember him as we reap blessings from the seeds he planted.
Perhaps you, too, will take such a moment this weekend, whether on the beach at Cape Cod, while you are in the garden, hiking a mountain, or taking a walk in the woods. As Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” May it be so with us.