Perhaps you know the beloved hymn that begins: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest; who thee by faith before the world confessed. Thy name most holy, be forever blest, alleluia – alleluia.”
It was a British school hymn written by Ralph Vaughn Williams, now used in Unitarian Universalist ceremonial occasions to honor those leaders gone or to recognize those among us who have changed our lives. I love the song, even more so because, 24 years ago, my father exited life on November 1st – All Saints Day – and I think of him when I sing it. This Celtic holiday of All Saints Day, which follows All Hallows Eve (Samhain, or Halloween) marks the time when the veil between life and death are said to be the thinnest…it is the time of the dying of the year, to be followed by rebirth and regeneration.
The day that follows All Saints Day is called All Souls Day, and it parallels the holiday celebrated in Latin culture particularly, the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos), recognizing all those among us who have gone on to mystery and dust, yet are honored by us who remain on earth – as well as the gifts they left behind.
I hated losing my father – I adored him and he was (ask anyone who knew him) a great though completely ordinary person: social worker, child of immigrants, dedicated to working with children and teenagers, devoted to the Red Sox, hot dogs, his family, and living the American dream. It seems appropriate to honor him on All Saints Day because he has been, for me, that person – ordinary yet revered for all he taught me and offered me.
This year, another person lies at the cusp of this turning year, preparing to transcend the veil and join the Saints. She is Denny Davidoff (left), former Moderator of the Unitarian Universalist Association, former PR and Advertising maven, fund raiser extraordinaire for Meadville Lombard Theological School, and my friend and mentor for thirty years. Denny has metasticized melanoma and soon, she will leave us. She shaped all that I am and do, professionally, and was and is an extraordinary friend and inspiration to and for me. To say that I will miss her doesn’t come close.
I am spending part of this day – as I have each day since I have heard the news about Denny’s final chapter – thinking about her, her many contributions to Unitarian Universalism, and the ways in which she both supported, encouraged, sometimes butt-kicked, and influenced me. I will continue for a long time in this way, because there is much to consider and I honor her in remembering these pieces of who she is, and was. And today I honor my father as well, remembering his life and his gifts to me, which I now carry forward to share with my loved ones.
It is All Saints Day. On November 2 it will be All Souls Day. I hope that, at this liminal time in the wheel of life, you will take a few moments to think about those who have influenced you, who have passed on or are preparing for this transition, remembering that in naming and holding their memory, they are “forever blest.”
Interim Director of Religious Education