Above my son’s bed hangs a photograph of him with his beloved Mexican grandfather gazing at him with kind eyes. The picture helps Marco remember his abuelito, who died four years ago.
Another cherished object in our home is a colorful round rug made for Marco by Joan Van Note, who died recently at 92. Joan was one of the most attentive, hospitable and engaging members of the congregation I serve. Yesterday we held a memorial service to celebrate her life and mourn her death.
Today is All Souls Day, a holy day that embodies the memorial service we held yesterday. All Souls Day and El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) remind us that we are part of a broad matrix of relationships, and this celebration is for the purpose of recognizing all souls, not just our own loved ones.
When asked about his religion, William Ellery Channing, the minister whose vision inspired Unitarianism, said: “I am a living member of the great family of All Souls.”
The photograph and the rug are tangible mementos of people my family have loved and lost. We’ve told Marco that his grandfather is both nowhere and everywhere at the same time. “You can think of abuelito and Joan in the glow of the stars and the blaze of the sun, for their love is now a part of the warmth and light that make all life possible.”
When we die, we lose our physical location in the world but our love, our honesty, our integrity and courage, our acts of kindness and compassion -- all ripple forth, and, like our grandfathers and grandmothers, our dear friends and companions that pass, they become a part of the breath of the ancestors that intermingles with everything.
Too often our culture encourages us to forget those who have come before us, leaving us with the mistaken belief that we are the architects of the many blessings we enjoy. The truth is that we sit under trees we did not plant, we use resources we did not create, we build on foundations we did not lay, and we enjoy customs woven from centuries of family traditions.
My son Marco is in the second grade religious education class at the church I serve. The students have been talking about All Souls Day and the Day of the Dead, each child recounting a loss they have experienced – a pet, a grandparent, a friend. Together the children remembered the good things about these loved ones, even though it can feel frightening and sad to understand that they are gone physically from their lives.
This sharing is at the heart of El Dia de los Muertos and extends throughout the year. I love this part of my children’s Mexican heritage. I am hopeful Erica and Marco will know their grandfather through our stories and mementos, better than I knew my grandfather who died when I was five years old. Since discovering this aspect of Mexican culture, I have sought stories of those whose love shape my life and shaped my parents’ and grandparents' lives.
Are we not each a member of the great family of All Souls? If we consider our location amidst humanity, not only in the present moment, but in the generations to come, it is good to recognize whose love has sustained us and whose love we take forward.
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