“Memory Makes Kings and Queens of Us”
A Homily given at First Parish Dorchester All Souls Service, November 5, 2017
By Rev. Tricia Brennan
I don’t know about you, but I really love the extra hour we get this time of year when we turn the clocks back. For 24 hours straight, I feel a lovely sense of ampleness, like I can relax for I have all the time in the world-just because I have this extra, almost magical extra hour of time. It doesn’t hurt that this is- for me- one of the most beautiful times of the year. And so to have an extra hour on an autumn day when it is not yet cold, not yet dark, when it is New England in its richness. Well what could be better.
This fooling around with time, shifting our clocks back and forth twice a year, intrigues me. It’s a grand exercise in collaboration, and for a country that can’t seem to agree on a single thing politically, it is some comfort that we can actually do something in concert, we collectively make the switch and go with the flow, and at least by Monday morning we’ve gotten in sync.
And, it intrigues me because time itself intrigues me. Time is this elastic thing- sometimes it feels like it is speeding along, sometimes barely moving. We mark time in increments of seconds, minutes, hours, days- but what we are marking, really
We are marking life, existence, reality. What we call time is a human overlay that we place on the flow of life. We need to mark it, of course, and to do so is one way we make sense of it all, and not just orderly sense, but meaning sense too. For it is the passing of time, or the passing of life towards death, that gives much meaning and value to our existence.
Not till this weekend did I realize that the timing of this All Souls service and the collaborative shifting of our time-pieces, our clocks of various sorts, is also intriguing. In a fanciful way, I found myself thinking that perhaps this extra hour is our chance to commune with the dead. Perhaps it is our portal, our opening to those who has passed. Our extra magical hour of time with the dead.
Many cultures and faiths take time to remember those who had died- two cultures that I am most familiar with- Irish, my heritage and the Mexican- because I lived in Mexico for a year- think of these as liminal times- when the veil between the living and the dead is thin. That openness to a stronger connection with the dead appeals to me, though I have had no experiences of visitation, like some have. In fact, I’m still waiting for people I’ve loved who died to show up in my dreams. Not yet.
But regardless of visitations, or not, with or without liminal spaces and times, the true portal, or opening, is the heart. The love and life we have shared with those we remember is the thread that connects us through the years and beyond life and death.
And so yes, to taking this hour together to name and remember those who have died, to spend time with our memories, recall these people who mattered to us, and are now gone, speak their names, tell their stories, and be grateful for their presence in our lives. Some were easy relationships, sweet and uncomplicated, some were complex, with memories not all happy. All worthy of remembrance, of sifting through the memories, the stories, the feelings, the glories, the acceptance of who they were and who they were to us.
There is a lot of poetry in this service, for we need poetry when go into the land of dead. We need the poets to shape words to fit the myriad of feelings we have when we spend time recollecting the dead.
“Now the dead move through all of us, still glowing.
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together enflowing
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited,
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
And memory makes kings and queens of us. What a generous line that is. What a generous truth that can be. I’ve been pondering that line.
I think it points to how time and space and love can illuminate those who have died so that we see their essence more clearly even as we soften a bit their hard edges if they had them. It’s okay to do that, I think, to let the majesty of who they were- majestic in their utter uniqueness, No need to dress them up, or pretend they were more than they were, In death, perhaps more than in life, We can be simply remembered for who we were. Enough. For once.
And memory makes kings and queens of us.
Maybe the us is us too. Us the living. For when we take time open the floodgates of memory to those who have died, when their unique contributions to our lives and to our world are recalled, we too are enlarged. When we can see someone else’s nobility, even if it is just a fraction of who they were, we are reminded that we frail and faulty humans have elements of grandeur in our lives. And what we grant to others, we must grant to ourselves too.
When we have been loved well, that love stays in us and with us for as long as we have life and remember those who loved us. When we have been loved less than well, the passage of time can give space for forgiveness and acceptance, though that need not be rushed, it will come on its own timetable. Both the loving and the forgiving enlarge us, soften us, make kings and queens of us.