Yesterday, I led a group memorial service in the park with twelve of the elder school teachers (two still at school, the rest retired) for alums and alum parents who had died in the past two years. We told stories, spoke directly to each of them, sang songs. For about two hours. Lovely and needed.
We began by simply holding hands in a circle and I spoke some opening words about having bumped into many alums and alum parents at various events these past two weeks, how I noticed that each spoke with such warmth about the time we shared together in that marvelous school, what it meant to them and what it meant to their kids and what still echoes on in their lives. It reaffirmed my sense that we are a “forever community.” When I was finally officially granted the title of Master of Ceremonies on the last day of my 45 years at school ( a role I had played for so long without official acknowledgement), I took that as an ongoing job. So having heard about the untimely deaths of two alum students and known about various alum parents denied Memorial Services due to Covid, I decided to convene the elders of the community in our unspoken role as caretakers of the community. Which of course, means honoring the departed as well as welcoming the newborns and celebrating milestone accomplishments.
A few days earlier, I took my small Dell paperback of Wordsworth poems I’ve had since high school ($.40!) and slipped in my pocket as I headed out the door for my daily walk. Turned randomly to a poem I had never read before and worked on memorizing it. Turned out to be the perfect poem for this ceremony. It is more and more clear to me that nothing ever dies, but simply changes form, from matter to energy, from body to spirit, from the visible to invisible. Nothing is “past away,” "what was" still is and forever will abide, only now in new forms that take our effort to remember and call forth.
Most of us who gathered together are in our 60’s and 70’s and I could feel mortality’s presence as each felt that such circles may soon gather for us. We who passed each other daily in the school halls in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and beyond, with our bright eyes looking to the future, day by day, creating this community that sustained us and nurtured children and made a place of welcome for parents, all of us joined in the vision of a world better than the one outside the school gates, now faced with our disappearance, the truth that we shall someday vanish and that that day is so much closer than it used to be. So I love the lines suggesting it is enough if we will but use our remaining time to act, to live and most beautiful of phrases, use our power to “serve some future hour.” To claim our new life as elders, as "caretakers of the forever community."
Here is the poem.
The River Duddon: An afterthought
I thought of thee, my partner and guide
As being past away—vain sympathies!
For backward, oh Duddon, as I cast my eyes,
I see what was and is and will abide.
Still glides the Stream and shall forever glide.
The Form remains, the Function never dies.
While we, the brave, the mighty and the wise,
We, who in the morn of youth defied
The elements, now must vanish- be it so!
Enough, if somehow our hands have power
To live and act and serve some future hour.
And if, as toward the silent Tomb we go,
Through love, through hope and faith's transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.
- William Wordsworth