Today is a big day in a small way. I’ll be speaking at a Unitarian church, which, in itself, is nothing unusual. But today I’m going to try to accomplish something that has been weighing on me for several years. Those of you who have read Calm Surrender will remember the chapter, Candles on the Grave.
In that piece I tell the story of a woman who holds a vigil at the grave of a child. Since the writing of the piece, and because of it, I have gotten to know her. I have also gotten involved with the local cemetery board, which has forced her to take down the decorations that were her way of honoring the memory of the child she had lost. It has not been a pretty time, because the ruling of the cemetery board, and their paternalistic attitude, have been as cold as the stones that they insist are the only acceptable way to memorialize the death of a loved one.
I have talked to them, written to them, written columns in local papers, but all to no avail. So I have given up fighting with people who will not be moved, and have chosen, instead, to try to get a headstone for the grave.
The family is not well off — I have said before that we live in a small town far from any “economic boom” that is ostensibly taking place in this country — and the woman barely makes ends meet by being a cashier at Wal-Mart. She and her family were never able to get a headstone, and that was part of the reason they decorated and kept a vigil at the grave.
Today, this may all begin to change. Unbeknownst to her, I have spoken to a granite works that produces headstones and have gotten the costs for a simple stone with a photo of the child and an attached votive lamp in which she can keep a candle burning, as is her wont. It will cost us many hundreds of dollars, but at least it can be done.
So, today, at the Unitarians, I will begin my efforts to collect the funds for this headstone. The woman is coming along to help me tell the story, but she is unaware of my plan. She thinks this is just about telling the story of the death and the struggle for redemption that has taken place in her heart. She is quite unaware that this is about a larger redemption — for all of us, and for the community as a whole.
I firmly believe that we are all called to live a life of service. But very often, the service is not something we choose, so much as something that chooses us. This particular small act has chosen me. It chose me on the day I first saw that grave with its decorations and wondered what it was all about. It has been mine ever since, waiting for me to have the courage and initiative to make the gesture that it demands.
Today is the day. I’ll write and tell you how things went in my next entry. In the meantime, go read the selection entitled, “Candles on the Grave.” It will bring you into the story and let you be part of something that I am hoping will be pretty special.