Friday, March 14, 2008

All Souls Day

I know, it's not November 2. I, too, have a calendar but on occasion I have a memory as well. As a kid, I understood Halloween was the American way of spelling Hallow e'en, and that stood for All Hallows Eve. As a FARC, I'm aware that, now called All Saints' Day, it's 1 November (and a Holy Day of Obligation). Growing up you knew better than to ignore The Holy days (automatic ticket to Hell), as the nuns drilled you on the checklists that are so much a part of being a Catholic (you can be a terrible person but don't miss Mass. You can be Mother Teresa but if you have a ham sandwich on a Friday during Lent, you're toast). Like being raised as if Battleship were some kind of a religion.

The day we all skipped over was the day after All Saints' Day, November 2nd, All Souls' Day. It's a day, Monsignor Harding used to explain to us to remember the souls of all the faithfully departed and to pray for them. The implication was that the departed souls not yet in heaven with the Church Triumphant, needed the prayers of us in Church Militant in order to transcend their status as Church Suffering and get to The Show, so to speak. I was never clear on how long in Purgatory a good person, but not exactly a Saint, might spend before getting promoted or how we here on earth helped make this happen.

The part that stuck with me was the idea of thinking about (and praying for) all the people in your life you'd ever known. I'm still a little unsure how much of an afterlife I believe in. As I get older, faster (everyday it feels), I'm getting concerned that I need to make up my mind and suspect I'll come down on the 'safer bet' side of the equation. After all, imagine the embarrassment of dying and meeting a God whose existence, during life, you doubted. Talk about awkward. Of course, brown-noser that I am, I'd point out 'I'm not H. L. Mencken' which should get me closer to a table away from the stove in the kitchen.

I always wondered about the souls who had died long ago, like in the Dark Ages and who had no one to pray for them (which is why All Souls' Day was a catch-all of sorts). That, in turn, led me yesterday, in on-line correspondence with an acquaintance, to think about all the people he and I worked with when we were in the same unit in Germany. We weren't there at the same time and I'm not really sure if we ever met in person (we could have, based on when we were both living there), but between us we covered about two decades of American Forces Radio in a world very different from the ones we now live in, he in Colorado and me in Connecticut.

We exchanged remembrances about Gisela and Walt; about Herr Loehr, in the record library, and the two women who worked in the library after Gisela retired, and the folks in the news tank and that, in turn, led me to those whom only I (perhaps in all of this earth) could remember.
There was Woody who was some kind of a biker crazy from Ohio (maybe?) who worked in TV Operations and Tim, a technical director, who dated a woman who married another guy on the staff. And Mike, who met and married Anne, an Englishwoman who worked in logistics on the third floor and who got out of the Army to set the world on fire as a comedian, never to be heard from again (Atlantic City can do that to you, I guess). There was Chris, who met his wife through my wife and me and with whom he had two lovely children. He moved them and himself home to California after she died of cancer decades too soon, leaving a hole in his heart that has never healed.

And the scariest thing about remembering all of these people, some of whom were friends when the definition was more flexible and forgiving than it is now, is what happens to them when the last person who knows them stops thinking about them? None of them have a monument anywhere, and there are no streets or city squares named in their honor (that I know of) and if we are, as a species, the sum total of our experiences and consciousnesses, what happens when the last person who remembers Walt Mateis passes from the earth?
Those of us with children like to think we live on through them which helps, except what about those whose children are gone, or who never were (Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia) and never will be? Faith is belief in the absence of proof and sometimes despite it. Sometimes each of us are one another's reason to believe.
-bill kenny

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