“What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
I went to a memorial service yesterday at the Unitarian Church on “Holy Corners” in the Central West End.
You can see the Christian Scientist and Methodist churches in the background, built in better days around the turn of the 20th century.
The Unitarian Church was built on a more humble scale and added to accordingly. It turns out it was the church of William Greenleaf Eliot, the founder of my flyover university and also of the girls’ school I attended. Not that he would recognize this congregation.
Anyway, I had never been to a Unitarian memorial service before. The music was pretty bad and there was only one scripture reading–a terrible translation of Psalm 39–and one prayer. (We never even said the Lord’s Prayer.) The minister gave a long homily about the mystery of life and how everything dies, and a long eulogy about the deceased, and the husband of the deceased gave a long eulogy. Like her parents, she was a lifelong member of the church and a serious Unitarian and social justice warrior. She and her husband were also big supporters of their partner church in Transylvania–yes, there are Unitarians in Transylvania! They are the second largest group of Unitarians in the world! It is amazing what one doesn’t know about people.
Well, it all got me thinking about old Walt Whitman’s lines about death in Song of Myself, which seem very Unitarian in spirit to me but are more meaningful than anything I heard in the service. I like to think that my friend is alive and well somewhere, although I guess that’s not what she expected.
*The painting is “Moonlight” by Fausto Zonaro (1854 – 1929)