When you take the audio-tape tour of the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge you learn that the early Puritan grave yards were stark and almost brutal in their reminder that death is the ultimate goal of every life, and so one had prepare for it. The Puritan cemetery was a place of warnings. It was not a spot where one would linger long. However, by the early part of the Nineteenth Century, (when Mt. Auburn was founded) Unitarianism and Universalism were the dominant religious influences in this area. They (we) believed that when we die we are enfolded into a larger reality, which supports and teaches the living. They envisioned their cemetery as a “community” of the dead to support the living. For many decades it actually functioned as a park and a picnic ground and it still functions as a place where the past instructs the future about its values.
It is a good thing to remember those who have gone before us and what we have learned from them. If we think about thankfulness we tend to think about what we immediately have been given. We take inventory of the various and sundry good things and bad things that have come into our lives recently. And we make a silent judgment as to how thankful we really feel. I’m not sure if in this calculation it really occurs to us how many shoulders we stand on, and now much gratitude we owe to other people.
Who nurtured our sense of humor? Who encouraged us as learners? Who instilled our recognition that there is such a thing as injustice, and who taught us to fight it no matter the cost? Who loved us into believing in ourselves? Who first encouraged us to venture ourselves in love (it may well have been someone whose name we only vaguely remember now?) Who ran alongside of our first two-wheeler until we learned to balance it on our own? Who kept tossing balls to us until we actually learned to catch them? Who sat with us when we were desperately homesick and encouraged us not to give in to it? When bullies invaded our lives, who told us with an air of considerable authority, “Don’t pay any attention to them”?
Most of us have been the recipients of incredible generosity, and we may have received it as something we sort of expected or thought was our due. In truth, there aren’t enough Thanksgivings to go around for us to acknowledge the people who have contributed to our lives – most of whom do not know to this day what they created for us. –Rev. John Nichols