I had the most interesting experience on Monday that I'd like to tell you all about. As I have been for the last few years, I was invited by the American Legion post on
First of all, I hadn't understood the invitation. I'm always leery of interfaith worship services, by which expression, in my experience, the organizers generally mean a service that is neither overtly Catholic or Protestant, but which is still so wholly Christian as to make me feel uncomfortable. Still, I was assured that this was not an interfaith service, and, indeed, not a prayer service at all, but rather a secular ceremony of remembrance. I should have asked what exactly that meant, but, uncharacteristically (and propelled, I suppose, by a bit of guilt over having turned them down four years in a row), I agreed to attend. Nor did the official title, "Post Everlasting Service" mean anything to me.
Anyway, what it turned out to be was both odd and, in its own way, very moving. The Post Everlasting, it turns out, is the celestial branch of the American Legion to which deceased veterans are promoted after they are no longer among the living and cannot, therefore, belong to earthly branches like the one on Willis Avenue. The way the promotion takes place was also unexpected: they produced a large, black brazier and, after lighting some coals in it, burnt the service records of those veterans who passed away between last Memorial Day and this one, then watched on as the smoke ascended towards heaven. To say the least, I was surprised. But I was also touched by what I saw. This kind of secular religion—if that's what you'd call it—is something I believe to be uniquely American. (The Romans had something similar as part of their culture, but I'm not sure what other nation does today.) Generally speaking, I find the notion of people wanting to do something "religious", but without having to espouse faith in any specific religion (and without having actually to affiliate with a specific synagogue or church) suspect. But this was somehow different. Between the crowd and the guests of honor (among whom I was asked to sit), were thirty symbolic grave markers representing
I was asked to speak. Father Hayden from St. Aiden's Church on