This weekend in America we celebrate Memorial Day. Throughout our country, there are physical memorials to many events – great events in our history. Some of them commemorate beginnings, or important people who did astonishing things… things that benefit us years or even centuries later. But I would venture that most are in memory of events in which many people died, most notably wars. They often bear plaques with a history of the event, often beginning or ending with the words “Lest We Forget.” The idea is not only to remember those who died violently, but to remember the horrors of war in the hopes of preventing them from happening in the future.
Perhaps the first published use of the phrase “Lest We Forget” is found in Rudyard Kipling’s “Recessional,” written in 1897 upon the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The phrase formed the refrain of the five-stanza hymn. It brought attention to the transient nature of all things, even the British Empire’s rule. All things, that is, except God. My spiritual beliefs don’t recognize the existence of the God envisioned by Kipling, but I definitely believe in the permanence of the Spirit – energy that can neither be created nor destroyed. This energy makes up all there is – all that is apparent to the senses, and that which is not – in the vastness of the multiverse.
We’re big on making sure that successive generations remember the things that happened in the past. We begin teaching history to kids in elementary school. We teach it in college. Heck, my husband was a history major! We erect monuments, name edifices, streets and towns and hold parades and ceremonies. We remember the Alamo, the Maine, the Titans. Sorta. And perhaps the most pervasive and widespread memorials we share as a culture are grave markers. We want to be sure that there is a way to mark the resting place of the bodies of those we loved, so that generations that follow will know of their lives and know that they had families who cared enough about them to want their descendants – and even strangers who may happen upon their graves – to remember them. To honor them.
When people talk to me about my bones, they are sometimes creeped out by them, but almost always really really curious. They want to know why I use the animals’ bones, how I can touch them (the “ick” factor), where they came from and how they are harvested. We are taught that bones are gross, that death is to be feared and loathed and avoided at all costs, and that dead bodies are hideous and somehow menacing. It’s true that the decomposition process (and I just lost a certain percentage of readers with that phrase…) smells bad, and draws insects and scavengers. Dead bodies are literally the stuff of horror stories. Why in the world would I want to mess with creepy dead things?
Why? To serve as a Memorial. To channel the wisdom and energy of the creature that was once alive, vital and full of purpose. To honor them.
My bones come from sources I’ve investigated and with which I’m comfortable – or harvested by myself. The commercial source I use most often is Skulls Unlimited. I took a field trip to their Skeleton Museum in Orlando, Florida last November and spoke with a few technicians and investigated the preparation process myself. If you love bones, you treat them with the reverence and respect that they deserve. Recently, I was in a position to harvest a bone for my set. As I was taking a walk after a rain, I noticed the body of a baby turtle that had died trying to cross the road near my house. I walked past, feeling a bit sad for the tiny life cut short, but something kept calling to me and I decided to go back. I picked up the small body and carried it home with me. I carefully cleaned and prepared it, and put the top shell in the sun to dry, talking to the Spirit of the turtle the entire time. The Spirit gave me permission to add the shell to my set. I had been using a small ceramic turtle to represent Turtle Energy – a sense of home, and the ability to “bloom where planted;” but with an added layer of complexity in the form of a caution not to isolate oneself or wallow in the need to be alone. As an introvert, I completely relate to and embrace the Turtle part of me. I felt blessed and honored to be part of the movement of this Spirit, and in now being able to use it in my collection to do readings to help others.
This weekend, remember that Memorials exist to ensure the endurance of wonderful memories, and to prevent the recurrence of those which have done our societies harm. May your memories be filled with family, rejuvenation, and joy.