Uncle Carl’s Requiem Aeternam

Today is All Souls’ Day. It’s a sort-of All Saints, which was actually yesterday, Nov 1. That still might mean little, but in essence says that today is a day for remembering loved ones, and (if one is so-minded) praying for their memory.
I’m not an Anglican. But Anglicans do All Saints so well that days like these make me just slightly envious. The hymn “For All the Saints” is perfect, and perfectly Anglican: all pomp and circumstance, with a feel both global and sentimental, pious and restful and stirring in a sad, masculine, military sort of way, all at the same time. One can just about hear the British Empire and God’s mirrored and more perfect realm echoed in the words”…the golden evening brightens in the west…. while yet there breaks a still more glorious day”.
It perhaps takes something as solid as the Anglican church to really mark the permanence we hope that our loved ones enjoy. There is a weight of history, for instance, to the high wooden vaulted ceilings and the Gothic walls of a place like Cambridge’s Kings College. Or even, more locally, the jewel that is St James the Apostle Anglican, Montreal, where I visited with my students on Hallowe’en (All Saints’ Eve). There are so many memories in such places, and such rare beauty.
But this year the person I most remembered was the one person who would have felt most out of place in such a (as he would have called it) “high falootin'” environment. My uncle Carl was a simple man, if anyone can truly be called that. He never had a great education, and left school to take over the farm at the age of 12. His grammar was terrible and his habits, frankly, not the best. But his heart was kind. And he managed to travel the world enough to inspire me, decades later, to follow his tracks. My childhood years are sprinkled with postcards he sent from places like Japan, Morocco, Gibraltar and Germany. The first time I ever rode a camel (in my case, in Palestine), I thought of Uncle Carl, grinning out from beneath a straw hat in a photo he had sent in the 1960s. All I was missing – thankfully – was the big cigar and loud tropical American shirt.
When we honour “our” dead, something mysterious happens. We are changed. Perhaps it’s an act of memory, perhaps of alchemy, but they come alive again, if ever so slightly, by our remembering. And more importantly perhaps, we recognize in what parts of ourselves, our habits, our dreams, even our physicality, they live on.
So here’s to whomever it is that you remember. Requiem Aeternam, Uncle Carl. “What? What’s that? I don’t understand that kind of stuff,” I can see him pushing his cap back, scratching his head, laughing that big laugh that means he doesn’t really understand, and frankly, doesn’t really care.
“That’s fine, Uncle Carl. God doesn’t need us to understand to bless us all the same. Requiem Aeternam.”

One thought on “Uncle Carl’s Requiem Aeternam

  1. Thank you Matthew for this lovely remembrance. I recall a member of my parish telling me, upon hearing of my Father’s death, that she felt strangely closer to her Dad after he passed on. I have had a similar experience. There are many ways to relate to others, and November reminds us of this strange truth on more than one occasion.

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