2nd November – the day observed as All Souls’ Day in some Christian traditions, the day on which the good and faithful souls of past generations are remembered; a day on which many people recall their departed loved ones.
Never believing that people gone from this life were in need prayers, All Souls’ never seemed attractive, yet wandering through the churchyard, there is a moment to pause in front of an old and faded headstone. Who is there left to remember this person? Even the name is no longer familiar. All Souls’ Day is a recalling of the countless people like the person whose mortal remains lie beneath the grass, but perhaps it is a day more important to the living than to the dead. If there is life in the world to come, then what matters most to the people living that life is the reality of their present existence, not the thoughts of those in the world they have left behind.
There is a sublime passage in Sebastian Faulks’ novel Charlotte Gray, a diary entry of Levade, a Catholic Jew living in Vichy France in 1942.
“No child born knows the world he is entering, and at the moment of his birth he is a stranger to his parents. When he dies, many years later, there may be regrets among those left behind that they never knew him better, but he is forgotten almost as soon as he dies because there is no time for others to puzzle out his life. After a few years he will be referred to once or twice by a grandchild, then by no one at all. Unknown at the moment of birth, unknown after death. This weight of solitude! A being unknown.
And yet, if I believe in God, I am known. On the tombs of the English soldiers, the ones too fragmented to have a name, I remember that they wrote ‘Known unto God’. By this they meant that here was a man, who did once have arms and legs and a father and a mother, but they could not find all the parts of him – least of all his name.
God will know me, even as I cannot know myself. If He created me, then He has lived with me. He knows the nature of my temptations and the manner of my failing. So I am not alone. I have for my companion the creator of the world.
At the hour of my death I would wish to be ‘known unto God’.”
May the souls of those gone from this world be known to the Lord of the next.