Shortly after breakfast this morning, I headed out the door and up the hill to join in an annual civic ritual. As I approached the old town cemetery, I first could hear, and then could see, the gathered crowd: elementary school and junior high marching bands, local Minutemen, town Selectmen, local clergy, boy scouts and girl scouts, firefighters and their trucks with flashing lights, policemen in uniform leading in their squad car, state politicians, and several men and women dressed in military uniform. They had already walked the first short stretch of the annual Memorial Day Parade, and were stopped at the cemetery for short speeches, a reading of the names of those buried in there who had died in armed conflict, the playing of the National Anthem, the playing – and hearing – of taps, and all of it organized and coordinated by the town celebrations committee. As the parade picked up its march toward Town Hall, I fell into step with dozens of others: parents walking along with the bands and scouts, couples pushing their young ones in strollers, children on bicycles, dogs on leashes. Along the parade route, many were sitting and standing to watch the spectacle: old and young, abled and disabled, holding flags, clapping, cheering, smiling.
I was walking alone by choice. I wanted to take it all in and have space and time along the route to ponder my experience. Here’s what came to mind . . . in no particular order.
I had flashbacks of parades I attended – and participated in – when I was young. So much felt the same. The booming bass drums and marching cadences on the snare drums and cymbals; the old and young, alike, gathered; the public safety departments leading and, at the same time, connecting with town residents; the honoring of military personnel both alive and dead.
I also was aware, yet again, that the national origin of our town residents has become richly diverse, even in the 15 years we’ve lived here. I thought about the fact that some of them – maybe many of them – were born in countries where the freedom to gather and speak our/their minds has never been possible; and they are, and we are, enjoying this annual ritual together. I noticed that all 3 of the elementary school children who were chosen to read their Memorial Day essays were from a different ethnic background than the original founders of our community.
We walked, we listened, we saluted, we laughed together and greeted one another. And while the speeches – each of them wonderful and so appropriate to the day and to the heart of the one who spoke – said so much about what is important to remember, I found myself feeling that in some way it was the parade itself that spoke the loudest to me about what is possible.
At least for 2 hours, we could walk together, observe together, hold silence together, and stand together for a common purpose. It didn’t matter that the color of our skin varied from very light to very dark; or that the clergy who spoke is Christian while there were others from a variety of faith backgrounds and no faith; or that we disagreed with each other at the recent Annual Town Meeting and even raised our voices from time to time. It didn’t matter that it was raining for part of the time, or that feet and legs hurt, or that the Minutemen muskets were loud, or that there were a few funky notes played by the bands.
I don’t know what specifically brought each person out for the Parade. I know, though, why I walked the whole route. I wanted to have the experience of being with my community, for an event that reminds us of what we have in common, not what divides us. The words of our state representative, Jen Benson, still ring in my ears. She said, “Boxborough is a small town with a big heart.” I agree. We may not be making the headlines in the NY Times, but I believe we are able to make a difference in the world – one parade at a time.
Preaching in Worship
“And It Was Good”
Acton Congregational Church
12 Concord Road, Acton, MA
Sunday, June 15 at 9:15 a.m.
Concerts at the Garden
Custom Blend in concert at
The Virginia Thurston Healing Garden
145 Bolton Road, Harvard, MA
Sunday, June 22 at 3:00 p.m.
Susie Allen and Margaret Benefiel
18–month program beginning in October 2014.
The Soul of Leadership empowers leaders to realize greater professional efficacy while experiencing inner renewal and clarity of vision. Designed for leaders from various sectors (businesses, non-profits, churches, etc.), this 18-month program guides participants on a journey of transformation as they integrate leadership skills and contemplative practices into their lives.