Living Well

Civic Holidays

we the peopleShortly 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.


“The Soul of Leadership.”

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.


Living Well

“We the people . . . ”

Several times over the past few years, I have had the privilege of speaking at our town’s Memorial Day Parade. Each time, I wonder how I will stand in the intersection between church and state, and speak honestly and respectfully about the sacrifices of those in the military, and my own deep longings to find a way – as a nation – to honor and celebrate non-violent conflict resolution. Here is what I said at today’s parade:

On this day of public remembrance, I want to think and talk about 3 energies: grief, gratitude and growth.

54Since the first time a fallen soldier’s grave was ‘decorated’ in the early 1860’s, our nation has come together each year at this time to remember and honor the men and women who have died in military service on behalf of our country. For many – perhaps most families, this day invites and opens up memories of loved ones. They may be ancestors whose names have been immortalized in the telling and retelling of their heroism; they may be parents or siblings, children or spouses, whose lives have only recently been lost to battle. As we remember them, our hearts bear the marks of grief and loss, and our sadness and pain is comforted by the gathering of the generations on days like this. I think it is no accident that Memorial Day occurs in the fullness of Spring – when we are surrounded by the beauty and abundance of nature and the promise that even in death, there is the possibility for new life. Our public gatherings give us the chance to stand together in grief and remembrance.

As we speak out loud the names of those from our community who have given their lives in military service, as we solemnize their memory with volleys from the Minutemen, as our bands play songs of patriotism, and as speeches are given, we have a chance to express, publicly, our gratitude for the sacrifice of these fallen ones. We have a chance to stop together and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the community we share, and the abundance that is possible – in part – because we are cared for and protected by those who have chosen military service as their vocation. Our public gatherings give us a chance to say thank you.

But, I hope and pray our Memorial Day gatherings and celebrations also give us the opportunity to stop and think deeply about what the sacrifices of our military men and women ask of the rest of us. We are still a world filled with conflict. Single words like terrorism, radicalism, piracy, drones, bombings, attacks stir us deeply and easily generate fear and hatred, rhetoric and media saturation, and often pit neighbor against neighbor in disagreement about how best to respond. I am hoping – and praying – that Memorial Day, this and every year, will also be a call to us as citizens of our country, to grow in new ways. I am hoping and praying that as we gather together as one community, we will look around at one another – let’s take a minute and do just that – and see not people who stand on opposing sides of an issue, not people who come from different backgrounds and traditions, not people whose advantages are our disadvantages . . . I’m hoping we can look at one another and see human beings . . . with hopes and dreams, lives and loves, needs and fears. I’m hoping we can call one another to live and move beyond ‘what’s good for me’ toward ‘what’s good for us.’ I’m hoping we can remember and honor our fallen ones, this day and every day, by learning to live together, and grow together, in ways that honor and promote what our country’s early leaders expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America. It begins . . .  “We the people . . .”