I grew up Catholic. Although I haven’t attended Catholic masses with any regularity at all since middle school, I still have some vague, treasured memories, first of the traditional church I was born into (the one I once saw a mountain lion walk into when I was up there watching the Perseids) and then of the church that we joined when it was super grassroots, the one that didn’t have the money to buy land of its own so we just gathered in the cafeteria of a local school.
Anyway, there would always come a part in the service, usually around the offering, when someone (I don’t know the exact terminology, okay) would go up to the front of the church and pray for various groups, generally including the Church in Rome, soldiers, the elderly, politicians, and sometimes LGBTQ* people and aborted children (remember, it was Catholic.) They would always close with a general prayer for the souls of those who had died or who were sick.
When I started going to more liberal churches in my late teens, the way they handled this prayer was usually to let whoever wanted speak the names of people they wanted to pray for. Well, the exact way they phrase it in my church here is, “people we seek to celebrate or memorialize.”
I focused on the celebrate part of that statement for most of last semester, and every Sunday I spoke out loud the names of people I knew who inspired me almost beyond belief, who had fought or were fighting insurmountable odds and winning, and who were still alive. The other day it sort of hit me – they meant celebrate as in celebrate someone who has died. I figured that out after someone mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr.
That kind of hacked me off, if you’ll pardon the expression.
I figure that the best time to celebrate most people is when they are still alive, even if they can’t hear it. There are a couple of people I really, really hate – not many, but some. Occasionally I will sit down and force myself to write or think of all of their good or redeeming qualities, just because they are doing the best they can, just like myself.
In fact, everyone who is currently alive deserves to be celebrated, because life is freaking hard. It’s even harder if one has a chronic illness or some other unfortunate situation. No disrespect to Mr. King, but he’s done his time on Earth and is probably in a better place now (and if you don’t believe in an afterlife, you still have to admit that being buried is much easier than the simple act of getting up in the morning.)
So every time I go to church, I’m still going to say those names out loud. More than that, I’m going to tell those people how much they’ve inspired me and continue to inspire me just by being them. Too often we are held back from expressing our feelings by fear of being labeled socially awkward or getting ourselves into uncomfortable situations. But if they’re positive feelings, hey, what’s the harm? And in fact there’s a huge chance that our kind words will be highly appreciated.
You never know who you inspire – who you could be inspiring right now, just by being you. Just by living.