Numbered Souls

All Souls’ Day: the one I don’t have to go to Church for, as opposed to All Saints’ Day. I’ve never quite shaken that childhood view. I take more note of the day than I did as a child; that comes with time and age and enduring the deaths of friends and loved ones.

I find myself saying brief silent prayers when I pass a cemetery. There’s no superstition or fear involved. It’s commending souls to God – I once thought that an odd phrase, but no longer. I even do it when the burial ground reveals no names.

There’s a small cemetery in a mildly improbable place along a rail trail near my house. It’s behind the county office complex, on the other side of what used to be a rail line. The other side of the tracks, literally, kept from view of the nearby busy road by the office buildings.

It’s a tidy place. There are weathered markers with numbers but no names. The grass around the markers is mown, but there’s no landscaping. There’s a flagpole. There’s a not-very-informative plaque, placed in 2001, obviously long after the cemetery was established. A newer sign, erected by trail supporters with a donation from AARP, gives a little more history.

The cemetery’s location is a clue to its history: on county land, near county offices, near where a prison used to be. A friend with some knowledge of local history, plus a bit of online searching, told me a little more about it.

Everyone buried there was a county ward of some sort: a prisoner, a nursing home resident, an indigent person. The cemetery being small, markers had to be small as well, without expensive carving. The markers were simply numbered, and a ledger maintained in the county offices noted the names of each deceased next to the number of the grave.

One ledger, no backup. It was lost or destroyed, perhaps in a fire. The names were lost.

Each person had a name, a family, a story. Now, God only knows who they were. They have no one to pray for them, except the odd passer-by like me.

While rambling on New Hampshire trails, I’ve come across old family cemeteries with stones lovingly inscribed with names, dates, and images. There might be nothing left of a homestead but a cellar hole, but the family graveyard was made to last, and the names were meant to be remembered.

There was no such heritage for county wards. So spare them a thought and an All Souls’ prayer. Add a little prayer of thanksgiving for the county worker who keeps their resting place tidy. It’s a kind of respectful mercy, and there’s grace in that.

On the Air With Education Choice Advocates

I’ll be guest-hosting The Karen Testerman Show on WSMN 1590 Nashua at noon on October 31. My guests will be a couple of my favorite advocates for children, focusing on education choice: Kate Baker of the Children’s Scholarship Fund – New Hampshire, and Michelle Levell of SchoolChoice NH. Tune on online at wsmn1590.com.

Discovering Dorothy Day’s “The Long Loneliness”

(Original version published on Goodreads.)

I suspect Dorothy Day would have winced at the word “legendary” in the subtitle assigned to her memoir: the autobiography of the legendary Catholic social activist. Humility informs every page of The Long Loneliness. So does clear and inviting prose, a testament to Day’s experience as a journalist. She was a 20th-century treasure.

Up until now, Dorothy Day has been to me the subject of magazine articles and other people’s blog posts, some quite critical (not that criticism was likely to deter her). Picking up Day’s 1952 memoir was a revelation to me.

She wrote The Long Loneliness in middle age, when she was already known for her commitment to nonviolence and service to the homeless. (She had decades of activism ahead of her.) Known now as a “Servant of God” – an honorific for a Catholic whose cause for sainthood is under consideration – she was a convert, a decision that cost her dearly even as she embraced it with joy. She was determined to put her love of God into practice, whatever the cost. 

She didn’t give lip service to “social justice.” She lived it, in soup kitchens – “houses of hospitality” – that she helped to establish and in the advocacy she gave to anyone who was disadvantaged. She didn’t romanticize the work; anyone coming to help was expected to take a practical view of things. Yet workers and volunteers came anyway, building a community grounded in faith and service that came to be known as the Catholic Worker movement. Day called community of that sort the key to dealing with “the long loneliness.” 

Not everything she did met with approval from authorities. The memoir includes a brief account of the moral and practical challenges faced by pacifists like her as the United States formally entered World War II. Her explanation of her actions has no trace of self-righteousness. Instead, as throughout the book, her words are full of warmth and compassion even when they are blunt and forthright.

The memoir is rich with Day’s descriptions of the people she met along her way. None was more influential to her spiritual and social growth than Peter Maurin. She generously considered him the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, leaving the reader to reflect on how the movement might have foundered without Day’s particular gifts as writer and organizer. 

Day was an interesting woman who lived in interesting times, and she wrote with a keen pen. That alone makes The Long Loneliness worth reading. A better reason, and one Day would likely deem more important, is her story of conversion to the Catholic faith and the vocation she followed thereafter.

There are multiple editions of The Long Loneliness. Look for one unburdened with explanatory material. Let Day speak for herself.

Summer on the trails

It’s time to dig out my blaze orange gear. My favorite hiking season is at hand. I have no complaints about the season just ended, though. It was a beautiful summer in New Hampshire and beyond, including out west for what I expect was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

North Country

Four days of car camping in August brought me to trails in Pittsburg and Jefferson and a few places in between. Ramblewood Campground in Pittsburg (a five-star establishment, in my book) and Percy Lodge and Campground in Stark served as homes-away-from-home.

Cherry Pond, NH

Cherry Pond, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge, Jefferson NH

It’s tough to pick my favorite part of the Cohos Trail. On this trip, though, Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson staked a pretty strong claim. I circled the refuge one sunny afternoon, stringing together several trail and road segments to make an 8-mile loop. Once out of the woods, the view was all about the surrounding peaks: Mt. Martha to my south, the Presidentials to the east, and the Pliny Range to the north. That just might be the most rewarding flat hiking route I’ve found so far in New Hampshire.

I didn’t limit this trip to Cohos Trail segments. I discovered Second College Grant, a Dartmouth College property the size of a town, where I enjoyed a serene walk alongside the Dead Diamond River. Another day, perhaps I’ll return for a hike up Diamond Ridge.

From Stark, I took a quick drive to Milan Hill State Park to check out late-afternoon views from the fire tower. Not a hike, but still a treat.

Androscoggin River valley NH

Androscoggin River valley seen from Milan Hill, NH

For more destinations and photos, find the rest of the post at Granite State Walker.

The State Budget and Abortion Funding

The New Hampshire House and Senate expect to vote on September 25 on whether to  sustain or override Governor Sununu’s veto of a proposed state budget. At stake is the use of state general funds, i.e. taxpayer dollars, for direct and indirect funding of abortion.

That’s a Catholic citizenship alert if ever I saw one.

Set out below are the reasons why it’s important to contact state representatives, state senators, and Governor Sununu with the clear unambiguous message: no public funding, direct or indirect, for abortion. That means sustaining the Governor’s veto of the state budget, and fighting to keep abortion out of any subsequent negotiated budget.

Governor Sununu has said reassuring things about direct funding of abortion. That is not the case about indirect funding, in which public dollars go to abortion providers purportedly for non-abortion work. Perhaps you have heard similar messages and non-messages from your own representatives.

To learn more, see the rest of the post at Leaven for the Loaf. 

Postscript: why showing up matters

Postscript to an earlier post about the bill repealing New Hampshire’s death penalty: the Governor’s veto was overridden. The margin in the House: one vote. Margin in the Senate: one vote.

At some point, another life issue bill will come up in Concord. Maybe it’ll call for care for children who survive attempted abortion. Maybe it’ll be a stats bill. Maybe it will be something promoting or preventing assisted suicide.

Whenever such legislation comes up, remember: every vote matters. With 400 House members, a legislator – or a constituent, for that matter – might figure that one absence more or less won’t make a difference.

Wrong. Showing up matters.

Maybe we need to be reminded of that now and then.

(originally published at Leaven for the Loaf)

Podcast: A Lesson in “Concord 101”

Drum roll, please: I’m happy to participate in a new podcast, Concord 101: How to Engage in Local Government, in which I get to share my enthusiasm about New Hampshire’s State House and all that happens inside. I might even give you some ideas about how to get more involved in state government yourself!

“Concord 101” is produced by Cornerstone, a nonprofit and nonpartisan New Hampshire family policy council. The podcast is a capsule version of a two-hour interactive seminar introduced in the Spring of 2019, in which I’ve worked with Cornerstone’s Neil Hubacker to bring the why and how of civic engagement to interested groups all over the state.

Don’t miss Neil’s podcast segments: Why New Hampshire Citizens Should Engage in Government and How You Can Influence the Lawmaking Process.

Writing is my favorite medium, but the invitation to create this podcast was too good to pass up. I hope you enjoy the result.