Faith Works 5-28-16
Memorials Take Many Forms
On Monday, there are many cemeteries and markers and monuments around which we will gather.
Parades will end at plinths and cenotaphs and plazas where plaques and inscriptions will remind us of names and events. There's a certain range of materials, in bronze and marble and granite, that tell us "here stands a memorial." The substance endures, and the words persist in that medium so generations to come will read and see and reflect.
Memorials are reasonably part of Memorial Day.
Tuesday, May 31, is the next-to-last open house day at the Octagon Earthworks, the October 10 being the only other opportunity in 2016 to walk the entirety of this 135 acre portion of the once four-and-a-half square mile complex of geometric earthworks here in Newark.
There's a public area you can visit 365 days of the year off the corner of Newark's 33rd St. & Parkview, but it's a different experience altogether to walk the vast landscape enclosed within these shapes, a giant octagon and a huge circle (but a bit smaller than the circle at Newark Earthworks, the Ohio History Connection park and preserve just off of Rt. 79 where Heath meets Newark).
One of the hypothesized functions of these earthen walls, built some 2,000 years ago to enclose space and guide steps, is that they were part of a path to be walked, a path with a purpose. Certain sights along the way, and acts to perform, would recall for the participant or participants their history, the stories of spiritual realities they believed in, and as is so often the case for any cultural tradition, to remember those who have gone before.
Can a walk be a memorial? Actually, today we're re-engaging in what was once a common practice. We honor cancer survivors with a walk, we walk in the autumn to remember those who hunger, we walk to promote health and healthy living in many ways. We usually think of these walks, and runs, as fund-raisers, but if you participate in a few, you pick up on the fact that memory plays a significant part of why so many come together to walk a path, a track, a certain distance.
Just a few days ago, our United Way of Licking County executive director, Deb Dingus, completed her 50 day walk "around" Licking County. She covered something like 450-plus miles when all is said and done. Her goal was to help Licking Countians remember each other, in all our geographic and civic and cultural diversity. We may lack a certain amount of ethnic diversity, but there are many different cultures just beneath the surface of what some might call our sameness here. National origins and socio-economic backgrounds that create differences which get in the way of effective communication, events and celebrations that have their uniquenesses in one township versus another, let alone this town versus that village. Deb's goal has been to make us think both about the homeless and the transportation-challenged, but also more widely to remember each other.
It has been a sort of memorial walk, if you will.
And Deb's walk has made me think about one of my favorite films of the last few years, "The Way." It came out in 2010, a labor of love between Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. The story is based on a very ancient pilgrimage route, perhaps nearly 2,000 years old, across the top of Spain from the French border to a place in Portugal called Compostela. This pilgrimage of St. James is known as "El camino de Santiago" (the Santiago being a form of the name St. James).
The "Camino" is, for most pilgrims who choose to walk it, about 500 miles, and takes six to eight weeks to walk. Are you seeing the same comparison I am? That's right, Deb's #GiveWalkDo50 journey has been about the same distance and challenge of "El Camino." Which is walked most often as a memorial, a remembrance, and a celebration even when it's an attempt to ease a sorrow. (And I cannot commend the movie "The Way" too strongly to help you see how that might be true.)
So we might make a short parade to a marker this Memorial Day, or we could find a way or a place where we might step out on a journey, a make a memorial by walking. A long loop, or a distance where someone comes to pick us up and bring us home, but the journey by foot can be a place where memory is honored, where memories are made.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he wishes he'd gotten to walk a few more days with Deb, and hopes to do the Camino someday himself. Tell him about walking and memory in your life at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.