Collecting Stones


I have the honor and privilege of serving as a fire chaplain to the men and women of the Dudley Fire Department.  I also have the honor of serving as Deputy Chief Chaplain in the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains and this past week was our annual conference and retreat.  We were asked to bring an item that was significant to us on our spiritual journey, and of course, I forgot to bring something.  So as others were speaking I was thinking of what was significant to me and then it hit me, my rock collection.

In 1994 the movie With Honors was released.  The movie stars Joe Pesci, among others, as a homeless man that lives in the basement of one of the buildings at Harvard University.  Pesci’s character, Simeon Wilder, has a collection of rocks that he carries with him in a cloth pouch as reminders of what is past, but it also reminds him of what is to come.  I began to collect rocks shortly after seeing this movie.

The rocks I collect, like Simeon Wilder in the movie, have some sort of significance to me.  They might be from a beach or maybe from a roadside but most recently they have come from the graves of my ancestors.  These stones remind me of where I have been, they call to mind the memories of the place where I picked it up and the person or persons buried there.  This might sound grim but in some way I feel spiritually connected with them through that small rock that was part of their final resting place.

My brothers and I have been engaged in genealogy research for going on thirty years and it has led us on an amazing journey.  It is interesting to learn about where my family comes from and what they occupations they had.  We need to understand where we have come from so we know where we are going, but also to celebrate those who have gone before us.

Last month I spent some time in Maine researching the family and visiting graves.  At each of the graves I would say a little prayer for the person and then pick up a stone or in one instance a twig from a nearby tree, and put it in my pocket.  The funny part is I cannot remember where most of my collection comes from but from time to time I pick one up and think and say a prayer for all of those who have gone before me.

Our ancestors play a large part in who we are and can play a part in where we are going.  Some of them might be famous but, more often than not, they will be regular folks who lived and loved, worked and raised families, and did nothing spectacular and maybe are not even remembered by the world.  But we remember them.

We will soon celebrate Memorial Day here in America.  It is traditional on this day that people go to cemeteries and place flowers on the graves of their loved ones.  In our Orthodox tradition I will go to the cemetery and bless the graves of those buried there.  We pause, say a prayer, and sing Memory Eternal so that the memory of the person is not forgotten.

If you were asked to bring an item that is spiritually significant to you what would you bring?  Would it be a physical item or would it be a memory, maybe it would be a person whatever it is I hope it is something that has shaped and continues to shape your life.

This essay originally appeared in the Tantasqua Town Common, and The Quaboag Currant

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