I’ve been in my hometown for almost a week now after trips to NYC and several church visits in South Carolina. Before those reports, I’ll add something which is appropriate for today, Memorial Day.
I submitted this article to our local Marshall paper which I’ll share with you now. In the next few blogs, I’ll tell you all about our American Legion Memorial Day services, which I attended this morning with my parents, and add some of my recent adventures along the East Coast.
A Memorial Day Tribute: “Do not stand by my grave and weep”
Note: Connie Wieck is a Marshall, IL, native who has spent 19 years in China as an employee with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. She works for the Chinese Christian-founded organization, the Amity Foundation, as a language teacher. Connie is placed at small 3-year colleges teaching English to English education majors (i.e., Chinese college students entering the education field to later teach English in the country’s junior and senior high schools.)
It’s been 18 years since I was last in the US for Memorial Day.
As an English language teacher in China, my college school year ends in mid- July rather than mid or late May as in the States. Due to this schedule, I have never been able to return early enough to celebrate this day with other Americans in our country.
But this year, I’ve had a change of plans. After having work visa difficulties, I spent the year on a student visa, studying Chinese at Sichuan University in Chengdu. I left my spring semester early to return to Illinois where I will be traveling the state, speaking at various churches and giving presentations about China and my work there. Thus I have the opportunity, for the first time in 18 years, to once again enjoy Memorial Day services in my country and community.
A Memorial Day Message for All
As Memorial Day is upon us, let me share with you one of the most famous poems often read for this special day, as well as about its author and history.
Mary Elizabeth Frye was a Baltimore housewife and florist, best known as the author of the beloved poem “Do not stand at my grave and weep,” written in 1932. She was born Mary Elizabeth Clark, and was orphaned at the age of three. In 1927 she married Claud Frye.
As the story goes (according to my Internet research), Frye had never written any poetry before, but the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband, inspired the poem. Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death.
Frye circulated the poem privately, never publishing or copyrighting it. She wrote other poems, but this, her first, endured. Her obituary made it clear that she was the author of the famous poem, which has been recited at funerals and on other appropriate occasions around the world for 60 years. This claim, however, wasn’t proven until 1998, after an investigation by journalist Abigail Van Buren.
A Poem Spreads Round the World
The poem was introduced to many in the United Kingdom when it was read by the father of a soldier killed by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The soldier’s father read the poem on BBC radio in 1995 in remembrance of his son, who had left the poem among his personal effects in an envelope addressed ‘To all my loved ones’. Due to this, “Do not stand at my grave and weep” is now considered one of Britain’s favorite poems.
Taking Time to Observe of Memorial Day
In honor of Memorial Day this year, I would like to share with all of you Frye’s moving message. It is currently listed as the 17th most favorite poems treasured by Americans.
Let us remember those who have strengthened and blessed our lives through their commitment and service to country, family, church and community. Post this poem somewhere in your home. As you read it this Memorial Day, think of those individuals who have gone before us that we hold dear to our hearts. While no longer physically with us, they encircle us every day with their spirits and our memories of their love.
Do Not Stand by My Grave and Weep (by Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932)
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.