Obituary of Katherine Karg Harker
This obituary, written by VDC, appeared in The Free Thought Magazine. According to the note in the magazine, this was “An address delivered at the funeral of Mrs. Harker and at the grave. Mrs. Harker, who died at the age of seventy years, had been an Atheist for sixty years, and a member of the Philadelphia Liberal Club for the last twenty-five years.”
KATHERINE KARG HARKER—OBITUARY
BY VOLTAIRINE DE CLEYRE
IN the presence of these solemnly closed eyes, these pulseless hands, these voiceless lips I come to speak, as someday I wish that one will speak for me, telling the truth of life and death.
The trust of the dead is very sacred. There is but one thing equally so–and that is the trust of a little child. The supreme sacredness of both rests in their utter helplessness. Therefore the highest principles of honor demand that in nothing shall we disobey the wish of her who is powerless now, as all of us will be one day, to say if wrong be done her memory.
It was her wish, then, that as liberty of thought was her last watchword in life, no service of creeds or dogmas which bind thought should be held over her when dead. As in life she faced the burdens and responsibilities of life, seeking to throw none of the weight which was hers upon others, so she went out fearlessly into the great darkness of Death, in perfect confidence that whether it were a long, eternal sleep, or whether light lay beyond, she had done her best here, and needed no one upon whom to cast her failures. No atonement as a passport to the future.
She lived in one world at a time and did her duty in this while she was with us. Who does this has naught to fear hereafter. Prayers she needed not living, nor does she need them dead. Her acts, her aspiration towards the uplifting, freedom-loving spirit of the race, these were prayer enough; and much more worthy prayer than a form of words read from books, or repeated as a task.
Tears?–Ah, these she needs not, too! Out of the fullness of the mourning heart great tears will fall for the unfinished work, “the broken blossom, the ruined rhyme” of life. And yet as I look upon her, so peaceful, so painless, so utterly beyond all that wounds, and hurts, I think I can almost hear her saying: “This I should, as I do pity you.”
To those who are bound in the old creeds Death is a terrible thing—a moment when the soul, wrung in its parting from loved ones, trembles upon an awful threshold of fear and flame. To her, to us, it means a melting out of the individual “I” into the universal All.
But not fear, not torture, not pain. It is the escape from these—it is Rest, after long, long years—after the long, long fever of living, complete, utter, ineffable rest.”
And now, with that real faith which rests upon the rock of knowledge, we give this body back to our dear Mother Earth, trusting, certainly trusting, that out of the wonderful womb of Life, whence all forms come, this dust will, in the infinite resurrection of all dead things, issue forth again in the beauty of living form, in myriad transformations, in endless procession of usefulness. Take, O Grave, this sacred charge! Well we know that thou wilt do thy holy task. Within thy walls so quiet, so somber, so dark, wherein so many pains and sorrows are laid down, silent, unseen of men, the busy hands of Life take up the sacred elements, and weave and unweave them, losing not one, giving all back at last, unto the uttermost. Human eyes are thick with salt, human lips are quivering with anguish, human love cries out against the bitter mandate so relentlessly remorseless to lift its hands. But when the heart has sobbed itself quiet, when after a little time it has lost the intensity of self, and with eyes free from tears looks into you, O Grave, and sees, not the somber walls, the coffin, nor the silent flesh; but under you, beyond you, away beyond you, the endless vision of forms coming from you to you again, and the endless, mysterious procession of the human race into its future—a future whose greatness it cannot see but which fills it full of dreams—and trusts that no matter how the storms may break, beyond all is well.
A trust, that makes self and its griefs little, and the individual life a passing scene. And still as the Heart gazes on into the faces beyond you, the unknown stranger faces, it sees with joy, unutterable joy, upon the mouth of one the smile of sympathy that shone so often upon the dear dead face committed to the ground, and in the eyes of another the bold spirit of truth shining, that always shone in yours; and in the hands of another the same work she loved to do, and from the lips of another hears the sentiments hers so often spoke, and lo, in all the faces of the strangers it sees the soul of its beloved, and cries: “0 Grave, well has thou done thy work! Thou hast given my love, the real heart of my love, to her brothers and sisters—and indeed though she be dead, yet she liveth.”