What the memorial service at the National Cathedral wanted, yesterday morning, was the famous thumbstick staff rapping on the floor and the hard little voice insisting by unrelenting implication, that we should be doing better. But when Margaret Mead died on Nov. 15, we lost all that.

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the Lord," sang a reedy, cocksure lad in the right rank, putting an end to all those echoes grumbing around in the antechambers. The other boys sang: "From whence cometh my help." The sound was hard and soft at the same time, like the December sunshine pressing through the rose window, or like Dr. Mead herself, and each was enough to raise goose bumps on 500 people, including Rosalynn Carter, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh of Notre Dame, and a niece of Mead's, Lucy Franceschini.

At first it looked like Dr. Mead was especially mourned by broad-shouldered deaf men; but a glance at Mrs. Carter, in pinstriped gray suit, reminded the curious that these were Secret Service men -- who never sang hymns and ignored the choir as it wound through the crossing, past the flowers.

The boys glided into the 23rd Psalm, touching high notes which never seemed any less impossible for being repeated.

Bishop John T. Walker read the opening sentences about the resurrection and the life, and after eyes had absorbed his scarlet robe, they could move to the flowers, six continents of species in a huge array before the Canterbury pulpit.

"Sandy Hynson, she's the head of the altar guild, and she worked eight hours yesterday on that arrangement, and today she had to go to a funeral at St. John's," Nancy Montgomery had explained earlier in tones which didn't doubt that Mrs. Hynson would nevertheless be credited in some ledger or other.

Montgomery, a small enthusiastic woman who works for the Cathedral, was glad to name all the flowers: snapdragons, false arelia, birds of paradise ("from Hawaii, and anenomes from Europe, but they're a little past their peak so they're toward the back") sanseverria, four kinds of daisies (gloriosa, rubrum, black-eyed Susan and painted) and chrysanthemums like skyrockets a moment after the burst, when the perimeter glitter starts to curl earthward, gladiolas and 58 orchids, "eight different varieties" in shell pink and white and fuchsia.

"I especially like those little dudes up at the top," Montgomery said.

Rep. Charles W. Whalen Jr. (R-Ohio) called Mead a world citizen.

She wouldn't have disagreed -- small egos do not become Margaret Meads -- but then she wouldn't have taken it terribly seriously either, as those who have heard her snorts of impatience can testify.

"Oh yes, she could have liked all this," said her associate of 40 years, Rhoda Metraux. "She always felt that work and friendship and causes should be a network, all together."

One could imagine her snapping her eyes around if she'd been there -- noting the ancient ritual, the anthropology, say, of the altar boys walking with one foot placed precisely in front of the next, heel grazing toe. What does it mean? She'd have counted the house, noted the presence of an ecocelebrity such as Barry Commoner, of a politician of science such as Hesburgh. She'd have savored especially one of the readings from her work that in 1956 prefigured the '60s, and now the Jonestown tragedy.

"These are history-old, these alterations and conflicts between apocalyptic cults... and those who feel it is the duty of priest and prophet, statesman, artist and scientists to 'cherish and protect the lives of men and the life of the world.'"

Margaret Mead in other words, took a lot of pride in knowing what was happening.

Some of the congregation may well have wondered why they didn't get to sing the missionary's Hymn 262 ("Far-Off Lands") with wonderful lines including:

Some work in sultry forests

Where apes swing to and fro .

Because certainly she did; except that in all her trips to the most primal wildernesses she was a missionary to us, rather than from us, letting the world educate us rather than the reverse, missionary style.

"I met her once, and that was enough to know her heart," said Lyn Coddington, 27, before her face went dolorous with tears, for all that this was supposed to be a joyful occasion which it was, of course -- especially when the bagpipes at the end skirled into "Amazing Grace," fierce and glad at the same time, and that was Mead all over, too.