Cemeteries have always had a strange sort of allure in Human imagination. There is the schlock Hollywood version of Cemeteries, the version that heightens our fears and exploits our confusion about the nature of death. There are also the deeply personal places of eternal rest that have a better basis in reality, both inferred and emotional, to those of us still existent.
These places stand as a tangible testament of love, of remembrance and longing for those known lost and gone from us. Here also is a place to honor our ancestors and the great and small who made differences in our lives- even if indirectly. These graves and gravestones, by and through which we make our love and respect known, have marked the spots on earth we view as sacred.
These monuments seem to express our collective helplessness in the face of the inevitable and certain hopeful avoidance of the condition altogether.
Oddly cemeteries are the only place where Cemetery humor is considered to be of questionable taste.
The deceased father of one of my best friends had a marker made and placed that reads:
“ THIS IS BORING”
He wasn’t the brooding type. He was Irish.
Cemeteries are a place of contemplation, reflection and peace. They are a physical reminder of those who came before us, and a reminder of that which inevitably awaits us all regardless of fame, creed, deed and self-image.
Cemeteries are the physical affirmation of the great Mystery.
Cemeteries are one of the only places where one might openly talk, and in fact have extended conversations with, the dearly departed.
Even Psychiatrists approve of this activity, but only on a limited time basis.
Cemeteries, and the monuments erected to the dearest departed, are a primal affirmation of the final equality of all human beings. In life it is important to affirm the things that set us apart as individuals.
Death is a sort of biological Democracy, (if you will allow the absurdity of the statement)- where after a lifetime of conjecture and debate you may stridently enter your opinions, where your vote may be cast, but your vote will most certainly not matter. King, queen, senator or crack addict- your inevitable end will come.
Cemeteries define the primal need to mark the spot of love, grief, deep loss, and in the context of erected monuments of marble and polished stone, our last token of respect for a life lost, and a focus for the contemplation of a silence that somehow takes us all by surprise, no matter how forewarned we may be.
They are, to the historian, to the bereaved, the philosopher and to the poet quite indispensable.
They are also a nice quiet place to eat lunch, sit under a blooming magnolia tree, hide from the world and sketch in pencil.
Lets be clear on one point- just because one may love Cemeteries doesn’t mean they are in a hurry to take up permanent residence in one. And while we’re clarifying points lets add that many, (including this Examiner) dislike the modern mall mentality of the “Memorial Garden” in which the slightly sunken bronze plaques facilitate the efficient mowing of the grass in what might be just as well a football or Frisbee field. There is little drama in such places. If this is the definition of Perpetual Care many prefer tall grass.
It takes REAL skill to play Frisbee in a Victorian cemetery.
“Taphophiles “ openly admit a fascination for Cemetery and funerary rites and rituals and are mesmerized by the architecture, landscaping and horticulture employed in cemeteries. There is a fascination with the individual stories of those buried and gone, who no longer have the ability to tell their own tales, but who leave clues in a few simple sentences chipped in stone or carved into elaborate mausoleums in the old-style graveyards.
It is amazing at how one’s imagination can bestow attributes and empathy on a stone marker of a deceased person, unknown and unseen, and wonder at the characters who once walked, laughed, cursed, cried, spit, shat, prayed, sung, swum, procreated, sacrificed, begged, lied and cooked breakfast among us. Now they are merely names and dates chipped in granite for our assumed sense of security and universal order. Monuments, some plain and forthright-others beautiful and sublime works of art and magnificent sculptures- will be visited in cycles of longing by survivors until they too become dates chipped in stone.
These are places of faded glory. Simple lives. Great achievements. Broken Hearts. Lives of duty and humility. Unfinished business. Raw ambition interrupted. Lives lost too soon. Those now perished who lived lives of grace, or lives of brutality, or in supreme sacrifice to mankind. Sometimes the aforementioned having achieved all of these things and more in the course of just a few years, or by some strange twist of fate having made massive changes to humanity after death and without their living knowledge. Some markers are too heartbreaking to recount- some having spent only a few days on Earth.
For these reasons Washington D.C.’s cemeteries are, by virtue of the persons of power and motivation who have lived and died here, a subject of great immersion, study, fascination and spiritual rubber-necking.
Cemeteries are less about death than the way to live life.
Cemeteries show how surely Spring will come and flowers can bloom, wrap around and even displace cold granite.
Cemeteries teach you how not to waste time.
Cemeteries are wisdom in stone.
There are stories here.
NEXT POST: The ROCK CREEK CEMETERY- Washington,D.C.