Life is such a peculiar place, and sometimes death even more so. Watching the Discovery Channel's How the Universe Works makes one's existence feel so small, and yet as Chris and I walked around the grounds of one of our town's oldest cemeteries the other day, one couldn't help but wonder if there is a bigger meaning to all of this. By 'this' I mean the cycle of life on our planet - all living things are born, live and die, and there are times when witnessing the passing of time through the eyes of a single location makes you wonder what it is all for.
I have always found old cemeteries fascinating, as morbid as it may sound. The word 'cemetery' derives from a Greek word meaning 'sleeping place', and whereas newer cemeteries can be bustling, busy and full of life as they serve the interests of families and relatives still alive, old ones really are places where everything truly sleeps. The unkept graves, vines twirling slowly around headstones, illegible markings on headstones, disintegrating family plots with rusty chains surrounding the few graves sometimes only marked with initials or with words 'mother' and 'father', or crypts whose locks have not been opened in a hundred years, create an almost surreal sense of the end of time.
I found there was something particularly touching about this grave of Alma, the one above. There was no last name, no date of birth or death, nothing to indicate who she was. But just the fact that I noticed her lonely headstone makes me feel that she is still remembered by the universe. Her existence left a mark in me, perhaps a hundred-and-fifty years after her death. Surely that must count for something? Looking at the photo of her grave, I am curious and feel like I want to find out what her story was. In a way, a part of her memory lives in me now.
For the longest time I have loved old cemeteries, but hated the thought of being buried when I die. I hope I don't sound awfully insensitive, but new, "active" cemeteries scare me. There is so much open grief, so much hurt and loss generated by the people who visit the graves of their loved ones that it is almost suffocating. I am sure this old cemetery was just like that a hundred years ago, but it has settled in its place now. It is a sleeping place for the dead, not the place for the grief of the living.