Monday, 3 May 2010

Sleeping place

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.

As we walked around aimlessly, we uttered the names of the people long gone, admiring the beauty of names used back in the day, wondering if anyone else has pronounced them in decades. Why the graves remain unattended, who knows. Maybe the families moved away, maybe there was no one left. On the one hand it is sad that there is no one to remember these people, but on the other, the sense of peace one feels in these places is so real you can almost touch it.

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.

Top: second hand / Fida
Skirt: second hand / Hietsu flea market
Cardigan wrapped around waist: Noa Noa
Shoes: Steve Madden
Bag: Max Mara
Hat: Eugenia Kim for Target
Jewelry: JBL


Anonymous said...

This is getting a bit spooky. I was thinking (and writing) about the same thing the day before yesterday.. meaning this time- passing-thing, how it can be seen in places that people have abandoned years ago. I also feel exactly the same way about cemeteries- don't care too much about the new ones. I also wrote about not wanting to be buried!! And we haven't even talked!
Ihana hattu...tuu Suomeen sieltä.

mirattes said...

You so different here, so calm, but fabulous as always ;)

Charlotte said...

When we were in Helsinki we spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon walking around in the old cemetery, looking for Helene Schjerfbeck's grave, which we found and admired. I should post a photo. . . That cemetery had the same sense of calm and serenity, a lovely place.
Alma's story does have a place with you now. Perhaps you'll write it--someone about whom only her first name was known.

Someone said...

Truly lovely place! (Ihana, yes...though I like your hat too!)

When I still lived in the Boston area I would visit Mt. Auburn Cemetery - it is a *gorgeous* place that still has some activity, but mostly it is at least 100 years old, and has the beauty you would appreciate. If you're ever there you MUST see it. (It's big, so it deserves at least a half day.)


FashionTheorist said...

I've always loved old cemeteries myself. While I don't actively dislike modern ones, I'm just not as fond of them - not because of the active grief of loved ones left behind, but because of what I perceive as shifting attitudes toward death. I feel like our current culture wants to push death under the rug, deny it happens, and plastic-coat what little of it remains into something prepackaged and palatable. A hundred years ago and more, with higher mortality rates, death was more a part of life: people dealt with it better, and it shows.

Anonymous said...

It is a very beautiful spot, and I will go back any time you like, hon. It was a wonderful experience, walking the cemetery's grounds with you, Chris R.

Chandra said...

What beautiful pictures!

Modesty is Pretty said...

Hi Waves, I have an award for your great blog. =)

Dorky Medievalist said...

I think Alma is Spanish for soul.

Marie McGrath (The Joy of Fashion) said...

Great pics!! I love love your hat and skirt, very cute!