I love cemeteries. In one of my college media classes I was given an assignment to create a video using the principles of visual composition. I chose to shoot it at a cemetery that didn’t allow head stones. The barren, rolling hills dotted with vases of flowers made for a compelling visual. It was a wonderful experience overall and one that I have never forgotten. It inspired my love of these places for the vivid sensory experience they provide.
But that’s not the only reason why I love them. I find them to be deeply spiritual, intensely reverent places. The immediate intimacy I feel with strangers in these sacred spaces makes me to feel connected to all of humanity, past and present.
As it turns out, I am particularly grounded on hallowed ground.
I believe that every life has a purpose. I believe there are a thousand stories to be told and a million lessons to learn in one single lifetime. As a lover of both these things–stories and lessons–I feel them most intensly among the hundreds of markers that mark the life and death of hundreds of people. If I wasn’t diametrically opposed to embalming, and I didn’t believe so much in recycling, I might even choose to be buried at one.
For someone who loves cemeteries, it exceeded my every expectation.
Every Memorial Day they have an elaborate service complete with a military fly over. We have never attended, but we can hear and see the planes from our house. On Memorial weekend and the Fourth of July, they also line the entrance with American flags. It’s inspiring to drive by, let alone walk through.
The main building of the Memorial Park is on a hilltop next to a Veteran’s Museum. Just past that, is a gentle downward slope filled with gravestones, fountains, mausoleums and various other stone things.
Today, they handed out free hotdogs.
As we sat on the top of a hill, near a fountain, under a Japanese Maple eating our hot dogs; I took a picture of my husband and son. Behind them I noticed a Chinese couple lighting candles and setting out food in front of a stone. I couldn’t help but watch such a loving exchange between family members.
When they left, I couldn’t help myself again as I took a picture of what they left behind.
A thousand stories.
After we ate, we made our way down the hill where I saw this statue on the top of a mausoleum. Jesus in supplication.
At the bottom of the hill was the newest section. It was a golf memorial for people who wish to be remembered by their passion for the sport. There was a putting green complete with sand trap, statues of little golfing men, beautiful landscape and a fountain with a rock stream. What an incredible place to go and remember someone you love who loved golf! It felt happy, joyful, a playful setting to both rest and reflect. We couldn’t help ourselves, yet again. We laughed as we played.
There was one single patron of this golf memorial. His last name was Jones and he was 110 years old. I bet he could have told a hundred (and ten) stories.
As we walked back up the hill we were passed by an early 1970′s-style, faded, metallic brown, Mercury station wagon. In the passenger’s seat was a bouffant of white hair adorned with an oil-cloth head covering tied up under her chin. Sitting next to her was a man of equal age and equally whitened hair. They were dwarfed by this massive vehicle and in an ironic twist, looked like children behind the wheel. They sailed passed us in that ancient vessel ten times slower than the world around them and I couldn’t help but wonder how many years they’d been coming here, in that car, wearing those clothes, and visiting the same person.
Stories. All intriguing, important, heart-felt stories as multi-faceted and layered as the Earth in which they now lay. It’s an excavation project that consumes my daily thoughts.
I stood back and watched the clusters of people huddled around their loved ones; some were kneeling still tending to needs; other’s stood in piety with hands behind their backs. Still other’s brought chairs, sat down for a spell, had nice visits and one-sided conversations–no doubt about those life lessons.
Man, I do love cemeteries. In spite of what they appear to be, I find them to be life-affirming, happy places that are not just about the solemnity of remembering, but the solace of loving.
Today just reaffirmed that.