We want to walk where amazing thinkers have walked; to experience the sights , sounds smells, people that inspired the minds of the men and women who shaped our very existence. But what about where they are now. The so-called final resting places of these giants of society. Kings, queens, scientists, musicians, artists, great leaders and saints of the church. They lie entombed in a vast array of places, beneath the ground, in mausoleums, some even scattered to the wind in grey dust, the work of hungry flames. Many have been laid to rest in cemeteries across the world. So what is a cemetery, the place where we lay our heroes, leaders, and family. Some sort of morbid fancy, some bit of macabre mystery has shrouded these dwellings of the dead in deep darkness. Yet Luther writes that a cemetery ought to be “a fine quiet place, removed from all other localities, to which one can go and reverently meditate on death, the Last Judgement, the resurrection, and say one’s prayers” (490). So Nancy and I decided to visit the site of this mystery ourselves to see whether fear or contemplation awaited us there.
Nancy and I walk among the cold, silent, peaceful stones. We are the only living flames, smoldering in a bed of ashes. Using the meager lights that our cell phones offer, we manage to read several of the brass inscriptions. Some read “beloved daughter” or “loving mother and wife” and again, “CPL Aco 5th Plt WWII” then again some are reduced to simply name and 8 numbers punctuated by a simple hyphen. It seems that the ground – the hallowed land where we inter our “beloved” dead , is indeed a sacred place. The stones placed so carefully and neatly in commemoration must, to some degree, be for the sake of the contemplation of the living. In the darkness of the warm summer night our backs to the cold stone wall of a small columbarium, Nancy spoke, “I tried to make some connection with that space – that hyphen. We live in that space.” Indeed we do live in that space, we have so little time in which to live, summed up in a short inscription on a stone. Those lying in the graves before us have been through so much collectively. The history, the glory, shame, mistakes and achievements are overwhelming. Some lived to the age of ninety some left the world behind after only a month of life. The realization that you are not alone but rather in some sort of town of the dead, inspires a feeling of smallness. The bodies that lay here beneath their names have heard so much. If ever I wished something could speak – if only these graves could open and allow the dead to speak and disseminate the vast amount of knowledge they must contain. How many stories would they tell of the epic battles that they fought in sustaining wounds from which they maybe never fully recovered; of love secret or emblazoned in their hearts; of tragedy, of joy, of families, children, traditions, travels; of peaceful evenings in a cafe in havana gazing at the moon over the sea towards Florida, or working finger to the bone to feed fatherless children in a mediocre American home, trying to capture a phantom dream for the next generation. There would be stories so many stories of joy and of sadness – just think of all the stories –
This is not a place of fear it is a place filled with memory a place for contemplation.