How many tombstones are forgotten chapters of history?
Those Who Look After Those Who Passed
There is a solitude to graveyards. That is a pretty obvious statement but one worth looking into, an idea worth developing. Death is a solitary event but we (most of us anyway) will spend our time after death (in the corporeal form anyway) in the company of others. But who looks after us after we die?
The obvious answer to that question is family and/or friends. What if there is no immediate family or there are no friends to look after a grave? I grew up near a graveyard, and as a child, I was fascinated by how old some of the graves were, many were well over one hundred years old. Growing up I often wondered if the deceased still had any living family to visit and tend to the graves. The church did a fine job of tending to the grounds but as a child and into adulthood I noticed that there were never many flowers or proof of regular visits. The graveyard felt, in many ways, as if it were a forgotten place until recently when I discovered that there is a small group of volunteers who have started tending to the graves of those who no longer have family or friends to do so. We’ve had some pretty serious storms out here in the Midwest of late, serious enough to damage several of the older tombstones. This group of volunteers worked for hours setting gravestones up right and patching them the best they could as the church saw to the removal of fallen trees. I found it heartwarming to see people dedicate their time and effort to individuals they did now know and are separated by one hundred to nearly two hundred years of history.
I read somewhere that one test of a society is to take a close look at how it treats its children. I think another test of a society is to look at how it honors its dead.
The graveyard is a solemn example of being alone in a crowd.
Six Bearers of Wisdom
• “Every heart has its graveyard.” -Zora Neal Hurston-
• “As we go on with our lives we tend to forget that the jails and the hospitals and the madhouses and the graveyards are packed.” -Charles Bukowski-
• “Many a fervid man writes books as cold and flat as graveyard stones.” -Elizabeth Barrett Browning-
• “Man is the only religious animal. In the Holy task of smoothing his brother’s path to the happiness of heaven, he has turned the globe into a graveyard.” -Mark Twain-
• “Politics can be the graveyard of the poet. And only poetry can be his resurrection.” -Langston Hughes-
• “Cemetery, n. An isolated suburban spot where mourners match lies, poets write at a target, and stonecutters spell for a wager.” -Ambrose Bierce-
The Return of Thrills and Chills
Graveyard, boneyard, and cemetery are just a few words used to identify a final resting place. This collection of synonyms (some a little more euphemistic than others) is just one aspect of the graveyard that fascinates me. A graveyard can be a bit of a contradiction. It is both a source of history and an end of it. It is a solemn place that is often ornately decorated. It is a place where people are both remembered and forgotten. The graveyard is both literal and symbolic. These contradictions are worthy of a close study and a bit of conversation.
We walk, pedal, and drive by graveyards on a regular basis. Some of you, like me, may live near or grew up next to a graveyard. They play important roles in our lives and in our art. Graveyards in one form or another exist in almost all cultures and throughout time. October is the ideal month to take a closer look at graveyards as place and idea.