Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cemetery Revisited

(Written last summer.)

Living in the city in an apartment with no balcony and a porch that is also the entrance to first floor offices, finding a private space in nature can be difficult. Parks and college greens are not quite private enough when you want to do writing, praying, or listening to music that may involve tears or soul anguish. But recently I discovered a place perfectly appropriate to all such requirements—the cemetery. Even in the midst of houses, cars, and roads, a cemetery is usually a decent-sized piece of nature, often with a few comforting trees; and regardless of size, it has an inherent sense of quiet, reverence, and privacy.

 I realized the perfection of such a place a few weeks ago when, driving home, I felt a strong need to pull over and cry, listen to affecting music, and write in a notebook. Although the cemetery I pulled into didn’t have quite as many trees or quite as few (living) people as I might have wished, I quickly realized it didn’t matter very much. Who is going to think strangely of a person who sits moodily in their car—even if it is for an hour—in a cemetery? It is deeply, strongly, traditionally bound with a sense of the deepest feelings of the human heart. Graveyards represent death and yearning and longing and loss—and never is the human heart and spirit so susceptible to a spiritual awareness than in the presence of death.

 The mad, frantic pace of our modern lives may hurriedly and scornfully dismiss any weakness of feeling during daily life; but there is a strange sacredness that wraps an acre or two of grassy, monument-strewn land as with an ancient and untouchable forgiveness for humanity’s embarrassing but indelible tendency toward the unseen immortal. We do not often respect the poorly disguised symptoms of heartache in others—impatience, cynicism, ill-temper—but there is a feeling in most of us that true grief and heartbreak are worthy of our sympathy, our acknowledgement, our gift of a silent moment to another suffering person.

 Much of this may be seen in the days surrounding a death, in the long family hours of a funeral. Something of it lingers in the bittersweet sanctity of a cemetery. And so it does not seem strange that even if it is only to grieve a less-than-eternal death—one of hope or joy—or to weep from the exhaustion of confusion, that a heart seeking relief from the mandatory masks of the everyday may find a place in a daily week where grief observed will be respected, and sorrow will throb, gently dignified, by the side of a graveyard path. 

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