Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Picnic in the Cemetery

I've mentioned before that I visited an old family cemetery in September. I've been thinking about that day and how quiet it was there. I had to drive far on rutted dirt roads to reach this small, rural place. I was completely alone.

The cemetery is surprisingly well-kept. Fabric flowers adorned many of the graves. There was even a small, locked building on the site with wooden pews piled up in a corner. A flag waved proudly on a tall flagpole. At the far edge was a concrete block "outhouse" complete with a men's side and women's side. I was glad to see it because I really needed to pee. But the only nice thing about that bathroom area was the privacy of those concrete walls and the fact that they blocked the wind. I could see through the toilet seat to the ground below, and there was no toilet paper of course.

I walked around a bit before settling in next to my grandparent's grave. I wished I had brought a blanket. The ground was slightly damp, so I actually sat on the tiny edge of their marker. I wondered if that was offensive, but quickly felt at ease. My grandparents wouldn't mind me sitting on their tombstone! I pulled out my sandwich and chips and began to eat.

As I ate I thought about all the meals my grandmother prepared for me. Her hands made tons of food over her lifetime, just as my own hands work long hours creating meals for my family. The sandwich I had brought was bland, even difficult to chew, while reminiscing on the swiss steak and fried okra my grandmother used to make for me. I thought about how I've been fed, in physical and non-physical ways, so that the people who fed me became a part of me that lives on even after they have died. I wondered about the ways I have fed and will feed my children and grandchildren so that I might become a part of them that lives on.

Suddenly, though my thoughts were full of family and my grandparents, I felt very alone. The cemetery became a cold and lonely place as I pictured the heat radiating from my body being the only source of heat in the entire place. Everywhere, except for me, was cold and empty. I was in a lifeless place. None of those people whose names were displayed in stone were there.
It was unsettling at first. The finality of death swept over me with a shock like a splash of cold water in the face.

However, I began to think about what lies beyond death of the body. The finality of death for this earthly body can't be disputed, but what new things greet the spirit as it sheds this skin? I don't know exactly what that looks like or how it happens. I won't know until I experience it one day. I have no fear of it though, because I believe my spirit is in God's hands. Death is not a culturally acceptable concept. We don't usually talk about it much or think about it as an inevitability unless it happens to have us or a loved one in its grip.

I appreciated the time I spent contemplating death while chewing on a dry sandwich, my rear almost falling off the sliver of concrete tombstone, surrounded by the names of my ancestors in a small country cemetery in the middle of nowhere. A healthy look at death might even make some difference in the way I view life.

No comments: