Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Final Reflection - The Cemetery

Eight weeks. Yes, eight weeks is the time it took me to comprehend what and why is a cemetery. Spring Grove Cemetery was the proving ground for such a revelation and, although skeptical at first, I have come to enlighten my feelings on what it is to die and what it means to be a cemetery. It is more than a storage place for the dead. Be it in a wall, in the ground, or in an urn, a cemetery is more than an area of final resting. A cemetery is our history. A cemetery holds time. A cemetery summarizes our lives and embodies the definition of an American, of humankind.

To understand who we are, where we have come from, and to find some guiding principle for the direction of our life, we must understand our history, our family. A cemetery is our history. I appreciate the notion that a textbook can be history, but only in a cemetery is one able to physically envelope herself in tangible, happened history. Each gravestone provides intelligible clues to our past. We can read what it is our ancestors believed in, what their character personified, and, shallowly, how much they were worth! We, too, see the trends of history as time has passed. Prospering works of theoretical genius and blunders of entrepreneurial spirit can be found in the cemetery. It gives us a “textbook’s” wealth of information about our history, quite literally, carved from stone. All it takes is a little time to uncover.

Think about time in a cemetery. The only method of keeping time is evident on the markers adorning the deceased. Time has no meaning in a cemetery; cemeteries hold time. Nothing changes here, with the exception of a maturing tree or the addition of a burial site. It is important that the ticking of a clock have no sound, no essence in the cemetery because that is how we want it to be. We want it to preserve, to embalm the memories of our history, of our families. No matter how old we may become or what deadline we must meet, when we visit the cemetery, the practicality of time slows, comes to a stop, then rewinds to that point which we recall the happiness of our past, of our beloved. The absence of time, the lack of temporal movement places a value on the cemetery that one may not fully understand, but no less feels its purpose and distinction. Our nature is sometimes to willingly accept ideas with simply a conceptual understanding. The treatment of our dead, in theory, is no different.

Americans, humans, more generally, cherish their dead. We safeguard our departed in a casket, in a vase, in a…filing cabinet, so to speak. To value life, to place meaning on each soul that roams this planet, we charge ourselves with the unbridled care of the physical body that represents such soulful life. We know that our bodies do not leave this earthly place, but we trust that our conscience moves on to another realm. Some sphere that is eternal and peaceful, the cemetery provides that intermediate space, that medium by which to exchange this life for the next. Humans believe so whole-heartedly in such a place that we have attempted (and succeeded, I think) to remove the gloom, the haze from death and dying. Cemeteries have become a place of natural beauty, skillfully mastered works of botanical art. Spring Grove is such an example, an example of the willing acceptance and splendor of passage into death and the next being. Moreover, a celebration of the person’s life rather than the person’s death is what a cemetery is, what it provokes.

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is the epitome of what a modern and a historic cemetery should be. It has broadened my view, sparked my indulgence, and challenged my beliefs on what a burial ground truly is and, more precisely, why it is. Words can sometimes be difficult in use to frame an explanation of what something is. Perhaps there are no words for some things. Maybe it is purely a visual stimulant, a melodic tone of symphonic delight, an engulfing smell of a sumptuous plant, the touch of warmth from a new day’s son, or a pleasurable savor across the palate of our mouth. Even so, I must choose some words today. Words so uncomplicated, but deep, more experience rather than definition. The cemetery is times gone by. The cemetery is a marvelous manipulator of occasion, of moments in time. The cemetery relishes memories and is, by very implication, the fundamental nature of life, death, and humanity.

No comments:

Post a Comment