Among the Graves

I’ve developed a recent fascination with graveyards. As morbid as that sounds, in an odd way they’re utterly beautiful. The air today smells of grass and approaching autumn; cool and sharp with a hint of falling leaves. It’s quiet, a fact simultaneously chilling and comforting. Just the wind in the trees and the twittering of birds as they flit through the stones. Perhaps add to that the occasional click of a tiny plastic pinwheel that someone placed in the ground as decoration. Even passing cars seem softer in this valley of stone and scattered foliage.

But it’s more than just nature setting the scene. It’s sobering to wander through the dirt and dust and ashes of those who passed before you. Each life was unique and beautiful; full of joy, suffering, hope, and heartbreak. Some are new, even the earth above them is freshly turned with grass slowly peeking from the displaced dirt. Some are old, so old that they’ve become practically illegible; a life forgotten and eroded by time. Though I squat down, squint and stare, I cannot even read their names. I know nothing of them, except the little American flag makes me think they were in the Armed Forces.

Some of the gravestones are stunning; elaborately carved, tall, marbled, cut into shapes of angels, hearts, and crosses or engraved with poems and portraits of lost loved ones. There are several granite pinnacles with generations of family members carefully etched into the stone with spaces left blank for upcoming generations to join them there. I try not to step on the metal plates at my feet which mark where each one is laid.

All these stones mark a story, the impact of which cannot be guessed by the greatness of its cairn. All ashes look the same. And the cherub respectfully hovering over an intricate inscription, may be guarding nothing more than a guilty son’s attempt to memorialize his cruel Ebenezer Scrooge of a father, and the flat plate, half covered by grass clippings, could be for a nurse who loved greatly and saved many lives. I stare at the stones, longing to read their stories. I want to touch them, to run my fingers over the smooth and rough of their characters, but all I can feel is stone. I find a tree and sit down. I want to tell them I care. I’ll listen. But they remain silent, so I respectfully join them, lingering with them in that silence, the only breathing member of hundreds, dreaming about their stories, with my own story still to live and still to tell.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

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