Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I like cemeteries.

I think it was about four years ago that I first visited a cemetery "just for fun." It was on a road trip to Tennessee for a friend's wedding. We drove most of the night to get there and then slept in the parking lot of the Hall of Fame. We woke up to a lot of people passing by the car - turns out there was a charity walk that morning. So we drove around town for a bit. My friend was really into cemeteries so we found an old looking one and went for a visit. We walked around that place for two hours, looking at grave stones. It was quite interesting.

Since then I've been to a few cemeteries. Last week, my coworkers and I drove around a really large cemetery in Peoria. Yesterday, I headed up to Millington, IL to meet my parents. They were delayed so I decided to make some pit stops. First one was just outside of Norway, IL where I visited a historical site commemorating the first Norwegian settlement in America, begun in the 1830s. I noticed behind the sign that there was a cemetery so I went for a walk, exploring gravestones that all dated back to the mid to late 1800s. The sign noted that there was a Norsk museum (in an old church) in town so I headed up that way only to find it closed. Knowing that old churches tend to have cemeteries behind them, I went for a walk. Indeed. I found a few grave sites as well as a really neat sarcophagus. It was surrounded by a wrought iron fence and had a large overgrown tree next to it.

By this time, I figured that my parents might be waiting for me so I thought I'd better move on. Turns out I was wrong. So as I drove into Millington, I came across the Millington-Newark Cemetery and couldn't resist turning in. I parked here & there and just walked around. The earth has shifted a lot over the years and there are deep cracks in the earth. In the older sections of the cemetery, there were quite a few headstones that have fallen over, some clearly due to the shifting earth. I can't help but wonder why no one picked them up. Some are undoubtedly heavy and would have required a lot of effort, others would have hardly required any effort other than bending over. Now however, they are sinking in the shifting earth and it would take some digging to move them. Have the families left the area? Died off? Why don't the cemetery caretakers pick them up?

A funny thing happened to me. With the shifting ground, there were places that I would step where I could feel my sinking just a little. No big deal though thoughts of the graves I was walking on crossed my mind. As I was walking, my crocs caught on something. I guess I got a little caught up in the whole idea of dead people and the cracks opening up to reveal the bodies below. I lifted my foot but couldn't seem to shake whatever had latched onto it. Immediately the picture of a hand grabbing my foot rose into my mind. I had a momentary lapse of rational thinking and panicked slightly...until I looked down...and saw the branch that had wedged itself into the hole in my crocs...and I burst out laughing.

Some headstones are so faded you can barely read them, though if you trace your fingers over the stone you can figure out a lot of the words. These clearly neglected headstones stand as a reminder to those who are living that we aren't here forever. Life is just a blink of an eye and then we are gone. 150 years after my death, will the only thing remaining be a faded headstone marking the start and finish of my life? Or will I seek to leave behind something that never fades - the testimony of God's grace and love passed on to the next generation?

Why do I like cemeteries so much? There must be something that draws me to them. After all, I visited three in one day! I suppose some of it is the stillness that exists in a cemetery and there is peace. The end of life brings the end of our striving. Striving to perform. Striving to be who others want us to be. Striving to get ahead. Striving to please. We live in a world that is always moving and it can be difficult to find a place of peace and stillness. A cemetery is one of the few places where you do find stillness. Except for the occasional breeze that rustles the leaves or the squirrel running up a tree, there is a beautiful peace that still exists in this world. Walking among the grave stones, wondering about the lives of the people buried there, feeling your heart clench when you see the family that buried children long before the parents died, reflecting on the path that your own life is one - it's a beautiful experience.

Call me crazy or morbid but I like cemeteries.

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