So today we went to the Eidsvold cemetery and it was fantastic. This isn’t the first cemetery I’ve been to in Australia because I love old cemeteries everywhere (I took my MA graduation pictures in an old cemetery close to my parents’ house). I feel like I need to write a blog that expresses and explains what cemeteries mean to me.
They express the high cost of living. They are the remnants of stories. They are the potential that was never realized. They are the home of life. They are the monuments of our loves. They model how all life fades while still becoming part of the lives that continue on. They are beautiful. They are life.
When I wander around cemeteries I find myself drawn to those graves that lack names. The ones that are marked by broken stone or generic crosses or some other simple way that lacks specificity. Those are the graves where I feel most connected to the lives that are represented because I wonder more about whose life is marked so simply. Did they know that they would be buried there? Did they know there would be nothing to distinguish them from everyone else? Were there people who were sad they died? Did anybody care? Or were they hated in life to the point that no one bothered to acknowledge their non-existence? What circumstances surrounded their life at the time of their death to make it so they are part of the unnamed dead?
I also wonder what prompts some people to mark graves lavishly? Were the families neglectful of the person whose grave is marked? Did they even want the child that lies in the grave? Do they mark the grave with plastic or carved flowers because they know that they will not come back to visit ever? Do they feel guilty that the person in the grave will never be visited? Do they feel like they have to pretend to care about the person in the ground? Are the flowers for themselves or their need to feel like they care or their need to appear as though they care?
And then I wonder why we have to make the graves look tended at all? Is it because we are afraid of the life that might spring up from the death the stones mark? Why not simply embrace life in all its stages? We in the US tend to keep the grass clipped short, we attempt to discourage life from moving in, we try to keep death contained in its small plot. I think that we do this in an attempt to ignore what we will all face some day – not being alive.
And that terrifies some people, so they try to avoid cemeteries and they look at people who enjoy spending time in them oddly and as though they are breaking some rule. But I think that if we embraced the fact that our lives will one day end and our bodies will be in some place like a cemetery, we might see that the time we have to actually make a difference and leave a longer lasting impression on the world than our brief grave is very short and be more motivated to leave that longer echo of ourselves in the lives of others. We might risk more if we were more accepting of our already brief life, and we might live more if we really accepted the cost.
What I love about the Eidsvold cemetery, and most older cemeteries, is the respect that is shown for the last remnants of the lives marked. The grass is kept down so that people can walk more easily to the graves they want to spend time at, but not to the point of obsessive suburban gardener. The grass on the edges comes in long, and there are snake and other small creature holes by some of the graves. There is an air of life amongst the death, and it invites the living to come in and commune with the past. And it stands as a living history of the town of Eidsvold, telling a story that no book could completely capture.