So, in my effort to get outside more (even though my job keeps me tethered to a desk 10-12 hours at a time) I've started walking on my lunch break again. I did this in the spring for a while, then just stopped. For some reason I haven't been walking in the mornings after the kids get on the bus either. I should. Fresh air is good, for the body and the soul.
Anyway, I've been walking. But instead of walking the neighborhood across from work, I've been walking the cemetery. I was always sort of afraid to walk there alone before, because even though it's bordered by a nice section of the University neighborhood and parts of the University itself it's also very near a very not nice part of the city. But, it was the middle of a sunshiney weekday, and I decided to just go and do it.
I'm so glad I did, it was so healing. The sun was shining, breeze was blowing, leaves were fluttering. I brought my mp3 player, but didn't use it. I just listened. Watched. It was awfully alive for a cemetery. There were a couple other people there; a woman walking her dog, a man jogging, a couple having a picnic. I've walked there before, but never alone, so I was really able to notice things this time.
The cemetery is 160 acres in the city. It was opened in 1859, and I'm so in awe of the monuments and graves from that time. There are some outstanding ones and some very simple ones.
The bigger monumnets leave me wondering who the people were, what they did. I think it's so incredible how much money went into these resting places.
Then there are the smaller graves, some have headstones and some do not - or maybe they did but don't any longer. Families were buried together often, and I wonder if how you decided which family you were buried with if you were married and how far along might that go - where would the children of the children be buried? Some of the smaller ones with no headstones simply say what they were: Mother, Father, Son. No name, no date of birth, no date of death. That's who they were. Mother, Father, Son. Often the mother is listed as Wife of: (whoever) as if her name didn't matter, just who she was married to. I wonder if that was enough for them, to simply be mother or wife. There many late 1800 and early 1900 ones that have infants and often 2 or 3 people in the same family dying in the same year. It makes me wonder of their fate. Illness? Fire?
Headstones don't tell you enough.
But I love these simple, older headstones. Much more than the fancy older ones though those are intriguing too. It becomes easier to imagine that family, living in the area I live now, only so different. There would have been a farm where I work - in fact I work in a converted barn. The University was just being built.
To me, every person in a cemetery was a good person. I'm sure they weren't, but I like to imagine that they were. I wonder about the families buried there, and how similar they were to families today. Our surroundings have changed - but I like to think that it's not so different. They loved their children, kissed them goodnight. They cooked dinners and had friends and looked up at the same moon I do.
There are a lot of newer stones there too. They're lovely, and it's still a peaceful and beautiful area of the cemetery, but I don't spend much time there. Everything sort of looks the same. It's in neater rows. Shinier stones.
There's another section, that I spent some time in that is so, so sad. It's a childrens area - babies, really. Some of them have headstones, but most of them don't, just metal, rusted markers. Some of the markers are so old they're missing the names. That makes me the saddest, the nameless markers.
I walked through a newer cemetery down the road yesterday, instead of the bigger one, and I didn't like it. Too pristine. All the headstones were the same (one of 3 colors) they all had similar engravings. One thing that was neat, was what seemed to be a lot of shared same sex plots. It's possible they are siblings, but I'd like to think that this religious cemetery is progressive enough that it wasn't. When I was finishing my walk, and thinking I wouldn't visit this cemetery again, I came upon an older man sitting in a lawn chair in front of a grave. Just sitting there. Maybe talking, maybe thinking - visiting. And suddenly I felt a little strange being there, what right did I have to be walking through these graves, these lives lived, other peoples pain?
I didn't feel like that at the other cemetery. I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was built almost as a park, and people seem to enjoy it as one. I'd like to be buried somewhere like that. Well, I'd like to be cremated, but I would be ok being buried in a cemetary like that. To me, cemeteries and headstones aren't for the people under them - they are for the people left behind, the people who need a place to grieve and to visit and sit in their lawn chairs and watch the leaves fall.