Not Another Living Soul

I walk through the tall stone columns, glad that the wrought iron gates are open today.  I take out my iPod and press ‘pause’, letting the peaceful silence replace the music.  Leftover rain drips from the bare trees onto the moist ground, the grass and pavement glistening beneath them.

As the cool wind gently pushes my hair from my face, I walk slowly through this field of stone. I am immediately drawn to a huge, elaborate structure, built centuries ago.

I try to imagine the type of life this person lived. What made the people buried in this crypt so different from those around it whose headstones read simply, “Mother” or “Father”.  One of the things that strikes me most about this cemetery – about all cemeteries – is the vast differences in headstones.  Some so simple, some ornate. Some old, some new.

As my eyes sweep back and forth, the words on one stone stop me in my tracks.

The first thing I see is, “Aged 22 years.”

As I stand there I read the rest.  She was already someone’s wife.  She had already lived and married and died.  In twenty two short years.  I know it was a different time – her death date was in the late 19th century – but seeing a tombstone of someone who is younger than you can be quite jarring.  You can’t help but wonder – how? Why?

Though none hit me quite as hard as this one:

It was exactly the same in shape and form many of the ones marked, “Mother”, “Father” or simply with a first name.  But this child didn’t even live long enough to be identified with a name. Perhaps it had a name, a name their parents had carefully picked out.  Fought over and laughed over. Perhaps it all happened too soon and no name was ever chosen. Either way, this baby was big enough to be buried on its own, but too small to have really lived at all. Heartbreaking.

A group of birds in a tree start singing for the spirits as I make my way along and decide to take a path that is covered in dead leaves. I like to take the roads less traveled.  A few steps in, I’m met with the long, drooping branches of a tree, creating a lovely frame for the expansive graveyard.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that this cemetery is much like any other cemetery I’ve ever been in.  The one my grandparents and an uncle I never met have been laid to rest. The one in Boston where Mother Goose’s tombstone is oft visited by tourists.  Ones I saw in London.  Then it strikes me that this is actually kind of interesting. I’m standing in a cemetery in New York and it’s reminding me of one I grew up visiting on Sundays back in Massachusetts.  Of all the things that have changed drastically over centuries and across the country, this seems to have remained remarkably the same.  My family’s tombstone – with the earliest death having been in the 1970’s or so – is very similar to these I walk by now, most dated in the early 1800’s.  Though nowadays I think it’s more rare to come across something like this:

I think it’s interesting that this tradition has remained virtually unchanged.

Here, after walking down paths for a while, I can see only grass and headstones all around me. No cars, no buildings. Not another living soul.

As I head down the road that would eventually lead me out of the cemetery, I am struck by the tragic beauty of one statue.

Just as I pause to take a picture, a light rain starts to fall, as though it’s the angel‘s cool tears on my cheeks.

I could wander around for hours, but I’m not sure if this mist plans to turn into more of a downpour, so I start my journey home.  Though, I plan to go back to that cemetery soon, imagine more stories, feel more peacefulness and admire more beauty.

Something has always drawn me toward cemeteries, I just can’t put my finger on it…

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~ by Valerie Anne on 03/06/2011.

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