America, September 1, 2007
Peaceful symbols of previous lives passed
When I was young, I used to fear cemeteries. I was always very scared to be near them, which proved a problem when my family moved in behind the Vero Beach Cemetery.
Then I met a grave digger making a new hole on day and asked him if he feared the dead. His wise, southing response? "I worry more about those four feet above the ground than four feet below it."
Since then, I've not worried about graves, and to an extent have become fascinated by headstones, markers of lives long past in few words and two dates. Like why we bookend lives with birth and death?
Was there not a parent that has a story before we start? Was there not change in life at least a few months before us? Then, do we not live on in our children? In memories of us throughout the community? In work and deeds that transcend our short lives?
Some grave markers are overly religious, with symbols of preferred gods or saints, others have images and etchings of the deceased. But even if it's just a name and a date, I still find meaning.
A horticulturalist I knew once found a whole other purpose in cemeteries. Though he wanted to be cremated, he still wanted to have his ashes spread on a full-size plot in an urban graveyard. He wanted to ensure his contribution to urban green space.
I can relate to his thoughts as I find cemeteries a great place to run through. From Moscow, to San Juan, to Washington DC, they are amazing open spaces generally free to enter and always visually impressive to pass through.
And Santa Clara, California was no exception. First I ran through the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, 150 years of history in a city block. From the original Spanish settlers to the newcomer 1849'ers, all now resting together.
Killed on Flight 93, and just 21, I broke down in tears when I thought of her parents. Of their incomprehensible pain and loss in such a public forum. The most personal and devastating mourning, a parent losing a child, now a national remembrance.
Yet after a moment to collect myself, I ran on. As much as headstones remind us of our own impeding death, we must keep focused on life. I thought of my father's life, of his death, and I what I should do now.
Mom spread some of his cremated ashes already, and I think its time now for me to spread the rest. To let him go to dust, to be free to float among the waves, the trees, to become life itself again. To let him be.
And not in a cemetery.