Life & Death — A Memorial

I got in trouble the other day. Took me by surprise actually.

When I tell you what I was chastised for, you may also find you want to chastise me.  What can I say? I have never tried to pass myself off as conventional.  Just devotional.

Macy and I were walking in one of my favorite places that morning: a lovely neighborhood cemetery that I have been traipsing through for 11 years now. This park-like piece of land has long been a sanctuary where I savor natural beauty through the seasons, free from traffic and urbanization. Rustling with birds and squirrels and the occasional raccoon, well-tended but not sterile or manicured. With grave markers from the late 1800’s to present day and of all shapes and sizes, the landscape is deliciously textured. I wander through the meadow-like curving expanses of grass, breathing in the beauty and birdsong.  Sometimes I sing or skip or sit on the grass.  I admire the special touches that people bring to some of the grave sites, honoring memories with careful tending.

I always imagine that the spirits of those who have passed welcome my presence; that in bringing the celebration of life into this place, I also honor death. Mind you, I do modulate my behavior when there are others in the cemetery, aware that my conduct might be misunderstood or offend. I also avoid any recent burials, allowing space for the energy of fresh grief to shimmer and settle with time.

But early that morning the cemetery was deserted; there was no one else about but Macy, myself and the Soul of the land.  The beauty of this place and the joyful gratitude I was feeling for my life and this moment erupted into frolic. Macy and I were running and jumping and laughing as we traversed the lovely property, having veered off the gravel road that winds through the cemetery and onto the rolling grassy expanses, generously endowed with clusters of gorgeous mature trees and shrubs. I am playing training games with Macy as we race and romp and galavant, playing hide-n-seek and winding among the gardens of graven stones.

A car came driving down the road to the back of the cemetery where Macy and I were, at that point, walking together on the grass.  A man who must be one of the caretakers got out of the car and started talking loudly to me where I was about 50 feet away with Macy.   I told him I would come closer to speak with him.  He wanted to know if I was a property holder.  No, just a long time visitor. He went on to explain that, apparently, they get angry complaints from  property holders of the cemetery when they see people walking (let alone running!) across the land where the graves lay.

The caretaker seemed a little ruffled at first, perhaps expecting pushback or defensiveness from me. With a light heart, I assured him that I meant no disrespect — in fact, quite the opposite.  In order to continue enjoying the privilege of walking in this beautiful place, I agreed to remain on the road and paths.  Seems a shame that the dead are relegated to a sedate and lonely afterlife in a place where people rarely visit, and when they do, they must remain somber and stay off the grass.  Don’t you think the spirits of the dead might like it if we had a picnic or rolled around or danced when we visited?

I was reminded that not everyone feels comfortable celebrating life in the face of death, and that to some people, cavorting jubilantly with my dog cross a meadow planted with the graves of loved ones is a sacrilege.  I think when you live as if everything (or as much as possible!) is sacred, one becomes less susceptible to feeling profaned. In general, we humans seem much more comfortable with beginnings.  Endings tend make us edgy and awkward.  I understand, of course, that there is multi-layered process of grief involved when metabolizing the loss of a loved one.  Sorrow is as sacred as joy.

Sunflower Silhouette

A few days ago I learned that a woman friend I hadn’t seen in a several years died suddenly, unexpectedly, leaving behind a bereft husband and wave of shock and grief in her community of friends and family.  Her wish was to be cremated, but I know if she were buried she would want us to belly dance and sing and make-out passionately on her grave, celebrating the life she loved and lived fully.  I dedicate my irreverence in the cemetery to Stasi, who understood that sacred doesn’t have to be somber and that death is a part of life, not the just the end of the party.


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