© By Jack Bogut
The gravel road sounded like the crunch of snow as we drove through the gate at the old cemetery. As the car rolled to a stop, all conversation ended and silence descended on us, not by any grand design - we just stopped talking.
Uncle Ray shut off the engine and we all sat there, as if we were waiting for the heavy quiet to lift and allow us out of our seats. Then I asked softly,
"Where are they?"
"Over there," my aunt Clarice replied as we opened all four doors simultaneously and spilled out into the day.
And there we were, each of locked in our own private moment; profoundly personal because no two people see or remember anyone exactly the same way. This is even more true when we recall someone gone. Two people whose faces each one of us could see vividly in our own minds were buried in this place somewhere: my Grandma, and Uncle Elvin.
The cemetery was draped over a hilltop like a green afghan. The grass waved back and forth, almost like a shiver on this cold day. Then, a deep shadow swooped down like a raven as a late autumn wind stole most of the heat from our faces and hands and moaned off through the sparse trees. The chill in the air was bone deep. And it was so quiet. Even though the only barrier to the noisy outside world was a rusty old fence, it seemed like all sound ceased inside the wire.
The school yard across the street was full of children. The high pitched blanket of noise they made filled the neighborhood around the school but seemed to soften at the fence. Perhaps sounds of the outside world diminish inside cemeteries because the life and times within us gets so much louder.
It had been many years since I'd been to that old cemetery to pay my respects and I'd forgotten where my grandmother and uncle were buried. My Aunt's, "...over there" meant east of the car somewhere, so I wandered off by myself, trying to find their graves by reading headstones.
I felt a little embarrassed searching; I should have known the location of their graves, and I was not comfortable reading and skipping over all those names I didn't recognize. Each grave marker I didn't know was a private moment that belonged to someone else, someone who knew the names I saw and could remember faces that would play back in their memory like a movie.
I paused at the grave of a young man killed in
twenty four years old. Viet Nam
"I owe you," I thought. "If not you, maybe my son," and John's face flashed through my mind, bright eyed, handsome, alive.
I stood there until the cold wind pushed me on.
"Grandma, where are you?” I said, laughing softly out loud. "I'm looking; I'm looking…"
I could almost feel her watching me, and hear her voice again:
"Well, there you are, Jackie, wandering around again. Are you lost, or looking for something?"
I'd heard her say that so many times when I was chasing a grasshopper or watching a cloud graze its way across the sky or daydreaming instead of working. Then Uncle Ray broke the silence.
"Over here," he called.
We gathered together and stood, close to one another and yet very much alone, each of us lost in thought and immersed in memories of faces, places, times and stories; remembering meals and chores, clear nights and Sundays, blizzards and dust, birds and snakes, animals and tumbleweeds, sunshine and stars, sickness and laughter, the touch of a hand and the sadness of good-bye.
Standing in that old cemetery I could almost feel the grass reach up and wrap around my ankles. Something seemed to be telling me,
"Part of your roots are in this place. Today you are here, and all that you have been gathers in you. And all the time you have left begins here, now, in this place."
Ever wonder why most cemeteries are on hilltops? The practical part of us says better drainage, a better place to put graves. But the deepest human side of us says cemeteries are on hilltops because, if we take the time to look and reflect, they give us vision. Cemeteries allow us to see in all directions. Up and down; North and south; East and west; Present and past.
Visiting a Cemetery can be like reading a road map. It's easier to get to where you're going if you know where you are. And you can always find where you are, if you know where you've been.
Each of us is bound to the past by those who've had their turns around the park. And we're tied delicately to the future by the steady rhythm of our own heartbeats.
A cemetery gives us vision to find where we are and who we are by helping us remember where we've been and whom we've left behind.