Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Cemetery Stroll

I think I should walk in a cemetery once a week. It sounds morbid, but if you came with me, you might understand. Not only is it good physical exercise, but it also gives your spirit a bit of a workout.

What I mean is that when you walk through a cemetery, you can't help but think of mortality. On the surface, that sounds like a bad thing. We should be thinking of life, you might say, and all the opportunities that lie before us. You might recommend that we not dwell on death.

I walked through the Decatur cemetery the other day. The historical marker said that some of the graves predate the 1823 incorporation of the city. There are more than 50 rolling acres filled with graves, old and new. The older slabs of stone have more character. Their inscriptions are cooler, and their mystique is multiplied by the fact that you have to really work hard to read them.

The newer graves are neater and prettier. Less weathering and more precise stone-cutting instruments make it that way.

When you look around, it's really surprising how much life there is in a cemetery. Birds chirp, squirrels call, city employees mow lawns and trim hedges. Cars whir by outside the cemetery gates. Freshly piled dirt and vividly colored flowers show that people were just here to mourn someone whose mortality caught up with them. I even saw a guy (alive, mind you) lying asleep in one of the grave plots.

These signs of life only underscore my point about the power of thinking permanently about our impermanence. They give us hope because even in a place devoted to death, life goes on. And they show that when we're reminded of death, life is easily noticed and cherished. The opportunities ahead of us will be lived more fully if we're conscious of how fleeting they are.

It's kind of like running or swimming. The athlete that knows the last lap is coming will not let up.

We don't know exactly when our race on this earth will end, but it's good to be reminded that it will.

When it does, we'll be judged on how we hustled, even when the finish line was nowhere in view.

Photo: Gettysburg National Cemetery. Copyright Trevor Williams, 2007.

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