It was a beautiful day outside today. I got up this morning, pain in my neck, and headed out to the hospital lab to get blood work done for my primary care doctor. I decided that since my rheumatologist has standing orders for me to have blood test every 4 weeks I thought it was a good idea to kill two birds with one stone and combined the draw for both doctors. Only one stick.
After I left the vampires behind, I headed back home, changed my shoes and went to the cemetery to walk. I was surprised. I've been walking at there for almost a year now, off and on. It is just a beautiful place but I rarely see anyone about, even the cleaning crews. It is part of the reason I like walking there.
Today was different. The place seemed to be crawling with people and cars. They were coming and going and I had to get off the road a couple of times to allow two cars to pass. Most were old people, some on walkers, and some were probably middle age, and there were a couple of young mothers with children. Everyone had flowers and I noticed that flowers were more prevalent all over the cemetery. I found myself feeling a bit put out by all the coming and going but comforted by the fact someone remembered.
America is not a culture of death. Quite the contrary, we exhibit life with all the stops pulled out, never thinking about tomorrow, never looking back. We're a country focused on, as one beer company used to put it, "all the gusto you can get." We live for and in the moment, at break-neck speed. It is why drugs are so popular. When this feverish existence seems to slow down, because life actually runs at a much slower pace than we force it to, we are faced with normalcy and the drugs speed things up again. When you're moving so fast, reality is a blur you can ignore.
So, cemeteries are places we go when we die, to be forgotten. It is where life stops. If you don't believe me, ask anyone if they visit the cemeteries for any reason and how often. You may even get a few pulled faces and comments about morbidity and creepiness. But if you ask the same folks if they want to be forgotten, they will tell you they don't. In fact, I think most of us don't believe we will be forgotten.
As I walked today, around each curve someone was getting out of a car, bending over a grave, placing flowers, or leaving a grave site. It was moving in an odd way. Of course, you know me, always find the flaw in the pattern, I realized that my home is not here. I have no extended family here but a granddaughter, son and a sister, none of whom I believe will remain here when I am gone, if they outlive me. My granddaughter, especially will likely go off to college, meet a Prince Charming and move somewhere else. I'm not likely to see that. And I will lie here in this cemetery, forgotten. No one will lay flowers or stare at my name carved in the stone and remember me.
This has bothered me a lot since Jerry died. As I said, no one wants to be forgotten. One of my greatest sorrows has always been that my Mama lies in a cemetery so far away I can't visit her grave and place flowers on it. I know that they're not "there" but this desire to leave mementos on graves is as old as humanity. It is inherent in us. Archaeologist repeatedly find sites of ancient burials with the remains of flowers and other mementos that were left by the living. Maybe some people do not have this inclination but it is so prevalent around the world that I wonder what is wrong with those who don't. What has happened to change us?
It used to be even more common for people to visit cemeteries than it is today. Latin American countries have Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) where whole families have veritable picnics in cemeteries to pay homage to their dead and celebrate their life. Asia and Africa have many special ceremonies to honor their dead. While these may seem extreme or weird to us, I don't find the intent odd at all.
I rounded the last curve in my walk and the VA section came into view. I saw all those flags waving in the breeze. I saw the flowers I placed on Jerry's grave and flowers other's had placed on their loved one's grave. I walked over to Jerry's and adjusted it. I read the name carved in the stone. I looked at the rows of graves of those who served this country, some sacrificing their life for it. More than a hundred small flags fluttered in the breeze and there were more on other Veteran graves in other parts of the cemetery. Monday there will be a memorial service here and the names of all the veterans who died in the last 12 months will be read aloud. There will be a 21 gun salute fired and a benediction given. For this weekend, at least, they are remembered.
For those of you who are still with us who served and those who still serve, you are a special breed and you have my eternal thanks for your service to this nation.
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