Friday, December 18, 2009

The Use of Space

While in Portsmouth with my sister and her husband last week, I saw this beautiful cemetery and I asked Mary to pull over so I could take a photo.
It was F-R-E-E-Z-I-N-G. I cannot remember ever having been so cold. The wind tore in off the sea and cut right through my coat and my gloves (when I stepped out of the car - so warm! why did I have to take this picture??? - the wind almost lifted me in the air and dropped me like a clod in the street) and I was a little afraid my camera would also freeze in the confusion.

So the photo is not my best, OK? It was just too painful standing there, thinking and composing and getting all the variables lined up just right (remember how long I have lived in the tropics!).

But I think I captured the cold loneliness and the finality and the grey certainty of death. And the youth of so many who lived and died in the 19th century and the grief they endured as part of their sojourn here on this earth: the child lost at the age of two, the wife at 27. (Can you read the Harding gravestone? Can you see how the Batsons counted age in years AND months, aware, perhaps, of how precious each day was?)

That cemetery space was prime property: on the sea, on the main road, with views in all directions, close to town yet not crowded. At Portsmouth New Hampshire prices, was it a waste of space, given, as it was, to the dead?

I don't think so.

On this trip, more than any other, I was mindful of the need for reflection, the need to be FORCED to stop, to pause, to consider, to contemplate, to recognize that this life we live is fleet and passing and charged with meaning only if we have something meaningful to offer. Crouched there in the cemetery, trying vainly to protect myself from the icy knife-like winds, I understood that like Martha Batson (52, just one year older than me) or Mary Harding (27 - oh, my life at that age! So full of promise and joy!), this life is my only chance. It has to count. It has to mean something.

I love cemeteries for the lives they hold and the promise they proclaim. I love them because they make us conscious of each passing moment as if it could be our last. As if it could really be our last.

And I love them for the way they remind us that while this life is the only one we have, it is also the gateway to the eternal mystery of the life beyond.

Martha Batson. Mary Harding. And me. Do all in the atmosphere of eternity. There are worse ways to live.

1 comment:

Peter Phun said...

Cemeteries in Malaysia are never so well-kept. They're actually spooky, never maintained and as a result always scared me as a kid.

I like walking around to see how long someone lived and then figure out when they passed.

I enjoyed reading this. Your wonderful picture drew me in Jo! Great job.