The interesting dead

Perhaps it is because the names are familiar. Perhaps it is because I can recall the faces and the voices of many of those whose mortal remains lie beneath the gravestones. Perhaps it is because I know more people who are dead than who are living. Whatever the reason, the cemetery at the end of Windmill Road is always a place of fascination.

It was said that during the days of Soviet Communism, in days when State policy towards religion was at best one of repression and at worst one of violent persecution, that people would go to cemeteries as “spiritual” places. People might not have been members of any church, they might not have had any explicitly religious beliefs, but among the graves they found something they did not find elsewhere. What did those people find among the dead? The question might still be asked, for the inclination to visit graveyards is not confined to any time or place. Why have death and final resting places retained such a fascination?

Perhaps it is about a confrontation with the one absolute certainty in life (or, if you agree with Benjamin Franklin who said “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, one of the two absolute certainties).  Perhaps walking through a cemetery is a declaration that life continues, that death has not yet had its moment. Perhaps cemeteries, far from being morbid, fill one with an awareness of life, create a sense of urgency to make the most of whatever time may be left.

Thoughts provoked by a graveyard presumably vary from person to person for each one’s memories are unique, each one will have a string of different associations, different moments and scenes will be evoked by even the plainest of gravestones.

Personally, a graveyard is an opportunity to reflect, to read inscriptions on the headstones and memorials and to ponder those whose mortal remains lay beneath the soil. The stories behind the inscriptions are what intrigue; the characters, their experiences, their encounters with life in all its rawness.

Perhaps it is a mark of passing years, but walking among the gravestones has become a common pastime. In casual moments when a cemetery gate might easily be passed, there is always a temptation to pause. Graveyards in other places are as fascinating as those near to home. There is a peacefulness and a questioning – and sometimes even a story to take away.

 

 

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4 Responses to The interesting dead

  1. James Higham says:

    “Personally, a graveyard is an opportunity to reflect, to read inscriptions on the headstones and memorials and to ponder those whose mortal remains lay beneath the soil. The stories behind the inscriptions are what intrigue; the characters, their experiences, their encounters with life in all its rawness.”

    Quite agree, nicely put.

  2. Ian says:

    The Victorian inscriptions are often my favourite. They were much more comfortable with death than people now.

  3. James Higham says:

    Yes, they seemed to have a handle on it then. What happened?

    • Ian says:

      Materialism? An attachment to the stuff of here and now and a fear that death is a contradiction of everything that people hold dear?

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