Monday, May 12, 2014

Long Memories

Occasionally I swing by the cemetery where my father is buried. I do it for the sake of my mother, who has some mobility issues and can't go by there as often as she would like. So I check in and make sure the plants and flowers she places there remain and are intact. The Old Man himself would certainly scoff at the whole affair; he would see no point in either planting anything there, or in me checking on it. But it's more about what my mother wants than what he would have wanted. I occasionally joke that I go to make sure he's still there; if anyone could, by plain meanness, rise from the grave, it'd be him. Sounds cold, I know, but it's the kind of joke he'd appreciate.

This cemetery is fairly old, and contains the gravesites of many of the folk who founded and built the town I live in. I have no particular interest in spending a lot of time in graveyards, but while I'm there, I do take note of the variety of headstones and monuments. There are many implicit stories to be found, whether it be the tiny headstone set apart from any others, carved simply with the word "Baby," the couple for whom thirty-three years separated them in death, or the couples headstone on which the date of death of the second person remains blank. Recently, I noticed this:

I don't know who Sarah Laird was. Somebody does, though, because those artificial flowers are fairly new, and the living plant behind the stone can't be terribly old. The better part of eighty years later, someone still remains who cares about Sarah.

I think about many of the people here in this cemetery, and how so many of them may be long-forgotten. In some cases, their names have been softened and blurred by time and the elements, until even the stone has forgotten them...
On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, someone goes through the cemetery, as their counterparts do in so many others, placing stickers and small flags on even the oldest headstones that stand above the remains of veterans. So, for them, our collective memory does remember them and their contributions. Even then, though, many, if not most, of their stories are lost to history. The tales of who they were, what they dreamed, whom they loved...are now gone.

I've written of the grand procession of lives that winds its way through time, and how each member of that procession has his or her moment on the stage of life. I've rambled on about how those who came before us set the stage which we eventually take, and how we, in turn, set the same stage for those who come after. I ponder on how we remember those from the past, and how we will be remembered ourselves. The graveyard is the indicator of the answer to both those ponderings.

That is why seeing that someone still remembers Sarah Laird, still feels strongly enough about her, remembers her clearly enough, to decorate her resting site, both surprises me, and fills me with a bit of joy, a gleam of hope. For a couple of years now, I have worked against my natural inclination to live in the past, and to start living in the present and look towards the future. I cannot, however, fail to feel more than a bit of affinity for this person who decorates the grave of one so long away. This is important; this was a person, once a living, laughing, loving human being, with hopes and aspirations and achievements, and, maybe, some sorrows, who loomed large in the heart of someone, almost certainly many someones. Now, one of those someones pushes back the great night of oblivion to remind us all, in some small way, that those who came before us do matter, that in some way they do live on, if only we choose to remember them.