Benjamin Franklin once said, “Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have.”
Nice one, Benny.
While I understand where Mr. Franklin was coming from, to me the concept of cemeteries is an intriguing and somewhat perplexing subject. Why do we bury our dead in such places? What is the point? What is the goal?
Okay, so I can understand the need to bury the bodies of our loved ones to keep them from becoming food for scavengers and to attempt to maintain a certain level of environmental hygiene. And certainly, I am sure, magical mystical reasons were thought up as an excuse for burial in these days of old timey yesteryear. (Silly ancestors make me laugh.) But why not cremate the physical bodies of our loved ones? If at the time of our death, the soul is released up into the sky to hang out with all the other souls or something of that nature, what need would there be to enshrine the corporeal bodies of our friends and family in boxes, to be buried in the ground amongst a sea of other corpses? Are our bodies that important, or even that impressive? Do our physical bodies contain something of our essence, our nature, our personality? Or are we just big hunks of meat that these “souls” live in? Are we big Duracell batteries? When we die, does our energy get released like a power surge? Or like a whimper? Does this energy join up to form a hunk of a bigger energy ball? Who shot JFK? Why do I suddenly feel like a five year old tugging on her daddy’s shirt, asking him, “Why the sky is blue? Where do babies come from? Why are clowns so goddamn terrifying?”
Because they really do scare the bejeezus out of me. Them and Catholic priests.
But I digress.
Anyway, back to my thoughts on the matter at hand. In my mind, the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” seems like an argument for cremation. Or even an argument for burying the bodies of our loved ones directly into the ground, rather than placing their embalmed and made-up bodies (Queer Eye for the Dead Guy?) into borderline impenetrable receptacles which will slow down this process of transformation back into earth. What are we looking to preserve through caskets and crypts and all that jazz? How much money do funeral homes make? Yes, I have seen My Girl, but that didn’t explain jack squat. Some might balk at the idea of burying a loved one’s corpse directly in the ground and envision wild carnivores sniffing out the flesh and digging it up for a meal. Gross, but that’s nature at its finest. However, I really don’t believe that we are currently burying our people in cemeteries because we are terribly concerned about animals devouring them.
And in this strip mall country in which we are living, aren’t cemeteries just a waste of space? Why do we create intricately laid out, crowded fields and parks full of dead people? Don’t get me wrong – in some cities, cemeteries are some of the only open spaces left. And if a field full of dead peeps keeps another Wal-Mart from being built, then so be it (and rock on). And while I understand and subscribe to the concept of memorializing those close to us upon their passing, isn’t a permanent shrine to them a bit … much? Are memories not enough? So, we visit Auntie Ruth’s grave so we can remember her, and while we are placing flowers or hankies or cards or other paraphernalia on her headstone, she is becoming worm food below our feet. Isn’t there a better, classier, not-so-potentially-scary way (note: Thriller?) to celebrate the people whom we love who have passed away than sticking them in the ground amongst the bodies of strangers? Yes, I am aware that strangers are only friends who we haven’t met yet, Reverend … but I am not sure that sunshiny concept applies in particular situation.
By all means, we should remember our loved ones every day, and think back on them with all love and colors of emotion on our human palettes. I just don’t believe that we need cemeteries to do this, or maybe that is just how I operate personally.
So, all of these thoughts raced through my head this past weekend, as I took a stroll through the Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston amidst New England’s fall foliage. Forest Hills, established in 1848, is one of the country’s most historic burial grounds. Sitting on over 275 acres, the site is a park, a museum, an arboretum and an art exhibition all rolled into one. In the midst of this beautiful and yet, well … sorta creepy … landscape, I snapped some photos as I tried to contain my Jack Handy-esque deep thoughts and attempted not to come into contact with any zombies.
So ponder, peruse and enjoy.
Yours in life,