I live next door to a cemetery…as in, at the end of my street, just beyond the attractive magnolia trees and a berm of lovely green grass, people are literally “pushing up daisies,” “six feet under,” and all the other euphemisms we use for those who have “passed away.”
And, as crazy as it sounds, and you gotta know we’ve heard ALL the jokes about cemeteries, all the anecdotes about ‘how much he left behind…Answer: ALL of it!’, and all the superstitions (no, I truly don’t whistle every time I drive by!), I’ve actually come to love the perspective that being so tremendously close to people’s final resting spot brings with it.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I focus on the whole death-grieving-ashes-to-ashes scenario 24/7. In fact, like so many of us that slip into auto-mode when running our regular errands, I can drive past the neatly manicured, almost-park like setting, half a dozen times a day without so much as a second thought as to what literally lies beyond the wrought iron fence that separates us from them.
You know how it is–life, death, don’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning—when you get into the check-things-off-the-list mindset—it becomes totally more about getting things done, honoring the almighty to-do list, than what happens during the in-between times.
And that’s such a dreadful way to spend your days life.
But then…then I’ll drive by and something will catch my eye and snap me back to the reality and the finality of these sacred plots. Like the time when two area high school football players were killed in a car crash and their teammates kept vigil for weeks afterwards, bringing in folding chairs, balloons, and team blankets as a means of bringing a bit of comfort and familiarity to their friends’ massive and shared headstone.
Let me tell you, it’ll sober you up real fast when you catch a glimpse of a dozen or so 16-year-old, 250-lb. linemen huddled together, sobbing over the loss of their teammates/brothers/friends.
And when the former fire chief passed away, the send off from our community of first-responders was nothing short of a ceremony fit for a king. Fire engines, squad cars, and police motorcycles double- and triple-parked along the narrow and winding pathways of the gravesites. Hundreds (if not more) of uniformed police, firemen, and EMTs from the five-state area filled much of the grounds and stood at solemn attention when taps was played. The silent testimony of their commitment to one another was absolutely deafening and a scene I’ll never forget.
And whenever there’s a national, patriotic holiday, the sea of tiny American flags marking the sites of service men and women against the backdrop of tombstones of our veterans makes me swell with pride of country and tremendous gratitude. I’ve arrived at the grocery store more times than I can count, brimming with tears when I consider the significance of their sacrifice.
On any given day, there are always a handful of living individuals scattered throughout the grounds. They come to mourn. And cry. And pray. And be as close to their loved one as is physically, humanly possible.
Sometimes they’re replacing faded and worn artificial flowers or clearing away dead leaves so the tombstone can be clearly read. Other times they’re leaving a teddy bear, a colorful balloon, or a solar-powered LED garden light, as if to a to make sure their loved one can see the path clearly.
Sobering, I tell you…so very stop-you-in-your-tracks sobering.
But for all the jokes about my “exceptionally quiet neighbors,” all the spooky-ooky ghost stories the kids love to share, and the occasional plastic flower that ends up in our trees, I couldn’t be happier living next to a cemetery. It keeps my perspective in tact, my faith shored up, and my appreciation for the ‘here and now’ seriously in tune most of the time.
And when I do begin to discount my blessings or exaggerate my challenges (Who me?), I don’t have to look much beyond the end of my street to realize my side of the fence is an ok place to be.
Am I the only one who sometimes needs a little reminder about how truly good life can be? What? You, too?