A Sanctuary for the Dead and Living

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…the original Hill section was still lovely, its mature plantings offering visitors shade and cool breezes. The gentle, rolling terrain and meandering gravel pathways felt natural and comfortable, even giving the impression that those resting beneath its picturesque hummocks – some interred before the Revolutionary War – had come there by choice rather than necessity. (Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool, p.4)

Every time I drive into the center of town I go past this cemetery. And every time I drive by I feel a pull to turn in – not that I feel myself being pulled to death. No, I feel the pull to stroll the driving paths, sit in the shade of the very large evergreens, explore the grave markers in this oldest cemetery in our town. I love the rolling hills and how the morning sun shines through the trees to provide selective illuminations. There is a special eerie beauty when the sun shines through the morning mist.

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This mature cemetery seems to provide a place of sanctuary, a nature preserve for both the deceased and the living, much more than the level, perfectly laid out, sunny cemeteries. Our love for those we bury leads us to wanting a pleasant place for their bodies to rest, but logically these sanctuaries are more for us, the living.

We need this refuge as a place to keep our memories. The nature of this special cemetery seems to whisper that this is sacred ground – where we remember and respect those who have lived and died. I don’t need to go to the actual grave of my mother to remember her.

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This simple marker triggers the simple memories of times spent with my mother, sacrifices she made for her children, ways she helped me grow into the woman I am. When I walked past this grave I stopped to reflect and pay homage to all women who labored to give birth and then labored to nurture children to adulthood. And of course all the women who nurtured other women’s children.

When I view these simple markers, the stones and crosses without names, my thoughts are freed to think of the millions of people for whom there is no evidence of who they were within their small sphere of influence. I am reminded that we are not walking alone because we are walking on the path trod by trillions of people, unnamed people in our collective memories. Is there a sense of sanctuary in knowing that we are not alone in our walk through the joys and struggles of life, and our walk towards joining them in death?

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There is a sense of sanctuary for me in knowing, in my awareness and memory, that ‘I am’ because of all those who have struggled before me, all those who have loved with their hearts and hoped in a better future. I feel sorry for those who focus on hate and fear because it is impossible to find the peace of sanctuary within their world.

I have been wanting to do a post using these photographs for a very long time and Ben, at the Daily Post, provided a good prompt: Sanctuary. I had fun writing about how this cemetery has affected me, tying in the photographs and the prompt – and as always my words led me to thoughts that were new and exciting.

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