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.

Somebodies’ Somewhere

We were on a short dirt road between nowhere and nowhere else. At least that is what it seemed like to us. We enjoy exploring these back roads, especially when we are far from home and everyday life seems so different. We are beginning the Circle Tour of Lake Superior and are on the east end above Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. We have only been here once before – a long time ago and that was just a quick drive through. This time we have no urgent reason to get home on a specific day so we are staying more nights at each stop.

The paved road we turned on, off highway 17, ended a short distance away at the water’s edge, at a boat launch. We lingered a while taking in the quiet. Going back we turned down a dirt road with a sign pointing toward a lake shore resort. It was a small resort that bills itself as “A slice of Austria on Lake Superior.”

On this dirt road, going to the slice of Austria, I had noticed a small cemetery, on a cliff between the water and the road. On our way back I told JB to turn in and we drove down a short bumpy lane to where the markers were.

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I had said that this was a road between nowhere and nowhere else. This isn’t true. This has been, and is a place of significance for many people for a long time. This is home to the Batchawana First Nation people. There were several homes along the paved road and some evidence that people had established small businesses. But there isn’t much opportunity for employment close by so we could tell it is a poor community, at least from our capitalistic, consumer perspective. Maybe they don’t value “things” so their perspective of “rich” is entirely different. Maybe they value family, community, nature and only feel poor when they come in contact with the dominate values. I would love to move in and get to know them better.

We do know their grief because we lingered in their cemetery. I worried about violating their spiritual space, but I think it may have been okay because I felt a lot of reverence as I walked around and both JB and I felt their grief. JB noticed that most of those buried here were children and young adults – there were only two who were older than 60.

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Most of the grave markers were wooden crosses, although there were some that were white stone. There was one that was made of cement. We had just visited the graves of JB’s ancestors in Owen Sound and both of us were struck by the difference between the expensive stone markers to honor the dead and the humble ways the dead were honored here. Could there be a “richer” statement of grief in burying a beloved child than this. It leads me to question the purpose of our very expensive burial system.

Pancake Bay 066 I have never lost a child that I had held and nurtured, and I can’t comprehend the pain. But these parents lost five young children over a series of years in the late 1800’s. It was almost a yearly occurrence to bury a child. How do you think they coped with it?

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Yes, this is a community that grieves the loss of their own, together – and listens to the spirits of their ancestors in this sacred place. Don’t we all know who we are by remembering who has touched us and left?