Sunday, April 5, 2009

Whistling Through The Graveyard

On Sunday Llama and I took a walk down the bike path, or "rail trail," still in progress from behind my place on Market down to where the junction of the Florence and Amherst trails should eventually connect. We couldn't figure out where or if the path will cross the railroad tracks making this possible. I found a piece of rusty iron in the shape of a J, my #1 letter. Then we forded a stream, lounged on a tree and took a walk through the Bridge Street cemetery. It's surrounded by an inelegant chain link fence with only one gate apparently so you have to get out the way you came in. Which seemed appropriate. Llama asked me how I felt about cemeteries. I am drawn to them and find it's a good place to have a ponderous walk, alone or with a friend. Wildwood Cemetery in Amherst is the most beautiful because it's like an enchanted forest, beautiful and peaceful during the day, ominous and shadowy at night. When I was a kid, I took some black and white pictures in the cemetery behind my grandparents' house in the town of Emory in southwest Virginia. When they came back from the developer, one of the pictures was of a gravestone, out of focus in a way that made the picture look especially ghostly with motion blur. It was shot at a slight angle so the image was even more ominous. The picture gave me the chills and my young mind ran through the options. Throw it away? No. That would be bad luck. There would be horrible repercussions I concluded superstitiously. This would reveal that I was weak and ripe for some dose of horror from the ghost world. I had to keep it as a show of strength and courage. But to look at it genuinely scared me, in that way you can get scared as a kid because you don't have a grip on reality yet what with all the fat men in suits and giant bunnies factored in. I didn't show anyone the picture, thinking that this was part of the test. I had captured something I wasn't supposed to. A ghost had risen from the grave, maybe angry that I would take a picture, and entered my camera where it haunted that one picture and made it look completely different than any other shot on the roll of 20. The contrast was harsh and there were things I couldn't identify in the photo including what looked like an actual hand. I didn't even remember taking the photo. I certainly didn't recall seeing anything like that through the viewfinder. Maybe it had taken itself. Maybe a ghost had exposed the film by entering one frame and staying there. Maybe the picture was the ghost. I kept it tucked in the back of the top drawer of my bureau. It took courage, and I'd never do it at night, but I would look at it occasionally and feel that shudder go through me again. But over time, it became less scary, and I could look at if for longer periods of time without looking away and shoving it back in the drawer. When we moved from Chestertown, MD. to Amherst, I tucked it inside of a Dr. Strange comic book, specifically, thinking that it would appreciate being there rather than an issue of The Incredible Hulk or Howard The Duck. When I unpacked my stuff in my new room, it was gone.

In a walk through a graveyard, a discussion about death is inevitable. Llama said she did not like cemeteries and being proximate to so many bodies. I think more in terms of all the emotion that has accumulated on these grief charged grounds. I envisioned all time ocurring at once and all the funerals being there in the same moment. She will not walk over graves and we stuck to the road. She said she believed cemeteries are a symptom of denial. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust is ironically uttered at funerals when in fact, the cycle of life and death is disrupted by embalming chemicals, rot resistant caskets, and real estate. It's a way for the bereaved to feel like there is actually some control over death after all. That it can be boxed, and marked, and visited. It is a rejection of the planet's life it seems so much of human behavior has become. I said that in a way, graveyards are as indulgent as golf courses in their eternal hunger for acreage. Perhaps golf is another attempt to exercise control over death. Putting something in a hole in the ground on purpose but then taking it out again, over and over. Each hole you play is maybe a decade and if someone needs to play through it's like, Jim Morrison or Kurt Cobain, who's playing the game too fast. stopped there. Either way we do generally have the luxury of choosing the method of disposition for our loved ones compared to places on earth where disposal of bodies has become more about practicality and sheer volume.

In our times, the fact that more people are being cremated and then spread over places they loved or in bodies of water, is a symptom of old time religion not permeating so many lives anymore.

Have you thought about where you would want to be spread if you were cremated? Do you think it matters? It's almost like another denial or coping mechanism. The notion of a posthumous decision suggests we think we'll actually have some concern about the matter. That, like everyday choices, there will be consequences for us that require consideration now. Understanding that it doesn't matter is actually very liberating for me. It's the one thing I can afford not to worry about. I suppose where the ashes go matters more to those you leave behind. So I'll leave the decision to my survivors. But okay, maybe dropped over...NOPE....see? I'm still superstitious. If I say it, it's like tempting fate or inviting some catastrophic end. "How odd that his last post was about where his ashes will go and then the next day he gets taken out of the game in the crosswalk by a woman on a cell phone in a gold SUV with New York vanity plates that say GRM RPR."


Henning said...

I have that old photo of yours.

(not really)

wylie said...

Not all graveyards are the same. Check out the one off North Valley Road near where it meets Amherst Road in Pelham. Surrounded by pines, it feels very peaceful - a good place to be interred in a plane pine box. Of course that is no longer an option in this state due to our friends in the funeral home business. "Preserving" a body is a real oxymoron when you consider that our bodies replace every cell in less than seven years. As for cremation, when my best friend, Rob, died, we had his ashes scattered from a plane over the Connecticut, but the wind blew some of the ashes into our faces. We beat Keith Richards by twenty years in the snorting sweepstakes. Wylie

Bob Neill said...

Beard coming in well.

You didn't talk about the Chestertown Cemetery we used to visit every Hallow'een. And the local who told us one year, "That's the black folks cemmetery, you know." Either you or I said, "Hard to tell from up here 'bove ground, ain't it." When that blew past him, one of us added, "Better looking than the white one, you gotta admit. White one looks like a cheap display for a monument business." I don't remember the conversation proceeding further.