Recently, my brother and I went to Austin. It was the first time either of us had been to the city. What’s more, it had been at least two years since we had seen each other. On this trip, we decided to visit all of the museums and all of the parks we could find in addition to the usual sights and sounds of one of the most diverse cities in Texas.
In our exuberant crisscrossing of the city, we ran across a cemetery.
“Oh! Let’s stop here and check it out!” I said.
Used to my eccentricities, my brother shrugged and pulled over. We went to inspect what sort of final resting place Austin had to offer.
The sign at the entrance of the cemetery explained that this parcel of land had once been a privately owned cemetery until the 1920’s when the state bought it and turned it into a public cemetery. While there were a couple of graves that had not been moved, most of the current inhabitants began trickling in after the purchase had taken place.
Still, it was a beautiful place. The tombstones were ornately carved and decorated, shaded by large oak trees sporting oversized wind chimes. Several benches dotted the area as did vibrantly colored floral and knick knack offerings to the deceased.
“Why are there so many benches?” My brother asked. He’s been humoring me as I have been wandering around the tombstones, speaking names out loud and occasionally taking pictures of the more interesting ones.
“It’s so that people can come and visit their loved ones,” I explained. “There was a time when people would come and have big family picnics in graveyards. It was a way for people to remember their ancestors and to connect with their family roots.”
“People don’t do that anymore,” he observed. “Graveyards are creepy.”
It’s a common thing I hear and I really don’t believe it. My friends and I visit graveyards regularly. Sometimes to pay homage to one of our deceased family members, sometimes to find historical people’s final resting places, and sometimes, just to commune with the idea and concept that is death. We, as a society, have become so much more removed from the reality of death. Not many of us have ever been in the presence of one who has recently deceased. Few of us have had to kill to survive. Visiting graveyards is how we can maintain that connection, that respect with death. It is a way for us to keep the perspective that we can’t live forever, so it’s important to live today.
And it’s to respect and keep alive the memory of those buried. Ancient Egyptians believed that every time a deceased person’s name was read or spoken, it gives more energy to that person. It keeps them connected to the earthly realm and, therefore, never really gone.
I don’t know if that is true, but I would like to think that when I am dead that someone would walk past my grave and whisper my name, recognizing that I had once walked the earth. That I was real and had once lived.