Thursday, January 27, 2011

Presence... or absence?

I had a powerful reminder of my chosen word of the year the other day when I decided to use up some rare spare time by walking with my camera in the Lexington Cemetery. I was between appointments and didn't want to waste time with eating or shopping/spending money (I've had more than enough of those the past few months!), plus wanted to exercise and enjoy the snowfall.
I couldn't have lucked upon a prettier time or place. I'd actually only been in Lexington Cemetery once years ago when the huge weeping cherries were in bloom and I will definitely make it a stop again this spring, as they are spectacular. There is so much history there, both in the people memorialized and in the trees, some of which are the finest specimens of their type in the region.
Henry Clay's memorial stands tall above the rest, with his figure facing toward his beloved home, Ashland on Richmond Road, and I enjoyed reading the fascinating history of Henry Clay's funeral(s) and the development of the memorial itself (noting that the statue's 350 pound head came off in a storm one time, and was found 6 inches in the ground!). The cemetery website has the history.
As I meandered through the winding paths, my own footsteps the only prints in the snow (except for the native creatures), so many thoughts ran through my mind.... I have fond memories of our family visiting my grandparent's graves in beautiful Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. One time we were there late on a Sunday and when we went to leave we discovered that we'd been locked in! There were lots of jokes about having to spend the night, but my brothers climbed the fence and found the caretaker to let us drive out.
I recollected the time in college when a group of us, dressed in costume (one tall guy with a real pumpkin on his head), went through the old cemetery in Oxford Ohio on Halloween night to try to scare the wits out of each other- it worked.

I thought of the attempts we made to clean up the old 1800's graveyard on our farm, pulling up weeds and cleaning up branches and putting a split rail fence around it. I'm sorry to say that nature has once again reclaimed that patch of sacred land; maintaining a cemetery is a lot of work!
As I walked, I felt a lovely peacefulness. This is why people come to cemeteries, to reminisce, pay respects, and find serenity. I felt the kind presence of those long gone, and also that of God. But as I saw some tents standing over newly-dug graves, I also had a sensation of the absence and grief that is experienced there. Absence = the opposite of presence, a harsh reminder that I am here, now, but won't always be.
I also revisited my own decision to be cremated, not wanting to take space on this earth once my life is over. I don't want toxic chemicals added to the soil on my behalf, don't want a fancy coffin or any of the other traditional accoutrements of death. May my ashes be spread wherever loved ones find comfort, but hopefully in a place of nature and peace. I know that I'd like being close to water and whether it's the Kentucky River, the Bahamas, or a lake in a cemetery matters not to me.
There was plenty of nature in this space in the middle of the city, I saw a Cooper's Hawk, Great Blue Heron, ducks and geese, and the tracks of many small birds and mammals.
It seemed quite apt that a friend had this thought-provoking link on her facebook page that evening (don't let anyone tell you that facebook is all trivial, I find many nuggets of inspiration there from wise friends). It fit quite nicely with the ruminations I had as I left the cemetery. They revolved not around death, but LIFE and how best to live the rest of it.... and only God knows how long that may be.
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Kaylen said...

Well, Lindy, this is absolutely beautiful. The pictures, your words, your insight, and inspiration. Thank you for this gift today.

Dianne@sheepdreams said...

Beautiful, thought-provoking post, Lindy. Thank you for sharing.

Tiggeriffic said...

A walk in a cemetery is like walking down someone's street. Every stone has a name and a date of birth and death.
This is a beautiful cemetery with lots of snow. I love cemeteries ~ can you imagine all the chatter if each person that is buried there could tell you their story? Yikes that would be great...
have a tiggeriffic day~! ta ta for now from Iowa.

WonderWhyGal said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos. Cemeteries invoke a peace and reflection in me too and I love to look at the history that surrounds me. My dad was cremated and his remains are at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta, Michigan. It's such a tiny little spot but surrounded in a place where his military service will be honored. I find beauty in that cemetery. It's not as old as yours but full of so many stories.

Carpe Diem. Yes! The perfect word.