A graveyard can teach you
“Spending time in a graveyard can teach you a lot about living. When I stopped at each grave I swear I could almost hear the silent stories of perfect strangers. Their tombs like silent philosophies of all the ways a life can be lived.” — Simone Nacerima
Graveyards are a common motif at this time of year, supposedly spine-tingling places of dread. In reality, though, I’ve never found graveyards the least bit frightening, even back in 1975 when I was blindfolded and driven out to a rural cemetery during a sorority initiation that fell on Halloween. I was left sitting alone on a tombstone in the dark, and I didn’t even peek to see where I was. I remember wondering about the name on the tombstone, whose grave I might be disrespecting (through no choice of my own), silently apologizing to this person’s soul, and wondering what kind of life he or she may have led.
One December evening in 2005, I was alone in another small, unlit graveyard adjacent to an old country church in Headington Quarry, England. I was searching for the grave of C. S. Lewis, and I felt a panic that increased as the darkness closed in quickly. My primary fear was that I would have to leave, disappointed, never having spotted the earthly resting place of my favorite author. I also felt afraid that I might not be able find my way back in the dark, across fields and through neighborhoods, to the bus stop where I started — at least, not in time to catch the last bus to Oxford where I was to meet my son at Christchurch for vespers.
Though it was so dark I could scarcely read the Lewis marker when I did find it, the graveyard itself was not spooky at all to me. As with all cemeteries, it seemed filled with stories I wish I had time to learn. I left with some regret, and though I did make it back to the bus stop just in time, the images of my twilight pilgrimage to Holy Trinity church have stayed with me, one of those otherworldly experiences that never fade from the imagination.
I hope the cartoon-like portrayals of graveyards that are so abundant at this time of year do not close our eyes to the lessons such places have to teach us. May their silent stories bless you with wisdom, contentment and resolve!