A graveyard can teach you

A centuries-old graveyard in Oxford, not far from Headington Quarry. December, 2005

A centuries-old graveyard in Oxford, not far from Headington Quarry. December, 2005

“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!

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. mike c.

    So many amazing graveyards here and i still have not made it down too?? the big one in Atlanta., which is supposed to be kind of a botanical garden.There is one next too us about two blocks away next to an old Methodist church -Lebanon Methodist. In one corner of the cemetery sort of separated from the other grave sites is a simple marker for Miss Jenny No birth date and she died in 1907. Apparently she was an ex slave and a local”healer” who used a lot of native plants in her doctoring. I am sure she has some stories too. I could not find a thing about her on line. I understand that in a lot of these church graveyards- the closer you are buried to the church the more important you were in the c ommunity.

    • Yes, for those who enjoy them, graveyards are fascinating. And one thing can be said of them — they are truly most everywhere you go. Even those cultures who practice cremation usually have some sort of columbarium or other memorials.

  2. mike c.

    Oakland Cemetery in downtown Oakland. And i was fascinated to see the burial plot for Moravians in Savannah, as they were the ones who helped Wesley to a more heart filled religious experience when they journeyed together from England. Savannah is another haunted place.

    • Yes, in general I think the South is more haunted because it suffered so much carnage and trauma just 150 years ago. But death is everywhere, just like graveyards and cemeteries.

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