Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's more about the action than the standing around looking sad

Five days a week I drive along about four miles of road that is flanked by cemeteries. I hardly notice them on the drive in because traffic is pretty light; we all glide right by. The drive home is a different matter.

We are bumper to bumper, no hope of getting around the 301 bus, sullen about our jobs and stymied by the traffic. Quite a few heads are turned towards the grave stones that dapple the grassy knolls on either side of us. Large monuments, modest head stones, and plaques flat on the ground that are only noticeable because of the plastic flowers standing vigil over them.

Every day my eyes slide across names, birth datess, and death dates of strangers. I wonder the usual questions. What kind of life? What kind of person? How the hell do you pronounce that name?

Then the news broke about the Burr Oak Cemetery fiasco. I noticed fewer people were just casually glancing at the cemeteries and more people were peering across the lawns to catch a glimpse of any wrongdoing. I didn't. Even if these cemeteries were caught up in the same dispicible practice, they'd have sense enough to cut it out until the whole thing cooled down.

Today something caught my eye. Various colors dotted the marble gardens and there was more movement among the trees. People were coming to these cemeteries to make sure their loved ones were resting in peace. Or, just as likely, to see if this cemetery was also up to no good, and to get money for it.

My skepticism was gearing up to reach 11. I shook my head, thinking of how quickly people try to capitalize on everything - even the death of their loved ones. All these people coming to check if they had a case against the cemetery's caretakers, under the guise of paying respects to Aunt Betty.

But I suppose there are some out there who are genuinely checking in on their families' remains. People who were reminded that even the dead could use our attention now and again, even as an afterthought. People who felt hindsighted love for the buried and nearly forgotten. People who cherished memories in private and were now forced to wonder if the last memory of that loved wouldn't be a kind smile or a fond funereal farewell, but the long and laborious fight to make sure the ones they love really do get to rest in peace.

And deep in my skeptical heart, I know that if I were to find out someone had desecrated my grandparents' graves, I wouldn't sue anybody. I'd fuck them up, but I wouldn't bother to sue them. My grandfather was buried in the mid-80's, my grandmother in the mid-90's. They both rest in Kansas, in adjoining plots that I haven't seen since the day we buried my grandmother.

So I'm trying to see the good in people, trying to see each new boquet of flowers scattered around the cemetery as an example of people who love the dead enough to leave the saddest memories alone and keep with them every day the best moments and sweetest thoughts.

I cook with my grandmother's bowls and pans, I keep my towels in a cabinet my grandfather made. I remember playing cards and watching Johnny Carson with the two most stable adults in my childhood. I'll hold on those memories. I'll remember those good, strong, healthy times instead of counting the years that I haven't stood beside their headstone to say words that don't mean as much as I want them to mean.

And I hope each person coming to check on their parents, grandparents, children, and friends will understand that in the end, it's still the thought that counts.

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