“A thousand years ago, five minutes were
Equal to forty ounces of fine sand.
Outstare the stars, infinite foretime,
And infinite aftertime, above your head,
They close like giant wings, and you are dead.”
Tomorrow is Halloween, the night when we celebrate the spooky and mysterious aspects of life. We let loose our superstitions and covert fears. Even many of us skeptics love to play along with this odd holiday. We enjoy seeing the costumed neighborhood children arrive for their free handouts of bite-size candy bars. Halloween is as ingrained in our culture as Christmas.
Even though I haven’t been to a Halloween costume party in many years, I still celebrate the holiday, but in a more meaningful way. It is a time of honestly, fearlessly, facing the one certainty of life. As Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki has taught, “Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away.” Halloween is the perfect time to ponder this pithy saying.
Although I visit cemeteries on the traditional cemetery days of Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day, I sometimes just do so, because I enjoy visiting them. It is during the Autumn and Winter when most people neglect thinking about cemeteries. Perhaps we believe such thoughts are morbid or perverse. Cemeteries are where history lies buried.
I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery once while visiting Washington D.C. It was a moving, spiritual experience. If it is possible, I think everybody should visit one of our national cemeteries at least once in their lives.
Each cemetery has its own particular culture. There are those that conform to order and restrictions of marker design like national military cemeteries or modern, practical suburban cemeteries with flush, rectangular markers for easy mowing and maintenance. Then there are the older cemeteries that allow for unique, more artistic markers and tombstones. The ancient cemeteries we can see in old cities and countrysides are the cemeteries that have become clichéd thriller movie settings.
The older cemeteries with traditional markers and monuments are the ones I normally visit. They are the places where grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends have been laid to rest. They are the cemeteries that have markers sometimes engraved with epitaphs. The epitaphs give us a clue about personal histories.
Prospect Hill Cemetery is one I particularly enjoy visiting. It’s located in my town. Prospect Hill has a modern section and an old, traditional section. It’s good to visit both. Yet, I prefer to meander through the oldest areas. There, I find large trees for shade and comfort. It is in the old section that benches are sometimes provided. Sometimes, I sit on a cemetery bench and look over the scene and meditate on impermanence.
It is at this cemetery that one of my coworkers and close friend was buried. Somehow, he came to rest in the old section of Prospect Hill. I’m glad this is so, because I can visit his site each time I go to Prospect Hill to ponder our city’s history.
There are many reasons to visit cemeteries. Halloween season is a good time to do so. This is the time to remember and once again become mindful of reality.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the mystic poet, Kabir. “Many have died; you will also die. The drum of death is being beaten. The World has fallen in love with a dream. Only the sayings of the wise will remain.”