In the distant past, Prospect Hill Cemetery was to the northwest, outside the city limits of Norfolk, Nebraska. In the not so distant past, the city has expanded. Now, the cemetery lies well within the boundaries of Norfolk. One might say that the cemetery was buried in the city.
That thought came to me as I contemplated the family plot of one of the first citizens of the town. The antique graves beneath old cultivated trees are reminders of the early days.
I visit Prospect Hill more frequently than other cemeteries because it’s close to home and some friends and family members are buried there. I usually park my car near Terry’s grave. Terry was a long-time friend. We worked together at radio stations in Norfolk and in nearby Wayne. With the car parked near the grave, my walking meditation begins and ends with memories about the friendship.
As I’ve gotten older, the truth about the wisdom of visiting cemeteries has been confirmed. This is not a morbid practice, it’s actually quite a healthy thing to do. We can visit any cemetery, even cemeteries that do not contain our loved ones. There we can contemplate life and death.
Personally, I prefer the oldest sections of Prospect Hill because the landscape is more conducive to peaceful contemplation. By contrast, the newer sections of the cemetery seem like residential subdivisions. The graves are laid out in a plain, grassy field and designated with ground-level markers. This design enables easier grass mowing. In my mind, the newer sections seem as impersonal as a phone book. They are efficiently laid out.
To visit the oldest sections of Prospect Hill is like visiting a library. The oldest sections harbor mystery, intrigue, biography, and history. The antique trees provide refuge to those who lay at rest and to the people who walk and contemplate. The old section is a muse to inspire poets and philosophers.
Counter-intuitively, visiting a cemetery brings about feelings of calm and extinguishes sadness. My mood becomes subtly more positive, I feel better about life, and more motivated to live more effectively.
I twice visited Prospect Hill after sunset. The first time was many years ago with a friend. Our walk enabled a profoundly satisfying conversation about life. On the second evening visit, a couple of years ago, I went alone. The weather was damp and chilly. I felt a touch of fear, yet because of the location, there was a greater sensation of personal safety. After all, very few people choose to visit cemeteries on cold, misty nights. If you want to push the envelope, visit a cemetery at night, but only if the regulations allow.
Night or day, visiting Prospect Hill causes me to face my own mortality and my own anonymity. There are thousands of graves at that cemetery, but I only know a precious few of them by name. This is a reminder of the way life actually is and not the way I fantasize life should or hope it will be. It is this acceptance that makes me feel integrated with myself as a human and with Planet Earth.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the innovative oil well firefighter, Red Adair. “I’ve got too many of my friends that retired and went home and got on a rocking chair, and about a year and a half later, I’m always going to the cemetery.”