November – From the Minister

love to walk in graveyards at this time of year. In an old one that I know, there was a little marker for a child, with a lamb made of stone lying on the top—a familiar motif in the early 19th century. The engraving read OUR LITTLE FRANK with the day of his birth and his death—one single day. Next to it was another little stone, and it, too, said FRANK. Their second son, born a year after the first, and given the same name, lived only to age three. And next to them their parents, and the stones of other children who lived on to adulthood, and the children’s children, and there they are now all together—and anyone I’ve ever known, or seen on any street, or any one of you, might be their descendants—or maybe there were none.

In another row I found the stone of a man who was married twice and widowed twice, and his two wives were sisters: not uncommon long ago, but strange to read the news in granite. You find all these threads of stories, bits and pieces, on little humble gravestones and big impressive marble monuments.

I like the quiet air in cemeteries. All the drama of the living has died down, settled into soil and grass and birdsong. Sometimes you can hear traffic on the highway just beyond the fence, or the shouts of children in a schoolyard, dogs barking, airplanes, hip-hop music wafting out of the land of the living, but where you are is quiet. You can feel a deep sympathy in such a place, for all their struggles, all their loves and losses, the failures that won’t be etched in any stone and over time are worn away and all forgotten, and the victories as well, all settled down into a congenial democracy.

These people have become part of something larger than themselves, and sometimes, walking in a graveyard, I remember I am too; my life, also, is a small, fleeting chapter of a larger, older story—something that goes on and on. It’s not a sad thought.

If the dead do come back to haunt us, I believe they’re begging us to tell the truth: that all of us are human, all of us are mortal, and life is very short—it is breathtakingly short—and most of us are trying, despite sorrow, grief and loss, to lead joyful, useful lives. Made stronger by our losses, or more wise, or gentler, we’re trying to lead lives that bring honor to the memory of the dead. Soon enough, under one sky, we will be restored to common ground—the same ground upon which we stand today, breathing in, breathing out, as one.