Monday, May 29, 2006
For Memorial Day
I don't know whether you've ever been to one of these places. The one I'm most familiar with presents an odd combination of pastoral reverence and industrial efficiency. The grounds are beautiful, calm, meditative, impeccably maintained; the visitor's dominant impression is of a fitting place of dignified, timeless repose. If you attend a "committal service" there, though, you get a brief glimpse of the bureaucratic machineries that whir quietly but constantly amid the reverent calm. Funeral parties come and go on a tight schedule; the Visitors' Center always seems to be buzzing with well-dressed, mournful people. The actual burials take place out of sight, swiftly and mechanically, I assume; visitors must say their final goodbyes at "committal shelters," not at graveside. Their loved ones will be laid to rest in one of thousands of numbered, lettered plots. You'll want to know the exact location of the plot if you're ever going to visit someone there; otherwise, you will spend much time wandering among headstones, militarily identical except for name, rank, and symbolism.
Which isn't such a bad thing to do once in a while, really. My mom and dad are buried in the cemetery above; walk around a bit in the vicinity of their graves, and you'll see hundreds of people whose life stories must have overlapped theirs considerably: their childhoods shattered by worldwide depression and war, their young adulthoods molded by global conflict, their later years shadowed by nuclear terror. It was quite a century they lived through—and helped make. And now, one by one, they're taking their places with quiet, military efficiency in lettered, numbered plots in methodical, orderly rows. So many headstones; so many names; so many people who, like my father and uncle, spent years of their lives thousands of miles from home seeing and doing things that most of us can scarcely imagine, side by side now under the tranquil surface of places like this, across which you and I can walk and ponder and read their names and wonder about their lives and leave flowers once in a while.
Links to this post: