Monday, April 23, 2012

Beauty, and Where (Or How) We Behold It

As some of you know, but most of you don't, I like to run in the cemetery near my house. Several times a week I take my dog, Herschel, and he races around like a lunatic while I huff and puff and dream of fitting into the pants I wore my senior year of high school.

I recently told a friend where I like to do my jogging, and the response was, "That's kind of creepy!" It was said in jest, and in context, it was a compliment, but it got me thinking about my choice to do cardio in such a location. Are cemeteries "creepy?"

Dying is creepy. Dying can be terrifying, and often painful, and the majority of people experiencing it wish they had more time. More time to Live, that is. The death of a loved one can also be terrifying and painful for those left behind. Do cemeteries only represent Death? We are buried in them. A stone or tablet is erected to commemorate our passing. Flowers and memorabilia are placed as signs that the ones who are buried have not been forgotten. But can cemeteries also represent Life?

Today, I was in a particular kind of mood. You know, the one where you move slowly, and take the time to really see the world around you. The kind of mood that makes you contemplate the deeper meanings of ordinary "things", not in a sad or heavy-hearted way, but in an acknowledging manner that indicates you have recognized things are not always what they seem at first glance.

The particular cemetery where I go is beautiful. It's quiet. It's very large, and I've never walked (much less jogged!) the entire grid in one session. There are hardly ever any visitors, but when there are, I go in the opposite direction so that we may each have the privacy and contemplation we have come for. Today, I brought my camera with me to the cemetery. I decided to share with you some of the reasons why I choose a place of death to be the place I celebrate my life.

 There is something magical about a time-worn path, the broken stones bordered with moss, and not knowing where it may lead. This is a path of mysterious journeys and gallant quests undertaken by otherwordly creatures, heros, and fair maidens. Where would YOU end up if you were to place one foot in front of the other, slowly, so slowly moving forward...

A few months ago, two young teens were playing in the cemetery at the same time I was jogging through. A boy and a girl, whose flirtatious exchanges could be heard echoing through the stones. They were old enough to feel the thrill of attraction for someone who makes your spine tingle, while young enough to still play like innocent children. They managed to climb inside these two trees and mostly conceal themselves amongst the branches. As I started approaching the trees, they became very silent. I knew they thought they were invisible, and being me, I decided to foil whatever plot they were drumming up. I called out, "I know you're in there!" At first, silence, then giggles erupted. The girl called back, "How did you know?" I laughed, thinking of a toddler who plays peek-a-boo with her blankie, and thinks that because she can't see anyone, no one can see her, either. I called to the teens, "Because I can see your sweatshirt!" One of them was wearing a bright red hooded sweatshirt that stuck out like a cardinal on a snow covered deck. They giggled some more, and I giggled too, and we shared a childish moment that the planter of the trees probably never envisioned.

When I was little, I liked to pretend that moss patches were actually tiny forests, inhabited by miniscule Fae. I imagined whole lives for these creatures, and would softly stroke the moss tops, wondering what the Faeries would think of my gigantic shadow passing so near their homes. Personally, I prefer very green moss, but perhaps this particular Fae Forest is experiencing fall foliage...

It may not be true for many cemeteries, but this particular one has the most stunning wildflowers that grow all over the grounds. Last summer, I photographed over a dozen varieties, and there were at least half that many I didn't!

On the southeast corner of the cemetery, the ground drops off steeply, and a small stream meanders its way through turns and curves. It forms a small swamp, and there is a flock of geese that have made it, and the rest of the lowlands, their home. They frequently scold me, and the dog, as we invade their kingdom on our way through to higher ground. The rains have been heavy for the past 48 hours, and the stream has swollen to triple its normal size, as has the swamp.

Am I imagining the beauty of this place? Am I neglecting to see death all around me? Or have I discovered something different...

~The above is a video of Herschel playing games :)~

It is not my intent that you should run to your nearest cemetery and frolic about madcap, although you might find yourself having much more fun that you expected should you decide to do so. What IS my intent is that you allow yourself to experience your surroundings in a way that is beautiful and meaningful to you. Don't allow stereotypes and preconceived notions of beauty prevent you from finding the places that bring you peace, and joy, and the feeling that you are celebrating your life. Keep your eyes open, and you will find your own "Cemetery."


  1. Jillian F. wanted to post some comments, but the bloggy-blog wouldn't cooperate, so I'm posting what she wanted to say :)

    "I LOVE this. Reading this (and watching Herschel frolicking around) gave me a feeling of light-heartedness that I know means I will be able to be myself again. You couldn't have written this at a better time ...
    It was like this deep-seated contentment, and a sort of inward nodding in agreement to the sentiments you expressed, as well as a feeling of hope and inspiration. ALL that, just from your blog entry. So, I just thought you'd want to know that not only is it your favorite blog entry you ever wrote, lol, it also helped to give a discouraged person hope ... by showing them that they CAN feel joy and comfort and appreciation and hope, all on their own. THANK YOU!!!! It's not going to become perfect overnight, but I am SO excited now to get started with really trying to live my life, and as you said, "finding MY cemetery!"

  2. I have this fear of dying.. and cemeterys...

  3. Personally, I think death isn't creepy. It's natural. And we all will go through it. Sometimes how people die is creepy, but not the act itself. And I love cemeteries. I love visiting, taking snaps and experiencing them. People fear death, because they fear the end, but if they live a life of love and experience every moment, they won't be afraid. Or so I think.

    As for the beauty. There is beauty in almost everything. I recently started a plog (picture log) where I post a picture a day of things I find beautiful. The hitch? I take the pictures. I started January 1st and have been loving it.


  4. A photo diary is an awesome thing! I find death "creepy" and scary, only because I have so many mixed fears and thoughts about what happens to a soul after death. Obviously, everyone has different opinions about THAT, lol!

  5. From Corey B. "My mom and I walked through cemeteries much of my childhood and I used to slowly cycle through the one's in SGF in high school-to visit, find peace, and yes, those wildflowers are celebratory of life's small miracles."

  6. Hershel's gorgeous! Our boys ignored us too. We heard your voice!
    We were having this conversation with Ryan whilst filming Soul Asylum's book launch in Cathays Cemetery. We've always loved cemeteries. Before meeting us, Ryan avoided them. He found them creepy so for us to convince him to spend as long in them as we do is a huge achievement. He's amazed we don't find them creepy. We're goths! We explained it like this - 'a restored building is lovely to look at it. But with crumbing buildings, there is a haunting beauty in its decay. It's the same with cemeteries. They're peaceful places. No people, just the ones whose lives have already been lived, each headstone tells a story. There is a beauty in the misery.' Think he kinda got it. We could spend hours in a cemetery. The town centre? 5 minutes :D

    1. I'm glad you girls were able to share the magic of cemeteries with Ryan! As for crumbling beauty...a place with history, and a tale, and the emotions that infuse the very walls or stone...that is another kind of magic that cannot ever be found in "new" and "shiny."