By Tom Poland
I visit old cemeteries quite a bit. Lest you think death thoughts consume me, understand that readers tell me of near-forgotten cemeteries. It’s my duty to visit them. I find them photogenic and a tonic to modern ills. Whenever I spend time in an isolated, overlooked graveyard I come away a better man. I see beauty and read affectionate sentiments and farewells, rare escapes from our insanely negative, disease-ridden world of avarice and destruction.
So yet again I train my thoughts and camera on a place where people sleep the deep slumber of eternity. This cemetery, whose location would be hard to find without a guide, holds ancient and more recently departed ones. What strikes me about this graveyard are its sentiments and images. I seldom see such renderings. Words, numbers, and hyphens? I see them a lot.
I know some of you share my interest in cemeteries. You tell me so. Those who don’t venture out to graveyards would be surprised, maybe shocked, to know how many isolated cemeteries hide in woods. When you see a clear cut with a small stand of trees on a hill, chances are good a family plot lies there. I’ll wager that, like this cemetery, their stones lean and will topple with time. Their inscriptions, dates, and years are destined to fade. While they stand, while the dead sleep, however, their last words and images tell us something.
What do we see in this tree-shaded resting place? Well, the departed’s loved ones left tributes in stone that tell us a bit about the people sleeping here. Images of a guitar, a bass and deer, and seashells and more tell us what the deceased ones loved. I can see them fishing, sitting in a tree stand, strumming a guitar, looking for seashells as surf curls around their ankles.
What images might your stone hold? What might they tell others? And what words might compose your forever statement? Mine might hold images of a book, a typewriter, perhaps, for an old school touch. Were my stone large enough, it might hold the Georgia G, a camera, a pair of running shoes, and a likeness of the best dog ever, whose death stung so much I never got another dog. That was thirty-six years ago. If I had a monument as big as one of those Georgia Guidestone columns, I’d list the family members and friends who meant the most to me on my orbits around that star we call the sun.
Now and then I face the inevitable and give thought to what my marker might say, what it might look like. Do I make some serious statement? A scripture? “Go Dawgs?” Do I say something witty, have a bons mots etched into marble or granite? I recall that famous epitaph, “I Told You I Was Sick,” but I don’t dwell on such matters though columns. No, I don’t dwell on such things. I might jinx myself. Never say “I’d die before I (fill in the blank).” You might jinx yourself. Besides as an old friend says, “It’s better to be seen than viewed.”
While I’m viewable I’ll continue to visit forgotten places of rest while the departed sleep. One thing I can say about old cemeteries with 100 percent accuracy: they’re peaceful. And deep inside in some place where rational thinking is banned, I believe those who sleep know I visit them. Moreover, they know I bring them to the attention of others one more time. And they appreciate my efforts. No one wants to be forgotten, especially the dead, for to be completely forgotten is to never have existed at all.
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