Thankful For The Cemetery

randomlychad  —  June 12, 2012 — 13 Comments

I had other plans for today. After writing yesterday about suicide, it felt like it was perhaps prudent to lighten things up around here.

I had plans of regaling you with a tale of a day spent criss-crossing Sedona, and Oak Creek (Arizona), in search of a particular kind of tea. And no, it wasn’t “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” It was Lemon Balm, which is supposed to help with sleep.

But because life has other plans that, I’m afraid, is a tale for another day. Instead of tea, today’s post involves a trip to the cemetery.

I believe it was Andrew Marvell who wrote: “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace.” Both are true. Although his poem was meant as a bawdy little rhyme to induce a lover to sleep with him, he was right:

None do there embrace; rather, it is instead a place weighted down with the shackles of unfulfilled longing. How many who visit there wish for one moment more–one more last embrace–with a loved one? I suspect the number to be nearly one hundred percent of everyone who passes through the gates onto those hallowed grounds.

No matter how they may have felt about that particular person in life, death, like nothing else, has a way of crystallizing the issue. And whether we are filled with longing, or regret–opposite sides of the same coin, certainly–it all boils down to: desiring more time with the deceased.

But it is not to be. There is another “weight” there, that of finality. No matter how hard we the living wish it, there is not to be anymore time with those who have gone before. Not even should we petition the Lord.

I saw countless plaques, headstones, markers, and memorials at the cemetery. The vast majority commemorated those older than me. But many–far too many–marked the passing of so many far younger than me. Too many who were seemingly cut down in their primes; others, who didn’t get a chance to start.

What do I mean? Let me put it this way: I saw a headstone whose dates didn’t make sense to me. Until it dawned on me: the life recorded thereon spanned four days.

Four days!

As a parent, I can’t imagine the depths of despair that child’s parents ensured, the bargains made with God, the longings they feel every time they visit the cemetery.

Were I God, I would grant their wish, give their child back to them…

Alas, I am not, and cannot…

If nothing else, visiting there yesterday reminded me of my own mortality: someday, God willing later, rather than sooner, my kids will visit me.

And I can only hope that I will have lived in such way as to leave them with longing, rather than regret. Would that I will have lived in such a way that they miss my life.

More even than this, I want them to know that though it seems final to those of us locked into time’s linearity, death is not the end for those in Christ Jesus.

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, ESV).

Standing in that cemetery, I felt the cold winds of mortality blowing on me; yet at the same time, I became acutely aware of the gift that’s been given me: life itself.

Today, I’m thankful for the cemetery, and its wake up call–not to its residents (their’s is coming), but me–because as long as I draw breath there’s a chance.

How about you? Are you making the most of the one life you’ve been given? Are you thankful for the cemetary?




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Christ-follower, husband, dad, blogger, reader, writer, movie buff, introvert, desert-dweller, omnivore, gym rat. May, or may not, have a burgeoning collection of Darth Vader t-shirts. Can usually be found drinking protein shakes, playing with daughter, working out with his son, or hanging out with his wife. Makes a living playing with computers.

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  • Even the topic is heavy, it’s a great reminder for a couple reasons. 1) You’re right, the graveyard is always a reminder of the finality of death and the brevity of life. Let’s make the most of it! 2) Death is not the end. So glad Jesus has defeated the grave.

    • Me, too! So glad the grave is not the final word! Rather that the Word--God’s final Word--has been spoken in the person of Jesus. His last will and Testament has been read, and He has bequeathed to us life!

  • Ricky Anderson

    I don’t visit graves. I hope my family doesn’t visit mine. I won’t be there. Thanks to God, graves are pointless.

    • Pointless, Ricky? Spoken like a young man. Ask your parents if graves are pointless--ask Andi Cumbo, who’s writing the story of the slaves who lived and died on the plantation where she was raised. I would strongly dispute your assertion, because not only do I find them rather instructive, but also remember that a wise man can learn something from anyone, or anything.
      Ultimately, you are right: after we have shuffled off our mortal coils, we are not there--in our bodies. But the memorials are not for us, rather for those that remain, who seek to not only maintain a connection to who we were, but also use those markers to point to who we will become.
      It is good to both remember, and to look forward in hope.

  • I go back and forth on my feelings toward cemeteries. Sometimes, I think they’re beautiful, and other times, I think they’re a waste of space. But I definitely love that they remind us of a better place, and at the same time, that our time here will most likely be shorter than we think.

    Great post, Chad!

    • Yes, this: “they remind us of a better place, and… that our time here will… be shorter than we think.”

      Thanks, Adrian! And welcome back!

  • I heard someone recently talk about no one would come to their grave. I don’t see the point beyond the burial. They aren’t there, no matter where they are.

    • No, they are not there, but why is remembering so important? Why did God command the children of Israel to make memorials? Because they were, and we are, a short-sighted people. It is altogether fitting and proper that we be reminded of our mortality.

  • Cemeteries scare me sometimes and then comfort me other times. It depends on the day and how I am feeling. But there is something beautiful about remembering. We need those reminders in our daily lives to truly live life.

    • I find it’s good for me to know where I’ve been, where I’ve come from: it helps me know where I’m going. I’m not talking about turning back from the “plow,” but looking back at God’s hand of faithfulness that has carried me through. Spiritual Headstones, if you will.

      I think it was the weight of it (being at the cemetary) that got to me, knowing that each of the people represented there were loved, were missed. It got me thinking: who would miss me? Have I lived a life that people would miss when it’s run its course? If not, how can I get to that kind of life?