Now who would think the cemetery would be such a social place, at least on this one lovely summer evening? I must tell you what happened when I needed a spot for a little picnic. I had an engagement that evening in a nearby city that was far enough away that it required I leave too early to eat at home. Not being one to go without dinner, I stopped on the way and got some take-out sushi and strawberries. I knew the route well and picturing every detail could not think of a single easy place to stop except the cemetery where a year or two ago in a spell of ‘end-of life’ preparation I had bought a plot and had a marble bench with our family name erected on it.
I had only stopped by a couple of times since the bench was placed and that was to visit the grave of a young man who had become part of our family, I being his mother figure, and whose ashes my children and I buried there soon after I bought the plot. I had had my doubts about getting something there for my own remains as, being a municipal cemetery, it had that well-regulated somewhat bare look and the only plots available were down near a busy highway – the same one I traversed for several decades back and forth to work and still do for other reasons.
The bench was nice and clean and I settled down with my picnic after paying my respects to our dear friend. Not another soul was in the whole place. Soon the sun which had been behind a cloud emerge. I had selected the plot because of a tiny locust tree I hoped would eventually grow large and beautiful and provide shade. At this point it was far from that and, furthermore, was struggling to stay alive. So, I had to retreat to the shade of a larger tree where my car was parked. I pulled out a folding chair and again set up my picnic.
My thoughts wandered like a splashing waterfall over the gravestones and contours of the cemetery as I ate pondering the mysteries of death and the struggles and beauties of life. Soon I was startled by an old derelict car that pulled up right behind me; odd, very odd, in that entire large cemetery. A young man with baggy pants, a slouchy shirt, and earbuds hanging off his shoulders jumped out and began wandering seemingly aimlessly in and out of the nearby graves. As he turned and came straight back toward me I felt an instinctive flash of concern, nothing I could control, and wondered if I should leave. As he approached I asked him if he had family there.
Indeed, the gravestone I had been staring at after moving into the shade and, furthermore, was thinking about – wondering who that person was and what her story was – was his grandmother, buried one year ago. Beside her with a small temporary marker was his grandfather, just buried one month ago. And close by where he had been wandering were two high school friends of his. The young man began to tell me stories about his friends and especially his grandparents and how much he loved them.
When he mentioned what the middle initial on his grandmother’s stone stood for, I asked if he knew of the famous African-American civil rights activist who had the same last name– long gone now. I knew her slightly decades ago and admired her as did everyone else in town. “Yes,” he said, “she was my great-aunt.” Then, back to his grandmother, “You know my grandmother wanted to be buried here – she had looked at a lot of different cemeteries – because she wanted to be where the traffic flowed and friends were passing by from time to time. I drove her here once or twice so she could see it before she picked it out. She couldn’t drive.”
We talked a little further about loss and sorrow and how his 22nd birthday that next day made his feelings all the more acute. He parted, flashing a sweet smile back to me as he went to his car. Just as he was getting in his car to leave, a woman about my age approached weaving through gravestones to reach me. From her name, she must have been of Scandinavian descent. Her father was buried there, she said, and she and her husband were going to be beside him. She said she came often and found it a comfort. Our conversation had melded into other things to talk about when I glanced at my watch and saw that I had to leave immediately or be late for my presentation.
Maybe I will see her and the young man there again sometime. My heart was full when I left. I know I will be among friends when my turn comes to be in that ground.