Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Today, I walked to Melbourne General Cemetery.Throughout my life, cemeteries have been a place of refuge. Taking the phrase 'final resting place' to heart, I find peace and uninterrupted quiet in them. I've studied the rituals of burial and commemoration of the dead in various cultures but I've rarely taken much notice of those in my own. And yet, here, among the old, weather-worn stone tombstones I noticed for the first time newer, more elaborate vault-like structures, some almost like Thai spirit houses, shaped from polished marble and granite. Their surfaces were polished smooth and engraved with gold-leafed lettering. On some, statues of Christ, the Virgin Mary, lesser saints and cherubs, as well as plastic flowers, urns, and photographs of the deceased were padlocked behind leaded or steel-framed glass shutters. On others, open books carved in marble sat atop grave slabs, bookmarked with natural flowers in various stages of decay. On a few graves of children, there were less formal, makeshift shrines featuring stuffed teddy bears, small dolls , toys, even a lollipop.We live in groups so maybe it's only to be expected that we're buried in groups when we're dead. But I can't help but think of tombs and vaults as prisons in which our earthly remains have to be sealed while our souls await salvation. (Never mind that our burial places will probably dug over first, in land reclamations engineered by future real estate developers.)When I think of my own death, I rarely consider what will happen to my corpse. I think I'd like my ashes to be scattered randomly or buried. Having striven all my life for a sense of freedom, I'd want whatever's left of me after death to be uncontained.