Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Notes From My Knapsack 10-23-05
Jeff Gill

Whistling Past the Graveyard

This is a good time of year to visit a cemetery.
No, really. Not just for the Hallowe’en ambiance, but because this is the right time, according to many cultures around the world, to pay our respects and teach that same respect to the young for those who "rest in peace."
Of course, one of the tragedies of our modern era is how little peace so many cemeteries get, even those in churchyards or honored with historic monuments. Some tombstones are toppled by age and frost and the steady western winds of this landscape. Many more are tipped by the indifferent and malicious, some youthful and others less so, but united in a strange urge to strike out at those least able to defend themselves.
Folks often say that a society can best be measured by how well it cares for the weakest and most vulnerable. Certainly children and the elderly should top that list, but what about the dead? A community that tends their memorial plots well, in summer and in winter, year after year, is likely a healthy and decent place. Towns with neglected and vandalized graveyards are often one foot in the hole themselves.
And I believe that teaching the young (and old) about the significance and meaningfulness of the records carved in stone about our ancestors and forebearers, and affirming the importance even of markers no longer legible, can have a community building effect that reaches far past the work of Memorial Day and All Saints or All Souls Days, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 on many Christian calendars.
In Mexico, as is becoming better known, this season of remembrance wraps up with the "Day of the Dead," an outright celebration where tombstones are cleaned, including those adjoining your own family plot if there’s no one left about to tend them. Meals are shared, sometimes even in the graveyard itself, and children are told stories of family and friends who lay at rest there.
Cedar Hill Cemetery is getting visibly better attention these days than I recall from not too long ago (thanks, Kaye!), and Newark’s civic leadership behind Israel Dille, my best friend from the 19th century, built the place as a restful scene for the living to visit as well as for the dead to rest.
Granville has worked very hard on the Old Colony Burying Ground since well before the current bicentennial of the village, and the play "Stones Falling Westward" told a small part of that honorable story of care and responsibility.
Hebron has made their very visible town cemetery much more attractive over the last decade, and Licking Township deserves credit for their attention to and attractive signage for the graveyards under their care.
How has your area taken care of the most vulnerable residents? Who might take a role in tending and tidying and recording the stories in stone of your locale?
The ancient earthworks of Newark represent the mix of success and work yet to be done in Licking County; the "necropolis" or central burying area has long since been destroyed by canal and railroad and commercial development, while we still have some of the majestic monuments that looked across that place toward the rising sun. Still, the question of how to properly handle human remains from that period of local prehistory remains. Whether you join the observance and salute to those long-ago but still visible residents this Saturday night (see for last-minute details), there is surely someplace near you where in this "All Hallows" season you can go one better than a simple candy tribute on "Hallow’s Eve" and respect the honored dead.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; don’t e-mail this week – just check out!

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