Ever On and On
By: magnolia_admin | July 11, 2017
O, insupportable! O heavy hour! Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse Of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe Should yawn at alteration. ~ Othello
This may come as a surprise to many of you but I spend quite a bit of time in cemeteries. Even when I’m not serving at a funeral, I frequently visit to check on fresh graves or assess a plot for a family. While on vacation even I occasionally dart into a cemetery just to see how things are done far from home.
The other day I drove to visit the grave of my paternal Mamaw and Papaw. I sat beside their stone and watched my 19 month old daughter wander around their plot.
Both Mamaw and Papaw live in very special places in my heart. My happiest memories are with them – in their home, at church, working with Papaw at his sawmill, playing in the barn, drinking too much of their muscadine juice – and their absence from my life created a hollow. It seemed at the time that the world could not go on as it had, that it must split in two for their absence. Much time has passed since they left me, and the grief, once sharp and bitter, has become rounded and softer. I miss them often and think of them frequently, but memories no longer hold a painful edge. Memories are happy and gentle, not overshadowed with the ache of knowing that there will be no more. I sit beside the stone set for my parents, who are still living, and talk about Nathan. How I still miss him, how the space he filled is so broad and void, how it seems everything I touch is full of his memory. I cannot pass a room in the funeral home without thinking “Nathan painted this wall. Nathan fixed that drain. Nathan broke that chair.” Every memory of him has become precious, everything he touched is revered, and every word he spoke is now more meaningful than ever.
The past is still sharp.
The other day I performed a funeral while a friend performed a wedding. We both shrugged and spoke to each other about the circle of life, the wheel that spins on – crushing us all under and raising us up to glory and in between is seemingly meaningless whirling and we don’t see where it’s taking us until it’s over. It merely turns on.
Graves were all once open space. Ground meant for games, for running, for picnics, for long conversations, for play. And we open the ground. We plant a stone, a dead, mourning stone that will never grow. We turn up dirt and lower the ones we love most into unforgiving earth. Cover their final earthly homes and litter them with flowers. Stand beside what is now a grave and mourn. We weep – not for the past, but for the future. We weep for the future we will never have. For the moments that will never be shared, the conversations never held, the opinions never explored, the stories never told. We weep because in those moments the past is no comfort. The past is gone. Like a child playing on empty grass, the past seems hollow and comfortless. We mourn the future.
And time passes. The earth settles. The flowers return to the ground, leaving only a vague memory of comfort and beauty. The stone, stark and strong, stands over the bare ground, announcing to anyone who passes by that Sorrow Is New Here. A date with a dash becomes two dates – a beginning and an end.
And time passes. Grief, like everything else on the wheel, rolls on – sometimes crushing us under, sometimes lifting us up. But it ever turns. Grass spreads across the grave, death has become life, barren earth holds growth, seed is resurrected into a fulfilled promise. The stone becomes the only telling that beneath the ground is sorrow, loss, and hope. Without the marker, no passer-by would know that Sorrow left her burden here. But we do not forget. We visit the stone, which with age becomes less stark and strident. It becomes softer, more stolid. It seems smaller. The past is no longer empty. The past visits with fondness and our memories are again alive and happy. There is no edge to them – no sudden falling in your stomach when you realize those moments will never be again. The future is no longer a dark, angry place and we no longer mourn it. Our grief becomes present – a hollowness inside us that is a reminder of the love that resided there, rather than the future that seems empty.
And the wheel turns on. Life, death, resurrection. Empty, gentle earth is gutted open and we pour our loss inside. The future, the present, the past. They all go through the change of season and return as green, vibrant growth.
My daughter dances on a grave that bears her last name. She holds no fear for the future, doesn’t concern herself that someday open grass will be scarred with more stones with more names she knows. There is no fear. Only the love. The past seeps gently into the present and we roll slowly into the future, one breath at a time.
My grave is smooth now, wherever it is. There is grass covering it. I think it likely that there’s a road nearby so that I’ll never be far away from where Things Are Happening. But now it is peaceful and empty. Perhaps a family, visiting their own loved one’s grave, have let their daughter run into the empty grass and she is looking for four-leaf clovers there, or has found a wildflower to take to the stone she is there to see.
Nathan’s resting place is still a scar, gouged out of the earth. A great upturn in a placid field with a slash of a stone standing guard above it. But even now hope edges across the desecrated earth. A calmness, a surety that someday it will stretch across the hole life made. And it will become whole.
Someday – I hope many years away – the ground of mine will be turned up. I will be lowered into the earth and I will be a starkness on the land. My stone will be sharp and plaintive. But the grass will grow. The future will no longer be an enemy. And, I hope, when the grass becomes a carpet and my grave is a miniature meadow, my children and grandchildren will dance on my grave with the hope and abandon my daughter danced on my grandparents’.
And someday – someday – the stone that rolled us onward will be forever rolled away.
Ecclesiastes 3: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance….
2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
July 11, 2017