New Perspective in the Lands of the Departed

Land of the Departed

By D. A. Bächer

I used to travel for work, often visiting towns and places far removed from any major metropolitan area. During these trips, I frequently craved a place to hang out or walk a little, to clear my mind between appointments.

Generally, I did not know the areas in detail—whether there were any parks, or what places might harbor the unpleasant or even dangerous.

Early in my career, however, I learned that cemeteries were an excellent place to, “kill time,” and easily located in most towns.

They inevitably have well-maintained grounds and paved pathways and often have benches strategically placed on which to sit. They are generally devoid of people and, unlike parks, are entirely free of such distractions as school groups, loud music, or noisy family picnics—none of which I am opposed to in principle, but these do not lend themselves to the contemplative environment I sought as a respite from the long, stressful days my trips often involved.

I found that residents of cemeteries generally keep to themselves and are a quiet lot. I often attempted to familiarize myself with their community, seeking out the most ancient inhabitant, looking for the longest marriages, the oddest names, the foreign-born.

I am comfortable with death—either there is a deity who I like to think is a comrade, or the end will be the end. I hope for the former, but have no fear of the latter.

So I have developed no prejudices pertaining to those who have passed, despite their growing numbers in our country and their tendency to occupy more and more of our land.

I had not been to one of the communities of the departed for some time when I visited the Missoula, Mont., wing of my family recently.

This familial grouping consists of two parents and the cutest, most adorable 18-month-old on the planet. No grandparent hyperbole here: for she possesses the bluest of eyes and curliest of blond hair.

She is not, however, an angel, but tends towards the demonic end of the spectrum. She awakes from sleep with the wail of a banshee, is headstrong, and has kept her parents in a continuing state of sleep deprivation. Due to a fever that she was having trouble shaking, her more troublesome tendencies were exaggerated on my visit.

Despite her impishness, she has possession of my heart like none other. So, when given the opportunity to nanny this conveyor-of-my-genetic-material-to-generations-yet-to-be, I jumped at the chance.  Then came nap time.

I learned that she rails against leaving the world of the sentient for the nonsensical realm of dreams. I was advised that the only surefire method to lull her to sleep was to bundle her into her stroller and walk, removing her only when her nap was finished.

Her stroller is not one of the flimsy, small devices prevalent when I raised children, but suitable for being pushed in marathons and towed behind mountain bikes.

So when I heeded the nap-time advice, and she fell asleep during our walk, I had to seek somewhere to wait out her slumbers. I recalled seeing an old Catholic cemetery not far from my son’s home and remembered my old fondness for such places.

We found the burial ground, and I made my rounds, cataloging the demographics of its occupants, happily breathing in the familiar loam-scented air of such places.

After a while, I began to feel uneasy wandering among the older moss covered, pockmarked tombstones, many placed over 100 years ago. As I read the fading chiseled names and dates, it became clear to me that I had wandered into an era where the departure of children was a burden that parents regularly bore. That what I am certain they held as precious to them as we do today, yet often sadly gone tomorrow.

While I might have little concern for my own mortality, I had generated a fear for the feverish one whom I cherish.

We quickly left for her home with a prayer on my lips to that God I hoped was my friend. MSN

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