Reposting this, somehow lost from the archives. Originally written April/04:
In Boston there is a cemetery that is among the oldest in the New World; the
earliest burials date to the 1600's. When those who are buried here left their
world, this surprisingly tiny square of soil was probably far removed from town.
You can almost hear the thinking when the spot was chosen: “We’ll bury our
dead a half mile away from our homes, to ensure that their rest is eternally
peaceful.” I doubt a generation passed before they were surrounded by houses and shops.
Today, of course, they sleep across the street from a five-story parking garage,
there is a Thai carryout place around the corner, their homes are the subject of
archeological digs and skyscrapers have risen along with the nation most of them
never saw born.
The places they left for a better life are changed, too; many are as dead as those
who lie here. The House of Hapsburg. The French Court. The Tsar.
Their lives were often unending toil and fear. They loved, they laughed. They
were hungry, they had sex. They tried to get by on what was an entirely different
planet from this one of checkout lines and helicopters and diet pills. They threw
their urine into the street. They bathed annually at best. A flu bug would put
them in a coffin by week’s end. They survived winters in single rooms, eating
salted fish and praying. The dead of January lay in a barn until the ground
thawed. Native Americans wanted them gone. Wolves hunted them for food.
They gave rise to generations who forgot their names.
It is much like the final scene in the film Gangs of New York, in which the New
York skyline rises across the river from the dead of 1863, quickly erasing their
memory, if not their headstones.
The cemetery in Boston, no bigger than half a city lot, stops you in your tracks,
the stones peering back with an inquiring tilt.
We’ll all be there, one day. Our planet will vanish, too. Our struggles, our names,
A Volvo finds a parking spot behind you, and you shake it off, and move on with
The infant a mother attended and loved; The mother that infant's
affection who proved; The husband that mother and infant who
blessed,-- Each, all, are away to their dwellings of rest.
The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
Shone beauty and pleasure,--her triumphs are by;
And the memory of those who loved her and praised
Are alike from the minds of the living erased.
* From Oh! Why Should the Spirit of Mortal Be Proud
William Knox (1789-1825)