Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Useful as a Park Bench in a Graveyard

People go to great lengths in attempting to deal with the grief associated with death.

The cliché is the parents of a young child who keep his room perfectly preserved as a memorial. Such memorials are becoming increasingly public. We’ve all seen the makeshift crosses on the side of the road, indicating that somebody’s loved one died. Some announce the lifespan of a deceased friend or family member with decals emblazoned on their car windows.

Certainly we do the same thing with headstones, grave markers and even crypts in the local cemetery. But there, all the dead are assembled together, a macabre collection of memories available to whomever wants to take note at their own leisure. Roadside crosses and automobile obituaries are just the opposite: as we go to work, to church, to recreate we are compelled to take note. Whereas cemeteries are mass testimonials to the universal grip of death, roadside and mobile memorials single out one particular death, as if it – in contrast to the life that preceded it – was somehow unique.

Perhaps most indicative of an unhealthy relationship with death is the cemetery accoutrement I saw recently: a finely carved marble park bench matching the headstone it faced. A park bench in a cemetery is as useful, as they say, as a screen door on a submarine.

But all of these devices – roadside crosses, automobile obituaries, bedroom shrines, cemetery benches and even the pedestrian headstone – reveal the longing we all have to somehow remain in contact with those who have died. It reveals an inherent understanding that physical death is not final.

Yet instead of provoking us to cling to whatever wisp of reality remains of the dead, this understanding should encourage us to consider our own destination, to ensure our own post-material reality, when those who survive us have erected roadside markers, or drive around with car obituaries, or place park benches before headstones emblazoned with our names.

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