Cemeteries are ‘silent witness to the preciousness of our days’

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It’s the first hot day of summer.

The Midwest has had a cool and rainy spring. Light breezes blow through open nighttime windows, and the refrains of birds wake me in the morning. I love spring.

But as my farmer brother reminds me, the corn needs heat to grow, along with good old sweat-inducing Nebraska humidity. So here we go, unto a new season: knee high by the Fourth of July.

I spend my morning at a friend’s house. She is nearly nine months pregnant. Her husband’s taking a new job in another state, and the house is going on the market. She’s journeying to Chicago this weekend for the college graduation of her oldest child. On scales that measure stress-inducing events she would score very highly. But she is remarkably calm.

I’m part of a faith-sharing group that meets in her home. Often, there are only three of us and it’s relaxing and open. It’s a gift to have such friends and I try to dwell on my good fortune and not my sorrow that she’s leaving.

My duty this morning is to clean window blinds with soap and water in anticipation of the house listing. My friend follows up with wood polish for the woodwork. Her house has the charming hallmarks of an early 20th century home. There’s a big front porch for those hot nights before air conditioning, when neighbors sat outside and visited. Our group has gathered there in the early evening more than once.

An old garage sits off the alley. The realtor asked how to open it, and my friend replied that you use a key and then lift the door.

What? The realtor was confused. You’ll have to write those directions out for people who come by, she said. We laughed about how in this day of complex technology, a 1920 garage door that needs to be lifted after inserting a key needs step-by-step instructions.

Her home is in a desirable old Omaha neighborhood. Yet it sits directly across the alley from a large, well-kept cemetery. I wonder how that affects marketability. When I first visited her home, I didn’t know if the cemetery was calming or eerie. Over the years, I’ve come down solidly on the peaceful aspect of life by a cemetery. The resting place of a whole group of Midwestern Jesuits lies just a few hundred yards from the alley.

Soon you forget a cemetery is there, but you appreciate the quiet. Like death itself, the graveyard seems a natural adjunct to life.

Sitting in her backyard on a summer evening, or on that big porch in the fall, the cemetery seemed the perfect complement to faith sharing.

In our modern culture, we tend to deny death. My mom wanted to have the wake for my dad in our home, in the old- fashioned Irish way, but discovered it would be way too complicated. Mortuaries take care of all that physical stuff, and try to present us to the viewing public made up like Hollywood stars.

But as the seasons change again, and as the years fly by, the reality of death seems like an important thing to remember. A friend moving away reminds me of the temporary nature of life itself, its tenuousness. The cemetery stands as silent witness to the preciousness of our days.

We are Resurrection people. We proclaim the resurrection of the body. For that reason, we should find the quiet wait of a well-kept cemetery a comforting thing, like a promise from One we trust completely.

The writer, formerly from Anchorage, now lives in Omaha, Neb.


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