The cemetery

24 Oct

I am one of those people who mistakenly think, as I believe many people secretly do, that I am somehow different from everyone else, less normal. I am a fringe person. I forget that most people feel this way and that we are all more similar than different, that we all feel on rough days, or every day, that we are less than normal or even just plain weird.

In college I often found myself in the cemetery adjacent to the church on campus. I say that because I never made a decision to go there. It was more like I went for a walk, and my walks always ended there, amidst the tombstones and maple trees.

I realize most people don’t hang out in cemeteries, that this might be considered, by most standards, quite weird. But I shrugged and got over it. I already admitted to myself on a regular basis that I wasn’t really normal, which I’m sure many people confess the same thing daily.

I liked walking through the streets around my small college campus. They are filled with houses and in them people who lived outside the college world, making food, going to work, sleeping and waking, all outside of the bubble I inhabited. Many people, however, who lived in these houses were somehow connected to the college, professors and whatnot. I imaged what a nice life these people had, teaching at a college so close they could walk to. I’ve always been jealous of people who can walk, or ride their bike, to work. Although my commute is by most standards short, it’s still twenty minutes there and back of gas, traffic and general hassle.

I enjoyed leaving my books and papers behind to amble along the roads, some main streets and some side roads where children played in the front yard and dogs barked as I passed. People looked at me curiously, or maybe I just thought they did, as I walked alone, with no companion. But I needed the time alone, and still do. Without it I go crazy.

And then I would circle back toward campus and toward the cemetery. I walked along a main road with zipping cars until I came to the entrance and stepped through the wrought-iron gate. A single dirt pathway cut through the middle, flanked on both sides by tombstones jutting from the scraggly grass. The earth gently rolled underneath the graves, like waves on a sunny calm morning.

Unlike the world I lived in, full of tests, term papers and projects, full of classes and extracurriculars, here was silent except for scurrying black squirrels (in Michigan they’re black, not gray) and rustling leaves. The smallish cemetery was still.

It also put life into perspective. Yes, I had a big test tomorrow and didn’t yet know what I’d do after graduation, but how important is any of that anyway?

I looked at the names at dates etched on the stones and thought of all that came between, everything that’s ever been important to humans and is still important today: first love, seeing the wrinkly face of a new borne, holding a loved ones hand as they die. Some day I’d be buried like all these people, and my skin and bones would fade into the dirt underneath my feet as theirs has. Little remains. A stone, a name, a date and what they did for other people. And then, after contemplating my mortality, I would breathe deep breaths and listen to the silent air and see the colorful leaves rustle at the base of the trees before blowing through the air. It left me renewed. Then after one final look I would walk back to my papers and the stack of books that had to be read by such and such a date.

 

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