“Oh, heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains. This is the law of God.” -Kahlil Gibran.
At the best of times, a walk in a cemetery is not a stimulating exercise. It is an eerie and spooky place. Ghosts make unearthly noises, it is said, as they roam from tomb to tomb. Surely, not a nice place to visit.
Despite these warnings, I ventured into the cemetery alone. On earlier visits I had others with me. I found my way to the spot where my beloved parents were laid to rest. As I stood at the foot of their graves - side by side – and prayed for the repose of their souls, my eyes fell upon the epitaphs inscribed on the granite slabs. My father’s had the words: “He gave even when it hurt”, and my mother’s extolled her love: “A life of love”.
I had read those words many times before; now they gave me a new insight – those words summed up their lives and were not just tributes paid to them. My father gave until he had nothing left – money, time and effort. Those who came to him did not go empty handed. Even when he was cheated, by manipulating con men, he would console us: ‘He needed the money more than I’. Many stories of his acts of charity were told to us after his death. The words of Erich Fromm came back to me: “Not he who has much is rich, but he who gives much”. Indeed, my father was rich. I felt blest to be his son. If only I could open my heart, like he did!
My mother was the personification of love. She made no difference between family and friends, and between friends and acquaintances. She reached out to all, not stopping to consider what it cost her. She rejoiced in giving. How I wish that a spark of her love inflamed me!
As I stood lost in thought, my eyes traveled to an adjoining tombstone. The name read Terrance Gomez, who died 20 years ago. The inscription on the slab stated that he had left behind a sorrowing wife and two children. Perhaps they were a happy family. Now he lay embalmed in the soundless depth of their affection. Next to him was Tony Jacob. This stone gave no clue of family or friends who grieved for him. Was Tony a loner? Was there no one to pray for him? Dying friendless on earth, did his soul fly free like a bird over endless seas? Right next to Tony was a small slab – Jennifer Bond (5). There were no words that followed her name. Were her parents so full of sorrow that they found no words to express their grief? Perhaps they dreamed that Jennifer’s life would be like Nature’s progression – seeds to sprouts, buds to blossoms and flowers to fruits. When she was born the air was filled with the perfume of promise. Then the winds of change blew away the fragrance, leaving her parents with only the smell of damp earth.
As I looked around, I saw row upon row of tombstones – so many dead and so many stories buried in silent tribute – keepsakes for heaven. With Kahlil Gibran, I will affirm that the soul does not perish; it will live on forever. One day the bodies that once housed indomitable spirits will come alive and praise their Creator. For now, I imagine that they have taken abode in the stars and shed their gentle light as a sign of love for us, who await our turn to occupy other stars. We know with our minds, but believe with our feelings. Standing there I believed that the love of my parents still enveloped me. The gentle light from the stars that is home to them brightens my path. That would not change with time.
Like the beggar who mistakenly comes to his own door to beg, I stopped at my door – at my life. What kind of life was I leading? Surveying the debris that surrounded me of failings and failures, I felt sick in my heart. Resources and opportunities were given to me in plenty, but I squandered most of them. After many years there was not much to show for a life well spent. As indolent hands turned the pages of the book of life, I found many pages were blank. And, like the slave in the Parable that Jesus told, I too buried many of the talents that were given to me. I have few gains to report – only promises that were not kept and potential lying fallow. Was mine an unfulfilled life, I pondered?
Even in my reverie, I figured that there was no point in mourning the past. I had to find the courage to beg God for unconditional forgiveness and start anew using the gifts that He had given me. Without letting the river of regret drown its banks, I had to cling to hope and find safety in the thought that ‘tomorrow is another day’. Much can be achieved if I try. Death is a sobering thought. The irony is that, the more you come to terms with death, the more you learn to live. To gain that insight a visit to the cemetery turned out to be a good idea.