This morning was one of those glorious fall mornings: beautiful full frame sunrise, crisp clean air, the changing landscape of an ever kinetic autumn. (Today’s trees won’t look the same tomorrow). In short, it was a day that shouted, “let’s get going people.”
And yet I balked. It’s been a week of appointments, a shoring up of the physical, winterization if you will. I am the owner of a Gen X vehicle, and it is going to need more maintenance. Water, good food, regular exercise. Or not. I am avoiding autumn’s carpe diem, shouting encouragement like a high school gym teacher.
Here’s what happens if I choose to ignore the call: a reorganization of the pot cupboard, one coffee too many, jittery and unkempt in clothes I slyly refer to as “Lounge Wear”. It’s a slippery slope that ends on the couch, watching Netflix and eating microwave macaroni and cheese.
Has that ever happened to you?
This morning I am happy to report, the siren song of the park called my name, and I answered.
It’s a familiar loop down the hill and over the troll bridge. Today, instead of taking the tunnel to the far west side of the park, I head north, to the cemetery. It’s been a while, and the uneven surfaces are a good workout.
Of course I stop by to see my father. Since Joan the Energy Clearer cast her spell, things have been really good between us. In that I no longer feel less than loved, or angry. I am still reeling at this new sense of compassion and understanding… this Version Two Forgiveness, and I like it. I stand and talk for a while, catching him up on the latest news (Mom joined a drama group, Annabelle made the golf team, I’m blue and anxious about aging and the-meaning-of-it-all).
This last bit sort of tumbles out, something you might confess to a stranger on a plane after a the beverage cart has stopped once… or twice.
Or, at the gravesite of your departed Dad. There it is: anxiety, fear, aging.. Ding! Welcome to the Middle Ages.
A cemetery is a pretty good place for a little existential angst, a good place to ask some Deep Questions like: Are we living life to the fullest? Is there meaning to the work we do, in our connections or career? Is this…it? Classic Existential engagement.
Most of us have experienced an event or moment in our lives that has caused us to question what we thought to be true. If you are kind, others may not return the favour. Speaking the truth may result in ridicule. Bad things happen to good people. And the biggie, life is a limited time offer.
Seriously, if you’re going to entertain the idea, do it in a graveyard.
Near where my father is buried, is the grave of Owen Hart, a Calgary based professional wrestler known for his kindness, compassion and being a loving and tender father. He died tragically, leaving his wife and two young children to pick up life’s pieces. Owen Hart is a stones throw from my father and yet I’ve never been here before today. It’s beautiful, a sense of deep love and sadness permeates, with a bench in the far corner, ideal for contemplation and remembrance. And critical thinking. If we believe that life is meaningless, how do you explain the alchemy of love into legacy? The truly good work his widow, Martha Hart, has done since his death? A young mother, she somehow roused herself from crushing grief to return to school and earn two degrees, then her MA and eventually her PhD. Today, she heads the Owen Hart Foundation, helping children in need and low-income families. Is there meaning in tragedy? What harnesses purpose? Are meaning and memory related?
For the record, I have never met Martha Hart. I know of her deeply touching personal journey because she lives in my city and is committed to bettering it.
Musing on this idea of meaning, I pass newly dug graves still too fresh for comfort. To the south, it’s more established, easier for strangers to stop by for a visit. I meet SandyE. Loutitt, lauded as a “mineral explorer and prospector”. He was 81. Did he find meaning in life? (I googled him, he appears fearless with an amazing appetite for adventure). An ordinary man whose life reads like fiction. Oh. And his wife and children miss him terribly.
Catherine Conway, only 33 when she died in 1987, was “loved by all who knew her.” How lovely to be loved!
There are spouses, side by side, proclaiming eternal love. Grandchildren and children visit, leaving fresh flowers or fragrant perennial herbs (which are particularly lovely on a brisk walk during an existential crisis).
A crisis humans have been having for centuries. Scholars offer advice: seek authenticity within yourself (Heidegger), live your life as art with little regard for what others think (Nietzsche). Buddhists speak of detaching from the illusion of self.
And my own mother, who thinks people just worry too much. Some days it’s hard not to worry, especially if you are in the habit of listening to the news. Or you have a teenager who is learning to drive.
There are going to be days, whether beautiful or brooding, where we feel uncertain or anxious. People will come into our lives and then move out of them. We may love with all our hearts until they ache. Or break. And then incredibly, we’ll do it all again.
Blooming where we are planted, keeping on just keeping on, we create meaning through memory, long after we are gone.
Ask Sandy E. Loutitt’s family. Or Martha Hart.
Walking through the cemetery on a sunny fall morning love hovers, leaves fall and spirit is everywhere. So are the words of Mary Elizabeth Frye:
“Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow; I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain…”