Those Silent Stones

This Saturday, I accompanied a dear friend of mine to visit his grandparents’ graves on his mother’s side. This was not the first time I had accompanied him to visit the graves of his family. A few weeks prior, I had joined him along with a mutual friend to lay flowers upon his great-grandparents’ graves. The worn stone jutted out of the ground as if it was a person sitting tranquilly on the well-kept grass. The cemetery was enormous; in fact, it was so vast that we found ourselves lost in the forest of still stones. I had meant to write about this the week it had occurred but only now have the words come to me to make it worthy for this reflection…

Every culture, no matter where or when, has had some form of veneration of those that had come before us. And it is often stated that the day man buried their dead was the day man became human. I truly believe that. You do not have to be religious to have that innate respect for the dead. And while no words can elucidate or substantiate the loss of a beloved, what could not be said is written in the drips that fall when that coffin is lowered or the roar of the pyre sound. The sting of death can be numbed when surrounded by those dear and those of which the haunting vestige of an empty seat can mask. But there is a sadness beyond the obvious in a cemetery. There is a taciturnity, a solemn vigil that if one were to stroll the paths invoke in the heart.

There is nothing more gut-wrenching in my heart than an old grave. I do not mean a grave of a person from 100 years ago, I mean one that which nature has reclaimed. When the leaves and grime collect and the grass grows thick, the lasting memory of those that which should be venerated is lost. When our mutual friend laid an incense stick for my friend’s grandparent’s graves, I was struck by an old grave. The grass was thick and wild and had all but buried the flat stone. Digging in the dirt and tearing the grass and loam like a cheap carpet, I was struck by what I saw, the grave of a veteran of the First World War. It should be without question that there should be reverence or at least a genuine respect for those that shed their blood for their homeland. For me, to see the derelict corpse of stone of this man’s grave was something of a realization. Those silent stones of which one passes by on the freeway paying no heed are those people. Of course not literally but in the heart those worn and barely visible etchings of a person’s identity pay testimony to what we value as a people. When does someone stop becoming worthy of remembrance? When the grave a soldier that fought the Nazis in the Second World War is left to decay and be buried by the earth to be forgotten with only a cheap department store flag next to it, is that how far we have become detached from our history. Those stones are our history and we are the grave keepers until it is our turn to be those still stones.

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