I love the word “serendipity”. Its charm lies in its unexpectedness. It was a routine morning today and I was preparing for my usual morning run. Due to time constraint I let go of my customary route by the river and without much foresight entered the nearby cemetery for the run. I have walked by this cemetery countless times, due to its location just adjacent to my house. However, this was my first close encounter with it. It’s a very large place sprawled over almost 200 acres of land with more than fourteen miles of intersecting roads. As I jogged through one of the roads the first thing that struck me was the silence of the place. Silence reigned the air, with occasional rustling leaves only accentuating it. Trees stood tall all over the place, shading the ones that lied beneath. Fallen leaves covered the ground, and the graves. As a biologist it was very easy to note some of those trees are rare and of immense conservational value. Knowing that this whole area bears remnants of the glacial age, it was easy to recognize deep ravines, winding eskers, stubby hills and kettles. It is an exquisitely beautiful area, just considering the natural assets of the place. The area is also a virtual treasure trove of funerary art and myriad symbolism. There are mausoleums dug deep into hillsides, soaring Egyptian obelisks, miniature Greek temples, winged angels of mercy, draped urns and broken columns, Gothic towers, and sculptures of everything from Christian saints to favorite pet dogs. However, none of the above really prompted me to write this piece, actually.
As I ran in the refreshing morning air, names rushed past me. “Brown”, “Morrison”, “Anthony”, “Beloved father”, “Dear mother”, “Trabinsky”, “Edgewood”, “Schmidt”.. an endless stream of names, countless relations. Gradually I felt like I was passing a thousand different lives all intersecting at one final crossing. To think that each one of these graves were a real living person with her or his own different story, his joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, all converging at this common ground of eternal coexistence! Although the logical deduction is nothing spectacular, the impact of this realization was so forceful, that all of a sudden I had come to a complete stop. I felt I was standing inside a Pandora’s Box of silent memories, which were trying to reach out to me, the only breach being that of life and death. At that point I felt like the lone mortal in Stevenson’s poem “The Listeners” who tried in vain to communicate with a host of spectral denizens in a lone castle amidst a forest. Some of the graves spoke of a heroic death in a war, some of loss, some only said names of the person who lied beneath it. Some had a tree planted besides the grave, and it seemed that the person lived on in the tree, nourished by his own remains. So many conflicting emotions were flitting across my mind, as I slowly walked back towards the gate. The brittleness and infallibility of life at the same time, for example. No matter what they did in their live, the mortal remains of the men and women lie here, but yet, in each of the graves something of them is left behind. No one would ever know their stories except a few, but the graves are hushed hints of a past that might held the living human in it. I do not consider myself to be a religious person, and spiritual only when it comes to science. That has been my way of seeking god, always, because in studying the science of life, I have always felt a nondescript force that brings about synchrony that is essential to life, amidst a non favorable environment. It is strange to think that one of my life’s first spiritual revelations happen in a necropolis and not in a church or a temple. This is why I write this piece. I dedicate it to a third of a million people who rest in that cemetery, who brought me closest to God in a summer morning, than I have ever been in life. May their souls rest in eternity, and peace.