Sunday, December 02, 2007

Better than going to church I reckon.

Some time back Sling ( )I think it was posted about going through old cemeteries... and reading headstones. While our cemeteries are not all that old here in Australia, they can be really worth a look. I have done this on occasion and usually come away with mixed feelings...but somehow good mixed feelings.

I've been driving out to Wauchope Cemetery on Sundays, because I like to do this - its part of my make up to feel the need to replace the fresh flowers on Don's grave regularly and while I am not silly enough to imagine for one moment he is there, in a way its my way of marking the time. One day I will come to the realisation that maybe a week will pass and I won't need to visit, but for now, for me it helps. Have no idea why I am explaining this...its a need and ritual as old as humanity... the placing of real flowers... I think they are the oldest gift mankind could offer... for weddings, for special occasions... before gold and other precious things were mined... it was flowers...

I may have made that up... they may have given each other coloured stones, or stink weed...depending on the occasion.

Today I was pleased to be able to photograph Don's headstone to send to the girls who haven't been home since the funeral - (the distances are the issue in Australia) and as I left the wording up to them I wanted them to see how it looked. (click on the photo for the words)

They had originally sent me reams of writing which after reminding ourselves it was a headstone and not a book was whittled down a bit... still impressive. I was really touched by what they wrote. Australian who watched "The Aunty Jack Show" will realise the bottom bit "Three little lovelies" comes out of that... it was our favourite when we were young and silly...and remained a favourite.

I was highly amused by one headstone where a man buried next to his long suffering wife had a little terse verse written about him and his wife's influence for the better on him.

Then I went for a bit of a wander. It had been raining and the air was really sweet and cool after the days of heat and humidity. Its hard to explain just what effect cemeteries have on me but I'll try. Its like, here you are, an individual in the middle of your own grief and totally focused on that and it is awful absolutely. Then I find I am taken past my grief for the moment in contemplation of all the other headstones.

There is a feeling at once of both the importance of the individual and the commonality of mankind...both being as important as the other for humanity. Each headstone represents a life lived, hopefully with love, or some love. Christmases, births, marriages, anger, silliness, fun, all of that and every quality both good and bad that you can imagine...

and its not sad that all that seems to be left is a bit of stone on the ground. Its just how it is, thats all and when you walk amongst them and see the little gifts people tuck behind flower vases, and the older women who come weekly and clean headstones and replace flowers and then go on and do the ones on either side because they seem to have no body... it is sort of a bitter sweet thing to see, and although it can be very sad, it is also enlightening as well.

Its a great leveller this death thing. The richest bastards and most important on the planet, and the shortest and poorest life lived on this planet are both dead, and what they achieved or did not achieve matters not a jot. Its what we learn and take from what they achieved or did not achieve.

And just when I was feeling a bit miserable and sorry for myself I discovered on my walk these graves of two sixteen year olds - unrelated and in different spots.

The young girl often has people there putting things there for her...for them,

and it seems that it was the first anniversary of the young fellow...people have given him little gifts... A bottle of beer... no doubt someone will help themselves to that one day...although you'd need a strong stomach to do that I think... These were in the four rows I was looking in and this is just a little cemetery.

We're no different from the first human beings who walked the earth... dropping our flowers, giving little talismans, marking our spot... "They lived and because I am here to say they lived, their life somehow has more meaning."

And sometimes in this little country cemetery, surrounded by gum trees well not just sometimes, but I noticed it was that often times an elderly husband or wife would die within weeks or months of the other.
I came away, emotionally exhausted, but somehow feeling better... I think if we take the time and listen to our instinct, we, each of us find a way to deal with things like this. For me, I know life will never be the same, but I have always laughed easily, cried easily, been impulsive yet liking order... and what helps is that I am not on an island in this respect... and that visually was evident today.

The danger for people like me, a to close off from instinct. Celts, and the cemetery was full of them are prone to extremes of emotion, temper, melancholia and great, great love of the natural world and beauty. But we too easily in our little urban worlds close ourselves off from all that... I think that the words of Baudelaire fit how I feel right now...
"Get Drunk!"

One should always be drunk. That's all that matters;

that's our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time's

horrible burden one which breaks your shoulders and bows

you down, you must get drunk without cease.

But with what?

With wine, poetry, or virtue

as you choose.

But get drunk.

And if, at some time, on steps of a palace,

in the green grass of a ditch,

in the bleak solitude of your room,

you are waking and the drunkenness has already abated,

ask the wind, the wave, the stars, the clock,

all that which flees,

all that which groans,

all that which rolls,

all that which sings,

all that which speaks,

ask them, what time it is;

and the wind, the wave, the stars, the birds, and the clock,

they will all reply:

"It is time to get drunk!

So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time,

get drunk, get drunk,

and never pause for rest!

With wine, poetry, or virtue,

as you choose!"-

Charles Baudelaire


Anonymous said...

that's a beautiful post, mc, for many reasons. it's true that death is the great leveller. it's just a pity that some people don't regard it so. they expoect it either not to happen to them or imagine that they are going to sit at the right hand of their particular god and that their earthly importance will continue. ha! they are us, we are them and nothing's going to change it. let's get drunk on life while we can, mc. cheers!

rosemary said...

you did Don great justice and captured the man with words....beautifully done. I went to the cemetery every Sunday after mass when I was a kid with my mother and for Aunt Nuna and Uncle Vove, Mrs Franco, Mrs Guidera...and on and on. I was afraid to step on the graves as I worried I might harm those buried. I find comfort in cemeteries....the stories those stones tell, the feelings they emit. I am saddened when I see stuffed toys and young children dates.

Jules said...

I loved this post so much T.

It just made me remember that we are but one in a sea of many. I think it's time to get drunk.

Ann ODyne said...


A cemetery is a good place to roam when depression strikes - be glad to be alive.
I used to have a house overlooking a small historic cemetery and loved reading the headstones on the old graves ... "she drank from the anodyne cup of life" has stuck with me.

Middle Child said...

old man of the sea : Thank you it was a strange morning, better than feeling nothing at all.
Rosemary - I'm like that...I do my best to go round them the old days it was easy as each had a cement construction about the size of the grave over it... now its just headstones.
Jules - time to get drunk...but what with - wine - poetry or virtue or all three perhaps.
Ann - its amazing how many of us are out there - " headstone readers" Bugger... now I'll have to look up "anodyne"

Citymouse said...

a wonderful post
thank you for the poem
i will print it and put it in my pocket as not to forget

Middle Child said...

CM it has always been my favourite or one of them

Sling said...

Great post MC!
I think walking through a cemetary helps us to feel connected to our own humanity.

Nina said...

Beautiful post MC. The/you girls did a good job writing Don's headstone--really captured the essence of all you have ever said. :)

Ritual and routine are very comforting, very important. You are listening to what your own needs are right now, that's the right thing to do.

I love that poem. I, like Citymouse, will print this out and keep it for all to see. Thank you for sharing. :)