It’s a yearly ritual–this walk in Mount Auburn Cemetery, when autumn is at its glory, but winter is close. It was such an afternoon–windy and biting–yesterday’s warmth having given way to more cold day. The cemetery was quiet, save the screech of the birds on top of trees, and the crunch of dry leaves under our feet.
Certainly not the kind of day for a long, long walk. So, after an abbreviated walk, I decided to drive slowly through the home of the dead, but soon lost my way and began going in circles. Even seasoned visitors to this beautiful cemetery will tell you, if they are honest, that they have been lost many times here. I have been lost before, but have attributed it to emotions; I have people buried here. But today had the added disadvantage of construction. There’s construction in the cemetery, and so one entrance is blocked off, and, of course, the detour is not clearly marked.
So, I drove around, at first with a tinge of panic in my hands and chest, but as the situation’s gravity set in, I simply gave up and reasoned that sooner or later, I will find my way out. Perhaps the dead want me to stay here, keep them company for a while, I thought, the half dozen persons I know who are buried here, and the many famous folk who draw the large crowds.
But getting lost in a cemetery is not the same as getting lost in a city or a mall or a big building. You’re with the dead, you have to tread softy, drive slowly. There are strange, muffled sounds in the trees, wayward pedestrians in black wool hats, a few cars here and there, and that shroud of cold air over us all. Cemeteries are not permanent places of habitation save for the dead.
For us, the living–lost or full of purpose and direction–cemeteries are places we visit and leave. The whirl and twists of Mount Auburn’s paths can make you think this is your destiny. Finally, you have met your fate.
The first car I stopped did not know the way out; the driver was oblivious to the prospect of being lost, a happy sort of guy. He laughed it all off, and perhaps was amused at my anxiety. He looked like a techie.
Then I stopped a portly man and his portlier wife, jolly types, former hippies no doubt. They were obliging; they took out their iphones and showed me the way out of the construction mess. I whizzed out as fast as I could, as though someone, some ghost was following me, avenging something as if.
Yes, for all the beauty–and it is a very beautiful landscape–of Mount Auburn Cemetery, it is easy to be lulled into believing that the dead are living, that we are visiting them for a short period of time and then we’re leaving them, their world. What if night had fallen, I had not found my way, and the autumn beauty had turned dark. What if?
The Armenian saying goes, The earth light on the dead. For a long time I took that to mean what most of us know it to mean. But this afternoon, the blessing took on another meaning: The earth light, not as a wish, but as reality. The earth light–wait till you get lost among them, and night comes.