Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer Camp Alternative

I had not thought death had undone so many.

T. S. Eliot (after Dante)

Forget Chuck E. Cheese's, forget the pool (well, we did that yesterday)--this morning I hauled the seven-year-old to the sprawling cemetery here where we're visiting. He was all for it, actually; since we moved to the country a year ago he has been intensely curious about the small church cemeteries that dot the landscape (he heard the word as "memories" for a while). And two of my grandparents are there.

For a seven-year-old, his acquaintance with death is probably typical. A couple of family pets, and then a few months ago two great-grandmothers who essentially died, as was formerly and quaintly said, of "old age." So the reality has touched him, but not so closely or so viscerally that a cemetery would be best avoided. And this one is a lovely place, strewn with flowers and anchored with numerous massive old trees ("I know that one's a sequoia!").

Notions of status come early and naturally to Homo sapiens. "Look how big that is, they must have been rich!" The diversity of names, dates, family constellations, and monument styles were remarked upon. "This many people have died?" Yes, in a medium-sized city over a couple of centuries. No questions, fortunately, about postmortem biology. I haven't been able to convince him that ghosts aren't real, but he felt secure with the sun high in the sky.

He was looking for those who had fallen in battle, and was impressed by the cleanliness and symmetry of the military section. The monument of Henry Clay towers over the others, although it is barely visible among the equally lofty trees surrounding it. "That must be the biggest grave in the world!" No, surely not--what is? The Great Pyramid, I suppose, although maybe the Taj Mahal, if it does in fact constitute a grave, is the most lovely.

The biggest disappointment was our inability to find any stones featuring "rip," and I had to break it to him that R. I. P. is rarely found outside of cartoons and Halloween displays. Popular media has a step on the Grim Reaper himself.


Anonymous said...

'One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are - your life, and nothing else.' - Sartre

Dr X said...

I never thought about the absence of R.I.P. on real gravestones, but I can relate to that feeling of disappointment as a child. When you're a kid, it can be very unsettling to learn that certain things aren't the way you think they are or the way you believe they ought to be. Oh, wait a minute--it's just like that for adults, too.