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Living With the Dead

The last thing you'll ever urn

They are all around us. Living here means coming to terms with mortality because everywhere you turn, even in the parking lot at the mall, Yankke cemeteries are lurking. Time is running out, they remind us, especially in the fall when the leaves commit suicide and the cold creeps in. Time is running out for us and for the tombs themselves.


 Laighton Cemetery by Peter E Randall on SeacoastNH.comIn New England, especially, the dead may lie at any turn. They loiter in long gray rows in silent cities, acres wide. They wait at roadside family plots, corralled by iron bars and granite plinths. You come upon them huddled under tiny markers deep in a snarl of forest shrub or lying bone weary -- with no monuments at all -- beneath city parking lots or heaped in ancient pauper's graves.

Something about the barren trees of autumn seems to push the tombstones higher. They stretch stiffly in fall, then stoop for the hibernation months. November is when the carved slate skulls and granite angels seem the most foreboding. November is when the cemetery leaves crunch and the cold earth cracks, and Yankees recall that only a river of blood separates the dead from us. But blood runs dry and time runs on and the dead can wait forever.

I got the cemetery habit young. With cousins in Sunday clothes we hid among the sculpted stones of Massachusetts while the adults visited the dead. I often rode my bike the mile to the white village church on the hill in Bedford where I grew up. In the cemetery there my mind raged. This was the battleground of new ideas, the coliseum of my philosophy. Here the lurid dreams of Edgar Allen Poe wrestled with the heavenly promises of Jesus. I wandered for years in the fields of the dead, advancing from stone to stone, scraping the moss from fading dates and envisioning the imminent nuclear winter.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018 
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