At Milton Cemetery leaves rain down like confetti. Strolling beneath maples and oaks, I read the left-behind advice on gravestones. To the dead we say, “Rest in Peace.” To us, they reply, “Don’t get too comfortable.”
At Milton Cemetery leaves rain down like confetti. The halogen-hot gold of summer has faded to the pale butter of fall. During a stroll through this 1672 graveyard, I pondered my ultimate destination.
Strolling beneath maples and oaks, I read the left-behind advice on gravestones. To the dead we say, “Rest in Peace.” To us, they reply, “Don’t get too comfortable.”
As if on cue, Elijah Hunt (d. 1816) wagged a reproving finger through his epithet:
Behold as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for Death and follow me.
A bit grim, which is why I prefer Mexico’s festive approach to death as a natural cycle of life. On Dias de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, loved ones are remembered with family celebrations and graves are brightened up with orange marigolds. The widespread motif of skeletons shown eating, dancing or even reading newspapers is a reminder that life’s pleasures are fleeting.
Fleeting indeed. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, and yet the average human life span, God’s highest creation, is about 70 years. How is our short time best served?
In Milton, the chatter-rattle of cicada hums around the Weston’s family memorial. Maybe its long-ago members are weighing in. It was a clan full of advice because all sides of the monument are inscribed.
A kindly tip from William Bradford Weston (1830-1915): Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. His good wife, Charlotte Louisa (1823-1900) adds, Count that day lost whose low descending sun sees no good action done.
It’s a both healthy and humbling reminder that the earth won’t stop spinning just because it’s my turn to get off.
When you and I are dead and gone
This busy world will still go on
And laugh and sing and be as hearty
As if we still were of the party.
Walking along, weeping willow boughs hang like banners as goldfinches streak past. Arched headstones stand next to Celtic crosses. Columns rise into view. Once-common names are now long out of vogue – Almeron, Ezekiel and Augusta.
The path winds toward a duck pond with evergreens mirrored in the water’s surface, a reflection broken only by the skittle of a dragonfly. The scene might last forever, but already the warm breath of breezes grows fainter as the season winds toward colder times.
Not far, a cluster of Puritan stones face forward, as if attending a ghostly Sunday service. One mini-marker is for Mary, the daughter of Mr. James and Mrs. Betsy Snow, October 1, 1832, aged 3 years, 7 months and 20 days. Now, 175 years later, her tribute still saddens:
See the lovely blooming flower
Born but to blossom and decay
O! God, how solemn was the hour
When blest spirit fled away.
May angels watch round thy head
And Jesus his kind mercy show
Till God shall bid thy body rise
To bloom when lasting lilies grow.
Ever since Adam and Eve beat a hurried retreat from Eden, humanity has not caught a break from suffering and loss. For many perhaps relief comes just from being cut loose into eternal nothingness.
But a woman named Patience begged to differ. Her departure in 1800 was characterized by hope:
Here sleeps Christian full of faith and love
She lived in cheerful hope
Resigned her breath
To join her kindred spirits blest above
Reader, be such your life and such your death.
Miss Ruth Tucker was even more pointed. The 1850 carvings on her headstone grow fainter with time, but her faith still stands out in sharp relief: Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection and the Life.
On my way back, the symbolic language of statues spoke to me. In the distance a mold-dusted angel holds court ringed by attentive gravestones. A young woman cradling a rose bouquet steps down lightly in bare feet. Youth and beauty is but a quick passage. Elsewhere a carved stole drapes an urn with royal finality. Yes, even the illustrious pass to dust.
It brought to mind Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.?But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
I arrived before an obelisk that pointed skyward (no doubt toward the final destination of the Lawrence family). The 1873 inscription reads, “Shrine of the mighty. Can it be that this is all remains of thee?”
Suzette Martinez Standring is the author of “The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists.” She lives near Boston. Her Web site is http://www.readsuzette.com or contact her at email@example.com