“I Was Hoping For A Pyramid.”
An epitaph inscribed on a tombstone in New York State. No name. No dates. Simply a single statement obviously decided upon by the witty individual buried in the ground beneath it.
I like this cat’s spirit. This is humor at its finest. Humor in the face of death. There are a lot of funny or biting epitaphs out there. Look them up. Some will make you smile. Some will make you cringe. This one happens to be my favorite. It is a clever acceptance of the triviality of our lives, even in how we leave them.
There is something alluring about cemeteries. They hold a certain power. As a child growing up in a small town, I spent more than a handful of nights walking the cemetery with friends. We weren’t vandalizing anything. We were there to play games like Flashlight Tag or Hide and Seek in the presence of fear and curiosity. We knew in our secret hearts that the place hinted at something we couldn’t quite grasp. For most of us, it was our first true exposure to mortality. And playing and laughing while surrounded by frightening and vague concepts gave a sense of immortality. Eventually, someone would hear a branch snap or the wind move something and the terror would kick in. Certainly, the dead were rising and taking us with them. Whoever had the misfortune of panicking first would be ridiculed by the other kids. We would team up to make more noises, hoping for a complete meltdown. What none of us ever acknowledged was that we were all just as scared as the first kid, but had each other and nervous laughter to give us courage. A million dollars says none of us would have ever stepped foot in that cemetery if we were alone.
Now that I’m a grown man (a term I use loosely), cemeteries hold a different reverence for me. I urge you to visit one sometime. I don’t mean on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Father’s Day. Some random spring day in the middle of the week. A day where you might be the only one on the grounds. Take a walk. I recently visited two cemeteries in town. At the first, my grandparents are buried. But I pass both on the way to my daughter’s school. The second seems a little older and has exquisitely carved tombstones I’ve always admired. So, I figured I’d drop by. Take a walk. In both places, there is a lovely, solemn peace.
In the ground, just below my feet, were people. In those graves were individuals from every race, religion, creed, gender, political party affiliation, and social and economic background. Every one of them had a single common thread: They died. As will I. As will you. In the end, none of their differences mattered. In the end, nor will any of ours. Standing in the middle of a cemetery can provide an elegant understanding of connection. Our pasts lie around us. So do our futures. Ancestors have been there for generations. Someday (hopefully no time soon), I will join them. The same goes for my daughter’s grandchildren. The only thing that separates any of us is what we will bring to the world while we’re here, and what we will leave behind.
I still haven’t figured out what to contribute to the world while I’m here. Although, jokes involving foul language and genitalia are a strong front-runner. I like to think that distilleries making mediocre vodka are thankful for me. I do my part to keep them afloat.
Hopefully, this blog is my way of leaving something behind. In the realm of leaving a virtual footprint on the Internet, this is certainly a much better way of leaving an online trail than my other methods. When my daughter sees this someday, hopefully she’ll be proud. If she sees my other activity, hopefully she’s rich and can afford the therapy and surgical eye removal necessary. Seriously. I disgust myself sometimes.
As far as gravestones go, I ran across a couple that made me openly smile. Attached to one was a stone-carved seat, complete with a stone cowboy hat resting on the back. Family and friends can sit next to the deceased and look off to the west to watch the sun set together. Another gravestone was simply a bench with the last name across the top. It looked like it hadn’t been used in a long time. I almost sat down, but the workers mowing the lawn were already glancing more frequently at the guy moving from grave to grave who seemed entirely too comfortable to be in that place. My favorite gravestone, though, was a thing of beauty. It wasn’t a grand stone carving that towered above the others. In fact, it sat lower than most. The writing on the front of the white rock was small and difficult to read. However, the rest was easily visible. The stones formed a box. In that box were colorful flowers. The tombstone was a flower bed. In a place associated with death, someone used his or her grave to promote life.
I don’t know exactly what I hope to leave behind in this world. But the answer is in that gravestone somewhere.