This may sound a bit weird but I think it would do all of us some good to visit a cemetery from time to time.
I'll get to the "why" in a second.
It used to be that our culture embraced death more than we do now. Families would even put their dead loved ones in the family room and hold wakes in the "parlor" (AKA living room) and pose for photos with the body. As the years rolled on the practice seemed gruesome and people more and more shoved off preparation of bodies to funeral parlors.
Today's society tries to distance itself from death as far as possible. We strives to put death off as longv as possible and we often don't want to think about death because we live like there is no such thing. When it happens we're almost shocked that it does.
But the reality is, of course, that all living things must eventually die and that death is a part of life.
I find cemeteries interesting. While recently covering the Peace Officers Memorial at Lakewood Memorial Park I had some time to walk the grounds. I think just about every reader of this column knows someone buried at the cemetery northwest of Hughson. I browsed headstones and, without trying, spotted names of people who I had known but had forgotten about with the passing years.
Lakewood is the resting place for some well-known people. Among them Chandra Levy, the Modesto intern who disappeared while sinking the political career of Gary Condit; Florence Thompson, whose image in the "Migrant Mother" photo became an icon of the Great Depression; inventor Andrew Toti who invented the Mae West life vest; legendary Nascar race car driver Jack McCoy; Foster Farms founder Max Foster; and former Modesto Mayor Lee Davies. And I recently discovered that Hollywood actor Dean Jagger (General Waverly of the Christmas classic "White Christmas") is also buried here.
Many, however, were people just like you and I. We live life quietly, raise a family, hold a job and die with nobody but close people noticing. In fact, one grave in the oldest section is simply listed as "UNKNOWN."
Some die in defense of their country. Some die having lived a life for only themselves. Some live great lives. Some throw away their lives. Some don't get to live long. Others die in their 90's and 100's.
The sight of Hot Wheel cars makes me stop over the grave of Justin Christiansen to see that he only lived three days in 1979 but still somebody was remembering him. Some don't get to live much at all. Many of the headstones in the baby section contain just one date.
Cemeteries are also sobering for it illustrates with clarity that there is a birth, life and a death. It has been this way from the beginning. You can see that when you visit the oldest part of the cemetery that death has forever been an issue with humanity. There is Mary Hudelson who was born Sept. 21, 1831 and died on April 13, 1855. She was just 23 and her headstone reminds us "Not lost but gone before."
Those were the days when Empire City was thriving on the south banks of the Tuolumne River just west of the cemetery. That city and its occupants have been wiped from the planet which reminds me of the passage in Psalms 103 that reads: "The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more."
If that is a depressing thought one just needs to continue exploring. The Bible explains that humans are eternal beings in that death is not the end of things. That all those people buried in cemeteries are now in another dimension unseen to humans. The words in 1 Corinthians contain a great statement about the fact that faith in Jesus ensures everlasting life: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"
It's no coincidence that most bodies are laid in the grave with heads pointed at the west and feet to the east, because Matthew 24:27 notes that "For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be."
The cemetery prods us to make the most of our days for it reminds us that our days are not endless. We are here for a while and we should do our best to love and help others.
It causes us to think about eternity, what it is and how to get there.
The subject demands our attention.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at firstname.lastname@example.org