Living in the Dash

grave marker

Last night after dinner, Ruby, Jonathon and I went to the park.  I’ve mentioned this park before. It’s got a red swing and a baseball diamond, some paved paths, a covered picnic area and a small basketball court.

It’s also right next to the cemetery. Quiet neighborhood, that.

Ruby lifted herself high on the swing, her feet outstretched.  Jonathon and I talked.  The sun had lowered itself enough that we sat in the shade. Tired of the swing, Ruby jumped off. We all meandered down a wooded path. It ended in a stagnant pool of water, surrounded by mud and mosquitoes. We didn’t stay long.

“Hey, why don’t we visit the graveyard,” I suggested after we followed another path to nowhere.

The other two agreed.

Now, I’m not a morbid soul.  But I read a book awhile back and I realized we don’t think about death very much, if at all.  We need to.

The cemetery’s gate stood open. We walked into the gates, the sun shining down on everything. No breeze stirred the air. We wandered among the headstones.  Willeys.  McCraes. Fredsons. Then…Baby Hammond. Arnold, who lived 10 days. Ella, who lived four years.

We talked about what it meant to have “Beloved” on your tombstone. How had that person lived?  We found husbands and wives, buried together.  “Married 1938”, entwined with roses and doves, greeted us.

But sometimes, the headstones had things like “Mary Smith 1930-1996” and “Clyde Smith 1930 –  “.  Clyde, apparently, still lived on somewhere.  How was he?  How did he feel, with the other half of his one-flesh gone?  How did these parents, living decades longer than their children, make it through that hell?

Some stones didn’t stick up above the ground at all.  They stuck fast in the dirt, etched with “Charles Martin 1888-1957”.  No room for any sort of epitaph, only the particulars of that person’s timeline. Shelton’s pioneer days must have been rough.

“Mom,” Ruby called. We walked over to where she stood.

The body below the grass was only 13 years old.  He had collected bouquets, a crystal guardian angel hovering from a pole, and several small spotlights. He died only a few months ago.  My eyes filled with tears.  I recognized the name of a local young man who died under mysterious circumstances.

We lost our taste for trying to unravel histories then. We admired a few more markers and then turned for home. The sun dipped low on the horizon. We drove home through the gathering dusk. I remembered my mother-in-law telling us her family used to picnic at the family plot.  It seemed rather a dark place for a meal, to me.  I think I’m starting to get it now.  It’s a way to celebrate the lives of those we’ve lost.

We never know when our time here on earth will end.  How are we living in the dash ( – ) between birth and death? Yes, this life feels like a dash sometimes, but that’s not what I mean. Because when it’s all said and done, and we stand before God, we will have to account for our stewardship of the relationships in our lives – husbands, wives, children, friends, coworkers. God has always been in the “people first” business.  Are we?

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