LC Van Savage
Tombstones And Other Easy Prey
One of my lifeís sweetest pastimes is strolling about cemeteries, graveyards, necropolises, last resting places, whatever they may be called. They are beautiful places and so many of the tombstones give us, the living, mini-histories of the dead personís past and even of our townís or our countryís past. Itís a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon, not morbid, but peaceful and good and yes, sad and yes, unsad.
Sure, many of the deceased perhaps suffered terrible deaths, maybe even terrible lives but here, they rest in peace and it is so tranquil to stroll amongst them and it gives me a feeling of ...what? Serenity? Yes. Their problems are over. The worldís problems they left behind are never over.
Iíve never visited burial places in other countries, except for the American Military Cemetery in Verdun, France, when Mongo and I were living in Germany in the very early 1960s. Those meticulous, pure white grave markers lined up so perfectly, so still and at attention, like the men and women buried beneath them had stood in silent attention so many times before they fought and died. There are far too many grave markers to count and staring at that sea of white on green makes one wonder about war and death and family and country. It is one of the saddest places Iíve ever visited in a world far too filled with sad places.
Iíve seen the mummified remains of the Egyptian dead in museums, and like everyone else am utterly fascinated with all of that nationís burial practices, while hating that the Egyptian dead folks have been pulled from their graves out of pyramids or not, and put on display in museums around the world. Thatís just wrong. Thatís just gruesome. The people who loved them did not go to such extremes of burial to have their loved ones, or kings and queens, carted away to be propped up in museums thousands of miles away from their homelands. And yet even though I think this way, I also wonít miss an opportunity to view them when I can. I am a curious hypocrite I know, and I cannot resolve this in me.
Iíve never seen first-hand the burial practices of other places in the world. Some people used to and maybe still do ďburyĒ their dead up high to keep them from predators, some in caves, some standing up, some facing the east, face up, face down, some curled in the fetal position, and some even burned on pyres. These practices may seem crude or primitive to us, but they shouldnít. After all, to people in other countries, our practice of dressing and making up our dearly departed and displaying them in big boxes may seem odd and primitive to them. There are no rights or wrongs in the burial biz.
No matter how people take care of their loved ones at the time of death, their practices must be respected and not judged in any way by us. Religious or not, itís no oneís business. Who are we to say whatís right or wrong in these situations? We are as no one as they are.
And so here I am asking you to not judge when I am caught in a web of angry judgment regarding a recent news item; the terrible, senseless, awful desecration of a graveyard in a town near where I live. This isnít anything new. I just want to understand why it ever happens, why there are such endless desecrations of graveyards? Has this been going on ever since humans began to bury their dead in their own ways? Why? Iíve thought and thought about his and canít reason anything about it. Do people wreck graveyards and gravestones because they can, because they are bored, because the people at rest there canít fight back? Do the wreckers feel strong and powerful as they smash these personal icons erected to tell the world that a human once lived nearby and perhaps contributed good and productive things to our towns or our country? Does it give them pleasure to think that families will be forced to grieve again? I think it does. People will even grieve for family members buried a century ago when their graves and stones have been smashed. Why does this happen? Can someone out there please email me and let me know the answer to this?
As most of you know, three stupid punks recently toppled over more than 100 gravestones in a local cemetery. Ah heck, maybe they were drunk or drugged out, so that makes it all OK and not their fault, right? Yes, letís blame the chemicals theyíd willingly ingested and do not force the poor dear youngsters to be responsible. Did they have bad childhoods? Oh please. Bad childhoods are a terrible thing and should not happen to innocent kids, and I genuinely, truly feel for those humans who have had to suffer that way. But come on, itís getting just a bit too much having to hear that people who commit terrible crimes have given themselves permission to do that because they suffered as kids. Letís force them to read the endless books and stories about horribly abused kids who grew up and made our world a better place anyway. So, to their way of thinking, dead people have to pay those bad childhood bills for them? Is that whatís going on here? These young grave wreckers werenít just a few innocent and bored kids committing a little vandalism to pass the time on a summer evening; no, these were young who-gives-a-crap hoodlums who decided to hit on a few hundred dead people and to hopelessly wreck their final resting places because it was fun, because dead people canít fight back, because at night whoíd know, so why not just go for it? These guys are very likely bullies who beat up on weaker, helpless kids who also canít fight back. Big men. Tough guys. Heroes. Macho boys.
But again, why? Why does anyone trash a cemetery? I guess I can understand, not condone but understand a bunch of brainless thugs trashing a graveyard because they hate a certain religion or skin color. They were carefully taught to hate when very young. But this graveyard wasnít about one certain religion or kin color. So why? Because they could? Because the grave markers were there? And by the way, now that these three big shots have been caught, what will they be made to do to repair what theyíve done? Can they come up with the large amount of money itíll take to repair the damage they did? No. Itíll end up another slap on the wrist punishment.
How about having them walk all year Ďround to the homes of the people whoíd paid to put those gravestones in place, or to at least their descendants, and how about if they get on their knees in front of each and every one of those families to beg forgiveness for what theyíve done? OK, I know public flogging is way out of style now, and hanging by thumbs is so two centuries ago, and I havenít seen public stocks in decades. So I think begging forgiveness on their knees at each home and then working for the rest of their lives to pay for what they did, maybe donating 50% of their future salaries to the families who have to pay to repair their pointless damage, and then of course working with the repair people to get those precious monuments back up where they belong might all be a start. But Iíd still be left wondering why they had to do that. Do you know?
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