dimanche, juin 07, 2009

In the arms of the angels

Ok, so I've got a thing for graveyards. I mean, I've got a thing about graveyards.

Whenever I drive by one, I try to remember that the men, women, and kids lying there for six months or several centuries all had unique lives -- complex, joyous, horrible, multifaceted lives. We'll never truly know how it felt to be them, crinolined, top-hatted, flappers, one-room school house teachers. But they weren't any less real then for being dead now.

When I got to church today the birds were chirping among the tall trees that make it possible to forget the huge cell tower near the venerable church. Sun and clouds played across the late spring sky -- a perfect morning for that visit to the churchyard.

Between services, I walked past, and in some cases probably on top of, old stones and people who were mourned and buried centuries ago. The church has the honor of having the grave of the last soldier killed in the Civil War. I wouldn't have know which one, except for the star representing that bloody fight, and the American flag by the side.

There is something both comforting and frightening about a graveyard like this one. So beautiful, and full of life -- but it is life you think that the dead probably don't know of, or don't care about, because they are somewhere better.

When I went back into church for the next service, I saw the stained class window behind me -- though I sat there each Sunday, I hadn't looked carefully. It was given in memory of a child, born on my birthday around 150 years ago, who had only lived a year. And underneath it, on green glass, were the words, "Love, Tracy."

How sorrowful, and how strangely contemporary, for someone to mourn a child like that. "Love, Tracy."

After coffee, I asked the secretary about that window. Oh, that was Jill's daughter, she told me. This was no ancient grief. Tracy and four other girls were killed when their car took a curve too fast and went up a hill. Tracy lived long enough to be airlifted to a hospital in Philadelphia, she told me. "It was a hard time here."

I recalled that crash ten years ago -- it was huge news here. Five 16 or 17 year old girls killed after shopping for prom dresses. Girls a bit older than my child. No dancing. No college. No fiance. No grandchildren -- they would be around 28 years old. When you round the curve, on the right, there are five angels in the ground to memorialize these high school friends -- blink and you've missed them.

And yet Jill goes on. She serves on the vestry. She attends church on Sundays. I've seen her smile. I'm not sure I could -- could you?

After our meeting, I went out to the graveyard again to look at the white dolphins climbing on the black stone. Tracy's name as I recall, is the sole one with a date of birth and of death.

Rest in peace, Jill's beloved daughter.

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