I call it 'my' cemetery because it contains memorials to people who were in my life... and because if my planning goes well, I will end up a resident here myself eventually. I do hope that is still decades away... meanwhile, I am the curator here and your guide. Oh, not just to the graves... any doofus can go to a cemetery and walk around and look at the tombstones - but to many other things. After all, a cemetery is truly for the living, not the dead. With a nod of agreement to George Carlin's assertion that cemeteries (and golf courses) are wastes of otherwise perfectly good land, still, I have have always found them - and the thoughts they inspire - interesting. I see no reason at all that cemeteries, especially one found at a place called The Learning Place
, should not be educational.
So, let's mosey over there and sit on a bench for a while, if you don't mind. We'll listen to the wind in the trees, the singing birds, smell the pretty flowers, feel the warm sun on our faces... and contemplate death. We'll take a look at that sucker from every possible angle. Let me tell you a little about three fellers I found interesting.
See that ol' bell over there? The quote at the bottom is from a feller named John Donne. It's one of the most famous quotes in the world... most everbody's heard of it, but usually misquote it, and not so many know about Donne and what he thought and the story of the quote. We'll come back to him after while.
Another feller I like a lot and everbody's heard of is Shakespeare. William Shakespeare...shaken, not stirred... what? oh, wrong guy. Well, anyway... one of the pieces Bill wrote I like best is the story of Hamlet... you know what happens in that? If you don't you really ought to know that. Don't worry, if you can't wrap your head around Elizabethan English, I know a feller that can tell it plain enough that even Gomer can understand it, ok? It's just that, if you can understand the old language, it sounds better... seems a lot more profound and worthy of respect. Especially Hamlet's Soliloquy, which is my favorite part. That's a monologue or speech. Check it out, it's in Act III Scene 1...
To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
Do I really want to live?
Should I go on like this, being miserable,
and try to beat my enemies?
Or should I just kill myself and
Get it all over with?
I wish I was dead.
Death is like a nice, long nap.
But the problem is,
What if I dream of horrible things?
It's definitely something to worry about.
If there wasn't anything to fear in the afterlife,
Why would anyone suffer
Through his rotten existance?
Why deal with life's troubles
When it all could be solved with a dagger?
Unless something bad might
Lie beyond the grave.
No one comes back from the dead
To tell us what it's like,
So we go on living and being unhappy.
Man, I'm depressed.
But...whoa, check it out.
See, that ain't so hard. Mr. Donne? Oh yeah, see, him and Bill lived in similar times and places. You can get the wiki on John here
and on Bill here
, and you read just about every play, sonnet and poem Bill ever wrote here
. Looks like Bill was something of an agnostic as far as death was concerned. He has Hamlet asking "what if" there's something after death.
But John? He was a poet too, but he became a priest and wrote a lot of meditations and sermons. He took the whole death and afterlife thing more seriously than Bill did. That quote over there comes from his seventeenth meditation, sometimes called his No Man Is An Island piece. You can read his essays and poems here.
John got sick about seven years before he died and he could lie there and hear church bells tolling when there was a funeral in town. That's kinda what reminded him that one day the bell would toll for him too, when they were doing his funeral, and that we're really all connected in a way. He said, "...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." You know, when anyone dies, a part of all of us dies, and one day we'll go too.
He said, in Latin Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris which means,"Now this bell, tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die."
I actually met this third feller before these other two. He could be an ornery ol' cuss but wrote some funny as hell stuff. He came along a couple hundred years... what? Whatcha mean, how old am I? Right now I'm fifty... If I make it to March 23rd of '09 I'll be 51. Naw, see, I don't have to have been alive at the same they were. That's the thing about life... you can meet and get to know everbody that came before you, as long as they left something to remember them by. So, sure I know Bill and John and a boatload of other folks way older than that. Hell, King Tut from Egypt was over here in Atlanta not too long ago with some of his stuff. Well, 'course HE didn't know anything about it, but we did. He ain't knowed much o' nothing for about five thousand years. Come on over here and let me show you my wife's grave. I'll get back to this other feller after while.