Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sobering moments

"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart." Ecclesiastes

It's not every day that your work takes you to a cemetery. This morning I had to visit a client right near Rookwood Necropolis (for you students of Greek, 'city of the dead'), and getting there early, I decide to take a walk around the cemetery.

I find two things particularly sobering. The first is the Jewish graves. Most of them simple yet grand and dignified; many of them bearing the Star of David. As I consider all that has come to humanity through the Jews, I grieve for the suffering so many of them have seen (mindful also that many Palestinians have suffered at Jewish hands). They strike me as a people who know how to laugh, and how to mourn - and largely because they are so conscious of death.

After contemplating the rows of dark granite Jewish headstones, I take a wander over to the old 'Independent' section, where many graves from the 19th and early 20th centuries remain. Here, the brokenness of families grips me: little 'Rosebud' leaves her parents when she is only four months' old; another young couple loses three children under five in about as many years. It is heartbreaking.

One ancient tombstone rises tall from the soil, but all the details of the interred occupant have been erased by time and rain and sun and hail. Only the inscription on top of the stone remains clear: "God is Love" - and I guess that if the person who placed the stone here all these years ago could choose any words to remain, it would be these.

I am sobered by the experience. Time seems to slow down as I move among the headstones. Many have fallen into disrepair; many are forgotten - those who once tended them now themselves in need of tending. Life is short, our days like a breath. I lay it to my heart.

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