Sunday, June 24, 2012

Walking among those buried in Union Cemetery

I walked among these grave stones and read inscriptions last week---in many cases the worn, broken or chipped lettering made it impossible to make out the words. I reflected on how short a time it is relative to the span of history even for those entombed here who lived 80 years of life. I felt what must have emanated from a parent's grief at the headstone of a daughter who lived only seven years.

Gravestone in memory of Btella. Daughter of F and M Back. Born: October 10, 1886  -  Died: August 15, 1888               "Hidden in Earth to Bloom in Heaven."

I meandered as birds twerped while I listened to the rustling crunch of my foot steps on the mantle of dry, fallen leaves on this property of the dead.  I felt especially glad among these monuments to still be within the allocation of my time. I felt a breeze with more appreciation.  The tiny purple flowers contrasted more it seemed with the brown baked ground in which they grew. None of it mattered. The man buried under a tilted wooden cross is as dead as the man buried in a sarcophagus  of stone.
Sister Norberta said to us one day 51 years ago in 6th grade class that “The only thing you have to do is die.”  I remember Sister Norberta and what she said, yet I know most if not all the people who had memories of these dead have died themselves. Although it goes without saying that probably not a one of these dead have names written in any page of history, the Union soldiers buried here participated in a war that did change history, ended slavery and preserved the United States.

To the Memory of California's Patriotic Dead Who Served during the War for the Union.
The only man whom a group of people that for 2000 years has been claiming that, though once dead---is now alive--- is Jesus of Nazareth.  I reflected upon this claim a little, while walking in the graveyard.  It is a persistent, centuries old rumor that doesn't fade into oblivion. The framed map of the Roman Empire hanging on a wall in my studio recalls the mighty, ancient power that penalized with death those who didn’t throw incense onto the altars of the gods.  The framed photograph of a dark church spire with a cross on top against a backdrop of gold and orange sky was shot about a year ago in the nearby city of San Bruno. It too hangs on a wall in my studio. Both remind me of the choice I'm free to make. Do I sacrifice to Caesar or do I make the sign of the cross?