Monday, September 01, 2008

Our Babe

My fascination with cemeteries began when I was 13 years old, I think. The reason is probably more bizarre than the fascination itself. Back then, I lived in East Aurora, New York. An idyllic village only a handful of minutes southeast of Buffalo. The rural roads and quiet town streets accommodated bicycles very well.

I was branching out on my new ten speed. Driveway to neighborhood. Neighborhood to railroad tracks. Finally, miles down to East Aurora itself.

Another person hatched in me that summer. Actually, you see him here oftentimes. I was driven to experience a lot more alone. Quiet places and late afternoon sunlight. One of the places I found myself visiting was a cemetery in town. In 1983 I stood under the huge oaks unsure why I was there, but somehow compelled to be nonetheless.

One particular gravestone called me back time and time again.

A baby's grave.

I could almost see the couple standing along the forest edge overlooking the creek below. The nameless stone somehow drenched the shadows in sadness.

Maybe it never occurred to me before that a baby could even die.

A little over a week ago, I stood there again.

If I thought I would brush by my old self in the cooling sunlight of East Aurora, I was mistaken.

He was standing quite comfortably in my shoes.

Twenty-five years later.


Solitaire said...

This is very sad...I have never seen a baby's grave.

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

That was heart wrenching.

Bernita said...

Yes Jason, I know.The mysteries.

Sarah Hina said...

The quiet melancholy persists, but also that hunger to understand the darker paths of life, and to empathize.

Perhaps that ability to share this story with others, and find an audience, is the greatest marker to the passage of years. And your growth.

That stone is heartbreaking, Jason. The dead remain frozen in time.

Anonymous said...

Solitaire, highest hopes crashing to terrible despair. The grave of a baby is almost too much to look at.

Sameera, such a quiet, almost lonely place where the grave lies. The fact that it is flat with the ground makes it hard to find.

Bernita, I suppose, in a way, I've become part of the mysteries. The boy who keeps coming back to a place and event that should have nothing to do with him.

Sarah, the darker paths...growth to the point I can share them.... That makes me happy to hear. I do like who I've become, even if a good dose of that melancholy persists.

Aine said...

I don't think you need to fear losing your younger self. He is and has always been a strong presence. Probably because you were unusually self-aware and interested in self understanding.

Reading this made me think of the origins of my own fascination with cemeteries. It started with my fascination with prehistoric humans at age 8. By my early teens, I was driven by a sense that there is something greater than the present. That all of human history is somehow connected (perhaps in our DNA). And, so I was trying to somehow experience that connection. Cemeteries seemed like the most logical location. To find a relationship with someone who had lived in a different era would nourish me. Give me a sense that I am not alone. That my life was part of a continuum and therefore had meaning despite it's seeming insignificance.

And I had never known anyone else with that drive, until I met you...

Terri said...

How wonderful that your old self is still with you.

Kaycie said...

My parents always took us to the cemetary every year on or around Memorial Day to decorate all of the family graves. The only one I really remember is little Janie's grave. Her stone had a lamb on the top of it. I can't remember when I didn't know that babies die.

c.s. said...

thanks for the timely reminder that life is too short to be taken for granted!

mgirl said...

I remember when I was about your age I used to walk through the cemetary, and was also drawn to the grave side of a unknown baby. I didn't understand how a baby could die. I was so sad for the baby and the parents, and I know as an adult today that is who I am, someone who is easily touched by the pain of others.

Geraldine said...

Is there anything as sad as the death of a baby? You've written a very evocative work here Jason. I can feel you standing there (then and now) looking down at this little grave stone, the wind touching your face.

Anonymous said...

I liked this post a lot. Very well said.

I could not imagine having to bury a child as the owners of that gravestone did.

Anonymous said...

Aine, that's a great way to look at cemeteries too--the human connection, the chain of one generation to another. I tend to lose myself in the individuals. It's good to see the larger picture.

Terri, it was a bit uncomfortable when that new self emerged, because he was different from the child version of me.

Kaycie, all those lambs are a potent image. I think I knew in theory that babies die, but the reality of what folks endured only hit me when I saw that stone for the first time.

C.S., so true. Each day is a day we can never have back, so we should really wring the life out of it.

Mgirl, I understand. A think cemeteries came to represent something else for me too. A desire break through the surface of things and see the more stable depths. For some reason, cemeteries seemed to be a purifying place. The stones representing the essence of people. Maybe a sense that the last message was the strongest.

Geraldine, thanks for standing with me there for a moment. :)

Strugglingwriter, thank you! Those trips back always make an impression on me. I wanted to share it.

SzélsőFa said...

Thanks for sharing! You know, when I was between 11-15 yo, we sometimes visited the town cemetary with my friends. It fascinated us, too.
I don't know about those past friends of mine, we do not meet now, but the fascination remained.

Quiet, old cemetaries are great places.
Death is so close you can almost touch it - and so is life in places like these.

paisley said...

excruciatingly real... like being inside your head.....

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, feel free to share some cemeteries in Hungary! I would love to see them.

Paisley, if you felt that presence of my thoughts, I'm very gratified. :)

Anonymous said...

You must have had an empathetic heart as that young boy ... and maybe you have retained it. We find cemetaries fascinating because of all the stories the people in them could tell - if they still could. We also see our own destiny when we look at them.
Glad we are alive to see them and sad that someday we will join them.

Miladysa said...

Gravestones speak to me also.

I love cemeteries, my favourite is Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh where my 4 x great grandfather is buried.

JaneyV said...

That was an amazing find and I totally get why it held your fascination.

No - the 13-year-old you has long since left but sometimes isn't it great to touch base with one of the stepping stones to who you are now.

In the graveyard of the local village church in my old village there is an infants area. I believe that it was unconsecrated as the children buried within it had not been baptised before they died. I'm not sure what I found sadder - the pain suffered by every one of those families who lost one of those babies or the fact that the church sidelined them to a corner because they were not saved before they died. Thankfully the church takes a kinder view these days.

Anonymous said...

I have a graveyard near my place. It is an historical graveyard so no one has been buried there for 120 years. Often I go to visit and sit and read the gravestones, wondering what lives the departed lived. A baby's grave is certainly hard to take.

Anonymous said...

Aggie, I'd like to think that I've retained it. I keep visiting these sleeping cemeteries in order to find those personal stories and give them a wider audience.

Janey, I can see that segregated patch of graves in my mind. How heartbreaking! I can't even imagine the guilt on top of the grief caused by the fear that you've damned your baby to eternal damnation by your own inaction.

Selma, it must be a fascinating, meditative place.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jason,
Just come across your blogs. How do you find the time to write so much!! I love the photo of the house in the snow, is that where you live? It's gorgeous.
Will enjoy reading throgh your many writings, thanks.

The Grocer said...

I too often wandered in cemeteris when I was younger (so much younger than today-ay)but I find it more difficult to control my emotions in those places now thirty odd years later. I think it's the knowledge that we all have the same fate in the end, we all become equal in death. Also they tend to be peaceful, reflective places, sometimes difficult to find today.

Anonymous said...

Scribble, thank you for the kind words! The Clarity of Night is the perfect medium for me get out those little thoughts and idea swimming around my head. Thankfully, they have some place to go. :)

The Grocer, yes, the loss feels a little closer now. The gulf between myself and all those resting people has narrowed.