The eloquence and absurdity of Gravestone epitaphs

Today I went to the nature preserve 10 minutes away from where I live to sit and journal for a few hours. Contained in the preserve is a castle overlooking the Long Island Sound (bay).  There was a couple dressed in formal attire posing for photos with a professional photographer roughly 100 yards away from the bench I sat in.  The couple then did their best to appear non-chalant while dancing a slow dance in silence and then strolling hand in hand.  While this was happening, a drone that made a whirring and whizzing sound, flew up and down, capturing from every angle, the couple’s portrayal of effortless romance.  I’m not in the mood to rant against true love. I even disgust myself sometimes with my curmudgeonly cynicism.

I decided to stop at the cemetery on my way home to see my grandparents’ joint grave, the Irish ones.  The gravestone read: MARGARET- An Extraordinary Woman who made a difference, WILLIAM- A remarkable man of faith, love and laughter. The adjectives “extraordinary” and “remarkable” just seem utterly inadequate, displayed on their grave.

I perused the other gravestones in the surrounding patch of grass.  A guy who died in the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks had an engraving of a golfer swinging the club and beside it read-Love is without end, this felt succinct and accurate. I turned to see another stone that read Sleeping in God’s Arms, but Alive in our Hearts.  Most read either Beloved Father or Loving Mother. Who even visits these graves anymore? I couldn’t think of anyone out of my mom’s 9 siblings and the 23 grandchildren on that side of the family who would still visit the grave, not because they are bad people, but because its been 10 and 15 years since Grandma and Grandpa’s deaths.  People have better things to do than stand on top of ground where eroded caskets and bones lie.

Another gravestone read Beloved Doctor, Caring Father. Lifelong guardian of children.  Okkkk, God, we get it, he was a wizard in the operating room. Save your money on the inscription.  What I mean to say is that being a golfer, being a doctor, and being “remarkable”, and “beloved” just don’t mean anything when paired with the permanent abyss of death; the great wall that we will never know what lies beyond it.

What would my gravestone say? If I died unexpectedly, I’d have no way to stop my parents from putting some cheesy and inaccurate sentence on the gravestone, like:

PETER: Loving Son and Brother, Beloved Man of Curiosity and Faith (can I call myself a man yet?) It still sounds weird coming out of my mouth)

Many of the graves had some expensive stone like granite, with intricate designs carved into them.  Crosses and crucifixes were frequently displayed on the gravestones.  We as humans are predisposed to be attached and confined to symbols, yet they fail us in so many ways. Language limits us to so many things in divine and spiritual realms.  I still feel that a good 80% of what the Ayahuasca experience is, is untouchable and undefinable by words.  Many feel the need to attach themselves to a book that was written about the life of Jesus Christ, 500 years after Jesus died, and we believe every word of it, without a second thought.  I am trying to figure out my own spirituality for myself.  The only way I’m going to learn what my truth is, is by trial and error, and exploration.

After sitting in the graveyard for 5 minutes, I noticed someone had just been buried about 8 feet from where I was sitting.  The dirt was piled on probably less than a week ago, and a large pile of flowers sat atop the dirt.  If I needed a mother’s day gift I could just take one of these little bouquets and be done with it.  Would that make me a shitty person?  Yeah probably, but not any shittier than stealing the flowers from a shop.

I think society has conditioned us to treat death this see-no-evil, hear-no-evil type thing. This is where my obsession with the My Struggle series began, the first ten pages of Book 1 are basically an essay on the degree to which we repress and feel an unnecessary urge to cover up the graphic nature of our dead because its “disrespectful”.

Death is life taking its natural course and life’s logical next iteration. Nothing could be more natural than death.  We don’t cover up a dead bird in the middle of the street.  This brings to mind Emmett Till, the 14 year-old black teenager savagely beaten and murdered by a gang of white men in Tennessee for whistling at a white woman in 1955, His mother insisted on having an open casket at the funeral, to display the brutality of the act.  A similar thing happened with Noah Pozner, the 6 year old, (one of 20 toddlers murdered in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut shooting), his body was riddled with 11 bullets from a semi-automatic machine gun.  His mother insisted on him having an open casket at the Wake.  I woke up today with Google search hangover, letting myself indulge my weird intrigue with death, trying to figure out what goes through these people’s minds in the moments before they are murdered.

Our society watches hundreds or even thousands of deaths in the span of a given person’s lifetime on Television and in movies, yet we refuse to let someone appear in their natural state after dying or being killed in real life.  There is a frantic rush to cover up a dead body that is out in the open. What would be different if the body were to sit in its position at the time of death for a few more minutes?  (Karl Ove Knausgaard makes this point so I am merely piggybacking on it.)  The hypocrisy and coddling of the our culture’s consciousness in the matter of death, boggles my mind.  It starts with the brainwashing machine: News Media and Television shows.  The film and TV industry continue to craft narratives with high body counts and the “tragic hero” who dies saving others and we eat it up.  The viewpoint of the average viewer and even myself is  “I enjoy watching “thrillers” which are essentially people dying violently on TV and in movies, but no I don’t want to see real dead people on the news, I won’t be able to handle it.”  But you can handle watching an hour of zombies getting their heads blown off every Sunday night on the Showtime channel.

The media in this country censor themselves and talk about how its insensitive to post pictures of mutilated or disfigured bodies taken in war zones.  Americans need to see those pictures.  Since 2011, roughly 400,000 Syrian citizens have been killed in the Civil War and genocide that is occurring there.  This has no real impact on me, I don’t feel an impetus to act or speak up about this because what can I do as one single person. Right?

We in the U.S. are presented with a sanitized view of the world in which our soldiers die in foreign lands and we don’t think twice about their sacrifice. We (I) don’t actually take time to realize our privilege in being protected by the most powerful military in the world because why would we? Our borders and homeland is safer than any country in the world.

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