i like graveyards. i really do. i like the concept of the dead being dead in a solidarity that surpasses any union the living can ever muster. graveyards are the only place in this country that grow. where people return from wherever they have been, to die, to be buried in. i can say i like graveyards conceptually, remotely, abstractly – they contribute to the order of the world, and are – at least here – places of greenery and peace.
that is the abstract graveyard, easy to like because it is remote in its abstraction. because i do not know what is going on among the living, the little etiquettes and rituals observed, the musts and must nots, the thou shalls and how could yous.
latvians do have a special relationship with graveyards – i have been writing about it now and again. there are magazines dedicated to graveyard culture. there are societies of graveyard specialists. there are plants specifically grown for graveyards. there is a whole subculture of venerating the dead, the dead know nothing about. there is specific pride in the best looking grave – and a silent competition to achieve that. it gives me the creeps.
there is one graveyard i know. and the more i learn of its daily proceedings, the more i refuse either to understand or accept its ways. it is the graveyard back there, where my brother and now mother are buried.
that graveyard is the cultural, spiritual, action centre of the little town. anyone who is anyone must turn up there – to show they are anybody. whenever there is a holiday, people go there, to talk to the dead, to bring them flowers and make the graves better. and then they talk – who was there and who was not, and why. and compare the flowers and the cars. and hipocratically pity those that cannot or will not enter the race for the best looking grave this year. and have opinions. and spread rumours. and when asked why, say something like – to the glory of the dead*.
and now, with my mother’s death, the subculture has ambushed me. and i so dislike it. i understand the responsibility of keeping the graves more or less in order. but i really do not understand – and refuse to be part in – the machine of comparison, the contest of cemetery. and the graves of two people who have been so close and so much part of me in my life, become one of the places i do not want to go. i do not want to see them. i do not want to answer questions about the best flowers or hear of the wrong type of relatives that come to visit the graves. i do not care for comparisons. i do not think the dead care. i think the dead are.. well.. dead. and if there is the life eternal – it is not eternally buried in that little square of gravel.
if the dead are dead, and there is nothing after death, then what is in those graves, is putrid mass of deteriorating flesh. and all i have is my memories. if the dead go on to afterlife, then what is in those graves, is of no consequence, as the afterlife is not place-bound, and all i have is my hope. in any case, graveyard is of little importance to either my memory, or my hope.
thus, i refuse to live backwards. or to put on a face that is expected of me by those that have a face for any occasion. i carry my respect for the dead, and my memories of their life with me, wherever i am. omnia mea mecum.
*the glory of the dead is just an excuse for the living to be nasty to each other again. or an opportunity to live in the past, and not face the challenges of the here and now. an escapism of sorts.