I've mentioned before our penchant for visiting local graveyards. We are historians after all, and the residents of these plots are our people. And I don't mean for this to be a depressing post!
Growing up in California meant that cemeteries were massive tracts of land somewhere out of regular view. They were over there, where we didn't have to see them or be reminded of our own mortality. But here in the mountains of Tennessee, the graveyards are part of the neighborhoods. Little family plots in the side-yard , slightly larger church cemeteries, gated off necropolises near shopping malls & every so often a modern cemetery acres wide with uniform headstones & carefully manicured lawns.
Immediately after the war, the plantation was turned in to a school for boys. But in 1876, a prominent member of The Society of Friends purchased it and turned it in to a school for African Americans and a training campus for African American teachers, which it remained until 1910, when public schooling came to the area.
The people in this cemetery had amazing lives, every last one of them, however briefly they were on this planet. Lives with stories and with families and with adventures.
So we do our best to remember them. It is our job.
There is one fenced off section here where an achingly old tree resided. It was planted when the first grave was dug, as a symbol of life from death.
Its amazing to see that tangible evidence of time. The wrought iron fencing literally goes through the tree, absorbed, and the massive tree hugs the faded stones.
I find it all rather beautiful.
But they aren't scary places. The whole reason people are afraid of them is the same reason Californians put their cemeteries where no one has to see them-- its fear of dying, not the place itself that frightens us.
But a graveyard isn't about us, its about them, and ultimately its about love. Someone loved this person so much that they couldn't stand the idea that they might be forgotten. So they put up a stone as a testimony to the life lived.
The point of a cemetery is to step outside our own narrow lives and to remember for a moment those that came before us, as their loved ones fervently hoped we would.
If you get the chance, and are so inclined, go visit a local graveyard. Just for a few minutes, just to read some names and recall the lives lived well loved.