Sometimes you see something so often it become invisible. I pass by a local cemetery every day, and it wasn’t until a friend from out of town came to visit that I knew of the irony of its iron gates. Immaculate Conception Cemetery is one of several Catholic cemeteries in the area. In a deeply symbolic gesture, most cemeteries are designed as the ultimate gated communities. One of the great thrills for the young is to hang out in graveyards at night to test their mettle and for boys to impress the girls and each other with their bravery. But this can lead to vandalism issues. I remember how distressed I was, upon visiting a cemetery in upstate New York on a genealogical trip, to find a family marker for several of my ancestors heartlessly toppled over. I wrote to the cemetery custodian (people still used letters in those days), and the next time I visited, it was, to my utter relief, repaired. Part of my past had been restored.
None of this, however, was what my friend pointed out. When the gates to the Immaculate Conception Cemetery are opened, the left hand gate reads, “Immaculate Con.” My curiosity aroused, I walked over the next morning to look. Indeed, “Immaculate Con” standing just beneath the cross. The right hand gate, cross-less, reads “ception Cemetery.” Without treading the road to Inception, I stood before the openly inviting gates with some wonder. Is there something deeper to this Immaculate Con? Is there something the church wants to tell us? Were the iron-mongers insinuating something covert? Or is it just the giddy over-imagination of yet another overstimulated religionist?
Surely this is just the case of pragmatic spacing and pacing. The dead lie here in faith that they are counted among the chosen. Across town is a cemetery where, I noticed some years before, one half contains headstones facing east and another half has headstones facing west. Those facing east are inscribed with Roman letters, those toward the west with Hebrew. The Jewish and Christian dead lie next to each other, facing opposite directions.
Cemeteries say, despite their silence, volumes about what we believe. We put our dead out of our midst, but our cities grow and consume our necropoli, forcing us to face our beliefs yet once again. Do our deepest hopes and fears, tied so intimately with our mortality, make us who we are? We will all face death at some time. When we face the iron gates before the pearly ones, what will we see? If the gates are open, it might be that we’ll read, with our undead eyes, “Immaculate Con.”