During the Covid-19 crisis, cemeteries seem to be safe places. Not too many people are in them, at least not people that can spread the virus, and they always provide grounds for rumination. Besides, being outdoor spaces they can get you someplace outside the same four walls you see all the time. My wife and I both have an interest in genealogy. We’ve worked on our family trees and even try to keep our Reunion software up-to-date. This past weekend we visited a family burial plot in upstate New York. My wife’s family has a more accomplished pedigree than mine does, and one of her ancestors here actually merited an obelisk and was written up in local histories as a noteworthy member of the community. I also have ancestry in upstate, and we’ve traveled to some of their sites in the past, although their markers are usually harder to find.
Being in a cemetery, the logic of ancestor worship suggests itself. Without these people history as we know it would’ve been different. Without those who are our direct ancestors we wouldn’t even be here pondering our own insignificance. We wish these headstones could talk, saying more than the names, vital dates, and perhaps a quote from the Bible. We listen, hoping to gain knowledge of who they were. It seems to me that cemetery histories would be a boon to genealogists. For those of us whose predecessors were buried in small towns, such guides could be a real boon. As it is, Find A Grave dot com is often a helpful resource, but who wouldn’t like to be written up in an actual book? Network reception often isn’t great out here in rural America.
Graveyards are gateways to the past. In a world that feels like it’s changing way too fast, it seems right to have these places—these sanctuaries—to stop and reflect. They represent lives lived. Peaceful after the trauma of day-to-day angst and struggle. Unfortunately the pandemic is daily adding to the number of those who’ll be buried in cemeteries across the nation and around the world. Although somewhat preventable, we have no national will to stop the tragedy. So it is I find myself staring at a monument erected to someone I never knew, but without whom my life would’ve been vastly different. It’s a sunny day and I’m outside amid a crowd that can cause me no harm, but who, at times like this, inspire me.