A long dark weekend in January. Last Monday, I was listening to Gospel music on the radio playing in honor of Martin Luther King Day when my friend called me for a walk in the park. I convinced her we should go to Greenwood Cemetary instead of Prospect Park. My husband and I have become regular Greenwood cemetary goers as it is the most peaceful place in Brooklyn to be. It is also one of the rare spots in the city where you can actually hear silence.
“Nothing in the universe resembles god so much as silence.” –Meiser Eckhardt
My husband says he prefers the company of the dead, over the Park Slope stroller-pushers and joggers that inhabit Prospect Park. Call me morbid, but I sometimes agree.
I’ve been a cemetary goer since I was in my teens. Once when I was in high school I found a tombstone with my name KAREN P. SORENSEN carved on it. A woman, like me, who had lived and died one hundred years ago. Seeing that etched in stone had etched something in my consciousness at a young age. I realized at that moment that life was passing by, and passing quickly. I had better make the most of the moments I had. Visiting cemetaries had also gotten me interested in poetry, and the words of the dead. I admired the great thinkers who composed poetry that could stand the test of time. They could summon words that outlived even their physical existence. People like Kahlil Gibran who was a 13th century mystic whose powerful words still move us hundreds of years after his death.
“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, a depressed Midwestern city with very few places for teens to hang out the cemetary had been a place to go and think. It had offered a space for contemplation. For this reason I still think it is an ideal place to visit with someone you love. Being in a graveyard you can’t help but have a rich and meaningful conversation. How can you not think of eternal things when you are passing by tombstones.
When I visit the cemetary with my husband we quietly walk and honor the dead. We read the names off the stones, noticing birth and death dates. My imagination takes hold as I think about the story of their lives. Often there is a family all buried together their graves spaced gently apart. Sometimes a couple will get a tombstone together. The husband’s name will be carved with his death date. Beside this there will be a blank space for the wife’s name and date waiting for the day when she passes.
Seeing such a thing makes time together feel even more precious.
So Monday, I took a walk with my friend who was visiting Greenwood for the first time. She admired all the tombs and statues as we talked about relationships, and our dreams for the future. She told me about the love she craves, and I spoke about the baby I hope I will someday have. My friend is wild, passionate and never follows any rules.
When I am with her I feel reckless, and I throw caution to the wind. We meandered up and down and through the cemetary’s many paths losing our way. If I had been walking alone I would not have strayed so far, but with her I lost track of the time. We both knew that the sun was setting and the gates would close at five. But it was a spectacular sunset and it was so peaceful to be there. Suddenly I checked my cell phone for the time and we realized we had five minutes to find our way out.
I have no sense of direction at all so I led us in the wrong way for quite awhile, until she took over. Eventually at 5:08, we got to the gothic spired gates and found our car and started off. We made it through the main gates but realized driving down the road that the twenty foot high metal outer gate was securely locked with a chain.
We were shut-ins, and in a panic I thought that we might spend the night in the cemetary. Which wouldn’t be entirely bad because it would be an experience, and it would make a funny story. But luckily we called the emergency hotline and a bemused patrol man eventually came to our rescue. He did make us wait for quite awhile and I got the feeling that this sort of thing happened more than occassionally and when it did he drew it out. Relishing the fact that he was the only one with a key to the gates of the ‘city of the dead.’