Friday 9 September 2011

Thought Picnic: The Chronicles of the Dead

Plans for journeys
As I got up this morning, I felt I needed to get out if the weather was fine enough and fine a place to meditate. Over the last few months, I have done serious mileage on my bicycle, the round-trip to church on Sundays is about 26 kilometres, maybe more, but it rarely bothers me, there are days that I have done close to 40 kilometres.
However, today, my ride to Zandvoort would have been 28 kilometres but in my quest to follow signposts for bicycle paths that lead to dead-ends, detours and strange places, I probably did close to 40 kilometres on my way out before I finally reached my destination.
A promise fulfilled
Before I left Amsterdam, I found I would be riding past the Saint Barbara Cemetery, I was last there on the 8th of February 2010 when I attended the burial service of my dear friend Dick van Galen Last, had an idea of where he was buried but never saw the burial or the burial plot itself because it would have been too emotional for me and I had to get to hospital for what turned out to be my last chemotherapy session.
So, I stopped by to pay my respects and I just could not find the location. I made for the cemetery office to ask about the location of the burial plot and they produced what one might call the register of the dead.
Cemetery management
Nothing was computerised, his name appeared in cursive handwriting in the book, with his age; he died 8 days short of his 58th birthday and the coordinates of where he was buried was noted.
The clerk who also doubles as a craftsman and many other things around the cemetery then checked the layout of cemetery on a map and after donning on some heavy-duty boots, lead me to the grave site.
As we walked up on of the avenues, he hand-pulled a ground moving digger, probably used to dig graves, just big enough to ride in but also small enough to be manoeuvred by a strong man too.
The first location we got to did not have the grave, I suspect certain graves have prominent headstones and then cards behind the headstone to indicate others sharing the allotment.
At his grave
Eventually, after about a 5-minute search, he found Dick’s grave, a nice marble headstone with his name and the account of dates as each person’s portion of the expanse of eternity gets carved into stone at graveyards – the date of birth and the date of death – the history of great men is not written in cemeteries, rather it is in the memories of those who return and in books far away.
I do not know how long I spent at Dick’s grave but as I muttered my thanks for his being my friend the words of Jesus came to my mouth – I am the resurrection – at which point I knew that death is simply part of the journey of the soul in the unlimited and unfathomable extents of eternity.
Thinking beyond ourselves
Time is an amazing thing, even stars we see in the night sky might well have long disappeared but if they are thousands or millions of light-years away, we will never know if they are still out there however their light travelling to us through the amazing universe signifies there was a source for the light we now see.
So do all those grave stones with the bones beneath the earth, the people laid there once walked the surface of the earth with passions and failings like you and I have.
As I left the cemetery, I thanked the clerk who was busy trimming the hedges, you then realise even the dead need caring for or else the cemetery will become a jungle and the thickets we’ll have to cut through to see our loved ones would have just reflected very badly on the living.

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