Graveyards freak people out. I still remember a childhood playmate telling me, long ago, you have to hold your breath while walking or driving past one or you might “inhale a ghost.”
Not sure where that bit of superstition came from, but in spite of the total lack of science or theology backing it up, I still remember it when I stroll by a lonely cemetery on a back road.
But not everyone shares such childish fears. In fact, those who know and love graveyards (there must be a word for that — maybe grave “diggers”?) see them as a glorious combination of open-air history and art museums.
That tension between affection and anxiety is such a perfect image of autumn. It falls between worlds of summer green and winter white and surrounds us with the colorful spectacle of the death of a billion leaves. So what better place to observe fall foliage than amongst the ornate edifices of a historic cemetery? (See story here.)
Soon enough, historic cemeteries may be the only kind, since graveyards, once a staple of community life, are themselves dying. The quaint idea that there would be room in the churchyard on the hill for all the villagers in “Our Town” was long ago trumped by a post-war population boom. In New York, the deceased who do not own family plots with vacancies are even being forced to shuttle over the George Washington Bridge to find a burial spot in New Jersey. (Shudder.)
But when we do finally run out of room to permanently park our mortal husks, I think the other aspect of cemeteries, the historic and artistic, will live on. After all, who can resist the urge to leave some kind of summary statement about one’s time on Earth, something memorable that says, “I was here”?
Of course, not all such statements are carved in granite.
Many people knew and loved Marty Capodice, husband of local political legend Arnie Arnesen and long-time supporter and volunteer for Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts. When Marty died, two years ago this month, I was away and unable to attend the services, but Arnie, who is a endless fountain of creativity, had a plan to make sure his legions of friends and fans could share in his final send-off. Marty was cremated according to his wishes and then Arnie carefully placed a teaspoon of his ashes into each of dozens of tiny manila envelopes that had instructions to take Marty with them someplace “wonderful” (a favorite word of his). It was left to the mourner (an incongruous term in this case) to decide what to do after that.
My wife procured an envelope for me that I’ve had on display in my cluttered office ever since. I recently learned that a co-worker here, Bob Sanders of the NH Business Review, is riding his bike in the Pedaling for Payson event to raise funds to beat cancer and dedicating his ride to a couple of friends including the late Marty Capodice.
When I heard this, the word “wonderful” immediately came to mind and I asked Bob to carry Marty’s ashes along on his ride. I’m not sure what he plans to do with them, but people along the route may want to hold their breath.