October 3, 2009
Night at the Cemetery...A Love Story

October 3, 2009...one day away from a full moon and I have decided to spend the rest of the afternoon alone in this cemetery that bears the remains of dozens of my ancestors and hundreds of their friends and relatives...the people who've made my life now possible.

The day is lovely...clear blue sky, pleasant temperature and perfectly calm air...a bright stillness engulfs everything, including me. And as the sun begins to set...shining golden rays through autumn leaves and cypress trees, casting cool shadows into the twilight...I begin to imagine this place under the light of a bright moon...it's a heavenly vision...and I promptly decide to stay the night.

I take a seat on a red granite bench, itself on a raised piece of ground that overlooks an area containing a number of my immediate relatives...grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins...and I take out my pipe. Thin blades of sparse grass on a rectangular patch behind me indicate a recent burial...the tombstone marked 2009 confirms this. He's a fellow Italian, and for whatever reason, this makes me feel more comfortable.

In fact, I am comforted by this whole place, feeling surrounded not just by immediate relatives and loved ones, but by neighbors and fellow community members, comrade immigrants and ethnics groups, Spanish-Mexican, Italian, German, Slavic...all these various peoples who settled in this area, surviving often desperate and destitute conditions to find a better life, if not for themselves, then at least for their children. And we all share a common struggle that, whatever our temporal differences and disagreements, bind all of us together.

As I light my Yampa pipe, I open myself to whatever understanding of this place, of life and death really, that I might take with me. I briefly wonder what I will experience here in this altered state of consciousness, a state of mind which has become quite familiar to me over the 20 years Yampa and I have been friends....a state of mind I now characterize as "getting out of the box" ..."going to school"..."gaining a different, beyond human, perspective"..."glimpsing the 'other' side." Will I see ghosts? Will the stark fact of death in which I've surrounded myself be a heavier truth than I can handle? Deep inhale...exhale...here goes...

Spirits do tell...what's going on the Other Side?

A party...is that what you say?

That's what I thought.

Oh really, that's interesting...

Don't worry about coming to the party Dino, it's coming to you...

You know oddly enough, I like the sound of that...because I feel it...coming that is, in a good way. Yes, I strive for a conscious death. I mean, to be as conscious as possible as I'm dying, and I've just realized, we are all dying all the time, just as we are all living all the time.

You see who I am...Raven...I live on death's edge...

You know why cemeteries are such powerful places? Because there is so much love channeled there. Think about it.

It's beautiful...and it makes so much sense...

Whatever will be, it's absolutely gorgeous, life is, and must be filled with ugliness, just as it must be filled with fire and dark, for if we did not know these, we would also not know beauty and ice and light.

There's a lot more love here than there is death, that's for sure!

Mmmm...that makes so much sense...

Now think of this...just because there must be ugliness, does not mean you must pursue it...for Nature surely, in the most part, does not. Your science proves this. Has not life since the beginning of Creation as you know it, only become more and more beautiful and wonderful along the way?

Absolutely, I see beauty all along the way, from the birth of the Cosmos to the birth of a child, in this long continuum of existence...well, it staggers my words...my mind really.

You see, how love pours forth here...you see how memory carries life...and love...how the ache of loss makes love and...

A few hours before sunrise and I finally grow tired. Sleepy, I lie right beside my grandfather's grave, as if to snuggle with him just as I did when I was a kid. I never got a chance to say goodbye to him, but now I don't feel the need to...more like hello...or goodnight. Macabre sleeping by his grave? More comforting really.

Sure, the mind can go all sorts of places here. The imagination has horror movie hands coming up from the ground to grab the unsuspecting gravesite slumberer while ghosts hover frightening forms all about. Then of course there's the reality, however unlikely, of attack by the wild or rabid beast of the night, human or otherwise.

Yet I'm not here to test fate or invite death or tease unseen powers just for kicks.  And neither am I here to fear the irrational or be afraid of the inevitable...but rather accept reality as it is...to face life and death...gain a greater understanding or a different perspective of the whole process. I want to see what I can see...and where I can't see, I don't want to presume anything, either what is there or what is not. This is a test of the senses, as well as an opening of the mind...and finally, it's a gut-check of reality.

I wouldn't recommend anyone do this unless they approach it with the greatest amount of honor and respect. Having resolved to spend the night in this cemetery, I decided to ask the caretaker for permission. Truthful, I told him I would be holding an all-night vigil for my many ancestors buried here. Of course he had to tell me no, and I wouldn't  expect him to take on that liability anyway, personally or professionally. Yet neither would I let anyone or anything stop me from paying this due tribute to my family.

Silent as the sound in this cemetery, this classroom without words keeps a knowledge beyond the library or university. For the seeker of its secrets, it demands the most careful attention...inspires the deepest contemplation. Life...love...the meaning of it all...divinity...profanity...the reason we are here ...peace...beauty...sorrow...celebration... open and clear the mind enough and you will hear the echo of creation...mystery...revelation...inspiration...open and fill the heart and you will recall the memory of beginning ...connection and compassion...your roots...your lineage...the persistence of existence...the weighty depth of history...the airy light of being.

In the heart of this sacred space there lies a pathway in a figure-eight...which I take throughout the night...a walking meditation on infinity...gathering life's lessons...harvesting, chewing, digesting the season's offerings...eliminating waste, letting fall away that which no longer serves life and love...forgiving the past...honoring troubles as necessary trials to light my way...letting the hurt and anger of loss and injustice poor forth...a needed release as I rest myself in peace. Tears of sorrow mingle with tears of joy...washing away the sticky sludge of the past, as they water the seeds of beautiful dreams...sowing Love's new beginning.

According to legend, the autumnal season brings the thinning of the veil. That is, there is a loosening or opening of the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead...or perhaps more precisely, a tighter conjoining, or communion even, between the realms of matter and spirit. (In the parlance of our most advanced science, the thinning of the veil might involve a contraction of sorts in an annually cyclic movement of our 2-dimensional boundary surface.)  In any event, and however worded and looked at, because the thinning of the veil supposedly reaches its peak on or around October 31, I think that would be a prime time to revisit the cemetery. Until the next Moon...

Over the road from where I sit, I hear a man talking to two headstones. And I cry as I hear him...

"I love you mom. I love you dad. I'll see you next week," the old man says as he walks back to his car.

And I cry even harder, not as much in sorrow, but in the joy of seeing, of feeling, the love of this man for his parents, seeing and feeling that in his heart his parents are still living...living beyond the realm our minds typically fathom...living where the heart's memory is more real than all else...where the heart's memory is first and primary. And I have no doubt this old man still sees his parents in a way the casual observer cannot. I see this in my own heart now..Love-Memory-Mourning...Mourning in Loving Memory is more powerful than the mind's greatest comprehension...even precedent to the Great Expansion of Creation.

As I wander all around this graveyard, up and down its streets, avenues and alleyways, I see this place is not unlike our "living" town, a mirror of sorts, a quiet and still reflection, with its own neighborhoods sectioned off by thoroughfares...ethnic gathering spots and focal points ... Little Italy and Mexican towns, groupings of Bojohns  and Germans and of course Caucasians...with a healthy dose of ethno-cultural intermingling spread throughout.

Death? It no longer feels appropriate to think of this cemetery as a place of death. Rather I see a wondrous garden awash in silver-white moonlight...shadows cast by statues and tombstones and tall monumental cypress trees call to mind beauty...so easily seen in ordinary daylight, and now unexpectedly found in the middle of night. It's infused with mystery, this shadow side of life.

I sense an invisible caretaker here...a master gardener, sculpting trees and trimming grass, washing and polishing stone memorials ...knowing where to water and where to not, just for effect. The middle of this cemetery is lush and green, inviting...while its older side is sparse and dry, somewhat desolate and eerie...perfect!

Through midnight and beyond I continue walking the streets and avenues of this resting town, just wandering around... reading headstone inscriptions...contemplating numerous statues and figures...Jesus... Mary...angels...cast in various ways...blessing...mourning...comforting ... strong and wise...I see the Father and Son and feel the Holy Ghost inside..my Mother, my Sister, my Wife...shadowy crosses stretch through the night...symbols Catholic and Celtic...an illuminated flag waves patriotic. From high on a tree a hooting owl draws me near until I stand below with the moon directly behind it...and we are all in alignment...body, shadow and silhouette.

Meditations and contemplations abound...getting to know my judgment-free zone, where understanding must be life's primary imperative...where experience forges boundaries on relationships, without and within myself...love, honor, respect...the process of life...let good intention underlie all my action, however imperfect my way...forgiveness so necessary...create beauty over suffering...and though we may stumble and seemingly fail...let Love prevail.

Is that not what we are saying and what we are doing here, as we cry and pray over the ground of those we've lost? We attempt in day and get it right at night...in this cycle of life.