June 1, 2009
Recently on a day I decided to fly away from life and find respite alone, I drove through an old Kansas cemetery I had once stumbled upon. It was a secluded and peaceful spot, tucked under a patch of dense cedars, surrounded on all sides only by some curious black Angus cattle.
It was an awesome day, the temperature hovering around 65, blue sky and a light breeze through the trees. I was low in spirits, remembering my mother who had died one year before, and me still grieving. I remembered the cemetery from a day when she and I had gone shopping together. She was old and could no longer walk, and after her brain aneurism really couldn’t carry on much of a conversation. Still, I miss her desperately. Things have not been the same without her. There is no one like your mother, whether she agrees with your philosophies of life or not.
Anyway, the day mom and I had driven through this particular cemetery several years before, I had seen a small stone, level with the earth, with a little girl’s name etched into it, and two mighty cedar trees on either side towering over it. I wondered at the time if a grieving couple had planted these trees alongside their little girl’s final resting place, maybe as a way of sheltering her.
It took some searching, but eventually I found the small stone and stopped to read it again and reflect on the story behind the little girl’s demise. You know how us writers are; our imaginations are always conjuring up stories. I was about to walk on, when I noticed another marker a short distance away, this one standing approximately five feet high. It was four-square, tapered at the top, with engraving on all four sides, and I was compelled to know what it said. What I read there brought tears to my eyes and a sigh to my heart.
Facing the east, the epitaph read: “Rest, darling sisters, rest. They faltered by the way and the angels took them home.” Facing south, it read: “Ella M. Williamson, died June 19, 1887. Aged 21 years 2 months 27 days. Last words on earth, “I am going home to die no more.”
On the north side, opposite where Ella was laid, it read: “Artie M Baxter, wife of L.C. Baxter. Died June 5, 1886, aged 17 years 11 months 24 days. “Gone but still remembered.” The last of the four sides facing to the west read: “Baxter. Weep not for her. She is not dead but sleepeth. No pain, no grief, no anxious fear, can reach the peaceful sleeper here.”
I had to wonder if this was the last of the sisters buried here. The style of the epitaph was different from the other two; there was no attention to personal information, not her first name, nor even the date of her death, as had been recorded for the other two. Whoever had buried the first two had been quite articulate in describing her grief, apparently only one year and a few days apart. But no such information was recorded for her. It simply stated that she was at peace, that her pain, grief and fear were now gone. One can only speculate on the reason for the differences; likely we will never know.
However, as I drove away that day, I couldn’t help but reflect on all our journeys through life. Only one thing is certain, it is temporary. In a moment’s notice, it may be cut short. Another stone in the same cemetery read: “Death is Certain: The Hour Unseen.”
Henry Ward Beecher said, “God asks no person whether he or she will accept life. That is not the choice. You must take it. The only choice is how.”
I had to ask myself how I have done. “Have I affected others for the good, eased their pain whenever I could? When that time comes for me, will I be able to look back and say I made a difference? Am I using the gifts god gave me to the full? Have I forgiven when it was needed, extended my hand where necessary? These are questions we should all ask ourselves.
A quote of Henry David Thoreau’s says it admirably. “How vain it is to sit down and write if you have not stood up to live.”
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