Sunday, January 13, 2013

From Here to Eternity

[All photos from Washington State cemeteries.]
Crown Hill Cemetery - Seattle
I’ve never been a big fan of eternity; it takes too long. You know, a lot of: “Is this game never going to end?”

“No, Virginia, there’s no pause in the Claus; it goes on forever.”

Eternity is the universal solvent, it reduces everything to meaninglessness. Meaning is derived from choices, options, roads not taken. If everything is possible, then nothing is desirable.
Mountain View Cemetery - Walla Walla
Making afterlives problematical.

The existential question, why am I here?, is understandably self-centered; if one weren’t here in the first place, the question couldn’t be asked. It doesn’t take much reflection, though, to understand that the question is, why is anything here? Why is there anything versus nothing? If you’re wondering why you are here, specifically, you’re not understanding the situation. Why is the Universe here?

Frankly, we have no idea. Furthermore, at this level, it’s a meaningless question; it’s applying human values to the cosmos. Understandable, but faulty; it’s giving us way too much credit. It’s probably best to not ask it.
Lyle-Balch Cemetery - Lyle
There are, apparently, some physical truths that trump the desire for eternal life, not the least of which being location; but arguably more important is the fact that everything has a shelf-life. Nothing lasts forever, not even the Universe. Because, if the Universe did last forever, it would always have been a vast uniform void. Shapes, corporal existences, are contrary to entropy. Things, stuff you can touch, our very beings are dependent on our going away, our disappearing. We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t go away. Funny, that.
Greenwood Cemetry - Cathlamet
The question I find more intriguing is, why is life so persistent? Why does it care to be alive so much? Why desire? Life, after all, is but the desire to remain alive, nothing more, nothing less. Why should it care? Do the stars care that they will one day implode or explode? Why should living things care?

That, too, at this primitive stage, is an unanswerable question, one best not posed. It is enough to know that we do care; from the very first bacteria to you and me, the only thing we’ve ever really cared about has been keeping going. That desire is built into our fiber. It is the only desire; everything else is subsumed to that. So far, so good.

That desire, in fact, is built so strongly into our raison d’être, that we are inclined to believe that our termination could not possibly be true, that, surely, there’s something beyond this. For us, at least, forget about the ants. Maybe them, too, who knows? But for us for sure there has to be something more. Doesn’t there?
Lyle-Balch Cemetery - Lyle
No. But it’s a good try. One can always pretend.

Which we’re pretty good at. Pretense is as good as reality any day if you’re scared of dying. “Not me! I’m going to live forever!”

Sure, sure. Whatever.

“Meaning” is what you bring to the table.
Oysterville Cemetery
Meaning is why we have cemeteries. We don’t need to keep old, expired bodies. “Hang onto that dwarf star; you never know when we might need it.” As has been observed, if it’s getting rid of bodies you want, then volcanos are a good option. After all, one can’t actually talk to a dead person, so why struggle to keep them around? Why even have cemeteries?

Because the dead are our silent conscience. The dead are the people to whom we bare our souls. They are our strictest critics. They are us. We internalize the dead; we adopt their personas when we visit their graves; we speak on their behalf. We all know the dead are not actually with us anymore and we know that we’re crying in the wind; but by assuming the mantle of others we can say things to ourselves that might otherwise remain hidden. To be honest with ourselves, we sometimes have to place our words in the mouths of others. The dead are less likely to object and are, hence, free to say that which cannot be spoken.

To propitiate them for their silent service, we adorn their graves with tokens. We bring them offerings, trinkets, mementoes, and milagros. We strew their graves with coins or stack pebbles on them. We leave a teddy bear or a candle, a photo, a bottle of beer. Dolls or a toy truck. Oh yes, and maybe a stone, a block of granite with a name chiseled on its face. To keep them alive.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery - Seattle
There will come a time when the Earth will be swallowed up by the Sun. There will come a time when there is no one left to remember us. There will come a time.

Here on Earth, though, we still remember the past; we still blink into the future. There is no eternity other than the present which goes on forever. We come and we go. It is a lovely show.
Greenwood Cemetery - Cathlamet

No comments: