Maybe it’s because I turned 40 this last year, or maybe it’s because I find myself far from the familiar observances of Memorial Day and the cemeteries that hold my family’s history, but today I found myself particularly compelled to appreciate those past. So after a few failed attempts to do some productive work, I took myself on a little side trip to a place I had been meaning to explore for more than two years.
The Mt.Hope Cemetery in Bangor turned 175 years old in 2009, and is America’s second garden cemetery, encompassing approximately 300 acres. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August, 1974. The garden cemetery concept reflects the rural cemetery movement that began in Massachusetts in 1831. Before then, according to Mt. Hope’s website, “urban cemeteries had been in the midst of towns and cities and were often crowded and virtually grassless. With increasing urbanization, city dwellers began to be concerned about the need for natural beauty. A romantic type landscape was sought as a counterbalance to the disturbing aspects of the city landscape.”
The Mt. Hope Cemeteryand prior to that, the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA, sought to create a landscape that was consciously designed for the living as well as the dead. Having driven past it for two years and lived near it for a few months, I had come to respect this vision, because the cemetery truly is beautiful, in any season.
It was here that I decided to honor the memory of those who went before us. In this time of war and conflict, we honor the soldiers who have served our country and often paid the ultimate sacrifice for the ground that we stand on today. We honor our fathers and grandfathers who fought for our freedom and came home to raise families and build the America we live in today.
I went to Mt. Hope Cemeterywith the desire to honor them, to remember my grandfathers and to reflect on a bit of the past. As I wandered just a fraction of the history in this garden of life and death, I was struck by a whole lot more. I considered the lives of the more than 30,000 individuals laid to rest in those acres. People remembered, people forgotten; headstones honoring mothers, fathers, grandparents and children, some shiny and new, some crumbling with age. Many of them people who maybe died wondering what they really contributed to the world.
I thought about the monument that simply said “My Husband” and wondered about the life of the person who placed it there. I wondered at the simple slabs and the elaborate monuments; were they signs of fortune, or the lack thereof? There are carefully enclosed and tended lots dedicated to an entire family alongside the lone marker of a solitary individual.
I wax a bit melancholy, perhaps, but the thing that I walked away with today is the idea that each one of those 30,000 individuals contributed in some way to the world as we know it today. Call it the butterfly effect, maybe, or six degrees of separation. But, each one of those people was a parent, a child, a teacher, a friend.
They may have simply said an encouraging word to someone they passed on the street. That person may have then had the courage to make a positive change in their life, pass on the kind word or continue what they worried was an unwinnable fight. They might be someone who simple did they best they could to raise a child, who in turn did the best they could to raise a child and onward until their great, great-grandchild developed a life saving medical procedure or fought for the rights of those less fortunate.
And so, the lesson I share with all of you on this day of memories is to honor all of our ancestors, cherish those who gave their lives for us, love the ones you’re with and have faith that the life you are leading has purpose. Allow yourself a little smile as you think about what wonders your family members, or the lives you’ve touched, will be a part of 175 years from now…