Present Tense

Lessons from the cemetery

We live behind a small cemetery, which doesn’t bother me at all.  In fact, I like it.  It’s peaceful and well-maintained, with beautiful old oak trees sprinkled throughout.  Many of the graves are regularly decorated with vivid flowers and plant baskets.  I walk it frequently.

The thing that interests me about this cemetery is that many of the “founding fathers (and mothers)” of Lake Leelanau, Michigan are buried here.  Some were born in the early 1800s and lived very long lives in what had to be a difficult place to tame.  Most of these same families are still here in the 3rd, 4th and 5th generations.

One aspect that does make me a little uncomfortable is when a new grave is dug.  We saw the backhoe last Thursday and then on Friday the cars streamed in to honor a gentleman that served our country with honors during the war in Vietnam.   From our house we could hear a 21 gun salute and Taps.  His life and service was being honored by those whose lives he touched.

But then they were gone.  We left our house to run an errand an hour later and the cemetery was deserted.  Empty.  That makes me sad.  We gather to bury our dead and then disperse back to our lives.

That’s the lesson, though isn’t it?  Life, death, ceremony, legacy, generations, time, happiness, sadness, grief, regrets, love, finality, infinity, clarity.  The circle of life.  We are all here now, but have no idea how long the ride lasts.  This gentleman was only 68 and I’m sure that his children and grandchildren feel robbed of a decade or two.

But, we never know. What we DO know is that our time is finite.  How do we want to spend that time?  Overwhelmingly, surveys indicate that all of us want to ‘be happy’.  We all have to find our path to happiness and from what I can tell, the first step is forgiving ourselves for the missteps in our lives.

Next up is forgiving others for their missteps, whether they are friends, lovers, family members or complete strangers.  We need to learn to soften to their seeming bad behavior.  Give ’em a break.

Once we master those two things, I have a suspicion that it all falls into place.  In order to be happy, we have to know ourselves. We must honor who we are and what we need from our life.  I don’t know for sure since I’m still a work in progress, but the less pressure I put on ‘me’, the less I put on others and the calmer and happier I become.  So, this is my path.

I guess the goal is to find that elusive happiness before the 21 gun salute and Taps.  Start now.  Be well.

September 15, 2013 - Posted by | Musings


  1. I see you have decided to not strike me from you mailing list as I suggested you do since the last commotion I created in your house. I’m not sure how to take that but this latest expression of yours touches on why, I think. I’ll just leave it there. I don’t think we need to talk about it. Something between us seems to understand.

    I do have to say, though, that you touched on the deepest possible considerations for us to admit to. Our finite existence. We don’t want to admit it. But we must if we would be honest with ourselves. And that heroic honesty of admitting and finally accepting our situation changes everything. Everything.

    Comment by Greg | September 15, 2013 | Reply

    • Greg
      I don’t have the ability to ‘strike you from my mailing list’. You need to cancel the email notifications on your end. You subscribed and now you must unsubscribe.

      Comment by janelondon | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  2. Wow, you have done it again! Hitting the nail on the head. I recently lost my mom at the young age of 64. It was an accidental death. I am still struggling with the understanding of it all. Was it time? Should I said or done something more? I dont know. What i do know is she is at peace. I dont know how i know this but a place inside me knows. So, the peace that you reside by, must be pleasant and calming. Memories, families, and thankfulness surround you when your there. We are all very lucky to have those in our lives. They are a gift that we dont get to keep. Thats the hard part is sharing.
    Keep up the great blogs!

    Comment by suzette | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  3. Hi Jane. We have no idea how long the ride lasts. Interesting that we feel like we will live forever and then you reach an age when you realize maybe that is not true. And that moment changes the way you move through the world, what you do with your time and how you treat others.

    Comment by Kelly @Try New Things | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  4. I love this. I also used to live by a cemetery, and would take walks there; stop to read the headstones and say prayers for the buried and the lives they led..the history they created. I loved living there and i love cemeteries. i am giving much thought to our short time here…and trying to ensure I make wise use of mine. Thanks for this.

    Comment by Francesca Amari | September 15, 2013 | Reply

    • Francesca,
      It makes me sad when people are ‘creeped out’ by cemeteries. They are a place of peace and reverence and revery for those of us still around to visit them. We tend to be a bit too squeamish about death in our current culture, even while we are casual about it as long as it’s not in our immediate vicinity. These are interesting and disturbing times. Thanks for the note…

      Comment by janelondon | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  5. I love this post. I grew up in Portsmouth, Ohio on a street adjacent to a cemetery, and often would walk through it, contemplating the history written on the headstones: Bessie Tomlin, who held her infant above her head as she drowned in the 1937 flood, the war casualties, the tragedy of the family in the early 1800s who lost 2 young children a day apart, then years later, lost 2 more children a day apart. When visiting a few years ago, my family and I were playing flashlight tag there (don’t judge), when I decided I wanted to see that last headstone again. I knew what it looked like and its approximate location, but in that area, many of the stones were so worn that the engraving was no longer readable. That is the part that makes me sad. Lost history. Bessie Tomlin’s story is well known in my town, but most of us don’t have a story written about in newspapers. My dad and brother are buried in that cemetery. I suppose after the people who knew them have passed away it won’t matter if their headstone can be read, but I would like to think someday, someone may pass by and wonder why my brother died so young or will recall that my father served that town so faithfully in its police department. Who knows? Maybe someone will.

    Comment by Debbie | September 15, 2013 | Reply

    • Debbie,
      That is beautifully expressed. Thanks so much for writing it.

      Comment by janelondon | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  6. I recently, shortly before our reunion had the privilege to not only attend but be a pallbearer in one of our friends fathers funerals. He too was a veteran of war. His grandfather had signed the papers for him to enlist at 15 years old. Off he went to Korea. He was buried at Ft. Custer National Cemetery. Full military honors. I felt a feeling I had not had since being in Washington D.C. on the 4th of July and standing at the Vietnam Memorial. A feeling of thanks, and reverence. Thank you for your blog as it made me think of this time. The veteran’s son and I happened to work for two summers at a cemetery cutting the grass. I hope to some day write a book about those experiences. We laugh hard about it when we are together. Thanks again Jane.

    Comment by Tim Lankerd, Ann Arbor, Mi. | September 15, 2013 | Reply

  7. Very well written! Puts a lot of things back into perspective

    Comment by marge beem | September 16, 2013 | Reply

  8. Thank you for the reminder Jane! I lost my mom to cancer just last week, she was only 63 and as I am struggling to make sense of it all, I find this very comforting. Thank you again.

    Comment by Erika P | September 16, 2013 | Reply

  9. I don’t mean to sound crass. But the essence of a person’s being isn’t the body. Memories of them will live on forever in our hearts and minds. Although our “bodies” die, our soul lives on. Paul writes in 1Thessalonians about family members who were Christians who have died. He says in verse 4:13 But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
    (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

    Comment by Donald McIntyre | September 16, 2013 | Reply

    • Donald:
      Thanks for the note. The title of my blog is “Present Tense” because I’m exploring what is now and presently, I am the owner of a body and a physical life. I don’t think that the essence of this post said anything otherwise. The scripture is nice, but I guess I’m kind of missing how it applies to my post:) Thanks, though

      Comment by janelondon | September 16, 2013 | Reply

  10. I visited my dad’s grave this summer for the first time. I felt nothing but love and grace. I was actually afraid to go. I wish our culture was more open to the spirit of infinity. Thank you for helping the process along. I always love your thoughtful posts Jane.

    ~ Margie

    Comment by talktraffic28 | September 16, 2013 | Reply

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