The graveyard is old and some of the graves date back to the 1800s. That is why, on the last day of my vacation, my family and I slip into the cemetery to have a closer look at the graves. I have my camera with me, armed with new batteries and more stuffed in my pocket.
The wall is low, all around the small cemetery, but I decide to enter from the side street and not to walk to the main street and enter there. Someone must have seen me scoot over the knee-high wall, nearly tripping as my dizziness took over for a moment and laughing at my own clumsiness. The smell of the sea infuses the air and sticks against my skin.
I imagine that I step on the ground lighter inside the cemetery than I do outside. Outside is everyday ground. Inside it seems hallowed. Holy ground where loved ones, who are now nothing but bones, buried their loved ones. It is difficult for me to imagine I’m walking between – sometimes over – the bones of the dead. It almost feels like I’m walking between those sleeping a hundred years’ sleep. Hands folded, dressed in their best clothes, eyes and ears closed to the world. You would think that sound, too would be muted here in this holy place. But perhaps it is not holy enough. As far as I can tell only everyday people were buried here. Some have simple stone crosses for their tombstones, but others have grand iron railings. One has a beautiful white marble angel who watches over the whole cemetery, who watches over all the graves, especially those of the children and babies. Those are the ones that touch me the most of all.
Some of the people buried there had full lives. They died at a ripe old age – though perhaps not of old age – but there are many children who lie buried beneath the grass-covered soil. Unlike the old their graves seem mostly unmarked. At least not nearly as well marked as those of parents and grandparents. But sadness and pain, after all, cannot truly be expressed in stone and the size and extent of your grief may need a whole mountain of white marble to convey while in reality you can scarcely afford the plain stone which must have had a name on in the past.
Then there are the trees growing beside or out of graves. One grave had aloes growing out of it. The other trees are all white, stunted, and dead, like the bones of the dead beneath the earth. They look like something made for a cemetery.
There is one mound that I spot that looks new. Unlike the other undulations in the ground this one seems to have been made not too long ago – but long ago enough to be completely covered with grass and small white flowers.
I walk over to it and take a picture while the whole time I just think of the plant simbelmynë, which grows on the graves of the kings of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings.* I wonder who is buried here. There is no grave marker, no tombstone. No stone angel. Just a grave, just a mound of dirt. Just green grass and white flowers. Or perhaps much more than that. Someone’s child. Someone who once walked upon the earth but now slept below it. I still wish I knew who it was and why that old cemetery was chosen.
Perhaps they, too, did not have enough money to give an outing to their pain and grief so nature did it for them and arrayed the ground on that spot with flowers.
Vandals had also visited the cemetery. They probably slipped over the low wall and hurried between the graves, though they most likely did it under the cloak of night and not during the lunch hour as I was doing. They brought with them cans of spray paint with which to write letters and patterns in an unsteady black spray. I wonder what their intentions was with defacing graves in a cemetery it seemed no one visited anymore.
We, we left our own touch behind. A fallen marble cross was put back in place as best possible. A marble angel placed upright. We cannot mend it, but hope that the small attempt at making it better will ripple out to the world outside the cemetery.
“How fair are the bright eyes in the grass! Evermind they are called, simbelmynë in this land of Men, for they grow where dead men rest. Behold! We are come to the great barrows where the sires of Théoden sleep.”
The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall, p496.
Tolkien, J.R.R. (1995) The Lord of the Rings. London, Harper Collins Publishers.