Graveyards are places we honor those who are no longer part of our lives. If I close my eyes, I can see carefully manicured lawns, stones engraved with the best comments of one’s life, and a sense of peace. For many, it is a myth. With the passing marked, we move on. I find that there are two drivers. First, it is hard to deal with the reality of missing someone I cared about. Second, life pushes me to respond.
As important as the externals are, they are primarily a conversation with those who remain. We want to give each other a message. Life was and is important. We will not be forgotten. We are important to others in our community.
As I turned to head north on a small Malaysia trunk road, I was pushed into silence. The hill in front of me was unlike no other graveyard I have ever seen. There was not one shred of green anywhere to be seen. Everything natural was brown. It was as if nature was morning its loss. The ground was raw, a mixture of rocks and pale yellow clay. The unending clusters of graves were marked in typical Chinese fashion – with small walls guarding the tombstones. The bright paint had long faded into something that resembled a powdery Florida pastel. It was stark. Nothing moved. There was no fence. You only noticed the boundary because the graves did not go any further.
I have no idea who is buried on this bleak hillside. On a hot tropical afternoon, I could not imagine stopping. The stillness of the air was masking an evil whisper about one of the graves. “He’s a real bad apple, I must say.” (Acts 24.6)
Until this experience, I have wondered about the need for appearances. Life today suggested that markers of hope and values are important. They tell us more than we realize. If I close my eyes, the scene haunts my memories. Were they not worth remembering? Taking time to honor relationships is important – no matter what the setting.