|Posted on July 26, 2019 at 12:50 AM|
Granite headstones of various hues, all shades of gray, stand in line like soldiers on their first day of boot camp. Some are big, some small, some wide, some tall. All speak surnames loudly with large engraved letters and the first and middle names subordinated on the bottom carry the birth and death dates as their underlings.
Low trees dot the hillside giving places where the birds can nest. I pull my Honda CRV along the side of the asphalt road next to the place where my family resides. My mother, father and brother, John are all in a quad, sharing a space, a parcel of earth where their remains lay buried beneath six feet of dirt in fancy boxes stored inside concrete vaults. I always wondered why such care and expense to store a body. I think it's because in life, we are so identified with the body that when the life that animated it is gone, we struggle to believe that decay and decomposition will consume it. So we try to protect it with embalming and lined coffins and concrete vaults that keep the worms and other critters from composting our physical forms. But isn't that a futile attempt? Isn't it better for the Earth to reclaim what is hers?
I saw a travel show and the host was touring Austria, Saltzberg to be exact. They have so little space on which to build homes that the cemetary plots are rented. When there comes a day that no one cares enough to pay the rent, the body is exhumed and the bones collected and placed in the bone chapel. Each skull is lovingly decorated with the name of its former occupant and placed on a shelf with all the others. The other bones of the body are stacked like cord wood underneath the shelves full of skulls. Candles are lit in an every present vigil to keep the bones in the light. It makes me wonder what happens when the bone chapel fills up.
But it makes sense to me to reuse a burial place, to honor a loved one in a more personal way by painting flowers and their name on their fleshless bones. That's way more thoughtful and considerate than dressing the body in its Sunday best, then locking out all contact with the natural world to which it belongs. For my body, I wish to be buried naturally, not preserved, but offered to the tiny organisms that would derive life-giving nutrients from my body. I've been a consumer all my life. In death I want to be a provider of abundance.