Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Graveyard Scene

I love to give homework to my writing students. (At last I can give homework instead of receive it, ha HA!!) We're studying ancient Greek literary devices, so I assigned them the task of looking up famous quotations that utilize these devices.

One student, Bali, has a tendency toward the dark and brooding, so he brought in: "To be or not to be, that is the question."

I laughed in recognition of the famous line from Hamlet. "A famous quotation indeed, Bali," I said. "Do you all know of this play?" I described my favorite part of the whole play: the graveyard scene. Hamlet picks up a skull, and the gravedigger lets Hamlet know that he's holding the skull of a jester. With shock Hamlet realizes that as a little boy, he used to ride upon the shoulders of this very same jester.

And yet what remains? A skull.

Indeed: "To be or not to be, that is the question."

What is the point of life?

We then continued on with our writing class, and that discussion about Hamlet evaporated from my mind. Or so I thought.

When driving home, I passed a graveyard - a graveyard I have passed literally hundreds of times - and I felt this powerful urge to go inside.

The urge mystified me. I even passed the graveyard, shaking it off as silly. But then I slowed my car to a halt and turned around.

I pulled into the cemetery slowly.

I randomly stopped my car in the bright afternoon sun. I felt this sensation of surrender: "Krishna, please give me whatever realizations you want to give me."

I got out of my car. Immediately I was greeted by one very broad gravestone, which marked the graves of a husband and wife. The wife had died over ten years ago. But curiously enough, the husband's name was imprinted upon the gravestone with his birthdate, but the death date was still blank.

I realized that his grave was empty. This man was still alive, simply waiting to die to join his wife... wherever her soul had taken her.

I sat there for a long while in the sun, meditating on the connection of these two souls.

I wandered through other graves. I saw one of a 9-month-old baby girl - such a little gravestone. But she had died in 1932. Maybe old age would've claimed her by now anyway if she had lived.

What struck me the most was that husbands and wives were buried side-by-side, even if the husband or wife had died 20 or 30  years later. Not friend next to friend, or even parent next to child. Yes, families were buried together, but not side-by-side. Not with the same gravestone.

As I left the graveyard, the thought settled over me - life comes. Death comes. And all that matters, what most people in this world will boil down their entire existence to, is a relationship with their husband or wife.

But ultimately, I won't be buried in the ground next to my husband. My body shall be burnt to ashes and cast to the wind or the ocean or a river. I shall not even have a gravestone to mark my birth and my death, and who I shared that birth and death with.

All that shall remain of me is memories within the hearts of my loved ones, but even those shall fade with time.

So what is the essence? Why am I alive?

Only when I was leaving the graveyard did I remember the conversation with my students from this morning: To be or not to be?

That is the question.

I found the answer in a poem my father once wrote:

So far away
I am still so far away
I need to cross the ocean
walk millions of miles
and fly through the sky
until one day
tired of this body
I will lay down
and pray
and remember
who I am
where I came from
My body is dust
but my soul
is the light of the sun
the flame that burns incessantly
inside my heart.
Only Your name will be left
upon my lips
like a kiss
like a blossom

1 comment:

Vinod Nair said...

I have had similar experiences in India and find solace in the knowledge that my soul is eternal and on its jouney to meet the supreme soul. A very difficult Journey indeed !!
I have been reading your blogs and can feel that you are somewhere at the final stages of this journey ..

To write is to dare the soul. So write.