Coffee Reggiegram: cemeteries can bring you closer to heaven.
It just depends on how you think of them
I love cemeteries. “It’s the closest I get to heaven,” as one wit said.
Sometimes we easily forget that cemeteries in the West are actually very beautiful and very peaceful: often prompting a special perspective on life and meaning. That’s why I love to bring Cincinnati Children’s Hospital visiting scholars from China, to the elegant Spring Grove Cemetery, as part of a grand tour of Cincinnati.
有时候我们容易遗忘西方坟墓的美丽与静谧，坟墓时常会激发人们关于生命和意义的独道见地。这就是为何我喜欢带领辛辛那提儿童医院的中方访问学者前往雅致的春园墓地(Spring Grove Cemetery)参观，作为辛辛那提旅程的一部分。
This cemetery is 150 years old and is beautifully landscaped, with ponds and bridges, swans, Canadian geese, ducks, turtles and fish, set among 12 hundred varieties of trees and shrubs. Everyone who visits comes away with a refreshing new perspective on cemeteries. After all, even weddings, and wedding photo ops are performed in this cemetery, something that would be totally unheard of in Asia. Getting married in a cemetery? What kind of scandal is that?
It’s not a scandal, because the cemetery represents a poetic segue to the final journey into paradise, while weddings are an important early marker of life’s journey. When I perform marriage ceremonies, I often emphasize the principle “till death do us part,” which is, if you remember, a perspective of death right in the middle of the marriage vows! And what better setting to have a wedding than among swans (symbol of life, grace and purity among many cultures!) and fish (abundance, unity and fidelity)?
And in this particular cemetery are buried, Mr. Procter and Mr. Gamble, founders of the huge international company in Cincinnati, Procter & Gamble; founders of other great businesses (Kroger, McAlpin, Fleischman), 10 state governors, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice (Chase); and a President of the University of Cincinnati (Winkler); so we are in excellent company. In fact the marble statues and monuments standing handsomely in the cemetery give us a feeling of deep reverence for history. There is even a small military plot for those Confederate and Union men who died in the American Civil War, when brother killed brother, since Cincinnati was right at the north-south border.
When we were courting, Esther and I in our youth often wandered into the Stanley Military Cemetery on Hong Kong Island, which was an excellent place to be away from the stifling huge city, a place where we could chat away as we began our life’s journey together. So quiet, so secluded, so beautiful as it faced the Pacific Ocean. What better place to court a young lady can you think of?
Two cemeteries in Manila however have given me the greatest impression. One of them was the Chinese cemetery, where the “town” of the cemetery was built like a regular town, with roads, street signs and buildings housing deceased Chinese families often complete with kitchens, balconies and air conditioning. The homes were stone or marble houses, carefully and expensively built to last. There was even a bank to handle necessary transactions (Chinese are “Jews of the Orient”), although for the life of me, I did not see any real life in that activity. It was often amusing however, when I described the town to some local residents, to get a response that they had passed by the town many times and assumed that it was just another “Chinese town,” presumably alive with walking human beings.
But the most touching structure, to me, is the Manila American Cemetery. It commemorates the valiant dead, the huge loss of American men defending the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The row upon rows of glistening white crosses are a stark reminder of pain and suffering, of courage and fortitude, and of the greatest act of sacrifice that was given. And then the huge wall depicting the forced brutal marches up and down the Philippine Islands is a stark reminder of the potential for cruelty and barbarity in mankind, brainwashed to commit atrocities beyond mention.
Cemeteries are reminders of life’s journey, of the joys and pains of life, that await us. They give us an opportunity for contemplating our own existence, and our own life’s direction. I have loved cemeteries all my life, and one day I will be in a nice restful one too. I would like a swan and some fish hovering nearby, if possible. I surmise these will be close to me when I catch up on my reading (can I even do some more writing, Lord?), sitting peacefully below the branches of a green tree, in heaven.