Small towns are much the same the world over, so I expect folks in these parts would react about the same way as the New Englanders—community unrest, near violent hostility, and ostracism of the newcomer.
Turned out, the community violator only wanted to join them. Despite financial success, he had no family, no community to which to belong or return, no sense of place. Realizing the nearness of life’s limit, he sought these things in the small town’s cemetery.
THE MAN wandered among the headstones, wondering about the lives each represented. He sought immortality among strangers, and found it, for he drew his last breath there.
Cemeteries collect us one by one, and though customs of burying and remembering vary, some things are common to us: all mourn and all of us are mortal. It seems not so to the young, so full of life that such shadows do not darken their joy. But as the calendars of our lives accumulate, those shadows deepen, and we are afraid of the dark.
I’VE VISITED burial places that marked me, such as my first country funeral in 1942, when we buried my grandfather Madison McDonald in Beauregard Parish, in a cemetery that featured Vic’s Vapor Rub and brown Garrett’s Snuff jars.
Judy and I have twice walked among the headstones above Omaha Beach, in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, a place of war and now a place of peace. Who among them might have found a cure for cancer, written a great song or sonnet, led our nation in a high office?
We visited an ancient Hebrew cemetery in Prague, where generations upon generations moved in, “literally,” on the graves of ancestors, with gravestones in such density that one could not walk between them but each a sacred reminder of a consecrated life.
These places share a keeping with the community of which we are a part. Generations precede us, our time comes, and then the focus shifts to newer generations. Time is continuity, a constant flow, like a river.
THAT REMINDS me of a movie titled Places in the Heart. The setting was in a place a lot like our own in the Depression of the 1930s. The story involved much tragedy with characters coming and going, living and dying.
All suffered, and in the end only a remnant remained. The story ends in church, after some had passed away, or drifted away, but there they all are, in mythical reunion, passing the elements of communion in fellowship and in God’s love and forgiveness and reconciliation.
This story is metaphor for our lives and not much different from Eddie Robinson’s character in that old Playhouse 90 drama, for the entire world’s a stage, and each must play his part in the flow of life that eventually leads home.
Archie P. McDonald is a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries can be heard each Friday morning at 7:35 on Red River Radio, KDAQ 89.9 FM.