My common room overlooks the Grove Street Cemetery— its brown stone walls are just tall enough that the passing cars can’t catch a glimpse inside. From my second floor window, however, I can see the now snow covered walkways that reveal the footprints of those walking, running, grieving, or just passing through.
This article isn’t about my experience walking through the cemetery. In truth, I’ve never been inside and I don’t know when I plan on going. For now, I prefer to watch from the window. Instead, this article is about the idea that life and community is happening all around us, simultaneously without cessation, all of the time. About the idea that every person buried in that cemetery had a life as complex and crazy and joyous and sorrowful and love-filled as all of ours. There’s something entirely human about the whole institution of cemeteries. About the preservation of community in the only experience that one goes through completely alone.
For me, it’s a bit difficult to comprehend all the people that came before me and all that are bound to come after amidst the spaces and communities that I am a part of. Thinking about life and humanity as a whole in the kind of detail in which I think about my own life is both poignant and enigmatic. And I think that’s why walking across the Grove Street Cemetery and cemeteries in general is a bit of a heavy matter— the idea of walking atop people I didn’t know but am somehow forever connected to. It’s almost impossible for me to grasp the fullness to which each person buried there lived their lives and the intricacies of their beings that I have no way of ever knowing or discovering.
These thoughts aren’t meant to be scary, although they may easily come across that way. Though I may never know the specifics of the lives of those in the cemetery, the silver lining is that I have a good idea of the emotional highs and lows they undoubtedly endured in their lifetimes. As humans, everything they’ve felt had been felt before, is being felt now, and will be felt again. Our triumphs are not unusual and our struggles are not singular.
The way I think of it, we’re all one big cause and effect. We are where we are because of what others did and felt at some point in time that had nothing to do with us. I guess physics majors would call it the space time continuum or string theory or something like that. But to me, it’s the idea that with one change or different decision from someone somewhere at sometime, our entire lives would shift. It’s possible they could be entirely different or just slightly altered. Thus, our current place in the universe is both random and divine. Our families that raise us, the friends that ground us, and everyone we meet and love along the way is not only a blessing but the result of millions or even billions of events that had to go just so for us to make it to this exact moment.
Eventually when I do make it to the cemetery, that’s what I’ll be thinking of. Of those that paved the way, those that created, and overcame, and did, and felt. Those who made it possible for me to be where I am today, and that includes the ones I’d have no way of knowing about. Those who may not be in the Grove Street Cemetery, but who did something at some time with someone and made it possible for me to be here at this time, now. One day, I’ll be someone’s something at some time with someone. Or, maybe I already have been and they’re thinking of me now.