In Farmingdale, Long Island, there is a cemetery named St. Charles. It is a vast cemetery, an immense necropolis. Row upon row of gravestones with their manicured lawns seem to spread endless, in every direction. The graveyard seems to have swollen to a city – the city of the silent. Indeed, a marvelous quiet penetrates everything.
James Joyce, in Ulysses, wrote of “funerals all over the world, everywhere every minute. Thousands every hour.” The statistic worldwide is that 150,000 thousand people die every day;
The daily harvest. Death is hungry. As Proverbs 30:15 says: “Death is never satisfied; it never says ‘Enough.’”
The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, was asked how we could better lead our lives and he said we should spend more time in graveyards.
At St. Charles, I read dates on gravestones and measure the years. There are many early leavings. One thinks about the lives of these young people, what were their expectations, the dreams that never came true, the disappointments, the unrequited loves. All that trapped forever. All the stories silenced now.
And we wept that one so lovely should have a life so brief,
so gentle and so beautiful, should perish with the flowers.
(William Cullen Bryant, “The Death of The Flowers”)
I had a friend named Rick with whom I went fishing in summer. He died when he was sixteen. He is frozen in my mind as a sixteen year old boy. He will always be sixteen, and it will always be summer. It’s been asked if the deaths of young people really are the saddest thing in life – they were saved so much and kept so much?
There is an area of St. Charles marked “Children.” Plastic pinwheels adorn each grave as well as some toy. So many of the children had only one year. They hardly got to exist. One thinks of all the child missed. The child missed 70 or 80 springs and summers. They never had the chance to marry or look into the eyes of their own first child, to finish college and launch a career. They never got to experience the joys and pains of middle age and growing old, they never got to grow old surrounded by love.
Parents feel that it is not right to live when one’s child has died, that one should somehow have found the way to give one’s life to save their child’s life.
Why do infants die? Is there something that bears the mark of God’s wisdom and providential care? Does eternal life give those whose life was cut short the opportunity to live the life they were intended for, and for which they were born? Will their lives be completed someplace, somehow? Can they somehow live to the full a human life after they have died” (cf. Jurgen Moltman, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, pp.117-118)
The gravestones tell that taken to the grave are countless “golden years.” How many people have stood in front of these gravestones imploring “Come back to me.”
Broken hearts’ remnants
Litter the cement bases.
(Emily Jo Manchester, “Graveyard”)
“For the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear the voice of the Son of Man and come out” (John 5:28). St Paul adds the Archangels call, the sound of trumpets, and the Lord coming down on the clouds (1Thess.4:16). I like to picture this literally taking place at St. Charles cemetery. Loved ones being raised, the empty tombs. All shall rise and bloom to fade no more. We will see our loved ones faces again, and hear their voices as they march toward us from their graves, telling us that all will be again as it once was.
Twill show us each forgotten grace
And make the dead, like flowers, arise
Youthful and fair to see new skies”
(Henry Vaughan, “The Day of Judgment”)
As for myself, my hope is expressed by what some writer said: “Tarry awhile, O Death, I cannot die with all my blossoming hopes unharvested, all my songs unsung. Tarry awhile, till I am satisfied of earth.”
There is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins titled “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire.”
It is one of the last poems Hopkins wrote, and it is regarded as one of his greatest achievements.
The opening lines convey a delight in the world of clouds and wind. The poem pictures cloud shadows on walls and buildings, sunlight through trees, etc. The poet humanizes the activity of clouds and wind. Then Hopkins goes on to meditate on how undermining all the beauty of nature is flux. Nothing is stable. All things are subject to time and annihilation. It is a world where nothing lasts. Everything, no matter how beautiful, must die. This includes human impermanence. Humans too must suffer obliteration like everything else. The poet’s reflections continue to spiral downward.
Then comes the dramatic word “Enough!” The poet reacts from his somber thoughts with this cry and turns his attention to the Resurrection. Because of Christ, humans will rise to a new level of being, something that can be described as Immortal Diamond, something solid and everlasting, and imperishable. Something that was previously buried in the earth, the diamond, is as permanent and immutable as anything we know; it involves a sense of transcendence.
Because of the Resurrection, the human being, destined for oblivion like everything else, is also “Immortal Diamond,” something everlasting.
That workaday, ordinary, even laughable dolt of a human being will shine forth and become something precious and beautiful. He or she will be made into “Immortal Diamond.” There is the resounding affirmation of the last line of the poem
in a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is…
This poor potsherd is Immortal Diamond.
Is immortal diamond.
(potsherd = broken pottery)