The morning air was crisp and fall-like, and the sun was just peaking over the covers. Like the day Elli died. Perhaps that’s why I felt drawn there. She has been on my mind a lot lately.
Elli’s cemetery is about 1 1/2 miles away on foot, as best as I can guess. Normally, I go straight to her grave. This time, I decided to wind my way through the grave sites, slowly working my way towards the back, where we laid Elli’s body to rest.
Reading headstones has always intrigued me. What people choose to engrave about a person can say so much in just a few words. But being in a cemetery was a little eerie… I mean, before. I never knew for sure if I should walk on the grass over the graves or if that was somehow disrespectful. And always, shoving its way out from the back of my mind, the fearful unknown of Death.
Now the cemetery, this cemetery, is a place of comfort. It is a place of memory. It is a safe place to cry. It’s a place to think about life.
And it’s also a place where mowers charge back and forth, blasting headstones with grass clippings, regarding no space as sacred.
So it doesn’t matter where you walk. People want their loved-one’s stone to be read and their loved-one to be thought of by someone, even a total stranger in work-out clothes, with tears streaming down her face and a bag of dog poop in her hand.
So I read stones: many people blessed with long full lives, alongside some gut-wrenchers. A four-year-old snatched from her parents suddenly. A 25-year-old wife and young mother. Many veterans and soldiers.
This morning, it all hit me differently than ever before. Maybe knowing my daughter lay close by helped to crack open the facade of a tidy formal headstone and let me peak into the searing loss, agonizing separation, bone-deep pain of each person’s death. I read name after name after name and thought about all the cemeteries across the world, throughout time.
I don’t really know what to do with this. I know what I’ve always been taught: Death wasn’t part of the original plan, it is a consequence of our disobedience towards the Creator God, who set all of this up and wrote the rules. Death was overcome by Jesus when he rose from the dead, but it obviously isn’t fully defeated because people still die. But followers of Jesus who die go somewhere called heaven to wait for him to create a new perfect earth and give his people new perfect bodies that will never die.
But there’s something about facing death, about Elli’s empty wheelchair, that makes me wonder if I can really know this. She was a child who couldn’t speak, couldn’t say what she believed, couldn’t really even do anything to obey or disobey. How does she fit into the above picture?
For that matter, how do I fit, with all my questions? How much does what I actually believe to be true (which is invisible to other people but apparently quite visible to God) matter, and how much does what I actually say and do (which is quite visible to other people and doesn’t earn me any merit with God, except that the Bible commands godly words and actions over and over…) matter? Why is it that people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ can be so difficult to get along with, mean-spirited, judgmental, ugly? I thought the Spirit of God was supposed to transform us into godly, Christ-like people. And why is it that so much pure unadulterated wickedness has been (and is being) perpetuated on people made in God’s image in God’s name?
As I wander through the cemetery, as I brush the grass clippings off Elli’s photo in her stone, I have only questions.