Tuesday, January 11, 2011

May the Force Be With You

(Photo by Dayna T via the Boing Boing Flickr Pool)

Gee, and I thought he died long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away...although to the civilized world I suppose Indiana is far enough...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Merry Cemetary

The town of Săpânţa in Romania has an interesting way of remembering its deceased. Rather than the usual somber stone grave markers; the headstones are colorful wooden carvings, complete with poetic verses describing the lives of the deceased. Dubbed the "Merry Cemetery", it has become a national tourist attraction.

Below is the headstone of the carpenter whose carvings inspired the creation of the cemetery:

His Epitaph is as follows:
Since I was a little boy
I was known as Stan Ioan Pătraş
Listen to me, fellows
There are no lies in what I am going to say
All along my life
I meant no harm to anyone
But did good as much as I could
To anyone who asked
Oh, my poor World
Because It was hard living in it
While some tombstones depict scenes from the life of the deceased, others depict the manner in which the person died, including this one of a three year old killed by a car:

Or a sixteen year old electrocuted by a crane:

Which, as the photographer Michael Foord points out, is not very merry at all. (You can see the entire album of photos he took here.)

I suppose though that a life is better remembered in cheerful color, than in some barren gray slab of rock.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Problems of Being a Grave Hunter in Winter

I have run into a small snafu with my project.

Apparently in winter it gets cold, dark, and snows a whole heck of a lot. You'd think I would have noticed this before. Just slipped my mind, I guess.

All of this sub-zeroness makes me less than enthusiastic about hunting around for interesting or notable tombstones. But fear not! As I stated earlier, grave rubbings are but one of the purposes of this blog. I am a huge nerd, and as a huge nerd I love research. So, rather than hibernate for the winter, I will do a bit of research, and hope to bring you interesting articles and tidbits as I delve. I may still do some rubbings before the snow melts, but I'm going to wait for it to stop being so effing cold first.

For today, I wanted to highlight an interesting article I ran across a few weeks ago. In How to Read a Headstone, Linda Falkenstein explores the meaning behind common symbols found on tombstones, for example:
  • Ever see a bunch of rocks sitting on a gravestone? This apparently comes from a Jewish Tradition, used as a way of showing someone has been to visit.
  • Shaking hands symbolizes a parting with early life, or, if one hand in obviously feminine a farewell to a spouse.
  • Ivy is frequently found on tombstones, since its verdant foliage symbolizes immortality. It can also mean fidelity or friendship as it clings to surfaces.
  • Lamps, as symbols of wisdom, are often found on tombstones of educators.
  • Acorns and Oak leaves are symbols of fruitfulness and endurance, although it leads one to wonder how fruitful the dead can really be. (Unless a fruit tree happens to grow on top of them, I guess)
Falkenstein also wrote an interesting article, Where the Bodies Are Buried, in which the author takes a trip through a cemetery, photographing and writing about the more interesting headstones she finds. Apparently I am not alone in my morbid interest on the subject.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Of Reality, Life and Death (Part II)

So, continuing on...

Using the intellectual parameters my ethics professor set for us all those years ago, imagine we can know for certain there is no God.  There is no heaven or hell.  A lifetime of self-sacrifice will never be rewarded, nor will a lifetime of self-service be punished. 

This model was deeply troubling to me at first, and it still is to some degree.  Imagine a grieving loved one who's only solace is the knowledge that someday they will be reunited with those they have lost.  Or a woman who has watched her rapist go free, and can only console herself with the thought that though there may be no justice in this world, there will be justice in the next.  In our intellectual experiment, both of these people may be left without any hope.  And one may further pose the question, without a God, what is there it keep human kind honest, so to speak?  Would people be more selfish, more self serving, without the rewards and punishments a belief in a higher power can offer?

I guess I never really contemplated the question on the level of all humanity.  I've always felt that I can't really control how other people behave, so I'd best examine and change myself if I can.  Hence I feel I came to an answer more about how my morality would be affected without a belief in a higher power, as opposed to how it would affect society at large.

By the time I was posed this question, I had firmly decided on Catholicism as my faith of choice.  It was a large part of my life and world view:  I went to mass on Sundays, was an alter server, partcipated in bible study groups and church service trips.  But when I came to a crisis, in my life and my faith, this question came back to me: what is a moral system, a life outlook, a world view without a God?  What purpose does life have if this is it?

I have since abandoned my belief in a higher power.   It seems funny to me now, but many of the Buddhist principles I learned from my father carry a special meaning for me now.  Buddhists believe in the beauty of transience: a flower, a fine morning, a life, is made more beautiful by the fact that it is temporary.  And that question in the back of my mind makes my experiences even richer: I hold my son just a little tighter, kiss my husband just a little longer because maybe this is the only time I will ever have with them.  And if I were to imagine that this time and this time only is what we each are given, how can I justify selfishness?  Anger?  If I were to be unkind, I would be taking away something irreplaceable.

I wouldn't say I believe in nothing.   I just, in the words of Clarence Darrow, "do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure".  But that uncertainty is always what pushes me to live the best life I can.  Because maybe, just maybe, this is all I get.