During Spring Break I like to make a little bucket list of all the things I need and want to do during the week. Today my bucket list task was a little trip I've wanted to take for weeks, ever since I drove by it a few weeks ago.
Next to the road, a few miles from my house, is a small cemetery that is very old. I've always been interested in the past, particularly history from my area and my family, so I was immediately intrigued. My family came with me on my little expedition.
The entrance was made of rocky pillars, slowly eroding and beginning to fall apart. The graves were sprinkled with flowers left from others who had visited before us. As we began to explore, we realized that there were hardly any recent burials; this cemetery had long since been unused.
The gravestones varied in size from tall, skinny monument-styles, to only small stones marking gravesites. Only about half of the graves had names on them and of the ones that were marked, time and weather had eroded much of what was engraved.
As we walked, we found small areas where families were buried together. Many of the small plots had the parents buried with the children. This was clearly a place where families for many generations came to visit and honor their loved ones.
I experienced several emotions as we walked around today. First, I was fascinated by the history I was observing. Here in southwest Missouri, it's not often that you find anything older than a century. Here were people who were born over 200 years ago; very possibly they were the graves of the pioneers who founded our community. It was amazing to be so near something from our past.
As we continued to walk around, though, my emotion changed from fascination to sadness. Here I was walking among the grave sites of people who mattered, who had families and children and homes. The inscriptions spoke of great love and loss.
These beautiful graves were hidden under brush and leaves and branches. The paths were unkept and untidy. A single flag stood sideways beside a veteran's grave from one of the World Wars. Headstones were broken. Entire stones were hidden by tall grass. It was so disrespectful that I felt sick. We all did.
As we walked, I tried to straighten what I could, pulling branches back from headstones or pulling aside weeds, but it was really impossible to make any real headway. As we left we googled the cemetery, finding out the it has been without an overseer for almost a century, ever since the founding church disbanded. Groups are on public record for volunteering to help clean up since the 1920s. People still help on a semi-regular basis, but the work is just too much.
We drove away sad at the state of the graves. I will probably return one day, but with gardening gloves and some tools. Maybe I won't be able to make a huge difference, but it would feel good to know I was helping even just a little. I'd like to do it for the families of the people buried there, many of whom probably have no idea that their ancestors rest in that tiny, unknown cemetery. It only seems right to protect and honor our common past in that way. As I work, I'll imagine all the love the people who rest there must have experienced while they lived; lives that were probably not much different from ours now, minus the bells and whistles of the 21st century.
Being in the presence of the past reminds me how close we really are to it.