Sunday, July 9, 2000 — Didn’t work today. I slept till nearly two in the afternoon (eep!) and then proceeded to waste most of the rest of the day–helped my dad with some computer things and worked on some sewing projects, and some other assorted things around the house. Must start getting up earlier…that was late, even for me. I must have been dreaming something good.
Despite weather that didn’t look too promising, I decided to go for a bike ride. Just a short one, I decided, since the cloud seemed ominous and the humidity made the wind seem thick and…solid, almost. Not terribly pleasant, but it didn’t feel like it was about to rain, either, so I just kept riding since it cleared my mind more than anything I had done all day. I took a different route than I usually do, down a large hill and past farms and woods.
This route always makes me think, for various reasons. First, it has more roadside litter than my other two routes, for who knows what reason. More traffic is my logical guess, but beer cans and potato chip bags between a cornfield and a little-traveled road always seems wrong and sad to me. That’s been said a million times over by environmentalists, of course, but people’s carelessness always surprises me. It shouldn’t, by now, but it does.
Second, the damn hills. This always gives me the clichéd thought that sure, it’s fun to ride down a hill–but you’re going to have to ride back up it at some point. Consequences, see. When I first started biking, I thought this was terribly profound and meant to write an essay on the idea. Then I realized that it’s not terribly profound, and it wasn’t enough for an entire essay. Everything I want to write about has probably already been written about. The personal-essay market is saturated. So is the Internet-diary market. Here I am anyway.
I usually ride until I begin to feel tired, then turn around and go home. About halfway home is a 19th-century graveyard, which is usually in terrible shape. The grass is rarely mowed, and enough of the stones have been knocked over or just plain broken that the direspect saddens me. The people in the now-unmarked graves don’t care, I’m sure. I just wonder where the descendants of these people are, and whether they even know the graves exist.
I know. So I always stop, making sure to remove my helmet and bandanna and bow my head before I go in; in prayer or thought or respect or all three. The fence is gone, but remnants of the metal gate are still there, also in terrible shape. I usually just walk around, looking at the stones, sometimes touching one of them for a moment. For a sense of connection, maybe. I’m not sure.
Most of the names aren’t familiar to me, but the people there were most likely the mid-19th century farmers of the land that is all now either woods, still farmed, or has houses on it. Like mine. Maybe they felt too connected to the land to be buried in one of the village cemeteries, or couldn’t afford it. I don’t know my local history as well as I should.
But I’m still overemotional by nature. I wonder about stories behind the graves. A modern person with good intentions put a “Revolutionary War Veteran” flag next to the grave of a young man killed in the Civil War. The many tiny stones bearing only initials; anonymous since the taller graves of their parents have been knocked over and either covered with dirt, or lay facedown and unreadable, or have been dragged over to the large tree. Several stones sit against the tree, away from the gravesites, I wonder why.
The graves of women only a few years older than myself. “Wife of,” it says on the stone; sometimes the husband’s stone is still standing. I always feel an almost heavy sadness when I stand in front of these graves. It’s obvious that the women must have died in childbirth. One man is buried beside his two wives; one predeceased him by ten years, the other by twenty. One woman died in her mid-twenties, the other in her early thirties. I find myself wondering how often this happened. I wonder if any of the children survived, and where they ended up buried. I feel as though I should draw conclusions from this, but I can’t.
Leaving the graveyard and preparing to ride home, I become more aware of the soupy air and wind and the few drops of rain that are now falling. I would usually complain about this, but I think of the unkown number of people resting in the ground behind me, and I reconsider. I’m alive to notice all this. They haven’t been for the last one hundred forty or so years. I have a sudden compulsion to pause for a minute, and pray for the strength to live my life to the fullest that I can in spite of shyness and fear, because someday, no matter how I try to avoid thinking about it, I will be like them.
And if that’s not a clichéd thought, I don’t know what is.