Arnold Cemetery Memoirs

An Essay By Aisling // 12/2/2005

I walk slowly up the hill. The chilly wind sweeps down from somewhere outside this world, and rushes past me in a flurry of illusive wonder. Out beyond the little patch of green I stand on, the trees stretch out in rolling splendor to the horizon—and slowly, slowly they’re turning crimson, and orange, and gold.
Above my head, a flock of little black birds bob and sway, and loop away, and circle back again, playing with the wind. Beneath my feet the grass is soft and fresh and robust. It winds in and out of the pieces of grey. Light grey, dark grey, dirty grey . . . rows upon rows of stones. Some new; some old; some ancient. And one—one that is nothing at all save a small upright stone. In the earth. Of the earth.
I gulp down huge breaths of air; of the wide openness, of the curiousness, the history, the peace, the quietude. Of the ancientness. I read the names and the dates—those that I can make out. Some of them died young; some so young they had hardly lived. Some fought in World War II, and in Vietnam. Some were married, husband and wife buried together. But that’s all I can know. The whole hilltop is wrapped up in an impregnable obscurity. Like a closed book, that can never be opened again. A book that you have a picture of. You can stare at the cover for ages—and wonder, and conjecture, and imagine. But you can’t open it, can’t see the pages, can’t read the story.
You can just be awed; because there is a vitality, a potency, a wonder. Everything seems so still, so unmoving, so unreal . . . so dead. And yet, underneath it all, there’s something very much alive about it. An overwhelming awareness of their eternity; of their existence, somewhere; of their memory, still strong in the soil, the air, the stones, after thousands of years of anonymousness. And it’s awesome. The ground doesn’t care that the stones have become old, and effaced; the grass doesn’t care, the wind doesn’t care, the birds in the sky don’t care. The world might not know them, but these people were real and they knew the world. And here, in this remote corner of Northeastern Ohio, here on this hill, here in this wind, here under this sky, the world still knows them.
Maybe, someday soon, the names and dates will disappear. No one will be able to read the cover, even. The books will all slip away into an abyss and no one will even imagine, anymore. The sad thing is it doesn’t seem as though anyone would care. But then, someone has cut the grass. That’s good. Somewhere out there is someone else, who remembers, who has stood in awe.
I kneel down in the cool grass and kiss the ground. God be merciful to these your people who have left this world, this life, behind them and passed on into what eye has not seen.
I turn back down the hill, and look over my shoulder—look back on the strange scene: the picturesque, worn old stones; the half-legible names and dates. Simple things—standing more or less upright in rows of mute testimony. Insignificant things, to signify generations, to signify life.

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