As regular readers know by now, I’ve been taking a class on how to keep my attention on the present. Saturday was an all-morning session that included a silent, hour-long walk through Oak Hill Cemetery in Newburyport, Mass. A lot of us tend to see cemeteries as a place of death. But I found a lot of life there, instead.
This wasn’t a new experience for me. There are three cemeteries within walking distance of my house, and I’ve walked through all of them. I tend to look at the date of death and consider the myriad ways the person passed. If it’s 1918, for example, I find myself wondering if he or she died in the Spanish Flu pandemic. If a veteran died in the vicinity of early June 1944, I ponder the likelihood that this person died in the carnage of D-Day during WW II.
In Oak Hill Cemetery, I was stopped in my tracks by a gravestone with the death date of Sept. 11, 2001. I looked up the name, Thomas Pecorelli, and learned that he was on American Airlines Flight 11, which terrorists flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was 30 when he died and was carrying the ultrasound image of his unborn child, headed home to his wife.
He lived a hell of a life. He was a cameraman with Fox Sports and E! Entertainment Television, the obituaries said.
Thieves stole his original gravestone, but a new one is in its place, complete with two benches and a garden with bird feeders.
There’s a lot of life to be found in these graveyards. But you might miss it if you jog through. You have to walk through slowly and silently.
If you have a mind that sometimes gets stuck on one obsessive thought or often drifts when someone is talking to you, the occasional cemetery stroll is worth working into your life.
Few things will get you out of your own head like a study of other people’s lives.
Now that I’ve learned something about giving my present attention to the dead, I’m eager for the next step: learning to give present awareness to the living.