I’ve driven past this place a dozen times by now, but have never paid it much mind. That’s sort of how life works, if you think about it. How many storefronts and monuments can you name on your path to work? Three? Four? Maybe five. Why? Because we tend to hyper-focus and delve within. There’s milk to buy, diapers to change, radio stations to listen to, friends to chat with. Life passes, and we barely notice life passes.
So, again, I stopped.
Cemeteries fascinate me, and always have fascinated me. First, I’ve long been obsessed and bewildered by death, and they serve as death central. Second, they’re often gorgeous—green grass, blossoming trees, perfectly manicured. It’s actually an interesting and mind-bending juxtaposition. One walks around a cemetery, and the stones and the chirping birds and the flowers somehow make it easy to forget that you are, quite literally, a couple of feet above hundreds of rotting—and rotted corpses. That below your feet rest the remains of people who once existed, but no longer do.
All of the names on tombs at the Westminster Memorial Park and Mortuary were Asian. I couldn’t read the inscriptions, certainly didn’t know any of the people. And yet, cemeteries tell amazing stories, with your thoughts filling in the gaps. There’s the 12-year-old boy with the etching of a basketball player alongside his name. There’s a beautiful woman, born in Korea, brought to California, gone by her late 40s. There are pictures of happy couples; of grumpy-looking men; of babies and seniors and all in-betweens. A cemetery is, at its core, a museum of the obscure and unknown; a tribute to lives we never got to know. It also serves a vitally important reminder—to snap us out of our sense and force us to remember that—big and small, athletic and gawky, famous and unknown—we all die. Or, to cite one of my all-time favorite quotes, “Death plucked at my ear and said, ‘Live!’
That being said, I never hope to end up in one. Not that it matters (because, I’m quite certain, when you’re dead you’re dead), but the idea of rotting in a box doesn’t please my senses. More important, I don’t want to burden family members with visiting me, and I don’t want them to think of a stone when my name comes up.
I’d rather simply fade away …