I think there is nothing quite so peaceful as a secluded, rural cemetery.
Recently, on a lazy, sunny, spring afternoon, my husband and I decided (on a whim) to take a drive through the country-side to a remote cemetery where some of his ancestors are buried. This Sunday leisure trip was very pleasant and relaxing. Trees were budding. Wildflowers were sprinkling bits of color along the roadside. The late evening sun was warm through our windshield.
Leaving the main highway, we turned onto a gravel road that leads to the cemetery. Soon, the gravel road became a dirt road, winding through green fields, farm silos, fences and gates, until at last we came to the old cemetery nestled peacefully on a knoll far away from any homestead.
Stepping down from the truck cab, I became instantly aware of an aura of unequaled peace and tranquility. The only sounds were the chirping of songbirds and the soft sweep of a gentle breeze blowing through the tombstones. The sacredness of this place was apparent, and my husband and I talked in hushed tones as we opened the old wire-woven gate and walked among the graves.
So many years! I thought to myself. So many years since the first grave was dug on this little hill! I looked at the blue mountains in the distance as I read the markers, one by one, noting names and ages and sweet sentiments, such as “Beloved Mother,” “Rest in Peace,” and “In the Arms of Jesus.”
The earliest engraved markers were dated in the early-to-mid 1800’s; but there were many unmarked ones that were obviously much older. Huge sandstone slabs, likely hewn from the nearby mountains and hauled by teams of mules or oxen, had been placed tent-like over the graves. Head- and foot-stones were chiseled to a spire. Most were without names or dates; and I wondered about those buried beneath these slabs. What kind of life did they live? Did they know laughter and smiles? Or was their life so burdened with hardship and grief that this grave was a welcomed relief? Some graves indicated a long life lived, while others were the tiny graves of babies and small children, denied the gift of life at an early age.
We walked from grave to grave, commenting on family names and summoning our knowledge and remembrances of kinfolk, neighbors, and acquaintances. We eventually found the graves of my husband’s great-great-relatives and paused to reflect upon the blessing of family. We were pleased to see that their grave sites and stones were intact and well-kept, the apparent work of some good soul in the immediate area. We voiced an unheard “thank you” to the one (or many) who work to keep this little cemetery in reasonably good repair.
As we turned to exit the cemetery, I passed a very old grave that had sunk away with the passing of time. The stone, dated in the 1930’s, had fallen over and lay upon the sunken grave. I stopped, saddened by the scene, and read the name and dates and the following words: “Gone, but not Forgotten.” At first, I signed sorrowfully at the irony of the phrase chiseled on this abandoned and unkempt stone. Then I pondered the situation and came to understand that, even though I am unfamiliar with this family name and could not have personally known this lady, she is still, indeed, not forgotten. She and all the other dear souls resting in this little isolated cemetery are remembered when people–such as I–pass by and reflect upon lives previously lived. More importantly, they will be remembered when this world ceases to be and when we all, “great and small,” shall stand before the mighty throne of God Almighty.
We left the little graveyard, driving back down the soft, dirt road, hearing the tires crunch on the gravel road then whine upon the paved highway; and I thought to myself, ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ is a befitting epitaph; it is, indeed, a truth well-spoken.