Dharma Glimpse by Chris Earle-Storey
I visited my parents the other day. It’s not something I do as much as I should, but it was a lovely sunny day and I happened to be nearby, so I decided to drop in and say hello.
My parents’ resting place is a secluded corner behind the shelter of a tall hedge. I spend a while clearing the weeds and grass from around the headstone which marks the dates of their passing. It’s over 12 years since Dad passed away, and nearly 24 since Mum died. I still miss them very much and sit in fond remembrance, enjoying the warm sunshine and peaceful atmosphere.
I decide to walk the long way through the cemetery, a route I had not walked for a while. This takes me through the old part of the site, where weeds thrive on ancient graves and crumbling stone monuments have been laid flat by the council to make sure they are not a hazard to passers-by. One of the few headstones still standing here catches my attention. It is a memorial to a young woman who died in 1923, aged only 22 years and named Mary. The inscription tells me she was the only child of John and Margaret.
As I read the inscription, the words “beloved” and “always in our hearts” seem to leap out at me, and I feel a sudden rush of emotion. To my surprise and consternation, I find that there are tears in my eyes. What is it that has so affected me?
It is 100 years since this young woman died. Her parents will have passed away a long time ago, and she had no siblings to provide offspring and remember her. It’s clear from the state of the plot – and, sadly, this one is no different from the ones surrounding it – that there is no-one left to care for her grave. No-one comes to lay flowers and shed tears. No-one remembers. No-one cares.
For a moment I am filled with sorrow, not just for the unknown Mary but for myself and my parents. I know that when my brother and I are gone, there will be no-one to visit Mum and Dad and tend their resting place. In time, this too will be my fate: there will be no-one left who remembers me. I turn away from Mary’s grave, feeling as if there is a black cloud hanging over me. Why did I have to come this way and be faced with the bleak inevitability of death and the cruelty of time’s passing?
As I rejoin the path, a blackbird in the tree above me suddenly bursts into song. It’s almost as if it sees how sad I am and wants to lift my spirits. I stand and watch it for a moment, and I imagine that this bird contains the spirit of the young dead girl. In that moment, I am struck by the thought that nothing really dies. We are all made of stardust, and we continue to live on in other ways even when our human bodies die and decay. Yes, impermanence is everywhere and in everything, but so is continuance. We go back to the earth, and the earth accepts us and regenerates.
I leave the cemetery with a lightness of step. The next time I visit, as well as putting flowers on my parents’ grave, I am going to leave a token at Mary’s. I will honour her memory, just as the earth does.
Namo Amida Bu.
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