I visited Memory Lawn Cemetery in my hometown of Natchitoches, La., with my daughter this past week. And it brought hope to my world.
I’ll admit, 2010 was a challenging year. It began with the unexpected passing of my father and seemed to roll downhill ever since. Not just for my family, but many others here and throughout the world. Listening to the recent reports about how companies are set to rebound on the strength of their foreign investments while leaving most of the American workforce behind made me feel even more guilty and depressed about the world I’ve brought my child into.
It probably doesn’t help that I write this on the anniversary of my dad’s passing. Grinning through moist eyes, I try to remember how many times he told us “It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, kids. People will step all over you without a second thought. You gotta protect yourselves first.”
Yeah, Daddy. There are times I can certainly see the point. But every time I try to use that logic to harden my heart and give my life a little clarity, there’s this little well of hope that keeps springing up through the cracks. Put a rock over it, and it seeps around. Try rolling a boulder over it and turns into a gusher, violently attacking and destroying the foreign object as the body responds to a virus. And no matter what you said, I saw it was the same with you.
We resist pain, both for ourselves and the people we love. But in my own life, it’s always been the necessary launchpad for grace I could never imagine and ever greater clarity about why I’m here.
Which leads me back to Memory Lawn.
We stood at the grave of my Great-Aunt Bobbie, still fresh with loose dirt, the flower sprays fading. I was remembering her dead-pan wit that flashed like lightening and sometimes took days to cipher. And her homemade buttered biscuits that were good enough to make grown men cry.
My daughter, who has spent a fair amount of her six years happily cleaning grave markers (or watching her mom repair them), took my hand. “Cemeteries can be sad places, can’t they,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
“Sometimes.” I didn’t want to worry her. “Let’s see if you can find my Mamaw and Papaw’s names.” I watched her skip toward my family’s little collection of memorial plaques, hot pink toy butterfly wings flouncing from the back of her red Christmas dress. “Remember that cemeteries are places where we can remember people too. When we share our stories with other people, they can live on for a very long time.”
She stopped in front of a double-marker embossed with the surname “THOMPSON” and looked up at me. “That’s what you do, isn’t it Daddy … share stories so we remember about people?”
That small statement was the biggest and most unexpected gift I could have received this year. I don’t recall ever telling my child about my work, or why I chose it. But then again, she lives it too.
A lot about the larger issues of the world doesn’t make sense right now and I’m clueless about the specifics of how my own life will look over the course of the new year. But I do know why I exist, and so does my family. And that’s something I will treasure until I return to the place of that memory for the last time.
Note: this was originally published in my Hometown Heritage newspaper column