I’m sitting in one of the areas reserved for visitors to contemplate art from at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. As I sit here looking at a stunning Buddha from the 12th century, perfectly balanced on a lotus flower, I am reminded of how important artifacts are to those looking for inspiration through the lens of the past.
As I sit here there are several sets of tourists pausing at each well lit exhibit box and reading the labels to the corresponding artifacts. I feel strongly that like these objects, equipped with UV glass and alarms to protect them, gravestones and other burying ground objects are similarly important for the purpose of inspiration and are also deserving of our protection.
It is no mistake I sit in front of the Buddha and the lotus (a reminder that beautiful things arise from the mud). We have unique opportunities to restore lost burying grounds and uncover the beauty of their artifacts in spite of neglect and abandonment.
Graveyards are important anthropological resources. In them, we discover attitudes about death from the deaths heads of the 17th century to the more playful iconography of contemporary monuments.
We learn about outbreaks of illnesses. We are inspired to gratefulness that we do not live in a time where TB is rampant and where childbirth was the leading cause of death of women.
We learn about those who came before us and their triumphs and tragedies.
I invite you, on a warm day, to sit quietly in a graveyard. Find the stone that most intrigues you and study closely it’s carving and language, thinking of the person who is memorialized and what you can learn from them. Take some deep breaths and quiet your mind and think of how societies, cultures, epidemics, rise and fall and how things come to pass. Thank those that came before you, if you are moved to do so and do what you can to learn from their stories.
Gravestones may not be protected under UV glass, they may not have alarms, and they don’t need fancy labels. Everything you need to know is on the object, if you’ll just sit a while in wonder.