I drive a lot more than used to. I have three part-time jobs in various locations around Milwaukee, so I sometimes spend more than an hour a day in my car.
It is easy to get impatient especially with people who insist on running red lights (well, they SAW the yellow so that means they should go through the light even if it turns red before they get to the intersection, right?). Sigh. I also see too many people still talking on their phones (Please, people — hands free is at least a LITTLE safer than holding that blasted phone to your ear while you turn left in front of me crossing multiple lanes of traffic). Don’t get me started on all the people one can see clearly TEXTING while driving! Please all of you agree on the roads you want to use and the rest of us will stay off those roads. Seriously.
I grew up in a small town. I used to describe it as 699 people and one stoplight (which was quite accurate at the time, I might add). Now I drive past way more than 699 folks and several stoplights before I even get to the interstate!
Somedays traffic is flowing well, and the other drivers seem reasonably rational and semi-intelligent. As I cruise by all those cars, people, houses, businesses, companies — I sometimes feel disconnected and isolated. I’m in my own little world inside my vehicle and everyone else on the busy highway is in theirs, too.
As I was driving one day recently through the city — I pondered the number of very large cemeteries that I pass going from one of my jobs to another. I catch glimpses of intricately sculpted stones — angels, obelisks, crosses. Row upon row upon row. There is even a quite large pyramid in one of the graveyards I pass. If I go a certain way, the interstate cuts through a military cemetery. There are rows and rows of solemn white crosses on gently flowing hills on both sides of of the highway. At sunset the light is beautiful against the stones.
My most common thought about these cemeteries is that I wish I had time (or tell myself I should MAKE time) to go walk around in them on a nice day so I could look more closely at the interesting monuments and possibly take photos of them.
One day last week, I was driving along beside one of these huge graveyards and I caught sight of a cluster of cars and a back hoe out of the corner of my eye. My heart lurched. I felt sorrow for those people gathered there on the cold grey winter day to honor and mourn their loved one. I wondered if the person was young or old, if the death was from illness or some tragedy, and even what kind of life they had led.. The back hoe was not very far away from the clump of cars and people. It sat with the bucket facing the grave as if it was anxious to dig in immediately after the last prayer was uttered.
I felt like I was intruding on the privacy of the deceased and of the mourners. What a very personal moment to be unintentionally sharing with all the people who happen to be driving by the cemetery at that exact moment. But I felt oddly connected to their sorrow. I had sudden flashes of the many cold, grey funerals I have attended — too many. I mulled those memories over as I drove on, away from the sad tableau.
As several days passed, I wondered why this image (of the backhoe and the gravesite and the mourners) was sticking with me. Why is it still there in my mind? What am I supposed to make of this?
Obviously, we are mortal beings. We live, we die. It’s the circle of life (cue the musical production number).
hah! Sorry. I just saw Lion King (Broadway touring company) and it is still fresh in my music memory.
It doesn’t matter how big or fancy the tombstone might be — we all end up the same way. Dust to dust.
But instead of feeling nihilistic about that fact, I feel a reverence for the fragility of our lives. I want to be remembered for the good things I said and did, not for the way I let small irritations (or big ones) get to me. I want to be kind and loving. I want to be salt and light to the world. I want to spend more time with my family and friends and make more time for the things I enjoy doing, whether by myself or with others. I want to keep my word, do my best at my work, and waste less time in general (FACEBOOK can be a time-wasting vortex).
The back hoe might be revving its engine, but I’m not going to keep looking at it or listen for the sound of its motor.
I’m going to keep looking for the beauty in each person, each minute, each day — and keep looking for that beauty in myself, and in the world around me, too.