Baby, Josephine and Amos – Wandering through Cemeteries

“Do you think wandering through cemeteries is a particularly western activity?” I said to my husband. We were at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, the loveliest cemetery I think I’ve yet seen on either side of the ocean. We had just passed by a triple gravestone – a memorial to Baby, Josephine and Amos. They were babies who died too soon, none of them older than three years at death.  Was it typhoid fever? Influenza? No matter, the poignancy of these deaths, deaths of children we knew only as “Baby, Josephine and Amos” from so long ago, had us both contemplating life and, quite naturally, death. Indeed “Baby” had not even lived long enough to be named.

My husband paused before answering and when he did didn’t speak directly to the cultural aspect “I think so. For me I think it’s about hope”.

We had come upon the cemetery on a beautiful spring afternoon. Driving through enormous, old, wrought-iron gates we were greeted by acres and acres of green grass, flowering trees and bushes. Benches for resting were set between huge statues and smaller grave stones.  In our city world of tiny yards and limited green space, this resting place for the dead was a haven for the living.

And it did indeed feel hopeful. Contemplative and sad at points, but also hopeful. We come from a faith tradition that values life but recognizes life as we know it as finite and temporary. Our faith gives us strong evidence that there is more to this world than we can see and that cemeteries are far more about the living than the dead. That is the tension of this life of faith.

And everyday we live with that tension – that life here matters, but eternity matters more; that life here is broken, that eternity is whole; that life here, as clear and permanent as it sometimes feels, is but a blurry reflection of what will be.

So there we were, fully alive, reading about the dead and wandering through tombstones, living out history as we went through the years. But curiously this tension that I feel on a regular basis was absent – maybe it was because I was wandering among stones and knew with surety that there is hope beyond the grave and life beyond death.

Back to my original question – I don’t know if this is more of an activity that is done by those in the west, but I suspect it is. I do think we have a desire to know some of what came before us, we want that history and as we have lost the traditions of story-telling we have to find that history somewhere. I also know that death is a closer companion in the developing world. With lifespans sometimes in the late forties to early fifties and infant mortality rates that are too high, death comes early and often. Were that my world, I can’t imagine I would want to do much wandering through cemeteries and contemplating death, rather my energy would be rightly spent on making sure those who were alive stayed alive.

As we headed toward the entrance to make sure we were well outside before the gates were locked we thought again of  the hope we felt in the midst of Baby, Josephine and Amos – babies who died too soon.

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11 thoughts on “Baby, Josephine and Amos – Wandering through Cemeteries

  1. Hello. I find cemetaries peaceful and some are quite beautiful. My husband and I just visit his family in Evergreen South Carolina. His family has a small cemetary there. no bigger than a standard bedroom. i notice that the ground there was unusally soft!!! AND, I was touch by something unseen! I took pic, but saw nothing. But I dont understand why the ground was so soft! is this common with cemetaries?


  2. Thank you for your beautiful, contemplative post, Marilyn. As an employee of Mount Auburn, I wholeheartedly agree that the Cemetery is an inspiring place that encourages reflection. Please let me know next time you plan on visiting – we would love to offer you a personal guided tour!


    1. Stephanie – what a lovely and unexpected comment! Thank you for reading, for commenting, but also for working to provide such an extraordinary place for people to wander. The idea of a guided tour sounds amazing and I will certainly take you up on that offer! Thanks again for coming by the blog.


  3. In India Hindus parade their dead on a pallet through the city to the cremation ghats at the river’s edge. There was no need to walk through a cemetery to remember death and life. The dead were brought among us. We remembered death often and it affected how we lived.


    1. Despite growing up in Pakistan, I know so little of India – thanks for this perspective. “We remembered death often and it affected how we lived” Thank you.


  4. I’ve visited cemeteries since I was 13 and love to read the headstones. But in Muslim countries they are a place to be avoided and people fear to walk in the cemetery for they believe evil spirits and the spirits of the dead walk there.


    1. Thanks so much for commenting and for this perspective. I know in Pakistan, cemeteries were where shrines often stood and people would come and hang their requests on the shrines. The cultural differences in both this as well as views of death and death rituals are profound.


  5. My parents would take us to cemetaries on Sunday afternoons so that we could safely bike around on the roads without them worrying about us :)… while they napped, if I remember correctly.


  6. I grew up frequently visiting graveyards (I have memories of picnic lunches in them)! My mother studied the symbolism on the old Puritan stones and made rubbings. I would agree with Cliff about hope – how strange and wonderful that we can feel hopeful in such a place!


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