Investing in place


Tonight I endured a bit of a tough work-out. Even so, my rubbery legs took me to one of my favorite places – Oak Cemetery.

It’s a great place to go and think and find perspective.

Walking amongst old graves and old family names in Fort Smith, I almost always run across someone I once knew. Old friends are resting here.

One, in particular, told me he planned to be buried here — hoping I’d go fuss at him now and again. I’m not much for visiting headstones. The souls of loved ones are long departed and I know this one friend is with Jesus now. Still, I humor his spirit — and mine — and sometimes go pat the marble with his name etched on it. Every now and then I leave a little token for other friends who were faithful to him in life and continue to be so in death.

So tonight I stood at the top of the hill and listened to young men playing baseball on the fields below. You can’t see them in this photo, but they’re there.

The ping of the bat and the cheering crowds seem to fit at this cemetery. The coaches exhorting the batter or the runner at first are evidence that life is a series of battles, challenges, and victories. Even in losing a game, kids learn technique. They learn to keep trying. All those adages are worn because they are true.

As I walked, I wondered if being invested in place has a correlation to knowing people in the cemetery. No, I can’t believe I’m typing this. LOL. But think about it. Folks who like to move from one town to another probably don’t visit cemeteries much. And when they do, they don’t have a connection to the headstones. They don’t have stories about some of the people buried there. They don’t know the family names.

For me, walking through Oak Cemetery has always been about the beauty, the hillside, and the stories. Wondering about some lives. Knowing about others. As time passes, I know more. Stories and names.

I think I’m deeply invested in this place. I’m dug in. Entrenched. Unwilling to yield. Continuing to cheer, perfecting technique, and still trying.

Hanging out in a cemetery really isn’t as strange as it seems. Check out the history of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Founded in 1831, it was the first large-scale designed landscape open to the public in the United States. Today its beauty, historical associations and horticultural collections are internationally renowned.

Here’s my favorite excerpt from Mount Auburn’s web site.

[Founders] also believed that the Cemetery should be a place for the living, “embellishing” the natural landscape with ornamental plantings, monuments, fences, fountains and chapels. This inspired concept was copied widely throughout the United States, giving birth to the rural cemetery movement and the tradition of garden cemeteries. Their popularity led, in turn, to the establishment of America’s public parks.

Cemeteries as a place for the living. Cemeteries inspiring the establishment of public parks. In Fort Smith, the boys and girls of summer play and learn in the shadow of their forefathers.

Investment, indeed.

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