Now that there is time you feel as if you have none.
But ignore this. Keep your pace. And take in the serenity of your surroundings.
You don’t realize how absurd it seems until you try explaining it to your child: the concept of cemeteries.
“You mean there are dead people…like, in the ground?”
You nod matter-of-factly and watch as she glances around at the serene and perfect symbiosis of garden and stone. Gentle slopes of green cascade down from hills dotted with statuary and there, against the gathering velvet of dusk, you can make out the coifed gothic structure of a mausoleum on a hilltop.
These are the monuments of people who have lived and died; some a century or two before you; others so recent that the patch of sod hasn’t yet taken root. Entire lifespans reduced to a nameplate and maybe even a phrase or two. Some of the names you might recognize from having read about. Celebrities. Victims. Men and women who, in their lives, did extraordinary things or committed atrocious acts. Others…most, let’s say…have slipped into and out of life like a breeze through a house.
Which will you be?
On a trip I took to Paris in 2004, I visited the Catacombs; that subterranean l’empire des morts lined with the bones of disinterred Parisians from the Middle Ages. Walls of skulls and bones stacked and lined along the 200-mile network of ancient Roman chambers that themselves yield some of the most intriguing secrets of history. You can’t help but notice that some of the skulls bear the obvious marks of old trauma and it dawns on you that this was a person who died violently. As a writer, it’s a natural progression for me to summon all kinds of backstories: a lover’s rival. An unfaithful spouse. A lone woman whose vibrant and ample garden in a time of drought suggested heretical influence.
History is paved with the bones of those who came before us. With the epochal winds come erasure and all the triumphs and the losses we experienced in life become mere atomic reverberations in some enormous droning turbine of oblivion. Undoubtedly, my own distant ancestors, who I owe my very existence to, lived with all the passion and heartbreak and joy and appreciation that accompany life. Yet, I couldn’t tell you who they were or, without referring to my mother’s genealogy chart that she researched and prepared with great ambition, what their names even were.
Take a stroll sometime through your local cemetery and read some of the names aloud. Not only is it a good source for naming characters. It’s also a source of inspiration for imagining the dreams or conflicts that drove them or haunted them. And remember, that one day, a hundred years from now, some imaginative chap might read your own name aloud and wonder about the life you had. Live your own story…while you still have the time.