This is the last of my cemetery series of photos. So if this kind of topic bothers you, I apologize. You understand, don't you? Sometimes these things just have to run their course... like a disease.

One of my favorite authors (and I have a LOT of favorite authors) is Robert Fulghum, of
All I Ever Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame. You might be surprised to know that he wrote stuff other than that famous essay and if you think that it's trite and overused, you might actually find that some of his other writings are much better than that one. You might also like his style so much that you start a blog and in your own very feeble way, try (and mostly fail) to write like him. I'm just sayin'...

Anyway, in one of his essays in this book, Fulghum ponders what kind of tombstone he'd like to have.

These words are chiseled into the edge of the bench and are an epitaph. For the bench is, in fact, a tombstone in a cemetery. And I would take you there to sit if I could. You wouldn't feel uncomfortable sitting on it, I promise. You wouldn't even notice what it was at first. It's right on the edge of a paved lane that curves through the burial grounds, placed so that you are clearly invited to use it. The closest living thing is a dawn redwood tree, comforting in its great age and size - a stout and worthy companion.

The placement of this bench, the words on the edge, the consciousness of the view - all say that someone went to a lot of trouble to be useful in death. A parting gesture of quiet generosity has been made.

I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking about death. My death, others' deaths, doesn't matter. Chalk it up to a combination of family history, morbid hobbies, and just generally thinking too much. But even before I read this essay by Fulghum, I think I'd decided that if I were to choose what my graves' memorial would be, it would be a stone bench. Nothing ostentatious, very little writing. Just a stone bench under a tree in a place where people could have a nice view and enjoy taking a rest.

I don't know when it became popular - maybe Fulgham's essay even had something to do with it - but when I was living in the West as a kid, I almost never saw a bench like this as a marker. Our local cemetery here, however, is filled with these benches.

There are even benches like this in the varying ethnic sections of this cemetery. I posted another photograph of one in this post.

But this bench I speak of is another story. Unique. No name. No conventional epitaph. And no dates. Just an unspoken open invitation for anyone to site and think. What marks this grave is the gift of silent companionship that bridges loneliness. In all the cemeteries I have visited around the world, I have seen nothing like it - and nothing so fine.

And it was on that bench, the summer morning after my fiftieth birthday, that I came to that moment in life when one crosses over from the abstract intellectual knowledge that all human beings die to the active realization that I will die. Me. Fulghum. Will not be. Sooner or later.

Not only did I realize that I will die, but I walked away thinking, Well, it's okay.

I don't know what it is... my past of helping out at the mortuary during summers when I visited family, my religious convictions, my philosophy of life, but death has never seemed like a big thing to me. In the best sense of the words: it's just another part of life. So why wouldn't a memorial shaped like a piece of furniture that is used every day in life be appropriate?

Just don't put "Bubba" on mine.

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

- by W. S. Merwin