Thursday, August 27, 2009

Taking a look back on my Journey

When I first started this journey I had no idea what to expect. I must say although I was curious and excited about the experience ahead I was pretty apprehensive. It seems each time I begin an Honors colloquium I am struck by the same feelings. Although I usually worry about what I just got myself into, this time proved to be no different than the rest. At the end of this experience I have been left feeling exactly the same way as I have felt with prior classes. I have not only been pleasantly surprised by the class, I truly enjoyed it, I learned a lot, and most importantly I learned something new about myself that I will now never forget! It is amazing what being in a cemetery for eight weeks will make you realize about life in general as well as yourself. When I began this class and I shared with others what I was doing Thursday nights this summer I must say everyone was left somewhat speechless and needless to say I got the “you’re strange” look from everyone. Unfortunately, in the beginning I myself did not know what to expect so, I felt a little awkward myself but, my views have changed drastically over the past eight weeks. I started out looking at the situation open-mindedly and realized that there was nothing wrong with a new experience every now and then but, I was pretty unsure of how I would feel walking around a cemetery. Although I did not worry about zombies popping out behind monuments and coming after me, the eerie feelings most people get in a cemetery still lingered.
After my first walkabout I was still rather unsure of what to expect but, my curiosity was immediately sparked and I realized, although a little strange and still somewhat creepy, I wanted to know more. It began like any other adventure; I paid close attention to detail, took pictures of things that caught my attention, stayed quiet through most of the first discussions, and listened attentively to what was going on around me. Today, as I write this paper I look back and realize what an amazing experience it really was. Each time I drove through the entrance gates at Spring Grove Cemetery, I never knew what to expect and I felt somewhat like Mary Poppins jumping into chalk drawings and discovering a whole new world. Thinking back to my original paper, I can certainly say that despite not realizing in the beginning, I have grown through this experience and my views have changed as well.
In the beginning I knew a cemetery was important to the families of those who lie there because it was a final resting place where they could go to show a sign of respect but, I never once realized how much more there was to a cemetery. A cemetery is a world unlike many others. It offers services to both the living and the dead, teaches us about history without ever speaking, captures the beauty of nature, serves as a tranquil hiding place from the outside world, teaches us to live life to the fullest, allows us to have closure for the worst pain one could ever experience in life (the loss of a loved one), a place to show respect and a place for celebration, a place for forgiveness and above all a place for us to grow as individuals. I realized that a cemetery did not just have to be a place that held the remains of those who passed on but, it could be an open book to relive the memories of those who had been lost. It now makes me feel privileged to enter the gates of a cemetery so beautiful and realize how lucky our city is to have a place that truly cares as much for the dead as they do the living. When I think back to my own personal experiences I realized that although death can devastate a family, it can also bring a family closer. It shows us that life is short and that one should be grateful for each day we are given. Walking into a cemetery truly makes us escape the petty worries of day to day life and really take a moment to reflect on the important things. I realized when thinking back, I have never seen a fight in a cemetery or a person who appears angry. Everyone seems to come to a cemetery to find peace, which is not only ironic but truly astonishing that a place still exists on earth where peace can be found. When you walk into a cemetery time seems to no longer matter and it feels as if everything stops while you are there. Not only can you go to remember the memories of loved ones without the craziness of everyday life but, you can learn from the memorials of others whom you have never even met. Although I am Catholic, I rarely have a chance to go to church. I always convince myself if I wanted to talk to God, I should be able to talk to him anywhere, not just dressed nice in a church mass. I realized through this experience that being in a cemetery and pondering about life has brought me closer to God in a way I never imagined. I feel at peace in a cemetery and I feel as if he is always there watching over all who come through the gates.
The experience has taught me more than I could ever explain in words about myself but, it has also made a world I was never a part of come to life. I learned about the history of our city in a way that a history book could have never done. It was very interesting to realize that many of the great people of Cincinnati are buried in a place so close to us and although dead, their monuments still stand there teaching us about who they were and what we can gain from their lives to incorporate into our own. In a cemetery you can see a family reunion come together in the most unique way possible. There is a sea of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, friends and acquaintances all joined together in the after-life. It can teach us not only about who they were as individuals but, what they made possible because of who they were as a group of people. The family monuments were so astounding and it gave you the sense of commitment and faith to see the many families buried together. Each monument had its own story to tell and the most amazing part about it was that it was up to you how you viewed the messages they left behind. It was as if they left behind one of life’s most rarest and precious gifts, a piece of advice to us, strangers, someone who meant nothing to them, yet we now have something no one can take away from us and we can use it to make our lives the best they can be. Although some monuments were kept up better than others, Spring Grove seemed to do it’s best to keep the memory of all those buried there alive. Although you can be left with a feeling of anger or sadness when you see some with so much and others with so little you can also be left feeling that no matter how important a person became in life they are now the same as the ordinary person next to them. One monument may be bigger or prettier but, both have a message and neither one is more important than the other now in the after-life. The way Spring Grove cares for its members is truly touching to think about now that I have seen how bad other cemeteries treat those who lie there. It tells us a lot about a society when we see them caring for someone who has no say or input left to defend themselves. It gave me a feeling of hope in a sense because if we care that much about those who have passed on there is a light at the end of a dark tunnel for the harsh world we are living in today. Although I am unsure of what the future holds for cemeteries
I would love to think that there will always be cemeteries around that hold the true beauty of nature in a simplistic way while honoring all those who once lived. It saddens me to think that one day there may be nothing left and all our memories will just be dust in the wind. My hope is that there will always be someone who stands up for the dead and makes sure that there is always a place in this crazy world we live in where they can be laid to rest in peace.
Although I learned a great deal about the plant life, the materials used for building monuments, the cost for a plot, and many other interesting facts those are not the things I will take with me from this experience. I will take with me the knowledge I have gained about myself, the kind of person I am, the kind of person I want to be in life and the message I want to leave behind. I have learned that life is precious, more than words could explain. Each day and each second counts and although we tend to forget this because of the hectic lives we live, I am happy to know that because of this experience I will now think about that more often each day I am given to live. It will give me the chance to truly fulfill my dreams and live life to the fullest. Who would have ever though that being in a place typically seen as a creepy place filled with the dead could be a place to learn about life and how to live it!

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