Visiting a man in a long-term hospital, we discussed the news from the parish and further afield. The sudden death of a man we both knew well had come as a shock to both of us. The man inquired as to whether our departed friend had been buried in the grave of his family, I told him he had.
‘I think I’m going to be buried in that graveyard, though perhaps it’s not right to be talking about such things’.
‘Why not? I bought my grave twenty years ago’.
He looked at me. ‘But you’re still young’.
‘Not so young, and you never know the moment’.
My grave is in the little country parish where I served for seven years. I always watch the news from there with interest, partly out of love for the people of the parishes who were so kind to us during our time there; partly because the Rector there, either the present man or one of his successors, at some point will have to bury me. I have my grave papers safely secured in my health insurance file – the doctors always fail in the end!
It is a plain and unexceptional place where I am going, but the panorama is captivating and if people are going to have to go to a graveyard for my burial, they might as well go somewhere with a view.
Words from Marilynne Robinson’s beautiful book ‘Gilead’ come to mind. The veteran John Ames, seventy-six and dangerously ill, commits to the page thoughts that one day might be passed to his seven year old son.
‘To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this place is, as little regarded. I can’t help imagining that you will leave sooner or later, and it’s fine if you have done that, or you mean to do it. This whole town does look like whatever hope becomes after it begins to weary a little, then weary a little more. But hope deferred is still hope. I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love – I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence’.
The general incandescence – I love the idea of being incandescent, I am being buried in a place called Bright!
In the end, I don’t suppose it makes much difference where I am laid to rest, because I won’t be there anyway, but to choose a particular place must be, as Marilynne Robinson suggests, the ultimate mark of affection.