Saturday, September 8, 2012

The resting place...

Death borders upon our birth, and our cradle stands in the grave.
~ Joseph Hall

There are places in this city that are as familiar to me as the Queensland skies. I used to live near the city's largest and oldest cemetery. Often, I'd go walking there in the late afternoons, and observe the light play as shadows fell from the headstones and statuary. I live further away now and rarely visit, but recently I made a trip to the cemetery to find some peace. There really is no better place to be silent and contemplate life than in the midst of thousands of graves.

Headstones are lovely objects - heavy, still and erect. Each one stands as a sentinel to the time someone spent on earth. There are some beautiful old headstones in this cemetery, aged by time and worn by the elements. I have favourites that I visit again and again. 

The cemetery is divided into different sections - Greek orthodox, Jewish, Lutheran...the list is long. Deep in the heart of the maze of tombstones is a small dark forest that resides over broken and crumbling graves. It is spooky and atmospheric. Walking between the graves it is fairly impossible not to think of all the decayed bodies and bones that lay buried beneath the soil. Over 100 000 souls were put to rest here - the ground is literally the roof of a mass grave.

Pale Death beats equally at the poor man's gate and at the palaces of kings.
~ Horace

They say that death is the greatest leveller. Yes, I think that this is true. When it finds you there is no way to return. You cannot buy, talk, or wish your way out of it. It will come. It is only a matter of time. This thought disturbs me. But I understand that this is how it must be, simply because this is how it is. What would we make of life without death? It is impossible to know.

I feel that it is important to contemplate these things. We need to develop our own philosophies in the face of non existence, create frameworks for living so that when death comes we can say that we did life well. That's what I want to hear myself say before I go - "You did life brilliantly love. You did bloody well indeed." 

I apologise if all this seems quite morbid. Walking in cemeteries makes you ponder such things...

Our life dreams the Utopia. Our death achieves the Ideal.
~ Victor Hugo

I think that I should like to visit this cemetery more often. As we head towards summer and the days lengthen I hope to find myself lost between the headstones on balmy pink-skyed afternoons. There is nowhere else in the city quite like it. With its shady tree lined roads, grassy hills and spectacular city views, there is good reason for it often being dubbed Brisbane's best real estate. Still, I come here for more than the locale. This place is like a temple to me - a sacred space in which to be grounded and ponder existence. Here I walk, and sit and observe. Here I live in the face of so much death and decay.

Are not the thoughts of the dying often turned towards the practical, painful, obscure, visceral aspect, towards the "seamy side" of death which is, as it happens, the side that death actually presents to them and forces them to feel, and which far more closely resembles a crushing burden, a difficulty in breathing, a destroying thirst, than the abstract idea to which we are accustomed to give the name of Death?
~ Marcel Proust


  1. I do love Toowong Cemetery, it's got so much history and it's so picturesque.

  2. Yeah, it's quite the sanctuary! Nice to meet you Kellie!