The Piercing Eye Dims and Darkens

Today I ran through sere grass and over felled oak trees far older than me.  It was a comfortably cool day, and the overcast sky sealed in the world above me, granting the world that comfortably claustrophobic air.  I trespassed through thirty acres of East Texas former woods that had been mutilated terribly.  I leapt from fallen trunk to fallen trunk, stepping quickly from one dead giant to the next.  There was a repetitive grumble from a half-mile-distant water treatment plant which, along with the scene before and beneath me, brought to mind the fallen Isengard.

I visit graveyards in the East Texas area.  This is one of the dearest activities to my heart.  I will occasionally go with a friend, but in truth I think it is always best when alone.  These winter months are far the best times to visit, though more melancholy.  The hidden cemeteries that are spangled through East Texas resonate with me in a way that no other places have.  I have often wondered what draws me back to the resting places of the long dead and often forgotten.  There is something in the removed antiquity that many of the more remote cemeteries have which fascinates me.  The century old sepulchers, washed out and dilapidated, often with barely legible names and epitaphs upon their surfaces, appeal to me in an odd way.  This attraction I am able to grasp easily.  But there is something that even more recent cemeteries also have which takes hold of my heart, and I have yet to be able to name it. Part of this attraction is certainly a hint of morbidity which lingers with me.  This does not seem quite all, though.  Standing in thick grass beneath a few scattered oaks with all around me tombstones as grey as the winter sky, or standing on a small hill with pastures that stretch towards the horizons for miles inhabited by curious cows, with graves of dead soldiers from wars long passed lying all around me is…I don’t know what.  I could glue on awkward adjectives I suppose—beautiful, thrilling, aesthetic, invigorating, melancholy, or poignant—but these do not make sense of it to me.  There is a wonderful glimpse which permeates these cemeteries—only the most insufficient of glimpses—of stories untold or forgotten.  In the withered flowers lying before one, in the cracked headstone here, in the bleached picture there,or in the names of the long dead, I can see scattered sentences of novels, and, though I shall never read them in whole, I know these stories intimately.

There is a grey tendril and a melancholy that connect these two things: the acres of fallen oaks and the cemeteries.  They are both terribly good.  For all the sadness and mortality that is subsumed beneath these things, they are good, somehow.

My head and my chest ache, and it is time to end.  These experiences are all tied to questions that have plagued me for a long while.  Questions of a Christian’s purpose in life, and of a Christian’s manner of living have been floating around my mind as I wrote this.  There are little filaments that flicker briefly between these various things but have yet to glow brightly.  I suppose I shall wait until they lighten to consider such things.

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  1. #1 by Stephen on January 1, 2011 - 5:00 am

    A very fine post. Unfortunately, I have nothing further to add at the moment.

  2. #2 by pilgrimvisions on January 1, 2011 - 10:20 am

    I think I know exactly the sort of feeling you are describing. Perhaps being in a cemetery makes one feel less alone? Of course, being in a cemetery is entirely different than being in a room full of old people, perhaps because a cemetery can be contrasted by sparseness of sensory detail. It is just a yard filled with small symbols and fragmented records of, as you say, complete stories. The mere lack of knowledge of these stories makes the cemetery appealing, much like the mystic presence–the idea that we stand in front of something much greater than us, and all that we can see is something that only hints at that greater reality. And yet there is an aesthetic in this sparseness, even as there is an aesthetic in seeing a world of fallen trees. Something has happened beyond our understanding, something that almost gives that world a mind–and when we are alone, we feel the full concentration of its memory fall on us. We, the lone spectators, are Witnesses, and that world demands for a few passing moments the contemplation of those who stand on the Outside and can hear its voice.

    And by the way, I discovered the word “sere” several years ago, and as yet have not found a good place to use it. I really enjoyed seeing it here.

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