I used to be very scared of cemeteries. When I was much younger, I would shut my eyes tight whenever I passed by the cemetery in our village. Unlike American cemeteries where coffins are lowered about 6 feet under the ground, in traditional Philippine cemeteries like the one we had in our barrio, coffins are sealed inside whitewashed tombs that have been built aboveground. Depending on the availability of land, tombs would be stacked one on top of another (like the one in this photo) as they were in our barrio. For most of the year until All Saints' Day, our local cemetery was not maintained. Grass would grow tall, the whitewash would peel off, lichen would grow over the cement tombs, and the place would, to a child, look utterly scary. It did not help that when I was younger, the cemetery was located in a rather secluded place that was surrounded by trees and wild growth.
During the rare times I passed by that place, I was afraid that something, a monster or a ghost, would come out of the open tombs or float over them. I was wondering how people could live near it. Would there be dogs howling inside the cemetery at night or the smell of candle wafting in the air, perhaps? Would the cool breeze make their hair stand while nightbirds hoot? To this day, I still get the just a tad nervous when I step inside a graveyard. I imagine that the ground opens and a hand grabs me on my ankle and drags me down to the pit. But I have come to terms living close by a graveyard. From our bedroom window, I can see the city's cemetery. In our neighborhood, there is no better place to see autumn than the cemetery with its tall maple trees lining the graveyard paths and hills. There is no quieter place either. What a lovely contrast it provides to the busy roads that run along our neighborhood. Its gates used to be open to the public but untoward nocturnal activities of some people compelled the parks keeper to restrict access to the place.
All Souls' Day is coming. To us Catholics, it is a day set aside by the Church to remember, as one whole family, those who have gone before us. It is a time to pray especially for the departed souls who are still in purgatory to obtain their eternal reward. In the Philippines, we observe the day by visiting the cemetery to pay our respects to the deceased. Hopefully, my family and I can visit the graveyard across the street to observe the holy day.
If not, we will have to honor the day and the faithful departed from our bedroom window where everyday, I am reminded about the transience of life and of the permanence of the life that awaits beyond the grave. The thought certainly make me more than a bit nervous.