There is an understandable and appropriate silence about a graveyard. The dead are meant to be left to their stillness. Even outside of a superstition of what might happen if one “wakes the dead,” or that a cemetery may be “holy ground,” I feel there should be a reverence to the memory of the people buried beneath one’s feet. In middle school, my English class took a field trip to an old cemetery near the rural-but-well-endowed California school house. The assignment was to make a pencil etching of a gravestone of our choice, considering dates, names, comments left carved in moss-covered stone. We would take our etchings back to the classroom and then write fiction based on the lives we conjured and assigned to these people resting beneath us. I vaguely remember penning something about “O. Henry,” a Civil War veteran who left behind his lover. The curious thing about this exercise, as inspiring as it may have been to young fiction writers, is that the people buried in that cemetery were real; their lives were lived and paid in full. One walks more carefully when one focuses on who the people were, and not who they are in a conjured world.
Yesterday I walked with my troupe around Saint Martin’s church in the local village in the French region of Picardie. The church was constructed in the 12th century, and it, and its cemetery, are a long way from the glory days.
Editor’s note: more photos in a slideshow at the end of the article.