You can’t beat cemeteries for a sense of stillness. Understand, I’m not talking about quietness, I’m talking about stillness.

We can look at dates on the tombstones and know what convulsions the world was putting itself through during the lifetimes of the folks buried there, but we also know what was happening in their personal lives. Not the details, maybe, but we know it was a mixture of joy, drama, trauma, tragedy, happiness, frustration, silliness–both the good kind and the bad kind–and just plain busyness, because that’s what comprises our lives.   No wonder we think of the dead as being “at rest” or “at peace.” They are no longer tossed about by Life’s constantly changing current. All types of people are there of course, from the person who worried about the next day’s stock market report to the person who worried about where his or her next meal was coming from. Now, of course, they worry about nothing. It’s not just their business that is concluded, but their busyness. They are still.

That is the greatest lesson that “those who have gone before” can teach us. Be still.

Be still while we are able to enjoy it, for the stillness of the cemetery does no good for either the stock broker or the pauper  buried there.

Perhaps my favorite cemetery is Riverview in Strasburg, Virginia. It sits on a hill and looks out toward Signal Knob, which itself is majestic, yet still. Massanutten Mountain runs south into the distance, the same as it has for 10,000 years. (Or 100,000 years? Makes no difference in human terms.) Isn’t it ironic that we talk about mountains “running” when they are so still? We can’t slow down to match the mountain, so we anthropomorphize and describe its length as “running” off in a particular direction. You know: the way we do.

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

I can never go to Riverview or any other cemetery without thinking of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In fact, I am amazed how often I return to it twenty-some years after first teaching it. The majority of the third and final act takes place in a cemetery and the dead speak to us about living.

This is your homework, class. Go read Our Town, the Pulitzer Prize winning play of 1938. Yes, plays were meant to be seen, but this is the most readable of plays. And if you read it in high school, go read it again because most great literature is wasted on the young. Busyness is natural to them, but far too often the productive busyness of youth becomes the habitual busyness of middle age, and we forget what it’s like to be young and we fear what it is like to be old and we never live in the now. That’s the wisdom that Thornton Wilder hoped to give us.

Here’s the pdf version of Our Town. I know some of you will be crying at the end. I know one or two of you who will be crying at the beginning. Just read it.

And be still.

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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4 Responses to Still

  1. Cindy Everly says:

    The Town of Williamsport sponsored a production of Our Town in 1975, the bicentennial. Mike Harsh (HCC) was the director and I was fortunate enough to be part of that production. Mike’s HCC Theatre Group recently staged Our Town and I went to see it. For the first time, I was a spectator instead of a participant. It is a somber play.


    • That’s an interesting view, Cindy. It is somber until the realization strikes that we can indeed savor, “Mama’s sunflowers,” etc. Just have to be mindful enough to do it, which in our culture, gets harder all the time.

      BTW, what role did you play?


  2. Don Hoover says:

    Have you ever noticed two people having a conversation, & one of them says: It is a beautiful day today, while the other one says: Yeah but it’s going to rain tomorrow. We are not promised tomorrow, so enjoy today! I once read a quote that said: Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. It is right in front of us & how easy we miss it.


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