he hath set eternity in their heart. Ecc. 3:11
The other day a friend asked me if I thought I would be remembered at Mississippi College after graduation. “Not really,” was my response. Simple.
Though I did make a point to identify a few friends that I know I’ll never forget and I hope will never forget me. I also mentioned a professor or two of whom I had grown close with over the years. I have equal hopes for them. I am sure that most students won’t remember me, and neither will I them. On any given day, I still don’t know every classmate in all my lectures.
I then wondered how many of my acquaintances had already vanquished my existence from their consciousness. When I got to thinking about it, I felt really small.
On a vacant rust-colored gravel road in the hills of Monroe County, there is a deadpan place called Sartor Cemetery where my family’s ancestors lie. It is isolated, remote, silent. Dark and brute wildernesses engulf the small plot for a radius capably measured only in miles. Only deer hunters and the mourning go there. The rest of the world passes around it, above it, but certainly never through it. There are no weary pilgrims seeking refuge there. No one of notoriety was buried in its clay. The granite markers themselves slowly betray their purpose, drowning their identities with the rain. The epitaphs are read only by the wind for they have no audience to hear. Their words speak no wisdom, hold no truth. The moss smitefully shrouds the names of the deceased. It is a place of memories trying to forget.
At the back of the plot stands a firm magnolia tree, its boughs shading moist soil. In the corner, just outside the chain-link fence grows an old fig bush–evidence of a long ago dinner-on-the-grounds or the snack of a lonely grave-digger. Either way, no one claims it.
There is almost always a pile of faded and dirty plastic flowers heaped beneath the “Do not throw flowers here!” sign. Its meaning was lost a long time ago. And the grass is always tall and seeded though a man is paid to cut it. I’m sure his excuse is predictable. He forgets.
As a child, during the handful of times in which I visited Sartor Cemetery, I always marveled at the marble monument in the center of the cemetery plot. The monument is twelve feet tall and shaped somewhat like an obelisk, except an urn sits at the top. On both sides of the monument are gardenia shrubs that bloom in the height of summer. The smell alone is enough to capture any visitor’s attention.
The bottom of the monument on the pedestal reads “Dr. Sartor.” He was the man the cemetery was inevitably named after. Whenever I have visited the cemetery, I have always been drawn to that spot–to the center of the plot at the foot of the massive marble pinnacle. And I’ve often thought to be like Dr. Sartor in my own death, to erect a similar marker only more grand and eye-catching. Monuments like his cost thousands and demand recognition. Yet, like the bodies of the poor sharecroppers that surround him, he is dead. He is flowerless unless pitied by an old mourning maid; his epitaph now unreadable. He is forgotten–except by me.
Why do we need to be remembered? What’s in it for us? If we want to be remembered, who do we want to be remembered by? And for what reasons do we want to be remembered? To be remembered, one must be absent. Why would we want to be absent at all?
I have pondered all of this.
I have come up with no good answer other than human selfishness. After all, to be remembered does nothing for the person tasked with the remembering. Memories carry emotional baggage; they’re burdensome. Memories force us to do something with them… to commemorate them, to relive them, to resuscitate them and suckle them. If forgotten, a memory never returns. They are extremely frail things.
Perhaps it is best to overcome the innate temptation to be remembered. I have been thinking of giving up on it. But then I find myself jotting memoirs like this and effectively immortalizing my thoughts through words. I still do feel the urge to be remembered; however, I am now more
conscious of it. But what if we are designed this way? What if this is purposeful? What if this is the feeling of eternity in our bones? In the end, I don’t think I’ll buy a marble obelisk to mark my corpse, and I won’t hope that visitors marvel at my final resting place. Rather, like my ancestors in Sartor Cemetery, I’ll be resting in the cool shade of a firm magnolia tree. Remember me!