Wednesday, February 16, 2011
For Jen- A bit clunky of a paper, but ya'know...
During the summer between 4th and 5th grade my family moved to an apartment outside Philadelphia. The apartment was right next to the train tracks, with a gas station on the corner, and the token cheesesteak joint on the next block. The least impressive aspect of my new home was the graveyard across the street. Needless to say I was mortified, not only was I starting a new school and beginning the task of making new friends, I was then faced with the notion that I would forever be labeled “the freak that lived next to the cemetery”! As I got older I began to appreciate the inherent beauty in that cemetery- the rolling hills, massive trees, the quietness. And I also began to think about the lives of the people buried there and the cyclical nature of life. This space enveloped me in mystery; it heightened my senses and sparks a feeling of calmness, ultimately becoming a place of peace and introspectiveness, my behavior change once I crossed the gate. Why would a park with dead people buried in it do this to me? And were these changes in my demeanor socially constructed or naturally inherent in me?
When we talk about sacred spaces we need to understand the profound cultural and religious differences we have in our society. Words like sacred or god are used as though they mean the same thing to everyone, but in contrary, every person has there own take on what spirituality is, and with that line of thought they surmise what happens in the after life. Another theory around sacred space is, of course, that it is sacred because it is interpreted as being sacred, that is to say, human beings react to that space as if it is a sacred site, and pass the behavior on.
Lakewood Cemetery is formerly an agricultural village for the Dakota people, and for them the space is sacred because of its proximity to Lake Calhoun for growing rice, as well as the landscape was conducive for ceremony. For the last century plus the space has been used for burying our dead, using elaborate rituals to preserve their memory, imbedding the idea that a sacred space can be identified by the human response to that particular place. For example, people come to put flowers on a site, light candles, place a cross near a grave, and come again and again to a site to pay tribute to it. Lakewood is beautiful, a picturesque place to spend all of eternity, but I am pretty sure the people buried there do not care; it is a place for the living. Lakewood has the soft, rolling hills, mature trees that frame your sight lines, and a mystery of who these people were, as well as who comes to visit their graves today. Maybe it is in our psyche to have physical indication of our loved ones, to solidify their existence for the generations to come. Our existence is so entangled with history; markers to define that history may help add clarity to our life.
Lakewood Cemetery is a very natural, picturesque space in an urban setting. And nature is often thought as an inherently sacred asset. So to bury our dead with an intrinsically charged space would not only define the importance of the area, it would also be a nice place to visit. The harmony of nature adds balance to our hectic life, so time set aside to honor our history in a pretty setting doesn’t sound bad!
I look at cemeteries with many biases: preconceived notions on religions, ecological implications, waste of space to name a few. But once I get past these barriers I do understand the importance that most cultures place on ceremony around the dead, and our way to immortalize people we love, honor and respect are very important to our history. Minneapolis has a rich history full of amazing people, and we are lucky to have a beautiful setting to pay tribute to them in.