In my November In Good Faith column, I write about my penchant for wandering around cemeteries and why I find such hope in these strolls.
Walking in Hope
One of the things I like to do when things are feeling particularly uncertain in the world or I’m just feeling out of sorts in my own life, is to walk through the cemetery down the street. I used to take our dog Delilah with me, but now that she’s 17 and not getting around so well, it’s just me and our younger dog Cooper frolicking among the gravestones.
Given the state of things in this country, and the continued need for reconciliation and healing, you won’t be surprised to know that there have been multiple strolls through the cemetery these past few weeks.
Now, I know that for some, there is no more depressing place than a cemetery. There’s a reasonwe used to hold our breath when we’d drive past one as kids. In a cemetery, you are literally surrounded by death, and in each gravestone you come face-to-face with the very fleeting nature of life. But I find that, for me, walking through Hingham Cemetery is good for the soul. Rather than ghoulish or gloomy, I experience it as a place to reflect on life and faith. It offers perspective, and reminds us that our own troubles — whether personal or civic — when placed in the broad context of human history, are not so unique or important.
And I always think of the line from the prophet Isaiah: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.” The temporal does indeed pass away — along with both our mortal bodies, no matter how much care and attention we’ve given them, and our earthly concerns, no matter how seemingly urgent. But what remains is the eternal. So in those headstones I see hope.
Yes, I realize living in the midst of a global pandemic only exacerbates the sense of hopelessness so many are feeling right now. Maybe it’s because life has been so hard and so isolating. Maybe it’s because the things we normally do to alleviate our pain and loneliness, like hugging our loved ones and spending time with friends, has been taken away from us. Maybe it’s because we haven’t been able to fully gather in the communities that bring us joy and sustain our spiritual, physical, and mental health.
It’s helpful to recognize that hope is not something that comes without grief or burden; hope is not untouched by pain and brokenness; hope is not cut off from sadness or despair. Rather, hope is the light that shines in the darkness, so that whatever we’re facing, whatever we’re struggling with, whatever difficult situation we’re confronting as individuals or as a nation, hope abides. hope endures; hope stands forever.
In the aftermath of a contentious election, driven by dueling narratives and much demonization, hope can feel elusive. These past months have revealed the worst of human nature, and we’ve all felt the deep division that pits neighbor against neighbor and tears families apart. And while we can’t compromise on respecting every human being — dignity is non-negotiable — there must be a better way. We know there is a better way. One that involves open conversation rather than hyper-partisanship; compromise rather than dogma; love rather than hate. And I find hope in the prospect of seeking a mutual path forward.
In the meantime, Cooper and I will continue to wander through the cemetery. I’ll say a quiet prayer when I pass the grave of a dearly departed parishioner; I’ll marvel at the 16th century headstones; and pause before the majestic Weeping Angel gravestone. And then I’ll continue to hold out hope for a better future.