Love and the Cemetery
Sunday, April 21, 2013
One of my wife Wendy’s favorite songs as a young woman was “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult. She and I didn’t get together until a couple decades later, but at about the same period in my own life I was riding the wings of romantic love for the first time—perhaps the only time I was utterly swept away—and this other young woman and I spent long hours at a fine old cemetery.
This may strike some as macabre, but there were to begin with practical reasons. Young lovers take note: a large old cemetery filled with monuments is both peaceful and private, with plenty of shade and well-groomed, cushiony sod. You could be challenged to find a spot better-suited on warm spring afternoons after class for learning how to neck.
But looking back now I find myself making new and deeper connections. Romantic love, as distinct from the many other human forms of love, lifts the lovers right out of the world. Through one another they slip into the Forever Now. The lyric of the song, though perhaps a seduction, speaks the truth: “Come on Baby…We can be like they are…Don’t fear the Reaper.” The graveyard was not for us a symbol of endings and decay, but of our transcendence and freedom. In the sacred heart of the other, each felt the presence of eternity and was transported. The ego dissolved.
The Hollies also captured this moment in a famous lyric: “If I could make a wish, I think I’d pass.” How often in life can we say we’ve felt that way? Blessed is the man or woman who ever does. And more blessed the one who can ever find it again, whether in love’s embrace, the peace of prayer or contemplation, or the sudden consummation that most describe as religious experience.
What we did not then suspect was that romantic love had other, harder lessons. We were soon to learn of loss, to shoulder regret, and thus to pack life’s luggage with familiar burdens. What do you say to someone you once knew in eternity? You’ve aged well? It’s hardly to be faced.
“Better to have loved and lost” is a bitter truth. But when you contemplate the Reaper, out there waiting, somewhere, somewhen, to officiate at your un-birth-day, you may remember a secret. It is the secret you share with someone from long ago, one learned from one another in the mercurial shade of young leaves under the bright spring sun. When the time comes and you are transported, it won’t be your first trip.