Monday, September 28, 2009

Breath and Death

Bette Midler says she wakes up every morning and asks her husband for a divorce.

“It clears the air,” explains the Divine Miss M.

For sort of the same reason, I wake up every morning and run through the local cemetery. It’s a small field near my house with several dozen graves on a mountainside overlooking the valley below. Green and lush, still as death, the cemetery puts my day in perspective. Glancing at the names and dates -- and sometimes fresh dirt beside a waiting cavity -- I have to wonder, “If this is my last day, how am I going to live it?”

Over time, I’ve come to regard the graves as distant neighbors. Not people I know but folks I feel somewhat acquainted with, like that family one street over from my house with the barking white dog and green jeep who are repainting their porch. Though I've never seen them, the people who loved the deceased visit the graveyard often. Flowers are fresh, always. One grave gets decorated with black-and-white checkered flags -- the NASCAR finish flags -- to announce the race was won. And occasionally somebody leaves an open bottle of Crown Royal (which disappears by the next day) at a grave near the center. This week, for the first time, I saw balloons bobbing in the wind under an oak tree.

The balloons were so striking that I stopped running to look more closely. A bottle of Nesquick chocolate milk stood on the stone with a toy car. The car was blue. I read the name and the numbers. He died young, this boy named Jacob. That same day was the anniversary of his death.

Staring down at the offerings, my heart hurt. But there was another inscription on the stone, carved at the bottom under the dates for life and death. It was from Psalms 135:4.

For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself.

When I ran toward home, I had a new question. If today was my last, would I understand that it's a celebration, worthy of balloons?

Would you?


  1. Joe White gave his life for his country this week. Pondering this sacrifice. Thank you for poetically prompting wisdom to rise to the surface under the deluge of today's drudgery.

  2. Sibella, what a touching perspective for introspection. If today were my last I'd be excited about going home to be with Jesus, but I'd be extremly sad knowing that my family will have to go on without me. Leaving my family behind--even though temporary--would be so hard.