April 22, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
A Message from Clive
Why I Enjoy Walking Through Cemeteries
I can’t explain why, but I enjoy the experience of walking through a cemetery. I know I’m not alone in this too. Many people are impacted by that experience in some way. We are literally surrounded by thousands of individuals who once lived, while we face the reality that someday we will join them.
There is something humbling about walking across grass only a few feet above caskets and the dusty remains of human life. Most of these people surely had rich long lives, with families, work, passions; and all of whom are now relegated to a memory.
As I walk through a cemetery I always have the somber realization that each of these headstones goes up one day, and by the next the world has moved on. The markers, like the people below them, have their own personalities. Some of them are made to stand out with unique shapes and designs, an almost desperate plea to anyone walking by to notice this person; to remember. Each of these headstones is placed as a brief and somewhat empty emotional cry from friends and family members telling the world of the loss of this real person.
I say brief because, in almost every case, people commit to visiting the grave site and holding on in some way. In the moment we desperately want to take lessons away from the experience and the memories. But the demands of life call, our worlds evolve each day, and we visit less and less. And after a generation passes the descendants, and the world itself, all forget the person under the headstone even existed. So the stone rests silently day and night endlessly reciting the fading names and dates etched into the rock. It’s a sobering thought.
This last weekend my son and I were visiting another town together, and I knew there was an interesting cemetery down the road, so we took some time Sunday afternoon to go for a walk. As we wandered by one particularly tall marker, I was arrested by some giant capital letters written on a stone in the distance. The letters were L I V E.
I paused for a moment. A strange word to see in this place. Then I realized I wasn’t seeing the entire stone, those were simply the last four letters of the name on the marker. As I moved another couple of feet I saw the letter “C” and realized that the stone actually said the name “CLIVE.”
But the message of those four letters was received nonetheless.
Seeing the word “LIVE” etched in that stone in that cemetery was a not-so-gentle reminder to me, from somebody named Clive, of the purpose of these headstones. Not only do they seem to plead to the world to remember that they once lived, but they are also a reminder to those of us who haven’t taken that journey yet. A reminder of what we should be doing. It was as if Clive was reaching up and shouting from his silent slumber an admonition to “live.”
What does that word mean to you? Live.
If Clive could reach through the grave and ask you, “What are you doing with the time you have left?” how would you answer? Are you responding to the admonition to live? And what exactly would that look like in your life?
When you consider the billions of years the earth has been revolving around the sun, our lives don’t even register a tick on the geological clock. That shouldn’t be discouraging, that should be a call to make your life matter. The time comes and goes for you as it has for billions of people before, so live while you can.
All of us have heard the words, “life is too short” used in some way or another. We’ve probably all said those words. And we probably really believe it. But do we do anything about it? Or has it just become a hollow colloquialism that somehow makes us feel better when we say it? We know it’s true, and it feels almost empowering to acknowledge it, but just saying it doesn’t count.
I believe that most of the time when we say words to that effect we are literally tricking ourselves into inaction. Because simply acknowledging it makes us feel better, almost as if we have actually done something. But we haven’t. And there are hundreds of things we say to ourselves to get us to try to live to motivate us to use our time wisely. Live each day as if it’s your last, Every day is a gift, Live with no regrets, live life to the fullest, tomorrow may never come. We’ve heard them so many times, they’ve become rather hollow. Not to mention those ideas are sometimes too broad to lead you to anything specific. So instead of all that, we should probably focus.
If you were truly living, what should you do with your time today? this week? this month? Even that question might be to generic. Because whatever it is, living your life more fully probably involves an change of some sort. A change in your individual life. So let’s put a fine point on it. Let's get rid of the colloquialisms and change the question altogether.
Ask yourself, what would Clive tell you to do?
Would he tell you to finally quit your job, start writing that book or plan that big trip to a foreign country? maybe. Or would he tell you something simple like choose to be happy today, take the first step to mending that broken relationship, hug that family member just a little bit longer or simply say the words I Love You to someone who hasn’t heard it in a long time.
Whether it’s something big or small, a giant leap or a baby step, I bet you know what Clive would encourage you to do. So take his advice. Don’t wait another day. Live.