Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio? To Colma...

When I was in the 2nd grade, my teacher required us to recite a poem by heart. The poem I chose got seared into my brain-I can still recite it without pause. It was a Robert Frost poem entitled "In a Disused Graveyard":

The living come with grassy tread
To read the gravestones on the hill;
The graveyard draws the living still,
But never anymore the dead.
The verses in it say and say:
"The ones who living come today
To read the stones and go away
Tomorrow dead will come to stay."
So sure of death the marbles rhyme,
Yet can't help marking all the time
How no one dead will seem to come.
What is it men are shrinking from?
It would be easy to be clever
And tell the stones: Men hate to die
And have stopped dying now forever.
I think they would believe the lie.

Looking over this poem, I realize it is a strange one for a 7 year old to choose to memorize! It is also oddly prophetic. Now, as an adult, I live in the only necropolis on the United States: Colma, California.

Colma has 1.5 million dead people, and 1500 living residents. My neighbors include Joe DiMaggio, Wyatt Earp, Levi Strauss, Emperor Norton I (one of my favorite San Francisco legends), and Tina Turner's dog (wrapped in one of Turner's fur coats), all buried here in Colma (there are 17 cemeteries--including Pet's Rest, the pet cemetery run by Glide member Phil C'de Baca).

I love walking through the cemeteries (my "parks"), looking at tombstones, reading the inscriptions, noting which graves are still lovingly cared for and which have been long neglected.  I am happy to report that my neighbors are fairly quiet, seemingly content in their final resting place.

Colma is also the backdrop of an indie film, Colma: The Musical. It is the coming of age story of three friends who recently graduated from high school. Living in that "in between" time of adolescence and adulthood, they must make a choice, to leave Colma and live, or remain amongst the dead.

Isn't this a life-long task? It is one thing to visit and remember the dead, it is another thing to reside in the past with them. I know too many people who can't let go of the past, of what once was, of the way things were.  Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead."  We must leave the cemetery and enter the land of the living, choosing life, over and over again.

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