A Walk in the Park

sleepyhollowpathToday, March 30, is national Take a Walk in the Park Day.

We’d no doubt be better off if this wasn’t an activity that required a national remembrance. I’ve lived almost exclusively on the East Coast and yes, we need reminders to “take a walk in the park.” To “smell the roses.” We are a production-driven culture.

Our son was born and spent his formative early years in western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh, almost a stone’s throw from the Ohio border. I’m glad he did. Our friends there knew to take walks in the parks, smell the roses, enjoy time with family and friends. Pittsburgh natives consider themselves part of the East Coast. This fascinated me, because in addition to being geographical inaccurate, Pittsburgh does not feel like the East Coast to me; this was one of the biggest, and appreciated, differences.

But back to the East Coast, Massachusetts to be specific, this past weekend. Having enjoyed a family get-together Saturday evening, my husband and I set out on a sunny Easter afternoon to take a walk in the park. Where we live, trails and woods and open space are abundant. We are fortunate to have an incredible national park with miles of trails a few minutes from our home. This was my envisioned destination, but we got to talking, and drove by the turn to the closest entrance to the park. Minutes later, we were driving by picturesque Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a historic landmark that offers the resting places of Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, for starters. I suggested we park, and walk there. This wasn’t as strange an idea as it might sound.

When I was younger, cemeteries were to be avoided. Creepy places with possible phenomenon that we didn’t understand and that could be very dangerous. Most of us have formed our ideas of what happens in cemeteries from horror movies. But upon moving to New England, I discovered beautiful cemeteries with woods and trails that connect the cemetery “parks” to the greater network of trails. Some of our dog-parent friends even chose cemeteries as their first destination to exercise with their canine companions off-leash, undisturbed on quiet paths under the trees. With our dog by my side–or not, when she happily raced and cavorted across the lawns–I began to discover the enfolding allure offered by these picturesque cemeteries, laid out along winding paths on landscaped grounds guarded by large tracts populated by wise old trees. A peaceful oasis where we lay our loved ones to rest.

Was it the East Coast in me? Before we’d walked very far, my mind wandered back to a concrete, brass-tacks issue. I observed that we had made no purchase or reservation for a plot of land where we were to be buried. Where did my husband want to be buried?

sleepyhollowAnd just like that, on that sunny Easter afternoon, a day traditionally to rejoice in resurrection and life, I unintentionally disturbed the peace by cracking open the lid on the many unsettling aspects of death. The next ten minutes covered the claustrophobia of being put in a box and buried, the burning hell horror of going up in flames even though ashes were probably preferable to a rotting body, and where did the ashes go then? For all of us who have close loved-ones who have passed away, we’ve come face-to-face with the challenges of plotting this after-death chapter. The exercise can be quite rough. My parents never made any decisions. Their children are still trying to.

And then, my husband and I tabled the discussion for another day, or year, or decade. On what day and date will we have needed to decide? That is, of course, the biggest uncertainty.

And a most convincing reason to take a walk in the park. Often.

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