On my way to get a haircut today I walked through a big, beautiful cemetery. I’ve spent some time in cemeteries these last few years and it seems to me that from season to season, their personalities change. In the dead of winter, absent the sounds of birds and squirrels, there’s no place more quiet. In the autumn, with the trees in full bloom, there are few places more beautiful. In the summer, it can be a green space in the middle of the city, an escape from the heat of the pavement. But in the spring, it’s a little different. It’s kind of ugly. The snow is mostly gone and what’s left is grey-black. The grass is brown. There are no leaves on the trees yet and it’s more likely to rain than shine. But what is clear to me is that the stones don’t change. Seasons change but the permanence of the place remains. I passed the stones of paupers and industrial giants today. Great political leaders and blue collar workers.
We can see the markers of the wealthy and the accomplished all through the winter, as they tower above the deep snow, but when that snow melts away, suddenly the rest of us emerge again. And we realise one more time, rich or poor in this world, ultimately we all meet the same end.
It makes me think of the temporary and the permanent. Every name carved into every stone is temporary and every stone which bears each of those names is permanent. But how many of the people attached to those names understood that? How many of us understand that now?
Time and again, we hear about things like job growth and the short-term benefits of this industry or that technology, about how economic prosperity will come with this political course as opposed to another. Once in a while, we hear about labour exploitation and deforestation and the poisoning of the environment. For some, these are choices to be considered in the distant future, on a barely visible horizon. And the immediate promise (whether fulfilled or not) of cash in our pockets makes it worth ignoring the obvious.
That rain-forests are raped for profit, that rivers are poisoned for profit, that lands become uninhabitable for profit, that adults and children alike die unnecessarily of disease for profit, that innumerable species go extinct for profit, it’s nothing less than the most shameful of human behaviour. We can kill in wars for money and be stigmatised as war-profiteers or we can kill millions and be lauded as the most successful of our business people.
King Tut thought he could take his gold with him. He was wrong. It’s still here. Likewise, every corrupt politician or industrialist who exploited this world for their own wealth will some day just be bones in the ground and they’ll be no more wealthy than me.
Sure, their names will be carved in larger letters onto bigger stones and their monuments will be admired all through the winter, in the deepest of snow, but when the spring comes and it all melts away, we’re all just names on a rock.