Sometimes a great way to appreciate the value of every breath is to go walk the rich, silent and often very beautiful grounds of a cemetery. This week Daniela and I rode the Vespa to Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. More than a half million people are buried amidst the vast rolling grounds since the early 1800's. The majestic trees and manmade lakes hold you. Benches methodically landscaped are a welcome to the ponderer. Statues of angels from days of old to current times watch over the land. Loved one’s names are chiseled in stone along with sentiments some left behind. The silence is so peaceful on these paths, it not only quiets the busy mind but a whisper seems to surf the conscious breath, saying "be still my beating heart".
We sat tucked under the most graceful silver linden tree watching a majestic crane on the lake surrounded by monumental tombs of the rich. The sprawling green of the cemetery is fenced in the surroundings of an industrial part of Brooklyn. Another great juxtaposition to feed one’s contemplation. We sat in gratitude for what really matters in our days. In this rich place where more are dead than living, nothing seems complicated.
With a seeming light at the end of the tunnel for these pandemic times, stresses to understand what comes next weigh heavy on the minds of many. Not here.. patience seems to arise to meet gratitude. Trust and surrender.. things will work themselves out.
Places like this are wonderful to remind us that whatever complicates our life and causes us pain cannot touch the place within where innocent joy lives. We just need to reach for it or allow the distractions to fall away so it can rise to the surface. No greater teacher than relaxing into our breath for that.
We went to the cinema this week too. Can you believe it? Yes, there were about 10 people in the theatre. We went to see a film by Alexandre Rockwell called Sweet Thing. It is a story of a brother and sister who basically raise themselves while living between two challenging homes with both parents stuck in addiction and mental health issues. As they age they seek to keep the innocence and poetry of childhood. It’s an artistic film, shot in black and white with angles that keep you in your heart, no matter how grim the realties are.
The film really stayed with me. At first, the shock of being intimate with a life so dire and desperate left me wondering how this can be titled Sweet Thing. Then you journey through the eyes of these beautiful children. No matter what happened, you saw their acceptance of the parent was not blind. You saw the dream of their life was fuelled from within and was not conditional.
It reminded me of a Buddhist teaching. Right now, it’s like this. That is that and this is this. We can separate our precious journey in life from circumstances that present themselves, even the ones that terrify us. Holding onto the adventure of being a child was clear in them, innocence was theirs by birth and happiness could be reachable. While they remained alert to the addict and trail of disasters that would affect them, it was not them and they still held a love for the parent the addiction dwelled in.
While we sat beneath the tree's canopy at Green-wood Cemetery, I thought of this film. All the choices we make in life, all the pains and joys we experience, the encounters that inspire us and ones that keep us on high alert. How our lives affect the lives of others. I put it all in the context of being part of 8 billion people currently sharing the planet, living under every imaginable and unimaginable circumstances. Here as I sit in the gardens of the dead, feeling the breeze in my hair, breath in my lungs, pulsing of my heart.. whatever stresses that came in with me don't seem to hold much weight any longer. This has been a sweet thing.
Wishing us all a sharable garden of simplicity with fruits of joy,
You can click here or on any photo for info on Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Many cemeteries are created as parks to contemplate life. If you know of others, please share.