In going on to his eternal reward, the last profundity Pope John Paul II conveyed to the world was no matter how good we might be as individuals death will eventually come to embrace us all. And as we all stop for a moment to ponder our earthly demises, it is only natural to consider the ultimate disposition of our physical remains. But whereas those of the Pope’s will always be properly honored as befitting someone of his stature, often the remainder of us don’t get even the minimal respect we deserve as human beings having once walked this earth as creatures made in the image of God.
My family went to the Fort Lincoln Cemetery in suburban Maryland on Easter Sunday to pay respects to my mother’s brother interned there. It would be an understatement to say we were in for an “Easter surprise” we would never forget.
Traditionally, cemeteries are noted for their meticulous upkeep in order to facilitate reflection and put the visitor’s mind at ease. However, from the conditions prevailing at this memorial garden, one would be safe to say local junkyards, garbage dumps, and sewage treatment plants receive more conscientious care.
We were first unsettled by the unsightly mud tracks left behind from the grass being torn up from having been driven over by a heavy piece of equipment. However, the extent of the damage went much further.
Grave markers were bent, indicating they had been carelessly run over by the same mechanical behemoth that had trod the grass asunder. Some memorial plaques were torn out of the ground and a number of headstones knocked over. Vases were either damaged and or missing from their respective sites. Other graves were obstructed by caked on mud, obscuring the record of their occupants ever having walked the earth.
This damage was not confined to one block of the premises but was rather endemic throughout the property. Do cemetery administrators plan to contact the families of those whose graves they have defiled, apologize for their shoddy workmanship, and make repairs or restitution as the honorable would? Or are the gambling there transgressions will go unnoticed since cemetery visitation is itself a dying tradition with the upcoming generation preferring those gaudy roadside cross displays and stuffed animal shrines.
Though the souls of the departed resting at this site do not reside there, their resting places should be respected just the same. This cemetery is named after the 16th President of the United States. His spirit does not reside at the memorial erected a few short miles away in Washington in his honor, but the structure is respected nonetheless. If death is the great equalizer, ought not the resting places of each person be treated with the same dignity?