February 20, 2017 (Monday)

by Yule Heibel on February 19, 2018

Yesterday was so freakishly warm pretty much everywhere in the Eastern and Midwestern US as well as Canada, it was… well, not frightening, exactly, because it felt so comfortable (for now). But weird. We drove to Cambridge to take in, finally, Mount Auburn Cemetery.

“Take in” is utterly the wrong formulation. It’s a huge park, only partially traversable in one short visit which also happened to coincide with all of its footpaths still being snow-covered. We stayed on the main “roads.” We saw the chapel at the Visitors Center. I noticed that each row of pews had Kleenex boxes at each end, a strangely utilitarian but also empathetic touch in a chapel devoted to funerals. Strangely incongruous in that 19th century setting, these 20th century inventions, throw-away tissues in mass-produced boxes, in a box (the chapel) intended to commemorate the fleeting Kleenex-quality of earthly life and its eternal complement, the soul – which, wispy as a tissue in a windswept street, blows out of the carnal life, but endures forever …where? And how is it all sorted, I wonder?

As we walked towards Willow Pond (or is it Lake?), we passed a huge concrete wall. Beyond it, however, more graves. What gives? Checked the map: turns out that exclusionary boundary separated us from the Catholic Cemetery on the other side. Circling back toward Halcyon Pond (Lake?), another wall – beyond which lay the Cambridge Municipal Cemetery burials. How neat, how tidy. Like Kleenex boxes at the ends of each row of pews, so no one has to worry about spreading their snot, their bodily fluids, onto anything or anywhere it doesn’t belong.

We walked to the Bigelow Chapel, which was closed, but admired the fantastic size of burial space given over to the Lawrence Family, whoever they are. We saw Bowditch’s monument, which looked weirdly like a simulacrum to me after having seen so many reproductions of it in print elsewhere – and suddenly, it seemed, everywhere. The latter is not true, but it just seemed that way. Bowditch on book covers, in lectures on slides, in pamphlets and brochures and on the web. And now the “real” statue, standing (or sitting, actually) in for the “real” Bowditch. But again, just another reproduction. A curious contradiction, these reproductions of real people in a place dedicated to the memory of their lives and the reality of their deaths, their mortality…

We climbed to the top of the hill where the Washington Tower stands and I considered the skimpiness of the Boston skyline, in view between two obelisks. We didn’t see the Sphinx. We’ll go back again.

As we were leaving, we saw a couple entering the gates, and W. brightened with a “look who’s here,” as if E. or I would know, having never met these people. Turns out it was W.’s ex-colleague T. from [former employer], also laid off in that January bloodletting. He’s more attractive than I expected from what W. had said about him, but I suppose it explains why W. likes him as much as he does. Definitely a cut above the usual more schlumpy crowd that works in IT, you could tell that T. thinks well of himself. He introduced his girlfriend (wife?), and I can’t remember exactly what it was because it’s a non-western name from a language group I’ve never penetrated. We all shook hands and chatted for a few minutes before leaving. Afterwards, I said, “So now I’ve met my first actual Trump voter. E., you just shook hands with a Trump voter!” That kind of took her aback. She knew there was an ex-coworker of W.’s who voted for Trump, but didn’t associate someone as self-possessed as T. with it. Nor did I.

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