I was at my dad’s apartment going through some files I left there, and found one with a bunch of old photographs- the paper kind, when people used to take pictures with a film camera, then take the film to be developed, and get paper pictures back. Does anyone do that any more?
Many weren’t mine, so I sorted them for distribution to other family members. One I couldn’t tell who it belonged to. It was a picture of a woman next to a large, multi-figure sculpture. On the back it said “Mystery of Life, Glendale cemetery, 2001”. The woman in the picture looked like my mother’s sister, but she was long gone in 2001, and the writing looked like my mother’s, but she was long gone in 2001. So who took the picture, why and who it belonged to remain a mystery.
My curiosity was piqued so I looked it up. There is indeed a sculpture called “The Mystery of Life” at the Forest Lawn memorial park in Glendale, California, and it looks like this-
A variety of figures surround a pair of doves, who have apparently just hatched an egg, although I can’t find a picture that shows it. This provokes them to ponder the mystery of life.
It’s a little different for a cemetery sculpture. Catholic cemeteries usually have a pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, or Jesus carrying a lamb, or just single statues of saints, reinforcing the idea of life after death. Forest Lawn provides services to people of a variety of beliefs, including agnostics, so something like this may be aimed at them.
I have never been to a funeral with an internment at a cemetery, but I’m guessing that people who go there are a little disoriented, and that the death is not so much what has them thinking about things they usually don’t, but the life.
“What was that all about? What was the purpose of it?” they think. The “departed” may have had a pretty nice life, or a pretty rotten one. Whatever the case it is over, and why it happened and what meaning it had is hard to understand a lot of the time.
People don’t ask to be born, they just are. They are then left to cope with a decision made by their parents. The options for understanding it are limited, and you may not be able to stick with one your whole life. My sister, a scrupulous Catholic, now has doubts, long after it is too late to be a hedonist or something else.
I was driving to work this morning and an old song by Cheap Trick, “Surrender”, came on the radio. It’s an artifact of my youth, so I cranked it up. I realized that I was no longer the child in the song, but the parents.
We are a mystery to ourselves, and a mystery to others. I hope someday we can all understand.