For years people have asked why I am interested in cemeteries. I don't know why I have never formulated a sufficient answer. It is probably because there is no single reason.
I've always been surrounded by death, but never in a morbid way. When I was growing up there was a lot of death in my family. It runs in the family. (Har-dee-har-har.)
My father is a minister and of course death and its aftermath were a part of his job. When I was in high school we lived in a tiny town where death was the only booming industry. I was like an unpaid professional mourner. It was unusual for a week to go by without one funeral. There were many, many weeks with two or three. When I wasn't being the preacher's kid, sitting with the kitchen ladies at the back of the church, I was hanging out with the florist's daughter. We would load flowers and drive like hell to beat the hearse from the church to the grave and arrange the flowers around the hole in the ground.
My dad always got some of his best stories and jokes during rides in the hearse with the funeral directors. None of these people or situations were disrespectful of death or of the grief of the family. They weren't quiet and mysterious about it either. These experiences gave me a freedom of mind to be able to appreciate what might otherwise be macabre and taboo.
When I was in Jr. High I lived in a town which was planned and plotted by a wack-o genius multi-millionaire. His mansion had been turned into the local funeral home. It was a wonderful old house and of course my dad knew the funeral director. We took some friends over there one night to tour the place. The director was gone and had left his new apprentice in charge. There were no bodies there at the time, of course. The apprentice greeted us and when Dad explained that we'd come to tour the house (this was a common practice in the town - honest - everybody did it at least once) he thought it should be a full-service affair. He showed us the house. The entire house. I learned all about embalming that night.
It wasn't weird, it wasn't gross. It was just a young guy who enjoyed his work and wanted to share his interests with other people. He was respectful, enthusiastic and damn-well informative.
I've never pulled the wings off of flies or been mean to animals. (Well, ok. There was that kid next door that used to hang out at our house and we pulled the stingers off the ants. Several times. I remember sitting on the edge of the bathroom sink, crying. My mom was doctoring my hands and knees and not for the first time. I remember her being a bit ticked and telling me to knock it off with the ants because she wasn't going to fix this particular self-inflicted boo-boo again.) I don't listen to death rock or wonder about suicide. I'd be a damn good funeral director but I don't want to learn embalming.
All of these experiences and others have taken some of the mystery of death away. That gives me freedom to go places and see things that I might otherwise fear. Cemeteries are mystical places for me. There is a heavy peace to them. Not heavy like a burden, but palpable. You can almost touch the calm. You can almost see the quiet. Cemeteries are contemplative places. They are the closest we come, in this part of the world, to the ruins of great cathedrals or monasteries or other such places.
And for me, navel gazing and contemplating always leads to some sort of irreverent wickedness. I began to see the odd and the funny in these places. I appreciate the beauty, I revel in the solitude, but I love the humor. Jackson and I may be the only ones who finds these things funny, but at least we entertain ourselves.
My step-daughter's mother died last week. As we drove into the cemetery after the funeral, Jackson sighed and said "I suspect we'll be coming here quite often from now on." I didn't say anything. Then he laughed and said "What am I worried about? You are the one person in the world who won't mind!"
If you have time, check out the link on the sidebar to the Afterlife. This photographer sees cemeteries the way I do. His pictures are incredible. Some of the effects are a little hokey, but some are really good. This is the music that plays in my head when I visit a cemetery.