Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite movies; I watched it again last night. In the final scene of Emma Thompson’s screenplay, ribbon-waving children revel among the tombstones in the churchyard where the misses Dashwoods have just been married. For the first time last night I appreciated the irony of this setting. But perhaps it’s just my American sensibilities (pardon the pun) that imagine irony where none was intended. Perhaps, if anything, the scene depicts a confirmation of some of the deepest nuances of life – youth, marriage, eternity. (Perhaps I should watch the commentary with Thompson and director, Ang Lee, and see if they have anything to say about this image.)
Here in America it’s not a common image to see children (excepting Halloween pranksters) reveling in graveyards. Indeed, unless you’re in Small Town, America graveyards are not common sights at all. This first dawned on me back in June when Jay and I were driving around Ireland. As we came upon Gothic cathedral after Gothic cathedral, village church after village church, I wondered if the Irish ever take for granted all the architecture and symbolism rising through the misty air. Admittedly, I went to Ireland fully expecting to see the churches and high crosses. What I hadn’t really considered is where the crosses would be found – in the cemeteries right next to the churches! I was struck by this visual reminder of the concern for both living and departed souls. At least that’s what this abundance of churches and cemeteries seems to represent. It could only be superficial, but the fact remains that they ARE THERE. To paraphrase Francis Schaeffer, “Churches and graveyards are there, and they are not silent.”
Sometimes I think we American (Christians) pride ourselves in knowing that church buildings are “just” buildings. They are not the True Church, the hearts of the people who worship in them. So we meet in strip malls and schools, and people can drive right past and think about earrings and dodge ball and never consider their souls.
We do the same thing with cemeteries. I’ve lived in Phoenix for four years and have yet to drive past a cemetery – at least to my knowledge. This isn’t the way I was raised. Cemeteries used to be a major part of my life. I didn’t revel in them, but from age 10 to 18, I joined my mother and younger brother on Memorial Day pilgrimages of sorts. We drove from our home in north central Nebraska to a little country cemetery in the panhandle of Texas. We put flowers on my father’s grave and then we spent a few days visiting with my older brother and sister and other relatives. My stepfather and stepsister made a similar pilgrimage, in a different vehicle, to a cemetery in Oklahoma where their first wife/mother was buried. Some years my stepfather and stepsister would leave a few days before us and then we’d meet them in passing – usually someplace in the middle of Kansas. If they recognized us, they’d wave. Kind of like what we do with churches and graveyards.
Note on the photograph: A cemetery near Beech Hill Hotel near Derry, Northern Ireland – and more evidence that our prayers were answered on Grafton Street.