Sunday, May 5, 2013

We Will Bury You

Ever walk through a cemetery?  That's right, a graveyard.  It can be most enlightening.  Some years ago, I lived fairly close to one of the largest and oldest cemeteries in Oakland, California.  It was a great place for a stroll.  I used to see folks walking and even picnicking there all the time.  Part of the intrigue is that you never know who you find there.  I don't mean the visitors, I mean the people interred there.  Some of the most famous Bay Area names would adorn the tombstones at this cemetery.  I recall a Stanford or two.
Cemeteries are great history lessons too.  I once took an American Field Studies course on Louisiana and Cajun country.  We traveled by bus through towns like Lafayette, Abbeyville, Breau Bridge and St. Martinville Louisiana.  One one occasion we stopped to do an assignment at a cemetery.  We were to note the last names on tombstones as a way of documenting the both immigration patterns and the ethnic make-up of the community.  Looking for French names, I recall the first large family plot I found had a large marker with the name Fernandez.  Their roots went deep.  I knew the accordion was an important feature of Zydeco and Cajun music, so I wasn't surprised by German names, but the variety of sur-names and accompanying family histories was surprising.

     Cemeteries hold the good and the evil.  As a wise elder recently called them, "the saints and the sinners."  In New Orleans' famous St. Louis cemetery you can find everyone from Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen (she has a couple of verified tombs) to a real cross section of local history.  I recall seeing the grave of Homer Plessy, the famous name from the landmark civil rights case Plessy v. Ferguson.  (separate is equal)   I'm sure within this French Quarter graveyard reside some of the finest minds, the most creative visionaries, and the most talented musicians of their generation.  So too, no doubt, do sociopaths and fools, the remorseless and the despicable.  An accurate accounting of the population.
     Recently the news media has been reporting that no cemetery will take the body of Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  The uncle, who first called his nephews "losers," still has been unable to bury his family's infamous sinner.  I'm a bit surprised by the reaction of his fellow Americans.  The person who the media calls "the dead Boston bomber" was born here, raised and schooled here.  He's as much an American terrorist as anything; isn't he?   Don't human beings have an obligation to care for other human beings, even the cruelest, most misguided ones?

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