They’ve lived out their lives as fate decreed, yet the dead still harbor lessons the living may need.
In the Twilight Zone episode, “Night Call,” a woman named Elva Keene receives repeated mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night. Frightened, she implores the phone company to do something about it.
They trace the calls and upon investigating discover a broken telephone line in a cemetery after a storm. As it happens, the tombstone upon which the wire has fallen is that of…well, perhaps you should see the episode for yourself. Suffice to say someone is trying to talk to Elva from the grave.
Now that’s creepy, but you don’t need a supernatural event or a séance to receive messages from the other side.
Be glad you’re alive. We may lay wreaths and flowers there on holidays, but most of us tend to avoid cemeteries, perhaps not wanting to be reminded of our mortality. But instead of serving as a warning to one’s impending demise, let the denizens of your local necropolis serve as a positive call to action. For when it comes to those interred it’s game over, but for you—if you’re reading this—life is a game you’re still playing. The question remains how will you cast your dice? What will you do with this precious gift you still have?
Remember “The Dash.” While grave markers exist in limitless shapes, sizes, and designs, they all mention the defining dates of a person’s life. For example, consider the tombstone of one Ezekial P. Jones, 1798-1862. The dates tell us when Jones was born and died, but between them is the dash—the dash represents everything he did in life. Everything. The good and the bad, every triumph and every failure, every joy and sorrow is all there in the cryptic dash. And just think, you are living out your own dash right now.
Present, but not voting. As a kid I enjoyed reading Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and recall being struck in particular by the bizarre story of Jeremy Bentham, a 19th-century British reformist and philanthopist. In accordance with his will, Bentham’s body was preserved with a wax head and displayed in a glass cabinet at University College London.
In a freaky ritual—at select college council meetings—Bentham’s remains were brought to the board room and at roll call it was recorded that Bentham was, “Present but not voting.” Are you present and engaged in life, or do you differ little from Bentham’s dapper corpse by sitting on the sidelines?
A grave equalizer. “The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” Charles de Gaulle, French general and statesman, is quoted as saying. That means all those inflated-ego blowhards who annoy you in life will be replaced when their time is up, so don’t let them get to you. The same though, can be said of your own—if applicable—self-aggrandized importance. “Don’t take yourself so seriously,” says Bob Basso, author of This Job Should Be Fun. “After all the size of your funeral will depend on the weather.”
Your challenge. Ernest Hemingway laid down the gauntlet when he advised others to “do something original, or beat dead men at their own game.” It’s advice you might take when embarking on your own business venture. Who is in the grave that you admire? Their cards are on the table. Can you come up with a better hand?
Count your blessings. A stroll through an old cemetery reveals a variety of strange causes of death. Look at all the things they died of that you probably won’t succumb to. Typhoid fever, whooping cough, smallbox, and even “consumption.” There are those trampled by a horse, struck by a streetcar, or lost at sea. You are lucky indeed to be alive at a time where life expectancy is better than ever. The odds improve every year that you might keep the Grim Reaper at bay and make it to your 100th birthday…or beyond.
What would the dead say? Recently I was reminded of a classmate who died shortly after high school graduation. We all know of people like that, particularly those taken early. While there seems no rhyme nor reason to it, think of them when you are faced with challenges in life. What would they think of your predicament? How grateful would they be just to live out your day today? How can you live your life in their honor…a life to the fullest? As Benjamin Franklin said, “Get up sluggard, there’s time enough to sleep in the grave.”
Consider this telling epitaph…
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you soon will be.
Prepare for death, and think of me.