Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Last Word

Last Sunday, on a freezing cold day with the wind whipping around, my son wanted to go to a cemetery. He'd seen one on the train ride from Providence to New York, and he wanted to walk around one for himself and see some skeletons. That's what are in graveyards, you know, skeletons and ghosts. And so my husband found us a graveyard and off we went to Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum.

When you're going to a cemetery just for fun, so to speak, it's a sobering but curious experience. Trinity is a historic graveyard, many of the stones have been scrubbed clean and thin by time and weather. Many more of the originals, though, are still legible: A fourteen-year-old girl who died in 1918. A woman who lived from 1835-1925. Graves marked "Mother" and "Father." There was one for "Our beloved Charlie" who was just three years old when he died in the mid-eighteen hundreds.

Then, in a corner on a hill overlooking the cross-street stood a gravestone for Ed Koch, three term mayor of New York, who is still very much alive. This being a church cemetery, Koch's stone is nonetheless clearly marked as Jewish. There's a Star of David at the top and the famous quote from Daniel Pearl, the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter, stating he is a Jew. But the incongruity of a Jewish grave in a cemetery where the first stone you see upon entering is the large Celtic cross marking John Audobon's grave is the least of it, until Koch actually dies, that is. (Jews are supposed to wait eleven months after burial before putting a gravestone on a grave. Details, details.)

I suppose it's a way to confront mortality, putting up a gravestone for yourself. Maybe it's comforting to know what everyone else will see when you're not around to see it. And if you attend to the stone yourself, you know no one's going to argue about what should be on the stone when you're not around to say what should be there yourself. You, or Koch, gets the last word. I'm not sure why that can't be done on paper or that that's the last word I'd want, but if there's one thing I'm not in this life, it's Ed Koch.

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