My grandfather passed away when I was 7 yrs. old. That is the first memory that I have of losing someone close to me. I remember where I was sitting when my dad called to tell my mom of his passing. I don’t remember anything after that. The details of the funeral, my father’s immediate state of mind, my grandmother’s period of mourning…nothing.
From that time on, my dad has taken me to the old graveyard in a small town in Henry County, Alabama. There is a path leading straight through the middle and we would walk down the path, my hand in his, with a silence that was an unspoken understanding of reverence.
If I noticed a fresh mound of dirt I would say, “Who was that, Daddy?”
Dad would always know who it was and be able to share a brief history about them.
Before arriving at the plot where my grandfather was laid to rest, my dad would say in a loud voice while lifting his arms to the sky, “What matters now?!”
He would then turn and face the other direction while again exclaiming, “What matters now?!”
He then would turn to me and say, “My Joy, did you hear anything?”
“No, sir.” was my response.
“Do you know why?” he would ask.
“…Well…yes dad. They’re all dead.” was my reply.
What he would say next is what has been burned into my memory. And that was this…
“Right! They are all dead. What lay beneath the ground is rot and decay. What do you think matters to them now?”
“Well, nothin’… I guess?…”
“Nothing! Not their job, car, house, salary, weight, bank account balance, wardrobe… all of that is left behind for someone else to worry about. They’ve gone on to see about it. (This is a southern expression for someone’s passing.) What matters is the time before physical death. What you do with your life, resources, time... and where you put your faith. How you prepare for eternity. For these folks, it’s too late to plan.”
He would then take my little hand in his big hand as we walked to my grandfather’s headstone and removed the weeds or any ant beds that had taken up residence.
After that we would walk across the path to the headstone of a 13 yr. old girl who had died from leukemia. There were always flowers and the area was well maintained. Probably by her mother.
I would read the inscription out loud, but in a whisper, as I ran my hand across the marble, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7.”
“Dad, she was prepared for eternity, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, Angel. She was.”
As I grew older and learned what stress felt like, dad would remind me of our walks through the cemetery. He would reiterate that whatever was happening would pass and as time went by, it wouldn’t have as much power as it seemingly had in the moment.
“Maybe you should take a walk through the cemetery?” he would say.
Though my hand was no longer securely in his, I would find a cemetery, walk somewhere close to the middle and say as loudly as I could, sometimes with tears, “WHAT MATTERS NOW?!” The only thing heard would be the echo of my own voice.
I would then answer my own question, “Nothing.”
Have you ever walked through a cemetery while talking to the tombstones? Maybe you should try it. You just might find that it is capable of bringing things into perspective that nothing else can.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”