Archive for March, 2011

Memento mori

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

When I travel to new places, there are some aspects of them that I find especially enlightening when it comes to trying to get some understanding the culture. Food markets, for example. I wander amongst the local people and I watch what they buy, how they negotiate and how they relate to each other. I look at the produce and how it is displayed. And I believe that it gives me a little insight into the life of the people. I love parks, too. A bench in the shade of large trees is an excellent observation point.  And even more so, I find, are cemeteries. Here, the past meets the present. Almost always, they are spiritual places of calm and dignity. Soothing for the soul. Often they are very beautiful, whether old or new, grand or simple. Always, they are tangible proof of love and loss, a tribute to those who came before us.  And a reminder that life is short and precious.

For the last few months I have lived in central Auckland, in what is called the CBD, the central business district. The building is adjacent to the old cemetery in Symonds street. As is my habit I often stroll through it. No, strolling isn’t really possible here. With the exception of the uppermost part, you have to climb over fallen tombstones and balance on uneven ground. I am always alone. Except for the homeless who reside underneath the Grafton Bridge nobody ventures here.

This is not a place of spiritual dignity.  There is no soothing to seek here. It is a sad place of utter neglect. The lovingly erected tombstones are cracked and overturned.  Rubbish is collecting everywhere. There is not a plant in sight, just overgrown trees. I have once seen one of the city’s oversized  lawnmowers  attempting to navigate the uneven barren land in a futile attempt at cleaning up. But there is no grass to mow here. The ground is covered in dry leaves, dirt and rubbish. It doesn’t look like a sleepy, slightly neglected old cemetery. It looks like a vandalised one.

Is this how we should remember, those who came before us?  Those who with vision, courage and hard labour built the foundations of the city that we now inhabit?  And even if one has no regard for the memory of those buried here, how can the city afford to let this inner city land become a rubbish tip where nobody wants or dares set foot?

Not even in some of the poorest parts of the world have I seen such sad neglect and lack of respect for the memory of  the forefathers.