The photographic frame, measuring 3″x5″ sat on the flat surface of the headstone.
It’s a small quiet Catholic cemetery on the edges of the village of Saranac Lake, New York. The winter snow was gone but no grass or Spring flowers had the courage, or time, to begin their life again. Cemeteries are full of living, growing entities. Flowers bloom. Green turf covers the ground. In this cemetery, fallen branches from tall pines, still green, sit on the ground. There are hundreds of pine cones scattered about.
Amid all this growth and life, there are the mute stones that mark the resting places of people who walked the very streets and paths that I stroll. Each stone has a name or names of those who lay below. The dates carved into the stones tell the passer-by how long this man, that woman or this child had spent among the living.
Dead flowers, plastic flowers and potted shrubs adorn the stones. Sometimes at night solar-powered votive lights glow with a spooky aura in the darkness. Some enterprising funeral-industry worker thought it would be a good idea ($) to get the grieving family to pay for the small lights. To some driving by after dark, one can perhaps make out Uncle Tony’s grave by the green light by the tree…just there to the left. To others, like me, it’s a ghostly reminder of the loneliness graveyards can be when the sun sets.
Some stones have elaborate laser etched photo quality images of the couple, a daughter, a son, a grandparent, a set of golf clubs, a guitar, a pickup truck, a semi, a forest scene or the path leading into a setting sun.
This particular stone had a photo mounted in a frame. The frame was separated from the backing. The glass was dulled by abrasion and there was no reflection. And, there was no picture of the deceased.
Who removed the photo? A vandal? A parent? A sibling? A fiancé? A child? Perhaps this was the last image…the only surviving image of the departed one. I’m thinking is was too personal to leave out in the elements and best kept in a pocket, close to the heart.
Someone had the picture. Someone carried the photo around with them. They left only a broken frame. I looked close and could almost see an after-image on the grey glass. I couldn’t quite make it out.
But, it was of a person who, for years, had his or her likeness visible to anyone who cared to look.
Now, no one can see who lies six feet below the stone.
Only a name, dates and a block of granite are left. But I did not miss the picture. Instead, I thought how lucky this person is…to have something as a proxy.
I thought of the millions of people who lie, unmarked, in the soil of war-torn countries, famine stricken regions, roadsides and river bottoms.
The picture may be gone, but something is there for us to see. Something for us to lay a flower upon. Something to touch. A place to pray.
On a morning, celebrating re-birth, I stand and think of these things.
Too many human beings don’t have such a luxury.