The Cemetery

Headstones among green plants and overgrowth

The opening in the dry-stack stone wall beckoned me into the overgrowth.  I had passed and admired the wall many times on my walk through the neighborhood, but had never ventured beyond.  This time was different, and I gingerly stepped through the weeds and thorns to get to headstones leaning at precarious angles, some crumbled and lying on the ground.  I was in awe as I noticed the dates on the graves.  One was marked with the name of a male born in the late 1790's, who lived 100 years!  All the rest dated from the 1800's.  My heart was touched as I read "Infant daughter 3 days old," as she had not even been named before death stole her away. The rest of the day was spent wondering about these individuals whose lives were represented now by crumbling tombstones in an overgrown and forgotten cemetery.  I wondered what kind of life each lived so many years ago.  Was their passing mourned by many?  What was their legacy?  

I thought, too, about what it means for all of us, as death is a certainty and none of us know when it will come.  For what would we hope to be remembered after our passing?   What is important to me now will be reflected in how I spend my time, resources, the choices I make on a daily basis.  All of those things will determine how I will be remembered as well. 

It is helpful, I think, to reflect on what is important to us - our core values - and check in with ourselves frequently to assess whether or not we are "on track," living accordingly:  our thoughts, behaviors, the way we spend our time and money, the folks we surround ourselves with.  We may find that anxiety or depression may creep in if there is dissonance between what we hold dear (our core values) and our actions.  

There is an activity I sometimes use with clients called the Personal Values Card Sort in which there are 83 values such as Honesty, Power, Forgiveness, Creativity, and Autonomy from which to choose.  They then can sort  the values into 3 categories:  Important to Me, Very Important to Me, or Not Important to Me.  After sorting the cards, they then choose the three values that are Most Important.  It is sometimes difficult to narrow down, and there is often much shuffling of cards, as well as deep discussion and reflection as some cards are discarded when they were originally in the Very Important category, only to realize that maybe they are not as important as originally thought.  This activity is generally great fodder for discussion and insight. 

I have revisited the cemetery a couple times after the initial discovery.  Each visit brings to mind for me that life here is limited and I need to be purposeful with the way I spend my time.  Relationships need to be intentional, and the values I hold as important need to be reflected in the way I live and the choices I make.  Those very things determine the legacy we leave behind. 

If you would like to view the Personal Values Card Sort Activity, click here.