Call me morbid, but I love a good cemetery. Ever since I was a child, I would get excited when, on road trips, we passed one I hadn’t explored yet. Needless to say, I was overjoyed that during our time in Oxford last summer we found our way into a few beautiful old cemeteries.
I’m actually really not all that morbid. In fact, horror movies, or anything even mildly reminiscent of them, leave me profoundly shaken afterward. I avoid them at all costs.
Cemeteries, though, are different. It’s not so much about death. It’s life they remind me of. Lives lived, people loved, stories created—every tombstone has a tale.
One of the cemeteries we visited, Holywell Cemetery, was filled with graves of famous Oxford men. There’s something humbling in realising that even the greatest amongst us end the same way. To dust we all return. That sameness in death reminds me of our sameness in life. All these men, no matter how great or little, were just men. They had joys and sorrows, faults and virtues. To borrow a colloquialism, all of them put their trousers on one leg at a time.
One of the most poignant stories told in the tombstones at Holywell is that of Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind In The Willows. His stone is hard the find (I’ve included a picture of it at the bottom of this post). The writing is worn-down by time. Grahame was buried there in the same grave as his son, Alastair, who had committed suicide at age twenty about twelves years before.
Grahame’s epitaph reads:”To the beautiful memory of Kenneth Grahame, husband of Elspeth and father of Alastair, who passed the river on the 6th of July, 1932, leaving childhood and literature through him the more blest for all time.”
A life was lived. Joys and sorrows were experienced. Stories were left behind.
(If you’re ever in Oxford, you can find Holywell Cemetery next to St. Cross Church near the intersection of St. Cross and Manor Rd.)