Wednesday, June 13, 2007

West 29th Street, June 2007

I found this stencil on a mailbox over the weekend, and it seemed appropriate because my Mom and I had been talking about this very idea: leaving a mark on the world.

Our conversation was inspired by our visit to The Cloisters and all its medieval art. We talked about all the nameless people who lived when the art was created, who worshipped it, who were born and died during the 100 years between one piece and the next and in the hundreds of years since. They lived in complete anonymity, and when they died, and those who knew them died, they utterly disappeared.

The next day, on the way to Coney Island, we passed a cemetery where headstones were packed together so tightly that it looked like an aerial view of Manhattan. Burial in general is a disagreeable notion, but headstones seem like pure folly. Why do we all need our own little rock? Do we think it will prevent us from being forgotten? Who are we kidding?

I've always liked the idea of just disappearing. When I die, I don't want a headstone. I don't want to leave a mark. I want to be like all those anonymous millions who lived before and rejoined the vast pool of the cosmos when they died, without holding on desperately to the illusion of a permanent, individual identity. Some might call me morbid, but I think vanishing is a beautiful concept.


  1. You're not morbid - delightful is more like it.

    I love the idea of honoring the dead by placing a stone at the head of the place where they're buried. My mother, like you, wanted no marker, no legacy. My sisters and brother and I are so sad about that. You can't imagine how much we would all love to be able to honor her memory by way of a connection to the earth. She was so extreme that she wanted her body donated to science. Can you imagine having your mother as part of the "Bodies" exhibit? As soon as she died, we all agreed not to honor that request. She was buried, Jewish style, the day she died, but the exact location we'll never know.

    Maybe it's me who is morbid!!

  2. Our family tradition, at least for four generations, if that qualifies as a tradition, is cremation. That just makes the most sense to me, given the available options.

    My parents, brother and sister, my beloved grandson all live on in my memories and the experiences we shared. I don't need a stone reminder to honor them, but each to their own. Many people find comfort in visiting grave site.

  3. I have always wanted to be cremated.

    I was tending my great great grandmother's grave which used to be surrounded by parkland and is now right by the back door of a New Pizza restaurant in a New shopping strip. I was sitting in the pizza place one summer day, and looking out the open back door could see the many old interesting gravestones of those i came from. I could almost read the inscription on my great-grandma's grave and her mother's grave next to hers--I had a good view from my table.
    ( It felt so wrong that they were so close to the restaurant dumpster --no barrier at all between them)
    i doubt I will ever go back.
    Real Estate is what it comes down too--my ancestors are taking up space that could be another restaurant, another office park.
    My parent's graves have flat plaques and are tended carefully by the cemetery staff, so i never go there. They are not there. They are with me in spirit, not in the graveyard.

    I know the graveyard you mean, Steve--Hamilton parkway-- it is amazing to walk through.

    Greenwood cemetery gives tours as many famous people are there-- the tours are worthwhile.

    Montgomery Clift's grave is in Prospect Park-- My sister used to visit his grave.

  4. sorry Fort Hamilton Parkway is where Greenwood is--
    I meant that the big flat crowded cemetery was 22nd & Bay parkway-- I don't know the name of the place.

  5. Oh, there are days when I want to vanish NOW! Seriously. Of course, if one vanishes completely, is there any satisfaction in vanishing since you don't realize that you've gone?

  6. it's funny what we all want. i don't want to be cremated, and after doing disection for 4 years, i don't want to leave my body to science either, which is ridiculous. i never visit graves of my grandparents, both cremated, as i feel they're not there, yet if my mum was buried, i think i would possibly visit her grave (her ashes were scattered atop a mountain in switzerland). i am sure most headstones become meaningless after a few generations though. i like your idea of vanishing