In my travels across Afrika, I came across a century old grave yard right on the shores of the Indian Ocean. On the sandy beach of Bagamoyo, a small historic town in Tanzania, rests the remains of german soldiers from the colonial era. Right there overlooking the wide expanse of the open ocean, with a beautiful sandy beach and gentle winds, are tombstones of officers and men whose bodies were not shipped back home. They were buried on the seaside, probably the closest to home that they could get.
What an oddity, I thought!
Yet it is one of the most beautiful gravesites I have ever seen, not because it was immaculately kept, but rather because of its majestic tombstones on a beautiful beach.
Isn’t it odd to think of a graveyard as beautiful? In some cultures people spend time caring for the final resting place of their loved ones. Unlike most of our African cultures, other cultures invest in paying caretakers to maintain the lawns, hedges and flowers around graves. We Africans on the other hand mostly tend to ignore or neglect graves. We even fear graves and people will give you a second look if you described a graveyard as beautiful.
Graves mark the end of a lifetime. Whichever condition a grave is in, it is the final resting place of somebody’s earthly vessel. A grave symbolizes completion of a journey. It is a symbol of conclusion, the end of a lifetime, the end of problems. When someone rests, they are freed of the demands of living. They are freed of all biological pain, emotional struggles and social pressure. No more hunger, no more disease, no more pain, just peace.
For the living, graves are a reminder of the fragility of life, the preciousness of it and the unstoppable eventuality that awaits all.
I don’t believe in taking immaculate care of graves, I find it unnecessary because I don’t believe the soul resides in the grave. The soul is out and free, at peace. It doesn’t really matter where the body is buried. All that is buried are bones that have served their purpose, empty bones that no longer carry any souls, bones that are garbage, dust and ash which must be thrown back to the soil to make space for others coming into the world. There is no need for elaborate ceremonies in disposing of the garbage left behind by the departed. And grave yards are not to be feared or to be revered because there are no ghosts residing there!
Wherever it is, in whichever condition it is in, a grave is beautiful because it symbolizes the freeing of the spirit, the fulfillment of a lifetime and the arrival of new life, in this world and the next. It is a symbol of celebration and should not be a source of fear. Dust belongs to dust.