Lisa and I are walking. We’ve been walking for two hours at least, keeping an energetic pace through the snow and slush. We are panting, we are hungry, we need coffee. I have no idea where I am.
We stop at a red light.
"Hey," Lisa says, "there’s a really disturbing graveyard down this street. You wanna see it? I want to show you, so someone else will feel as creeped out as I was."
"Of course," I say. Who doesn’t want to go look at a graveyard?
We turn right and walk past some normal-looking houses, which probably contain some normal-seeming families. I like the pink house. There isn’t much colour to be found on Toronto houses, generally.
"Look, you can see a glimpse of it now!" Lisa says, and I look across a snow-covered school track field toward a children’s playground. It seems charming enough until I notice it is located directly beside the fence of the cemetary.
I make some sort of sound, something like, "Agghh" and I feel a bit chilled.
"There’s more." So we trudge through the playground, and over a short path. The cemetary is fenced on both sides of the path, which we don’t understand. The back yards of several houses are butted squarely up against the cemetary. We consider the feng shui of having so many dead people in one’s back yard. There are a lot of dead people here. It is not a beautiful cemetary. The few trees are gangly and forlorn. The headstones are set very closely together. Packed.
We continue on the path until we reach the street on the other side. "Look," I am instructed and I do. The tightly arranged graves extend in both directions as far as I can see. Halfway down the street, the graves suddenly pick up on the other side, and then continue along on either side of the street. "What the hell is going on here?" Lisa asks. We stand on the sidewalk, looking up and down the street boggling about it for awhile, then we give up and head back.
It is a Jewish cemetary. "I wonder what the significance of the piles of stones on the markers is? Look how many are on that one." We are retracing through the path.
"We’ll have to Google it," I suggest. And then Lisa tells me of the bad feng shui related to living near a hospital. The births don’t outweigh the negative energy of death and illness and panic.
We walk on in silence for awhile, thinking, or just feeling the sun shining. Finally, I blurt, "You know, I went to that funeral mass on Monday. It was all in Ukranian, and I couldn’t understand a thing … we went to the grave and I tried to pay attention but all I could think about was the thousands of bodies rotting all around me. I can’t stand the thought of my loved ones rotting under the ground; I don’t want to rot under the ground. I really don’t understand why we still do this. Burying the dead is a waste of space and environmentally unfriendly."
"I think it has something to do with the Resurrection" she says, and I wonder why I have retained almost nothing from all those years of Sunday School. "I’m all for burning," she smiles.
"Me too. But then what do you do with the ashes? Do you keep them? Spread them? We buried my grandfather’s and my uncle’s but what is the point of that? ‘To have a head stone,’ my mother said, ‘so people in the future can find you,’ but there are enough records of me. Someone could find out my birth and death dates, and everything else about me, if they felt like they really needed to."
"My favourite method for disposing of bodies is the Death Towers in India." I don’t know what the Death Towers are, so Lisa schools me. "So very un-Western and the most ecologically-sound!"
I think about my dead body laying atop a tower to be picked apart by birds, bones bleaching in the sun and winds. I think about somebody coming to collect me, then washing me out to sea. It seems beautiful.