“They are there so families can find their relatives?” she answered with uncertainty in her voice.
“True, true” her dad responded, chuckling. “But it’s more than that. It’s because these people once lived. Even though there are names and dates and sayings on the gravestones, after a while no one alive will remember any of the people buried here. But we show respect for them because they lived. And these granite monuments last a very, very, long time and represent eternity. But even they will crumble into dirt. Everything must finally die,” he finished, a sadness in his voice.
She leaned in and put her arms around his waist. “But you won’t die, soon, will you?” she asked, sincerely, looking up into his, now reddened eyes.
“I have no plans to! But I’m not in charge of that,” he said, returning her embrace.
For a minute they were silent, looking around at the stones and trees whose leaves hung on defiantly in the face of those early days in October.
Her dad broke the silence. “You know...” he said smiling, “I can’t really die, anyway.”
“What do you mean, daddy?”
“Well, there’s something bigger than death, something stronger, still. Do you know what that is?” he asked.
“God?” she answered.
“Yes. But remember, the..."
“…It’s love! It’s love, isn’t it?" she interrupted, excitedly. "Love is more than this. I remember! God is Love and nothing can separate us from God’s love."
“Yes! You are so smart!”
“Think about it…” he said, moving one arm in a sweeping motion as if to collect all the names and dates around them. “Every one of these people was once loved by someone. There was a day when their loved ones gathered around these spots to bury their grandparents, friends, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They would have cried and cried, knowing they would never again hold them again in this life. But even though most of these people are now forgotten by us, they are still loved by God and because of that, they can never truly be forgotten.”
“They can never really die,” she whispered, as if trying to keep this one, big secret just between the two of them.
In the quiet, he gently held her head close to his side, occasionally swallowing up her unbroken hair in his large hands while she kept her arms locked around his waist, this father and daughter, alone and keeping vigil for the remembered dead. Soon, a strong wind, rude and proud and blustering, arrived to shake loose a cluster of leaves from a nearby tree. Unyielding, these first fruits of autumn shot upward in an attempted escape before gravity arrested them and so began a reluctant, but inevitable waltz downward, toward the earth.