Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

A Lesson From a Tombstone: Part Five

{If you missed it you can read Part One here, read Part Two here, read Part Three here, and read Part Four here.}

The nameless man was dead.

And strangely, it wasn’t his dying that got to me. We will all die one day. As the fellow said, “No one gets off this planet alive.” Dying is the easy part to reckon with. It was the lack of evidence he ever lived that afflicted my soul.

As far as anyone but God knows, the life of the nameless man was insignificant.

Reflecting on the Goldfield scene recalled a similar necropolis experience from years earlier, that time with a mob of teenagers in the dead of the night. For a church-related youth activity, we took a trip to the graveyard and tried to decipher people’s stories just from the information written on their headstones.

Buried in a remote and overgrown plat of sacred land, we found stories of people who lived through the Great Depression, some who were more than a hundred years old when they died, and others who lived mere days on the earth.

Like a three-act play, the headstones displayed the date of each person’s birth, the date of their death, and a dash etched between them. These headstones reminded us life has a definite beginning, a definite ending, and some time to live in between.

To take a cursory look at a headstone, it would seem a person’s birth date and death date are the most important in their story, but as Linda Ellis’ poem says,

“…what matter[s] most of all was the dash between those years.”

As our death and birth are typically outside our legislative powers, the dash is the only thing any of us have any significant control over. And that was the other thing about the unknown man’s tombstone that stabbed at me.

Not only was there no name on his tombstone, there was no dash. In a symbolic way, it was as if he had never really lived.

[This is the fifth post in a series of segments. Read Part Six here. Want to get posts like this in your inbox? Subscribe Here.]
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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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