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Walking among the dead

The way I avoid people on my daily walks is by wandering Sydney’s most densely populated suburb: Rookwood. Yes, the cemetery.

At first, being surrounded by one million graves was fascinating. I’d read the gravestones, searching for the oldest one in the plot, gaze in awe at the intricate family monuments, and find myself dwelling on age-old questions:
How long does it take to be forgotten? What happens when I die? Should I go for burial, cremation, or something else?

But after a couple of walks, the graves merely became large rocks dotting a big park. The reminders of death, like notifications to update your computer, turned to background noise – something to be ignored in favour of the “remind me later” option.

And in my adventures, I came to appreciate this cemetery as a place for exploration. I discovered the canals that meander the entire necropolis, I pedalled up and down the idyllic gravel roads and admired the monuments. I found a bushwalk and spring gardens. I’ve come to know the roads like the back of my hand.

Yet in this familiarity remain the grim reality checks; the Jewish memorial, the unnamed stillborn sections, the forgotten graves hidden in untrimmed grasses. Some things can’t completely be ignored. Some things shouldn’t be.

As the ancient wisdom from the author of Ecclesiastes goes,

“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”

Perhaps he too was a wanderer of cemeteries. Or maybe he just didn’t like house parties. In any case, he’s right, we all share the same destiny. As I leave my lockdown walks behind, I wonder what it would look like to take that to heart.